Why Southeastern Sandstone Continues to Attract Professional Climbers

Angie looking for crimps at Stone Fort, Tennessee.
Angie looking for crimps at Stone Fort, Tennessee. Paige Claassen
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As a climber in Chattanooga, you see a fair share of career climbers at the local crags and rock gyms, and this year was no different. Will Gadd, Paige Claassen, Brad Weaver, Daniel Woods, and most recently, Angela Payne were just a few of the professional climbers we've seen come through the Southeast this year. Angela Payne, better known as Angie, recently visited Chattanooga for a few days this past November to climb with her friends and get back to some unfinished business.

Angie first started climbing at age 11 and has won several American Bouldering Series National Championships as well as many other climbing competitions. Angie was also the first woman to ever climb V13, and she's been all over the world in search of the best sends. An impressive woman and athlete, to say the least.

If you are like me, you might be a bit curious about what some of the world's best climbers are up to when visiting the Southeastern sandstone gem that is the Scenic City. Recently, I got the opportunity to sit down and have a chat with Angie herself about what draws her back to the southeast.

Angie climbing in Mt. Evans, Colorado.
Angie climbing in Mt. Evans, Colorado. John Dickey

You were in Chattanooga recently. What brought you there?

I was! My friend, Paige Claassen, decided to spend the month of November in Chattanooga, and was looking for someone to climb with for part of the month. I had spent a fair amount of time around the area in the past, and I always have an awesome time there. Plus, sandstone is my favorite type of rock. I just couldn't resist the opportunity to climb on the amazing southern sandstone with one of my good friends, so I joined her for a week and a half.

Where did you go and what did you climb?

We went to Stone Fort, Rocktown, Dayton Pocket, and Zahnd. I had a few things that I wanted to get back to from years past, so first I cleaned up that unfinished business. I got my revenge on Honeycomb Roof at Dayton Pocket, finally finished Biggie Shorty at LRC (Stone Fort), and enjoyed many moderates everywhere we went. I watched Paige crush the classic Riverdance at Dayton Pocket, and we did an awesome and unique climb at Dayton called 300. We also figured out some interesting beta so we could both climb the classic Tennessee Thong at LRC (Stone Fort)... such a great boulder problem! Plus lots of other amazing moderates!

Tell us what you like about Southeastern climbing.

Oh where do I even begin?! There is definitely something very sentimental about Southeastern climbing for me, because I grew up in Ohio, and Horse Pens 40 and Rocktown were two of the first places I bouldered outside. I fell in love with Southeastern sandstone right away, and I still think it's some of the best rock anywhere. The climbing is all pretty easily accessible in the Southeast, which is really nice, because in Colorado we often have to drive and hike quite a bit to get to the boulders. Also, the people I've encountered climbing in the Southeast are incredibly friendly, generally laid back, and always having fun. Which brings me to what I love most about Southeastern climbing -- it's super, super fun!

Angie climbing in Greenland.
Angie climbing in Greenland. Keith Ladzinski

How does it compare to other places in the States, or the world, where you have climbed? Does the style cater to your strengths?

That question reminds me of a funny story. I always say Horse Pens 40 is one of my favorite climbing areas anywhere. And that's still true, because as I said, I do have a sentimental attachment to it. A while back, I was getting ready to go to Fontainebleau, and I have to admit, I was skeptical that the rock would be better than the rock in Horse Pens 40. I bought that shirt that says "Fontainebleau is the Horse Pens 40 of France," and wore it to Font. I have a funny picture of me looking really skeptical wearing that shirt in front of one of the amazing formations in Font. While I have now come to admit that Fontainebleau has a higher quantity of incredible sandstone, I still think that Horse Pens 40 has incredible rock.

Angie climbing in Greenland.
Angie climbing in Greenland. Keith Ladzinski

In terms of how the Southeast compares to other places in the States, well, I think it has a reputation for being sandbagged, and I think it definitely lives up to that reputation. The style in the Southeast varies depending on the area. Horse Pens is crazy technical climbing on slopers, a style that I find to be really challenging but also really rewarding to climb on and learn about. Stone Fort has more crimps, and that fits my style better. Dayton Pocket has a huge roof, so it's crazy, gymnastic roof climbing, which is sort of hit or miss for me. But then there are also some free-standing boulders there, so it isn't all roof climbing. Rocktown is a mix of some crimps, some slopers, and generally technical sandstone climbing. I'd say, in general, I find the climbing in the Southeast to be quite challenging for me, personally. But that's a big part of the appeal as well.

What does your perfect climbing day trip in the Southeast look like?

All of the areas I mentioned are perfect day trips (although Horse Pens for a day trip would be a lot of driving). So, my perfect day trip in the Southeast would be to head to one of these climbing areas with a friend or two, climb on anything and everything I could until I couldn't climb anymore, then finish the day with a beer and some amazing Southern BBQ. Pretty simple. And that's why the Southeast is wonderful.

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