2004 was the most tumultuous year of my life. After a frustrating trip to Smith Rocks, Oregon, I essentially gave up climbing and decided to hike the Appalachian Trail with my then girlfriend. A few months later I hobbled, alone, onto Springer Mt. Georgia weighing 112 pounds. I could barely crank a pull-up. Weak and lost in the world I picked up work at a gear shop in my college town of Brevard, NC. I was living in my van and acting like a drunken slob. One day I woke up and realized I felt like shit. I quit my job and drove to the Obed.
It was the depth of winter and pulling into the entirely empty campground run by Del and Marte Scruggs was like coming home. I did a lot of hiking and staring into campfires. The silence of frigid nights was broken only by the yips of coyotes and the far-off rush of white water. Del’s 12-pound mutt Tipsy would whine at my door in the evening until I let her dirt-covered carcass into the van and subsequently, into my sleeping bag where she would nestle and keep me warm. Occasionally, climbers would come through on the weekends and I would tag along, bumming belays when I could. Throughout that long winter, I began to feel like myself again. I could joke around the fire with Del, Marte, their kids, and their friends that would come over in the evenings to sing “Take a Load Off Annie” like it never went out of style.
Del called me ‘Shaggy’ due to my unkempt appearance and Mystery Machine-like van. He treated me like one of his own, offering food and company and expecting only a little help around the place in return. It wasn’t the climbing that got me back on my feet, it was the place and the people; the crackling pine campfires and rushing water, the feeling of community, and the overall serenity of one of the East Coast’s last ‘Wild and Scenic’ places.
I’ve shared this because the Obed is so special to me. More special than I can accurately put into words. After a decade of tooling around crags all over America and settling down at the New River Gorge, the Obed region is still my favorite place and the only crag that feels like home. When I heard that the area was finally getting a dedicated guidebook my first feeling was apprehension. How, and furthermore, who could accurately describe how unique and beautiful the area is? Who could sum up, not just the impeccably clean sandstone and intimidating roofs that the area is known for, but the overall feeling of the place? I knew it would have to be Kelly Brown and fortunately he stepped up to the task.
Kelly is the quintessential Obed climber. He’s been around since just after the very first climbers stepped onto the sheer sandstone walls. He sunk bolts on the steepest rock in the south before few others had the courage to. But most importantly, Kelly is connected to the place more than anyone, possibly in part due to his Native American heritage. He has in depth knowledge of the flora, fauna and geography of the region. We would play with bow-drill fire-making and discuss the merits of brain-tanning hides while munching delicious smoked meat from the fire. At the time, he worked as a teacher and mentor at an alternative school in Knoxville. He would take his kids climbing in the area he loved so dearly and taught them respect for themselves and the environment. (One of those students can now be found living at the Red and cooking your pizza at Miguel’s). What makes Kelly the perfect person to have compiled this guidebook is his understanding of sharing, a concept that permeates the Obed experience.
Massive climbable ceilings define the Obed experience. No other area in America holds a more diverse collection of roof climbing. Maximum Overdrive (5.13a) might be the longest one around. All photos: Mark Large
But it wasn’t just Kelly alone that compiled the book. He enlisted the help of others that view the region in the same light. The foreword was written by former Obed Park Ranger and somewhat legendary southeastern boulderer, Rob Turan. Rob has dedicated his life to exploring the deep woods of the south in search of boulders and he’s put more than a few places on the bouldering map. Namely, in this case, the Lilly Boulders which are included in the guide. Rob opens the book with words that mirror my personal feelings, “What to say about OUR beloved Obed? Oh sure it would be a cakewalk, if it were just MY Obed. But no, it is OURS. Our beloved crag belongs to US, the Tribe, for that is exactly what climbers are, a Tribe.” He continues, “I knew that in my aging climber brain, finding just the right prose to describe the stunning sandstone standing guard above the clear roaring rivers below, surreal in its steepness and bullet hard integrity might be a bit difficult…”
A few pages later is a perspective on the Obed written by Del’s dog, Soldier. Soldier was a starving stray that wandered into Del’s covered in ticks and fleas. Del would shoot him with a BB gun, trying to get him to stay out of the trash and never come back. But Soldier persisted and one day when Del had the gun aimed at him, he just laid down and rolled over. Del didn’t have the heart to shoot him and took him in. I can’t help but dwell on the parallels between Soldier and myself. Soldier and I learned a lot about the world around the campfire at the Obed. He writes in summary, “Listen when you feel an urge to speak, speak only when what you have to say is better than the silence, and never, ever confuse education with knowledge.” Soldier is a pretty smart dog, though I imagine he had a bit of trouble typing.
There are more than just roofs as well. Noell Lewis bears down on the final crimper of Super Final (5.12b)
It may seem odd that I would devote so much of a ‘guidebook review’ to little snippets found within. But those tidbits of information and the memories of those that contributed are what make the book so special. The book accurately describes not just the routes, directions, and other essentials, but the feeling of the place. The route descriptions do the job of describing not just how many quickdraws to take, but what makes it so unique. The history section is detailed and spot on and each chapter opens with a quote from a die-hard lover of the Obed like Brad Carter who writes, “I think it was Chouinard who pointed out that climbers may travel all over the world and climb on all kinds of different stone but they’ll always remain partial to the stone that starts it all. For me the Obed is that place.” Many more prolific climbers have contributed similar sentiments in their essays.
Despite the excellent text, nothing sums up the quality of the brilliant stone like the full color, glossy photos by Mark Large. Mark spent a season or more capturing the amazing images that will have you drooling in anticipation of your next trip.
A good intro to the pumpy, steep face climbing of South Clear Creek is Pale Face (5.11a). The stone is clean enough to eat off.
Andy Wellman of Greener Grasses Publishing deserves a shout as well for taking all of the info and compiling it into a neat, user friendly package. The book features all the same characteristics as the other Greener Grasses books including: hike time to crags, best season, sun/shade aspect, OK in rain or not, pictures of the parking lots so you know you’re at the right spot and even GPS coordinates for the tech savvy. Hand drawn topo maps of the hike in and route locations are accompanied by digital images of the cliff with topo lines drawn in and routes numbered accordingly. All in all it’s exactly what you’d expect from a high-quality modern guidebook.
Mojo (V8) is one of the many classic problems found along the short cliffline boulderfield of the Lilly Boulders.
The one aspect of this book that makes it essential over the past Obed guide is the inclusion of the Lilly Boulders. The Lilly boulder field is a true backwoods gem and an essential part of the Obed experience. It’s the Obed EXPERIENCE that this book defines and if you haven’t been there I highly recommend a visit. It’s even worth the drive from out West. Leave your city ways at home and head to the Obed to eat, drink, laugh, share, sleep in the dirt, and climb on some of the best stone in the country.
To purchase the book and begin planning your trip, go to Greener Grasses Publishing.
To find out more about the Obed read the DPM feature article written by guidebook author Kelly Brown here.
Scalded Dog (5.12a) comes in at a moderate grade for such a steep route. Hang on through some big jugs on this wild ride.
Even bigger jugs can be found on Heresy (5.11c). Remarkably, the crux is on the vertical face below. Locals consider the roof portion to be 5.10!
Some of the more recent development has occurred along the smaller cliff that parallels Little Clear Creek. Black Nail (5.11d) is a stone's throw from the crystal clear water.
The Hume Problem (V10) at the Lilly Boulders climbs like a route. Long and pumpy without the need for a rope.