Vector analysis, Chattanooga

All pics are from Eddie Gianelloni


James’ interpretation of the Atomic Buttress wall

Stormy day at Bee wall


Yesterday the weather promised us a storm, heavy rain, wind, and even maybe tornados!

Reason would have had us stay in bed watching “Walking dead” or rereading “Gone with the wind”… But it had already rained Monday AND Tuesday… and we had exhausted my reserves of laziness and patience. Plus Eddie Gianelloni had just arrived, he is a friend and a photographer, and Chattanooga is very special in his heart, as this is the place where he learned trad.


So we went, direction bee wall, where we had been told that the overhangs could stand the rain. Bee Wall is home to some of the hardest, boldest trad climbs around Chattanooga, first climbed by Rob Robinson and friends back in the mid 80’s. Since then, the crag has been largely retro-bolted and is now home to some of Chattanooga’s hardest sport climbing. The walk was muddy, wet, slippery, and promised for a wasted day.

But at the bottom of the atomic Buttress, the wind picked up, and counterbalanced the humidity. I would never dare say that we had good conditions, but the wall was climbable.

So we set off for most likely a sport day, on this trad crag that has been bolted. I would never dare bolt a trad route, as to a British climber (ok I am French, so maybe I would dare after all, but mostly to bother my British enemy:),bolting a trad ground is like spitting at the queen. But we are not at home, and we don’t know everything, and I have to admit that bolts are very convenient as they allow you to climb until you reach wet holds and then stop.


Anyway, we had a vague topo, and could warm up sport climbing on “Beyond Berzerk” , a cool route that we had green climbed a few days before. Then James had in his mind to maybe try to repeat “Vector”, as an homage to Rob Robinson (Vector Analysis is Rob’s “masterpiece”, one of the hardest routes of the era, and an especially daring, bold route) and the history of Trad… But to keep on warming up we first went up what seemed like the harder line of the wall, the prow. Just right of Vector, pretty eliminate to say the truth, but cool moves. I think, but wouldn’t be sure, that it is the beginning of the Flipper arête, but we stopped just below the top horizontal break, at a bolted belay that must be the belay of Karma. (is Flipper arête going to the very top of the crack? We didn’t know, and the top was wet, so we stopped there, with an effort around 8a, 8a+)


Caro sport climbing…

Why am I being so boring by telling you names of routes and nearly movements? (although I won’t go that far, I would bore myself to sleep) because this atomic buttress seems very dear to several climbers, and the subject of interesting debates on to bolt or to debolt… and I just want to be very exact before I start rumours….


I suggested to James to try to green climb that, as it seemed feasible, and would be like James’ own interpretation of the rock. I didn’t quite dare try it myself, as there is a massive run out, that, James being James, “tested” by taking the full ride. I am never happy with him when he does stuffs like that, because a) testing a fall would be to put a dead weight (no a live one) and dropping it exactly as the climber would, in order to check that it’s ok to fall… b) being the belayer, I would be completely responsible for having not stopped him if things went sideways.

But James has put me in this nasty situations a few times now, and I have learned that there is no talking him out of it, this is where his freedom lays, and so far, all good. So I belay and cross my fingers and close my eyes while he jumps.


Anyway, it turned out that the fall was fine, and James came down and let me sport climb the route; I stripped all the gear, including all the very old quickdraws that could break anytime (that is an other debate, but having seen so many kids overconfident in fixed gear, I know take out the scary looking ones. I have been climbing for 20 years now, on all continents, and I have learnt that your security in in you own hands… But the kidos don’t all know that).


The storm was picking up then, and I restrained from hurrying James, even if at that point, we could hear the thunder coming closer. James was getting ready to green climb the route, and this are his little moments where time stops, where somehow, he turns on his Trad head. Eddy knows James too by now, and he was silent too, even if I am pretty sure Eddie didn’t quite love hanging up on the wall with all the metal on his harness and the storm rolling up…

James set off, and did it. There is always a fairly serious difference between sport and trad, in the facts that placing gear in an overhang is very pumpy, and that you have to be a bit more tense to make sure you won’t ever slip at the wrong place (even if we knew the fall was fine, if you slipped while placing or clipping the gear, it wouldn’t be fine at all). He finished the route with the top getting wet.

Cool, great route. 


James”testing” the full fall!

James has now decided to spoil my great end by saying: “this route is just my interpretation of that wall, it probably climbs bits and pieces of other existing routes, and in its most simple terms, takes, what I think the most direct line up the arête, and finishing next to the first big ledge. All gear placed on lead, ‘headpointed’ after working the moves (I climbed the route first using the bolts )

The crag referenced in this story has sensitive access issues.  Please read the access section on for up to date information.  Access information correct as of  23/05/2016





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