Let's say you're a 21st century southern climber; you got your start in the local climbing gym, then graduated to real rock at places like Sand Rock. Before long, you started leading at more serious Tennessee and Alabama crags, and when you wanted a bigger challenge, you moved further afield to the multi-pitch granite of North Carolina. Now you're looking for something more remote, more wild and uncivilized . . . and Big South Fork beckons. The question is -- are you ready for it?
The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is one of the south's last climbing frontiers. It's a stunningly vast system of river gorges stretching from northeastern Tennessee into Kentucky; word is that there's more rock here than in any other part of the southeast. Though there's been climbing in the BSF for at least 20 years, the potential for route development has barely been tapped.
Documentation of the history of climbing in the BSF is sparse, but it's known that Bob Wheeley and Phil Barkesdale began establishing routes there in the mid 1980s after Wheeley started a rafting service in the gorge. Their first ascents include routes like the Original Route on the O&W Wall. A few years later, Jeff Noffsinger and partners began pioneering new lines in the Main Gorge and elsewhere; Noffsinger continues to be a prolific author of first ascents to this day. Others responsible for route development include Jeff Dopp, Frank Jackson, Ian McAlexander and Kelly Brown.
If you plan on climbing at the BSF, don't expect things to be easy or comfortable. Trails are not well marked or are non-existent; information from guidebooks is sparse; wildlife like rattlesnakes, bears and biting insects are plentiful; and rockfall is a serious concern. The BSF is a truly wild and remote area, so be prepared.
NOTE: Though the Big South Fork straddles Tennessee and Kentucky, all Mountain Project data on the area is included under Tennessee. There is a placeholder in the Kentucky section, but no routes should be added there.
How you get to Big South Fork depends largely on what section you're headed to and where you're coming from. Detailed directions will be posted in the various sections.
In the most general terms, from points south of Knoxville, take I-75 north to Huntsville/Oneida, then go west on TN 63 to US 27. Go north on 27 to TN 297 then go west into the park. From points west of Knoxville, take I-40 to Monterey and head east to US 127, then north on 127 to Jamestown. Take TN 154 a short distance to TN 297; turn east on 297 and head into the park.
The first pitch is 5.6 and involves a series of ledges.The 2nd pitch is the crux and is easier than it looks...even if it's wet. Great pro!Stop and belay at the anchors on the wall above the top of the corner.Walk left on the big ledge and belay.The final pitch follows the edge of the void and primarily uses chicken heads for pro. The final moves are a bit pumpy and maybe harder than the actual crux but brief. Walk up and right through the forest and rappel off a tree back to the big ledge. You ...[more]Browse More Classics in TN
You can climb all year depending on your tolerance to heat and cold. By mid July it's starting to get pretty muggy, but if you climb early, you can go swimming when it heats up too much. Watch out for ice fall during a wet winter. You might even want to wear a helmet hiking along the base of some routes.