Chad and some friends recently took a trip east to Sheeps Bluff, an area near Cookeville that’s been tentatively explored by climbers since the late 90s. He snapped some pics and gave us a thorough report on his trip in this edition of From The Field.
Google Earth is an amazing tool that can show you things you never wanted other people to see, as well as a great tool for gathering information. About a year ago, I came across an article about a small boulder field near Cookeville, TN called Sheep’s Bluff. While I was extremely interested, I found out the access was semi-restricted due to private property owners. However, a year later I caught the bug again when I heard rumors that the land was ripe for the bouldering, and the access had recently been granted to local climbers. This is where our story begins.
Before every good trip, even a short day trip, some research and planning is always a good idea. This is where Google Earth comes into the story. I decided to look up Sheep’s Bluff on Google Earth to see if there were any visible boulders from the aerial views. At first I could not find or see anything; it seemed like any other Tennessee backroad with lots of trees. Then I noticed to one side of the road was a slight depression in the photos on Google Maps. At closer inspection I found out that there is a ridge right beside the road that ascends a couple hundred feet from bottom to top. On a whim I decided to go into street view and an instant later I was gawking at what I found: a gorgeous prow with a fairly steep overhang underneath it just off the road. I was sold in an instant and within three days we were off to find and project this amazing boulder.
Brian Cummings and I met up with Daniel Latto and Ashley Smith, threw all the pads, shoes, and chalk we needed into the car and were on our way. We mostly shared stories and got to know each other better on the way there. Once we finally made it to Sheep’s Bluff road, it was all eyes on the roadside looking for stuff to climb. After a couple of miles of driving and not seeing anything we started seeing shapes outlined within the trees. We found a good place to stop on the side of the road and were off into the woods.
We were absolutely taken aback by what we found. On the upside of the hill were these massive boulders outlined by a cliff line a that extended as far left to right as we could see, granted we couldn’t see very far due to the lay of the land and by being constantly blinded after running into the thousands of giant spider webs that seemed to be there just to hold the trees in place. We spent the next hour or so just exploring the boulders, checking top outs, and deciding what looked like our projects for the day, and killing monstrous spiders. However, the best part about all of this was that we only saw a few lines that had actually been climbed or attempted. Here is a parade of some of what we saw.
Once we were done running around, it was time to get busy. The first few things we climbed were a series of easier V0’s – V2’s on this long boulder made up of mostly large pockets, ranging from fist size to torso size holes that you could throw a whole limb in, like a leg for a knee-bar, again assuming that you didn’t mind putting said limb in a hole that could contain a Tennessee Tarantula. Then we decided to jump on one of the first projects for the day.
The above pictures show Ashley, Daniel, and me at different points on the problem. We think it went at V4 difficulty due to a rather committing first move off of two really small crimpers that went to a fairly large crimp that required you to cross over left hand to it whilst keeping your feet tucked tightly under the short overhang just off of the deck. The next few moves were fun as they were just large moves to fairly good holds with some jugs up top before the top out. However, much to our dismay the top out was…a bit unnerving. The boulder topped out at about 15 feet and the two holds that you had to pull the top out on where two one pad slopers that you had to “trust” whilst praying that your hands didn’t slip off. The difficulty of the top out did make the send very rewarding. Once we were done with that problem we went to the boulder we spent most of our time.
This is a shorter 12′ to 14′ boulder that we cleaned off and sent two new boulder problems on that were fantastic. The first was probably a V4 that Daniel hasn’t named yet, but it started on the jugs just under that small tree to the left and moved right and straight up the arête. It was a combination of easy jugs to start, with a couple of bad crimpers, an awesome undercling for the left hand, and a really reachy move to a water groove up top. The other problem on this boulder is called “Slap-It” its a V5 that starts on the white, slopey ledge in the middle of the boulder and moves straight up the arête. It took us about an hour to clean off and then send. This one was a combination of flat hand slopers and a couple of pinches that required you to rock over a heel hook and slap up the right side of the boulder until you could get your left foot up under your body to reach up to the top with your left hand. There is a short video of the first ascent on my Facebook if you want to check it out!
Once we were done with all our fun stuff, we ran over to one of the problems that hasn’t been sent yet but has been projected for some time by the locals. This problem follows a crack up the middle of a large boulder that tops out at 20′ – 24′. It is a gorgeous line that will definitely go with a bit of projecting, cleaning, and good temperatures. We stayed there for a bit as Daniel projected that problem. He made it to a move that goes up to a huge jug just before the top out. However, due to the humidity and our pending exhaustion we decided to head on back down the hill to finish on some easier stuff and take a look at the real reason we were out there. This coming fall and winter the “Project at Sheep’s Bluff” is the huge prow pictured above. It is an amazing looking line that tops out at about 24′. Once the temperatures are good we are planning on going back to put some serious time on this boulder as it will probably be an incredible line to climb.
We finished the day by going to the Cookeville Chick-fil-a to nurse our wounds and lack of blood sugar and to discuss plans for getting back to Sheep’s.
A quick word about Sheeps Bluff: like many “hidden gems” in Tennessee, the climbing at Sheeps Bluff is on private land, and access is tenuous. As Chad mentions in the post, we’ve heard whispers of development and access improvement by the SCC, but haven’t been able to confirm anything. If you plan on making the trip out to Sheeps Bluff, please be respectful of the property and the access. If you’d like to be involved with the SCC in creating and preserving access to new and existing climbers, you can become a member for as little as $25. -Newton
Updated Nov 27, 2017: Based on a phone call we received today from the land owner, climbing is no longer allowed on this private land. If you’re looking for climbing in the Cookeville area, please head to Obed. -Newton