While bouldering was born in the Western U.S., it has also come of age in the South. On Oct. 4, Rock Creek Outfitters, a retail chain based in Chattanooga, Tenn., hosted the first event of its Triple Crown competition, the world's first outdoor bouldering series.
More than 500 competitors, spectators and industry members turned out for the Hound Ears Bouldering Competition in Boone, N.C. "The attendance was beyond what we expected," said Chad Wykle, Triple Crown organizer and manager for Rock Creek Outfitters.
Wykle said competitors traveled to the Hound Ears event from as far away as Colorado, New York and Ohio. "There were even people from Finland who traveled here specifically for this series," he said. On hand were climbing notables such as Tommy Caldwell, Andrew Traylor and Rebeckah Berry. The competition also included classes for juniors, beginners and "ancient hard" people.
The second event in the Triple Crown will be held Nov. 1 at the Little Rock City climbing area near Chattanooga, and the final competition takes place Dec. 6 at the Horse Pens site near Gadsden, Ala.
While you might expect Western states to produce the first outdoor bouldering series, Wykle said the South offers plenty of good terrain, noting, "There's more good rock within 50 miles of Chattanooga than there is [within 50 miles of] Boulder, Colorado."
According to Wykle, the Chattanooga bouldering scene has flourished in the past few years because there is more access to private land. "The laws have changed," said Wykle. "In the past, if a land owner gave a person permission to climb, the climber could sue the land owner if he got hurt. Now climbers can't sue if they sign a waiver," he said.
While laws have changed, so have the attitudes of landowners -- thanks in part to the Triple Crown competition. Little Rock City, an area of clean limestone near a golf course, was closed to climbing until Wykle convinced landowners to open the site for the Triple Crown. When they saw the success of the Hound Ears event, the owners asked Wykle to establish some way to keep Little Rock City open to climbing year-round.
A system has been established where climbers visiting Little Rock City must first sign a waiver, accessible via the web. The local climbing community then polices itself to ensure that all climbers have waivers.
Through its work with Little Rock City, Rock Creek Outfitters received positive recognition in the community. The retail company has likewise benefited from the Triple Crown, which has sparked greater interest in bouldering and driven more customers to the stores.
It also helps that Rock Creek did not have to invest huge amounts of money into the competition. There are more than 20 manufacturers sponsoring the event, providing various levels of money and products.
The Triple Crown has required Rock Creek to devote significant labor -- Wykle has devoted 30 to 40 hours a week on the event. Fortunately, he received a lot of help from other members of the climbing community, such as Jim Horton, who has organized competitions at Hound Ears for years.
Despite the long hours, there are definite upsides. Though Wykle launched the Triple Crown to build Rock Creek as a brand, he mainly wants to support climbing in his area. That's why proceeds from the Triple Crown will go to the Southeast Climbers Coalition and the Access Fund. For information, call 888-707-6708 or visit www.rockcreek.com.