The Story Behind One of Alabama's Most Popular Crags

Tilt-a Whirl, 5.11a.
Tilt-a Whirl, 5.11a. Bradley Killough
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Route development at the Yellow Bluff crag in Alabama first got its start in the 1980's when Shannon Stegg discovered the wall. Local climbers James Dobbs, Jesse Guthrie, and several others eventually started putting up sport routes, and the area quickly became the home to some of the hardest climbs in the country, including the trad classics Rainbow Warrior (5.13a) and Tour De Jour (5.13d/14a).

As the crag's reputation spread throughout the climbing world, climbers from both near and far were drawn to the area to try these amazing new routes. The quick rise in popularity, however, was what eventually lead to the unfortunate closure of the entire crag in the early 1990’s.

Yellow Bluff pioneers Brad Killough, Betty Jo Merchant, and Roy Simmons at an SCC trail day.
Yellow Bluff pioneers Brad Killough, Betty Jo Merchant, and Roy Simmons at an SCC trail day. Brad Killough

Yellow Bluff may have had a rough start, but several years of tremendous effort and dedication by members of the Southeastern Climbers’ Coalition resulted in the nonprofit now owning and managing a large section of the Yellow Bluff crag, thus guaranteeing climber access for the indefinite and foreseeable future.

Located just 20 miles outside of Huntsville, Yellow Bluff is now one of Alabama's most popular crags. The cliff is in a well-maintained area thanks to the SCC, complete with easy access and fresh anchors, bolts, and quickdraws. The approach to the 1,500-foot long sandstone face, which is known for its spotty yellow tints and solid rock, is no more than 5 minutes from the parking lot.

Though there is no official guidebook published, there is plenty of beta on the 60+ existing routes at the Bluff. The established routes are a mix of sport and trad with a great variety of grades. Following is a few of some of the most classic, popular, and highest star-rated routes at Yellow Bluff.

The big roof at Yellow Bluff.
The big roof at Yellow Bluff. Paul Morley

1. Outstanding (5.8)

A popular route to the left of the water groove and to the right of Lucifer’s Revenge. Protected by bolts and anchors.

2. Lucifer’s Revenge (5.9)

A great warm-up jug-haul. To the right of Orange Crush and protected by 7 bolts and anchors.

3. Orange Crush (5.11a)

A trad route requiring a small rack in addition to a recommended no. 3 cam placement down low. Expect a physical crux and fantastic climbing to the bolted anchors.

4. Tilt-a-Whirl (5.11a)

Before the unfortunate closure of Yellow Bluff, this one pitch sport route was originally a 5.11 trad route. Once light was shed on its actual history the route regained its original name and could supposedly be climbed both as a sport- or trad route.

5. Faith (5.10)

A fun sport route with a bouldery start to a ledge. Protected by 7 bolts to the anchor.

Sport climbing at Yellow Bluff.
Sport climbing at Yellow Bluff. Greg Trammell

Some specific and important rules apply to the Yellow Bluff crag. The top of the cliff is on private land and no topping out or setting up of anchors at the top is allowed. The far left of the cliff is also on private property and off limits to climbers. Unfortunately, there is no camping at or near the crag, but Huntsville and other towns nearby will have lodging options should you need it.

Out on a limb, 5.9.
Out on a limb, 5.9. Ashley Holmes

The SCC regularly plans trail clean-up days at Southeastern crags, including Yellow Bluff. The work includes trail clean up, erosion control, and repair of the kiosk.

For an inside look at the SCC and what they do for the climbing community, click here.

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