Made in the South

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Six of the coolest climbing companies below the Mason-Dixon line

When it comes to the climbing industry, mountain meccas like Salt Lake City, Seattle, or Boulder attract most of the attention, but there’s a growing number of companies with Southeastern roots. We talked with a few of them to ask about the local climbing community, to see if Southern hospitality is a real thing, and get their take on why the South is a great place to have a climbing company.

SicGrips

Charlottesville, Virginia; Sicgrips.com

Working as a project manager for Rosetta Stone meant a lot of traveling and weeks away from the crag for southeast climber Craig Spaulding. He packed along some portable training devices to stay in shape on the road, but he felt they left a lot to be desired so he started tinkering. He built several prototypes with the intention of providing full functionality of a hangboard in a small, versatile, and portable device.

After a few years of tweaking designs and getting feedback from climber friends, he decided to bring the “Gstring” to production. The Gstring is comprised of two pieces of curved metal that offer a variety of grip shapes, orientation, and sizes via the adjustable cordelette hanging system. Spaulding describes his company as a “very small Blue Ridge cottage industry,” and he does almost everything himself, with help from engineering, machinist, and editor friends, as well as another Virginia company that handles the assembly.

The SICgrips Gstring | Photo: Courtesy

A future goal for Spaulding is to start a wiki site for DIY training devices, which he thinks will be a great way to advance the sport. Having been a climber in the South for the past 20 years, Spaulding hopes that the relaxed, down-home vibe of the Southern climbing community is reflected in his business. “To me, Southern climbing is all about friendliness and respect at the crag, giving beta when asked for it, and sharing beers after climbing,” he says. “I always want my company to be laid-back and flexible enough to say, ‘Hey, it’s a beautiful day out. Let’s go to the crag.’”

Rockery Press

Chattanooga, Tennessee; rockerypress.com

“Everyone thinks the South is simple, and then they dismiss it,” Cody Averbeck says. “But the truth is that the South is complicated and possesses a deep, thoughtful tradition.” As the co-founders of Rockery Press, Averbeck and Micah Gentry collect historic images, conduct interviews, do field research, and shoot new climbing photos to create high-quality guidebooks to mirror these characteristics.

For years the duo had been working on access and route development in new areas around Chattanooga, and they realized that the public needed better information. “More importantly we wanted to preserve part of the experience in developing these areas,” Averbeck says, so Chatt Steel: A Comprehensive Guide to Chattanooga Sport Climbing was published in 2013. With five current titles, Averbeck estimates that Rockery Press will be up to 10 titles in a year or two. He hopes that his favorite Southern crag might be included in one of these upcoming titles, but until then, it will stay a secret. “There’s a handwritten notebook that gets passed around,” he says. “The crag is like the Endless Wall at the New River Gorge, but 30 minutes from Chattanooga with everything you’d want in a Southern cliff.”

Misty Mountain

Banner Elk, North Carolina; mistymountain.com

When Goose Kearse met Woody Keen in high school in the late 1970s, Keen was sewing his own swami belt and leg loop combos and was “way into climbing,” according to Kearse. A few years later, Keen took a position as head climbing instructor at North Carolina’s Outward Bound School, and in 1985, he started Misty Mountain, named after the neighborhood he lived in where he sewed some of the first harnesses.

Photo: Fixed Line Media/Bryan Miller

Thirty-two years later, Misty Mountain has 16 employees and a 7,000-square-foot facility where they focus on making quality harnesses. They also sponsor local climbers, volunteer at climbing events, and of course, climb at crags throughout the Southern Appalachian region. “Our identity is rooted in the South, and We are members of the Western NC Outdoor Gear Builders,” says Kearse, who joined the company in 1989. “We enjoy families, raising children, and playing together outdoors. Some of us fish and hunt, and we care for our neighbors. We also respect all people of all creeds, colors, gender identities and value the contributions of all who endeavor to make this place better by their efforts.”

Simplici Beta Balm

Pikeville, Tennessee; bulksoapcompany.com

When rough Southern sandstone turns tips into a raw pink mess, locals turn to the magic potion that is Beta Balm, a lotion bar that’s filled with mango butter, beeswax, oils, lanolin, vitamin E, and various other skin-loving botanicals. This potion is the brainchild of Gina Tinnin, a climber who has spent more than two decades making soaps and salves.

She started Simplici in April 2013 after selling her house in Colorado, “to make the dream a reality and turn a hobby into a business.” She picked Chattanooga for her company’s headquarters because “my blood is pure Dixie.” With a small shop and one other full-time employee, Tinnin has managed to crank out 30,000 to 40,000 bars of soap for the past three years, occasionally bringing in a few other temporary employees. Tinnin’s favorite crag is Little Rock City, aka Stone Fort, which she says “is just a chill place to get a great workout.”

Pigeon Mountain Industries

LaFayette, Georgia; pmirope.com

Like so many outdoor companies, PMI was founded because of one person’s passion for his chosen sport. Steve Hudson started caving at 18 at nearby Pigeon Mountain, utilizing ropes that were designed for sailing and commercial uses. The cords wore out quickly though, so Hudson began to toy with ropes in college.

In 1976 he and a few other cavers bought a rope-braiding machine and started PMI. Located in northwest Georgia in the heart of the stacked TAG (Tennessee-Alabama-Georgia) caving region, the company’s namesake, Pigeon Mountain, is known for devouring rope in its pit caves, some of which are more than 1,000 feet deep. PMI focuses on making quality ropes that are still affordable for climbers and cavers, as well as rigging and rescue pros.

Granola

Chattanooga, Tennessee; granolaproducts.com

This climbing startup got its start in an unlikely place: a high school home economics class. When brothers Kelsey and Connor Scott learned basic sewing skills as teenagers, the climbers quickly transferred them to their mother’s sewing machine, using upcycled and scrap fabrics to make their own chalkbags and packs.

Although the first few designs were “uncomfortable, dysfunctional, and aesthetically unappealing,” they kept at it, working multiple jobs to save money and investing in an industrial sewing machine. This was the official start of Granola. Based in Chattanooga, the small company prides itself on employing “friends and neighbors” to make handmade chalkbags and packs that marry modern style with outdoors functionality.

 

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