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The SCC & Yellow Bluff

Submitted by j_ung on 2008-12-14 | Last Modified on 2008-12-18

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.   Votes: 7 | Comments: 11 | Views: 8779

by J. Young

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Reprinted with permission from the Southeast Climbers Coalition.

Just recently, at the final Triple Crown event, the Southeastern Climbers Coalition announced Yellow Bluff as Crag X – the new addition to climbing areas opened, owned, and managed by the SCC. Yellow Bluff is located about 20 miles from Huntsville, Alabama and has been closed since the early 1990's. Many climbers have been asking about the history of Yellow Bluff so the SCC wanted to fill in the public on not only the history of Yellow Bluff, but what is currently being done to secure its access.

During the time of the late 80’s the left side of Yellow Bluff was home to Alabama’s first 5.13a, “Rainbow Warrior,” as well as the first 13d/14a, “Tour de Jour.” Many Alabama legends put up routes there during that time. James Dobbs of Ft. Payne was one of the first to begin establishing classic lines on natural gear on the right side of the cliff. The crag's quality and popularity soon captured the interest of Alabama climbers Curt Merchant, Betty Jo Rattford-Merchant, and Roy Simmons, as well as climbers from out of state such as Arno Ilgner, Jeff Gruenberg and Jesse Guthrie.

Route development at Yellow Bluff exploded and it soon became the state’s test-piece crag. But as quickly as Yellow Bluff gained popularity, access there was shut down.

Over the past three years the SCC has been working to re-establish Yellow Bluff as an area open to all climbers. In June of 2005, Brad McLeod drove up from Adam Henry's house on a trip north to check out the mystical and then closed Yellow Bluff. After Brad made initial contacts with the landowners, Paul Morley, SCC Board Member and local Huntsville climber, then stepped in to steer the project through its long and drawn out negotiations on purchasing the right side of the crag. Through persistence and hard work, Paul continued the talks with the landowner, leading to an affirmative agreement to sell at a set price. Paul went on to lead the acquisition to the recent successful signing of the contract for the right side of Yellow Bluff. During this time several key SCC volunteers helped, including Michelle Connell, Brad McLeod and Gus Fontenot with his legal expertise.

Quick Facts on the SCC Yellow Bluff Purchase

Q: Are we getting the left side where the majority of the hard sport routes were?
A: No. The SCC is acquiring the RIGHT SIDE where a few original gear (trad) routes were established.

Q: How many linear feet are we getting of the cliffline?
A: 1024 ft.

Q: Since we are getting the right side, is the rock quality still good?
A: Yes, and aesthetic.

Q: Will new routes be established on the right side?
A: Yes, after close of contract. These logistics are still being worked out by the SCC. The SCC will announce these logistics when solidified.

Q: How will we access Yellow Bluff?
A: We will be able to hike to the base Yellow Bluff from a small parking lot on either the eastern or southern property boundary.

Q: Is there an obvious feature that separates the left and right side?
A: Yes, there’s an obvious huge roof.

Q: When can we begin to go to Yellow Bluff?
A: After the SCC closes the contract, we’ll announce the official opening.

Q: Since the left side was historic, can we go look at it and climb?
A: No. There will be NO TOLERANCE FOR POACHING of any kind, even to go see it. If we are ever have a chance of opening the left side, we need to respect the property rights of the current landowner.

Quotes and Testimonials about the Right Side of Yellow Bluff:

“Hey Brad… After Paul Morley told me of the purchase of Crag X, I got to thinking and dug out an old film of the place. I didn't know if I still had it. The quality was really bad, made in about 86 but you could still see the beauty of the place. It brought back a lot of memories, just a few of us climbing, joking, laughing and bull-crapping as all climbers do. One climb on the film in particular caught my attention, named Orange Crush, Morris Shumate was climbing it. Beautiful orange face climb with just enough pro, rated 5.11a. As I watched him climb it I got that same feeling I got when I first saw the cliff, almost untouched. It was extreme excitement like a kid at Christmas. I couldn't believe climbers were going to get to use the place again. At the time the cliff was closed I thought it was gone forever. We only did the most obvious lines; the potential for new development is so high with the young talented climbers and new gear development since those days. The SCC has really come through again, and just like Jamestown, we'll never have to worry about the place being closed again. Thanks to all who have, and will work and donate to this project.”
James Dobbs

“The rock and features remind me of horseshoe canyon."
Adam Henry

"Yellow bluff was one of the last great Alabama crags. I wrote an article in Climbing Magazine in the mid 80's about Yellow Bluff, touting it as the crown jewel of Alabama climbing. It was an awesome crag of high density and very high quality routes. There were a lot of great routes established there by the Reed brothers, myself, James Dobbs, but primarily by Jessie Guthrie. He put up a few 13s and a 13d/14a confirmed by Scott Franklin on a visit, and a host of 12s. This area is a world class small crag!"
Mark Cole

“The loss of access to Yellow Bluff back in the 1980's was a huge blow to the climbing community since the area is home to some of the finest sport climbing – on the some of the finest rock – that the 'Sandstone Belt of the South' has to offer. Imagine climbing the inside of a gently overhanging pool wall for half a rope length on crimpers, and you'll have an idea of how steep, and unrelenting, the climbing is. Congratulations to the Southeastern Climber's Coalition for this spectacular achievement.”
Rob Robinson

The rest of it…

The sale is set to close in February of 2009 with fundraising expected to be completed by January 2009. In the meantime, we would like to ask everyone to PLEASE STAY AWAY FROM YELLOW BLUFF UNTIL THE SCC CLOSES ON THE CONTRACT. GOING ONTO THE PROPERTY WILL ONLY JEOPARDIZE THE SALE! This is a requirement imposed by the current owner of the property and is a condition of the purchase.

Many thanks for everyone’s interest and involvement in helping open another crag in the south. When you own it, no one can close it. The SCC would like to invite each and every one of you to help be part of this history. To date we have raised almost everything we need; there’s only a little left to go. If you’d like to donate please click on the Donate Now link at the top or bottom of this page.

Or, send a check to:
275 Stone Mill Trail NE
Atlanta, GA 30328

There’s more info on the Help Open Yellow Bluff Facebook page. Also, be sure to check out SCC Interviews with Yellow Bluff pioneers, Jesse Guthrie and Curt Merchant.

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11 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

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From the SCC: only $1408 left until they reach their goal. I gave $200. Come on Let's put them over the top!
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5 out of 5 stars An amazing time for Southern climbing.
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No kidding, huh? :)
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5 out of 5 stars if we own it - they cant take it away.
climber owned and climber's a beautiful thing.
help us make climbing history as we take this previously closed crag and open it back up to the climbing public.
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5 out of 5 stars The really cool thing here is the domino effect: the purchase of Boat Rock helped pave the way for buying Jamestown, which in turn probably made Yellow Bluff possible. And once YB is in climber hands, I hear rumors that yet another domino will fall before long . . .
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Thank you jason for adding this!
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Just heard from contacts at the AF (and confirmed on SCC website) that the goal has been reached! They still needs funds for other stuff, though, like a parking lot. Keep 'em coming!
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5 out of 5 stars other dominoes can be seen in the film Heart of Stone (its on the website)...
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This is a great achievment. I look forward to climbing here!
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Bravo. I used to sling big top ropes here back in the day, right and left side, all with no directionals, so if you peeled you took the big swing. Back then my rack consisted of 10, 20, and 40' loops of webbing. This must have been some 20 years ago, just after the left side sport route bolts got pulled but access was still allowed. A site of so much inspiration for me. I saw a "newbie" named Robin Erbesfield pulling off a testpiece 12 and watched Betty Jo and Roy crank off 11s, all on wacky TRs. I basically learned the beauty of a sport with no gender or age limitations, and the joy of making do with what you've got. Hopefully the left side will follow.
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