A local nonprofit is working alongside the National Parks Service (NPS) to make rock climbing at one of Chattanooga’s outdoor hotspots more accessible. The Southeastern Climbers Coalition (SCC), formed in 1993, presented the NPS with a fixed gear proposal for Sunset Rock that would allow new bolted anchors to be placed at the top of certain routes.
For decades Sunset Rock, officially titled Sunset Park, has been a haven for local rock climbers and outdoor enthusiasts. Although widely known for its hikes and views of the Chattanooga Valley, climbers take a different approach to recreating themselves in this space. They find a house on its sandstone walls, scaling the faces using pieces of equipment to protect their ascent. These pieces of equipment work with the characteristics of the rock by fitting into splits or fissures, and are removed in a process called “cleaning” when the climber is finished. This leaves minimal impact on the rock due to its temporary nature, but there are times when permanent protection must be left in the rock itself.
One of those times is when anchoring at the top of a climb occurs. The anchor is what climbers trust to lower themselves to the ground and what they use to belay or suspend other climbers. It is literally a lifesaver.
While the NPS is the governing body that oversees the day-to-day upkeep of the park, the SCC continues to operate as a consultant organization that oversees climbing equipment and its upkeep. Caleb Timmerman, CSC’s Director of Marketing, spoke enthusiastically about the rock climbing community’s dedication to putting shoes on the ground to meet the needs of their user group. He also pointed out that these anchors not only provide security, but also means to protect natural resources.
Approval of fixed gear proposals is not limited to benefits for climbers. It takes into account the impact of the absence of installed anchors on the environment around the cliffs. Trees with weak root systems suffer erosion when anchors must be built above the cliff line, and are also endangered when climbers resort to using them as support for an anchor system. The options available to climbers when there are no bolts and they must descend from their ascent, are to either rappel down the tree or descend along the top of the cliff.
“A use, or an example of someone hiking around the edge of a cliff, does nothing statistically or from an erosion point of view,” Timmerman said. – “When you magnify that 100 times, over the course of even a year, you’ll start to see the pretty serious impact of erosion.
CSC hopes to see the installation of the anchors completed by the end of this year. Working with a working group of trusted and experienced volunteers, he prioritizes quality over efficiency. Timmerman, grinning broadly, was proud to note how the Chattanooga climbing community stepped up to help his small three-organization team with this task. A community so focused on stewardship is one that, in his words, understands “in order to maintain the quality of this climbing area, we all need to step in to do our part.”