By Catoma Executive Vice President Jeff Moody
I’ve lived in Montgomery, Alabama for most of my life.
Unless you are from this area or are willing to think a little bit askew of the normal paths, Alabama doesn’t seem to fit common ideas of what it means to go and play outdoors. However, this region provides some incredible opportunities for outdoor activities that are easy to access and enjoy.
As a family, we would sometimes take camping RV trips and explore areas like the Smoky Mountains by renting a house near the park. I enjoyed the outdoors growing up, but it was never a part of my recreation until college when I started backpacking. Fast forward a few years with a 5-year stint in East Tennessee thrown in there, and my love of being outdoors has grown from a passing interest to a passion, one that I want to share with my entire family.
Going outdoors has become a respite for me in today’s fast-paced life as a husband and father of three while working at Catoma. It’s difficult to let go of everything at any given moment, and while I’m still learning how to do so, being in the woods allows just a moment of fresh air. As my kids have gotten older, we’ve been able to find more reasons to go outside.
One of these reasons is rock climbing, which grew out of a birthday present for my son into a near-obsession. My son, Ollie, is in the pre-teen years, and we’ve looked for opportunities for him to stay active that interest him while challenging him to press beyond what he thinks he can do. Gym climbing (pre-Covid) has become one of the top active recreations, and we joined the craze by traveling once a month or so to one of the gyms in Birmingham. What we didn’t know at the time was that we are only 2-hours away from one of the elite sites for climbing in America.
Alabama doesn’t end up in National Geographic documentaries about the big walls out west, and no one here is spending the night on the side of a cliff, but what it does offer is a stretch of sandstone deposits that create wonderful climbing sites from roughly Birmingham to Chattanooga, TN. One of these dream spots is a boulder field on private land called Horse Pens 40. For a $20 entry fee, you can have access to some of the best boulders for climbing in the country, and a campsite next to the rocks for multi-day trips.
Climbing and camping often come together at sites like Horse Pens 40. They are both gear-heavy sports, so the climber who is hauling two+ crash pads doesn’t have room for a 25 lb. pack with provisions. Thankfully, camping at a climbing location typically does not require packing in a mountain of materials. We can get some of the campsite comforts like larger tents, fire rings, and picnic table because the car is only a few yards away.
I’m a total rookie at climbing, and even after a couple of years, I can climb an outdoor V0-V1 at best. Even I can appreciate the toll that several hours of climbing can take on your body. At a recent trip to Horse Pens 40, my son and I came back to the campsite a little bloody and tired. How wonderful was it when I was able to set up our Catoma Sable in less than a few minutes and start winding down with a good campfire meal? At that point, I wasn’t interested in a long set up time for a tent that would make me feel like a worm in a cocoon when I didn’t need one. There’s no reason to add a difficult camp experience to an already difficult climbing one. The campsite should be a place of rest, not another place of work.
The SpeeDome line is perfect for this type of camping because we were able to set up easily and quickly right next to the rocks. We had plenty of room inside the tent for everything we needed and enjoyed a night without feeling claustrophobic or constantly bumping into each other.
My son and I will continue to trek up I-59 to several of the spots that feature not only boulder fields (Rock Town, etc.) but also some big rock opportunities (Yellow Bluff, Steele). As we go, we will continue to take our Catoma tents with us and enjoy easy camping after hard climbing.
Huge shout out to the Southeastern Climbers Coalition who’ve worked diligently to secure and maintain these climbing locations. Find out more about the great work they are doing here: https://www.seclimbers.org/.