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Eija Lindsey of New Paltz, N.Y., looks down at her friends while taking a break from climbing the sandstone rock face of the Tennessee Wall in Marion County last weekend.

The Chattanooga area's prominence in outdoors activities includes rock climbing.

The Tennessee Wall and Sunset Rock are two major rock walls that climbers know well.

The "T-Wall" is located just inside Marion County on the southeast side of Walden Ridge in the Prentice Cooper State Forest and Wildlife Management Area. Sunset Rock is on the west side of Lookout Mountain off West Brow Drive.

A review of 24 cars parked near the T-Wall trailhead on New Year's Day showed visitors from distant locations such as Connecticut, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas. Reaching the trailhead requires a drive of about six miles on the narrow River Canyon Road.

Over time, climbers have given the various paths up the side of the T-Wall names such as Golden Rocks, Open Casket, Cake Walk and Where Lizards Go To Die. Even the hike to the base of the hard sandstone bluffs provides a grand view of the Tennessee River Gorge. The sight from the top of the bluffs is even more spectacular.

With temperatures in the lower 40s, overcast skies and a gentle breeze, the area at the base was scattered with ropes, backpacks and an assortment of other climbing gear on Jan. 1. Many of the climbers had spent the night before in a primitive campground next to the Tennessee River.

Eija Lindsey of New Paltz, N.Y., and her boyfriend, Andy Collen, drove 15 hours to spend Friday and Saturday ascending the T-Wall.

"This is actually my first season climbing," said Lindsey, a 42-year-old jewelry maker. "We were trying to find warmer temperatures than what we had to deal with in New York."

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Climbers gather at the base of the Tennessee Wall in Marion County with their climbing gear on New Year's Day.

Apparently, the couple thought the trip was worth it.

"We will definitely come back again, absolutely," Lindsey said.

Last Friday also was the first time on the T-Wall for Natasha Collins, an art teacher and experienced climber from Nashville.

"I only moved here about four years ago and was delighted to discover how many wonderful climbing areas there are in and near our state," she said.

As to whether she would come back to the T-Wall, Collins said, "Absolutely. In fact, I am already planning another trip back and will take my kids. It was fabulous, just incredibly beautiful. Just getting to the top of that and looking, you cannot top the view, of course. It is incredibly beautiful and incredibly serene."

Added the former St. Paul, Minn., resident: "I know people who want to move to Chattanooga just because of the climbing."

Lynn Bartoletti, the owner of Four Bridges Outfitters in Chattanooga and a rock climber for about four years, climbs both popular walls.

"Sunset in the summer and T-Wall in the winter," she said. "Sunset doesn't get the sun until later, and with the elevation it helps it stay a little cooler in the summer, whereas the T-Wall is south-facing, so it just soaks up the sun in the winter and it is just too hot in the summer."

Asked what she enjoys about rock climbing, Bartoletti said, "I like the mental and physical challenge to it."

She noted that anyone wanting to start climbing can expect a significant investment.

"If you include the rope, you are probably looking at $800 or so," she said. "(Rock climbing) can be addictive and expensive."

Sunset Rock draws "probably" 1,000 or so climbers a year, according to Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park ranger Justin Young. It also carries unique nicknames — including More Fun with Dick and Jane, Rusty's Crack, The Brow and Jefferson Airplane.

"There are two different styles of rock climbing," said Terri Chapin from Outdoor Chattanooga. "The T-Wall offers a more traditional style of rock climbing, where you have to place your protection as you ascend the rock. You clip into that. Sunset Rock has a mixture of both (traditional) climbing and top-rope access climbing where there are anchors already built and you can just clip into the anchors from the top and walk down below and then climb. The skill level is not quite as acute."

Climbers have to be careful, however. Although a woman's death from a fall at Sunset Rock last summer was regarded as a suicide, at least four nonfatal but serious falls occurred there from 1997 to 2013.

Contact Gary Petty at sports@timesfreepress.com

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