When Lookout Mountain Conservancy CEO Robyn Carlton discovered that climbers were scaling the boulders at conservancy-managed John C. Wilson Memorial Park on Lookout Mountain, where conditions prevented secure crash pad placement, she didn't double down on restrictions to keep them out. She simply asked, "How can we make it safer?"
Now, after nine months of construction, the space has officially become a new bouldering hangout just 10 minutes away from Chattanooga — though even before the so-named "Bouldering Park on Old Wauhatchie Pike" opened Oct. 1, Carlton says climbers from as far as New Jersey were coming to use it.
"You don't find natural bouldering parks in the city," she says, explaining the draw. "You could go to [a climbing gym] and climb, but that's not all-natural resources."
Though all 26 boulders will not be open to the public for at least another year, Carlton gave Get Out a rundown of the first five soon-to-be-named boulders now available to climbers.
"We have so many great recreational amenities," she says of John C. Wilson Memorial, which has been open to hikers since 2006. "This is just one of those missing pieces."
"Oh, that's the turtle rock."
Mention the "turtle rock," and anyone who's climbed at the park will know exactly what you're talking about. With its steep slopes and smooth surface, this boulder resembles a turtle shell. Climbers have already reported that mounting the beast is quite daunting, though Carlton would have said "impossible."
"She's a grand boulder."
Likely weighing in around 800 tons, this bad gal is the largest of the property's 26 boulders. Climbers can start their journey underneath the mammoth and use her natural handholds to scale to the 25-foot top.
"It's kind of unusual."
Unlike the other boulders in its company, this odd duck juts out from the side of the mountain and has a rounder surface, making it just as difficult for climbers as it is strange for hikers who pass by.
"Probably going to be called The Slide."
Resting at the beginning of the rock series, this boulder was originally part of the "Super Water Slide" built by former landowners on this section of the property in the 1970s. The rock served as a foundation for the attraction's holding tank, making it part of what was once claimed to be the largest water slide in the world. "So you have a little bit of history there," Carlton says.
"It's, like, the most popular one."
Even though it's small, this underdog has gained popularity by playing hard to get. Described as a "straight edge," the technical boulder offers few handholds or crevices for climbers to cling to as they struggle to summit all 10 feet of it.
Recent safety improvements include landscaping work around each boulder so the ground around it is flat instead of sloped or unobstructed, and is now able to hold a crash pad. Plus, rock steps were added to all five boulders so climbers can start from the top