Chattanooga Now Insider information for your trip to Obed Wild and Scenic River [photos]

Chattanooga Now Insider information for your trip to Obed Wild and Scenic River [photos]

April 1st, 2017 by Myron Madden in Get Out - Features

Lara Souza (cq) rock climbs at the Lilly Boulders area at the Obed Wild and Scenic River Tuesday, February 18, 2009 near Wartburg, Tenn.

Photo by ADAM BRIMER

Gallery: Insider info to make your Obed trip beta

+6
more photos

Tips for your trip

EAT

Since man cannot live on beer alone, you might need to leave the Lilly Pad Hopyard Brewery for some sustenance. Here’s where you can find good eats nearby:

» Darnell Food Market has been providing groceries to locals and climbers since 1966. If you’re on a budget, look for their weekly ads to save big. (1014 Main St.)

» After a tiring day on the rock, El Patron Mexican Restaurant’s hefty portions are like a godsend for Obed climbers. Located next to a car wash, it may look unassuming on the outside, but the diverse selection will make it worth the visit each time. (3688 Morgan County Hwy.)

SLEEP

» If you’re not up for roughing it under the stars, Obed Hostel offers a warm place to sleep for a great price. Though off the grid, the solar-powered hostel is equipped with phone-charging stations and amenities like a shower, toilet and wood stove. ($15 per night; must make reservation 24 hours before arrival; 358 Ridge Road)

» Located in the heart of the Obed, camping at The Lilly Pad will give you easy access to climbing routes at Little Clear Creek, among others. ($5 per night; dogs allowed but must remain on leash; 920 Ridge Road)

CLIMB

The Obed is filled with hundreds of fantastic routes, but some are superior to the rest. Don’t end your trip without trying out these highly praised routes from each of the seven climbing areas — six crags and one boulder — favorites not only of Kelly Brown, but also other sandstone samplers.

» Whatsherface | 5.13a | Tieranny Wall | The Obed

» Barbwire and Lingerie | 5.12b | Vision Buttress | Y-12

» Saddam Hussein | 5.11b | Rasputin Ledge | North Clear Creek

» Best Seat in the House | 5.9 | The Balcony | South Clear Creek

» Heresy | 5.11c | Left Side | Lilly Bluff

» 1554 | 5.12b | The Hanger | Little Clear Creek

» Obediah | V5 | The Warm-Up Wall | Lilly Boulders

Source: “The Obed: A Climber’s Guide to the Wild and Scenic” by Kelly Brown

 

Before visiting any of Tennessee's many climbing meccas, 27-year-old Chattanooga native Nick Brown likes to be prepared.

"I've got every guidebook that there is to every area that I've been to," he says.

Despite the wealth of information hidden between the pages of his books, whenever first-timers ask Brown for insider information about climbing at the Obed Wild and Scenic River, the remote sandstone paradise located just about an hour west of Knoxville, his answer is always the same:

Stop by the Lilly Pad.

The Lilly Pad is a 40-acre campground run by Obed locals Del and Marte Scruggs. It has become a haven for climbers from all over the country, as well as a hub of insider information about the six nearby crags and bouldering area.

"They're going to be able to point you in the right direction for any question that you could ask," Brown says. "That's the best secret that I can tell you."

But Del Scruggs could tell you an even better one: The now-iconic campground manifested completely by accident.

Soon after he and his wife purchased the property near Lilly Bridge back in 1997, they agreed to let their friend Kelly Brown, author of "The Obed: A Climber's Guide to the Wild and Scenic," camp out before he moved to Knoxville. Word of the Scruggs' hospitality spread quickly.

"Next thing you know, people came by saying, 'Hey, uhm, I'm a friend of Kelly's, and he said I might be able to camp here,'" Del Scruggs says.

What began as a friend crashing in the backyard soon grew to anywhere from five to 150 campers a night, depending on the season. And the Scruggs love it. Del Scruggs says his parents were excellent hosts, and it seems he inherited their hospitality. Internet forums rave of his and Marte's warmth and friendliness, in addition to their large, open space located adjacent to a wildlife management area.

"My backyard is basically 100,000 acres," Del Scruggs jokes.

Over the years, the couple has made many accommodations to transform the site into what it is today. The grounds have around 70 primitive campsites but also permit travelers to pitch a tent or hang a hammock wherever they desire. There are Porta-a-Potties, recycling bins, a water spigot and a little shed with a table called the "lousy weather cooking area" where meals can be prepared when it rains.

Travelers can also get their fill of beer at the Lilly Pad Hopyard Brewery, where Del Scruggs sells his own home-grown mix occasionally flavored with honey, herbs or berries. Del has been sharing his brews with climbers since he left his job at Blue Springs Marina in Ten Mile, Tenn., to manage the campground. But it wasn't until 2016 that state legislation made it legal to manufacture and sell beer on-site without going through a third-party distributor. The day after the law was passed, he armed himself with a shovel and began making space for the brewery, and the investment was well worth it.

Del Scruggs stashed away 200 gallons of beer for opening day on March 5, 2016. By March 8, he was sold out.

"I was like, 'Oh no. What have we started here?'" he says. His biggest struggle to date continues to be keeping up with demand from not only climbers, but the other people the camp-brewery combo draws. "I'm always chasing my tail. As soon as I make some beer, it goes right out of the taps."

It is not the Lilly Pad's many amenities, however, that have made it an invaluable resource to visiting climbers like Nick Brown. It is the fact that it offers beta for the Obed.

One of the most common buzzwords in the climbing lexicon, the term "beta" has come to mean insider information — though it didn't start off that way.

The word was supposedly coined in the 1980s by the late climber Jack Mileski in reference to Betamax, the now-obsolete video cassette format that was all but wiped out by VHS. In giving play-by-play directions to help others reach the top of a route, climbers often pantomime the movements needed. Mileski found these movements similar to watching a videotape of the climb. So when friends had trouble advancing on the rock, Mileski would "show them the beta" for the route.

Over time, however, the term broadened to encompass any information a climber might need to know about an area. Locals can give beta about the best places to climb, buy gear, find food or camp out. Guidebooks, of course, are beta bibles, since they house much of the same advice in addition to detailed information about a specific climbing spot. Within their covers, climbers can find anything from directions to their target wall's parking lot and trail to predictions about the amount of precipitation they should expect.

More importantly, the books provide information about the routes themselves. They inform climbers about changes in the type of rock or its grade. They list the pieces of gear needed to complete the route.

"[It's] immeasurably important to your safety," Nick Brown says. "If you were to go out sport climbing and you got halfway up a wall and all the bolts disappeared, you could really hurt yourself. But if you looked in the book, it would say that this is a mixed route: half trad, half sport."

Though the Scruggs aren't avid climbers themselves, they have soaked up many of the secrets about the surrounding walls, and are always willing to offer tips and steer their campers toward the right resources.

On colder days when the sun's still shining, for example, they recommend climbers visit the South Clear Creek area or the Tierany Wall, both of which are south-facing and can be scaled in a T-shirt even when it's 40 to 50 degrees out. On rainy days, they direct climbers to Stephen King Library, which has several routes named after the best-selling author's books as well as an enormous overhanging roof that keeps its visitors dry in inclement weather.

For those looking to go more in depth, "The Obed: A Climber's Guide to the Wild and Scenic" is sold in the Lilly Pad's unmanned general store, where customers can buy materials by leaving money and taking goods. But much of that same information can be gained organically just by hanging around the Lilly Pad's campfire.

The Lilly Pad is a place where locals and frequent visitors share beta about the Obed's sandstone playground — in fact, it was designed that way.

Instead of having individual firepits, for instance, the Lilly Pad has three large community pits to draw campers together. While splitting wood and getting warm, guests often find themselves lulled into late-night conversations. Del Scruggs says those natural discussions have turned strangers into lifelong friends who travel the country together. There have even been a few marriages as a result of those firepits, he says.

The campground has long tables to encourage campers to eat together, and the brewery is devoid of a tasting room or indoor sitting area. Instead, everything is outside. Guests can grab a cold one and head out to play darts, cornhole or just talk about the best climbing routes to try.

"It's more activity-based than just sitting around and drinking," Del Scruggs says. "We have really good beer but the beer is just part of it."

The best part, he says, is the laughter, those warm nights by the fire and all the new friends he gets to share them with.

"That's what it's about" he says. "It's about the community more than anything else."