DISCLAIMER: Recollections of a bouldering trip to the Southeast.
This was the first destination. I had visited on a previous trip to the South. This time, I wanted to share this place with Liz. The café is not so much quaint as it is a tourist trap situated at the end of a busy intersection next to a gas station. The large neon sign is reminiscent of an old time diner or motel, which is also on the property, in addition to, an event barn and gift shop.
Why the detour? The biscuits and sweet tea. Well, mostly the biscuits but the sweet tea is a southern staple lost above the Mason Dixon.
We rolled into Chattanooga early Monday afternoon. It had rained the last couple nights, but the sun was out and the wind was blowing. We decided to find a place to sleep and collect ourselves instead of heading out in search of sandstone. The Crash Pad was under construction on my last visit.
It is a hostel catering to the outdoorsy types like climbers, bikers, paddlers, and anyone with the adventurous spirit. There were plenty of bunks and rooms available, but Liz and I opted for a private room. The room set us back $70. I think the Crash Pad is a great place if you’re looking for a bunk in a communal space. They run about $30 a night. However, if you were looking for some quiet or even a little privacy, I’d recommend a more traditional hotel. The walls are thin. So thin, in fact, they are essentially cosmetic. I had a “conversation” with our neighbors at 3 am. It was nice.
That being said, the space and staff are amazing, very friendly, and hospitable. If you’ve never been to the area and are looking to meet folks, this is the place to be. The Crash Pad will surely be the hotspot once the restaurant/bar (same management) is finished next door.
This is a nice coffee shop near the Crash Pad that offers free wireless and tasty baked goods. Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to try the goods, since we were still full from snacking on biscuits. The coffee was good and delivered via bike by Velo Roasters, which definitely reminded me of Peace Coffee in Minneapolis. What really caught my eye were the Tolix café chairs.
Later that evening, we hiked from the Crash Pad, which is 15 blocks south of downtown Chattanooga. It took us about 30 minutes. Hiking around town was nice. We had been in the car for almost 10 hours. As with all hiking stories, this one also ends with food. I took Liz to a local pizza joint, Lupi’s.
She had a slice of pizza as big as her face, while I had the calzone as big as my head. Good food at a reasonable price, a must stop.
Just a reminder, that this is still day one. Perhaps this isn’t how “real” dirtbag climbers roll, but this is how we roll. Lupi’s definitely filled me up, so i finished the last of my sweet tea and continued on our walk around downtown. We walked over to the North Shore and checked out local shops. On the way back we, peeked in the Hunter Museum and wandered around the Tennessee Aquarium.
Once we got back to the Crash Pad, we were in the mood for some dessert and cocktails. The staff recommended a nice casual place just around the corner called Alleia. The entrance was easy to miss. Surprising, since it was an eight feet tall door made of solid wood just set back from the front of the place. We entered.
Alleia was a very chic metropolitan-looking restaurant. We felt out of place. Liz was wearing fleece and I had the green hoody. What really settled my nerves were the Tolix chairs; so much Tolix. They lined the huge table in the main dining room. At the end of the table was a floor-to-ceiling mirror adorned with a buffet of dripping candles. Where are we?! Fortunately, we were seated quickly, despite all the fleece and green. Cocktails and dessert were great! Another must hit spot.
LRC is one of many premium sandstone bouldering areas in the Southeast. In my opinion, it is the crown jewel. This was Liz’s first trip despite having roots in Huntsville, AL. In her defense, she did learn to climb in Hong Kong, so there’s that.
I’ve always likened LRC to the lovechild of HP40 and Rocktown, if bouldering areas could breed. The sandstone is good; it’s really good.
Road trips are great. New places to eat are even better, but it’s hard to beat that energy when you can meet up with another Midwesterner to whine about our lack of rock. Welcome, Ian Cotter-Brown.
Other Chattanooga Zones
As you can imagine, there’s plenty other zones between Chattanooga and LRC. Some are good, some are really good, and some are better than that. It’s really amazing how much rock is down here. Honestly, you’d have to intentionally sabotage yourself to not find rock down here, if that makes any sense.
Food, Lodging, & More
We also stayed at the La Quinta that is just north of 24 and east of 27. We pleasantly found out, they are all non-smoking.
Left Hand Milk Stout: this stuff is everywhere and cheap, too.
Whole Foods aka Green Life: this is another great place to catch breakfast and free wifi before or after heading to climb.
The Social is a great place to catch Happy Hour, located in the southern part of downtown Chattanooga. The fried pickles are amazing! The main restaurant is called the Public House, which is also a nice place once you’ve showered up.
If you were looking for another Thai option, I would check out Sweet Basil. It is located a few minutes east of Chattanooga. Another reason to check this place out is that you drive by the only Krispy Kreme in town.
For all you vegetarians, Sluggos is the best place in town. If vegetarian food were always cooked this good, vegetarian restaurants wouldn’t have such a bad rap.
The last meal we had in Chattanooga, TN was in Fort Oglethorpe, GA. The Biscuit Barn is another not must-do southern establishment. Biscuits and breakfast; go find out for yourself!
On the way back to Minneapolis, we decided to break up the drive and stop in St. Louis. It’s in Missouri and Illinois, kind of like Istanbul. Neither of us knew much about the city other than the looming arch and City Museum and its hometown hero Nelly.
Fortunately, there was another attraction in town, Climb So Ill. It was only natural for us to transition back to plastic as we made our way back to the Midwest. We’ve wanted to check out this place for a while. Climb So Ill did not disappoint. Believe the hype. We got the deluxe tour from Ian Anderson who is part of the Ownership Team. Ian was very nice and knowledgeable, albeit, shorter than I imagined. Despite the height of the staff, the walls were tall! The showpiece was the Eye Wall. It was much bigger than I remembered. Apparently, it had to be tipped up in order to fit the space. So, it was actually taller.
We brought our rope gear for the trip but did not use it outdoors. So, it only made sense to use it now. The Elite Wall was tall; much taller than the boulders we were climbing on in Chattanooga. The routes were amazing! We couldn’t remember the last time we climbed routes indoors where they inspired us so much that we wanted to do this outside.
After the plastic session, we were definitely hungry. We met up with Dave and Jamie and Marley. I hadn’t seen Dave and Jamie for a few years now, but we kept in touch via the Facebook. It was great to catch up and finally witness another couple’s indecision when deciding on a place to eat.
Eventually, we all decided on Everest, a Nepalese and Korean restaurant near their place. Yay, for hybrid vigor. The place was fantastic! My litmus test for places like this is the Matar Paneer, a dish with cheese, peas, and an amazing orange sauce. It was on par with India Palace.
The plan for the next morning was to make some Rumchata French Toast a la Dave, but some last minute climbing plans to Elephant Rock came up so Dave, Jamie, and Marley opted for warm weather and pink granite.
Liz and I were not deterred. We were on a mission to find food. Our hosts recommended Benton Park Café as a great place for brunch. It was fantastic. The water was even great.
We realized there’s more to St. Louis than we thought. There were a lot of interesting shops and restaurants with even more interesting architecture. It seems like the city is putting money into revitalizing the area. As we drove around town last night Dave and Jamie pointed out areas and buildings that were in perfect condition but vacant. It is cheap down here, but with good prices come some elbow grease, too. Perhaps St. Louis it the place for us? It’s got good food, great architecture, and is much closer to sandstone. How can you beat that?
Liz and I made it back home safely Sunday evening, after a couple weeks on the road and just before the snow dump.
PI & Liz
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