Stone Fort | 9:05am | November 11, 2017
As we make our way down the trail from the parking lot into the main area at Stone Fort, the crunch of twigs snapping under our approach shoes and the soft thump of our crash pads hitting the ground generate the only sounds in the still morning. This crag - one of the most renown in the southeast - is blissfully empty. After navigating through crowds of people here yesterday, it is a welcome sight to look around and see only clean rock and empty trails. More people will come later, but for now, Theresa, Joy, and I bask in the small glory of having an epic boulder field all to ourselves.
We warm up on some V1 problems and laugh about the fun (and slightly drunken) events of the night before at the Women's Climbing Festival. This is the first time the festival has been held in Chattanooga, and we're stoked to be a part of it.
After an hour of playing around on easier problems, we head over to Sternum, a classic V5 problem. We're not the only people here now - there are about a dozen climbers spread out across this part of the boulder field. Not everyone here is part of the festival, but many are.
We organize our mess of crash pads, brush chalk across the rock, and talk about where everyone is from. Theresa, Joy, and I drove seven hours from Chapel Hill - but that's nothing compared to some of the journeys people made to get here. Sam flew in from Seattle. Carlie and her friends came from Charleston. Marrissa and her crew drove 15 hours from Toronto, Canada.
Joy and Theresa go to work on the Sternum. I smile at their raw strength and focus, snap a couple photos, and chat with the girls working on Ribcage, the V3 problem next to it. I hop on it, fumbling around the start holds, trying to figure out what to do with my feet. "Do you want some beta for the start?" Kristi asks hesitantly.
"Of course!" I say immediately. "I have no idea what I'm doing."
Kristi patiently shows me exactly where to place my hands and feet. "I don't know if you want to do it that way - just an idea."
"No, this is perfect. Thank you!"
The atmosphere is unlike anything I’ve experienced climbing before. Devoid of competition or big egos, these women radiate a laidback energy of positivity and generosity. Marissa opens a bag of gourmet chocolates and passes it around. Lauren offers up some of her delicious, homemade black bean hummus.
I dial in the first four moves on Ribcage, but fall off the crux over a dozen times. I never feel self-conscious though. I'm pulling hard, falling hard, and laughing hard. And so is everyone else.
Despite the fact that I don't get it, I'm still happy. I'm still stoked. That's a big part of climbing I'm learning - you have to stay stoked.
Back in the parking lot, Theresa runs into the building while Joy and I try to shove the crash pads into the back of Theresa's small SUV. I stick one in and then Joy says, “I think we need to pull it out and put this one in first.” After two attempts, I sigh and lean against the car, eyeing the cans of beer shoved in the back corner. Joy sees me reaching for the beer and says “yeah, that needs to happen.”
We plop the crash pads onto the pavement, crack open the beers, and laugh at the futility of our half-assed effort to pack up and leave. We can stay just a little bit longer.
“My cheeks hurt from laughing and my fingers hurt from shredding my skin on that rock,” Joy says.
“Cheers to that,” I say, clinking my can against hers. “Those are good problems to have.”
Theresa returns and shakes her head in mock disapproval before opening the last beer and joining us on the crash pads. We talk about the weekend and the day, creating a running list of our favorite moments.
"That was my first V5," Theresa says quietly. A powerhouse climber with an ego the size of peanut, T Money is never loud about her climbing accomplishments - but this is a big deal. We cheers again.
The sun pokes through the clouds, and as I snap photos of my dear friends laughing, drinking beer, and reflecting on a beautiful weekend, I think this right here. This is my favorite.