The first film I ever worked on was Heart of Stone, a story about rock climbers in the Southern US getting together to open new climbing areas by simply buying land and sharing it with the public, through a nonprofit organization called the Southeastern Climbers Coalition.
I teamed up with filmmaker Josh Fowler, shot months of footage, learned how to use Final Cut Studio and we did the thing. I’ve blogged about it a few times before, and you can watch the film for free.
A year later I got to talking with Cody Averbeck, a Chattanooga, Tennessee climber who had purchased some access to a new crag outside town called Deep Creek. You only see glimpses of some of the climbing area in the film, but now Cody was ready to take the crag “public” with a new guidebook, and asked if I’d be interested in working together on a story for Climbing Magazine.
Most of the first developers of this area (starting around 2007) were friends of mine from Atlanta and Chattanooga, and I got pulled out there once or twice and sworn to secrecy, but for the most part it was completely new to me by the time I started photographing the story in 2010-2011
So in May 2011 we published “Deep Wisdom”, which Cody wrote and I photographed. Photographic side note: Before publication, the editors sent out a social media post polling readers to see which cover they would like the most, mine (Sammy, above) or one of alpinist Ueli Steck running on snow! I don’t know what the results of the poll were, but they ran Ueli (may he rest in peace), which seemed a strange choice for a May cover when you could have a beautiful woman climbing colorful rock in a sports top above a mountain creek… but what do I know.
The story touches a little on what it’s like to climb in the South (describing that classic encounter of being caught with your hand in the cookie jar of forbidden sandstone) but it was edited down pretty heavily to be more of a nuts and bolts crag review.
Cody later wrote a great comprehensive guide to sport climbing in Chattanooga called Chatt Steel (2013). I say that but it’s by no means complete. The South must have more “comprehensively incomplete” climbing guidebooks than anywhere else. There is just so much climbing, with so much new stuff being uncovered and developed, and the information on crags is pretty tightly controlled. But even missing half the areas, a guidebook author could put out a respectable book a dozen more just in the Chattanooga area. That’s fine with me. I love reading guidebooks, and I end up just getting all of em.
Deep Creek is a magical place, deep in a spectacular river gorge along the Cumberland Trail. I’ve been back to there many times, usually hustling past on my way to photograph or film some other project. One of these days I’m going to stay for longer.