The Trash and Treasures of Upper Middle Creek

By Mark Siegrist

The author climbing the  Petrified  boulder in Upper Middle Creek. Photo by Micah Gentry.

The author climbing the Petrified boulder in Upper Middle Creek. Photo by Micah Gentry.

Upper Middle Creek has taken many forms over the course of its storied history.

Rusted old moonshine stills, deteriorated from years of weathering Appalachian storms, lay littered about the canyon. The giant hemlocks and thick undergrowth of rhododendrons provided a safe haven for the good ol' boys to craft their sinister potion.

Archaeological dig sites remain under the sandstone roofs which populate the area. Those curious about its history spent hours underneath the toasted brown overhangs, searching for clues about UMC's former inhabitants. These same roofs were also home to transient humans. Humans who made the choice to shun society and seek their solace and solitude in the scenery of the Cumberland Plateau.

However, these transients left behind more than just civilization. Their wake produced giant piles of trash: gloves molding from years buried beneath the dirt, a foot stool, a fishing net, a rabbit trap, boxes of cat litter, dog food and office supplies. Containers of gasoline, a Bible, a tattered American flag, a half-drunk bottle of Gentleman Jack. Countless cans of beer and baked beans, deteriorating and shriveled by the earth's compression.

Drew and I sat there for the umpteenth time, wondering whether it would truly be worth it to clean up this sprawling mound of filth. We thought the area was nearing its end for development, and with nowhere else to turn, we set to work on the Trash Roof.

I first went to Upper Middle Creek in October of 2016. Drew and I had been relentlessly searching for the area for a couple weeks, until we finally caved in and asked Chattanooga OG boulderer and first ascensionist Jeff Drumm about its whereabouts. We visited as soon as possible, and returned for the entirety of the season thereafter.

We marveled at the massive expanse of the Rustoleum roof. We repeated its classic lines, and explored options for new variations amongst its breadth of holds. We flailed at the Bushido Project Wall, home to UMC's hardest established problem, the namesake Bushido (V9). This same wall boasts several projects in the V10+ range, all of which remain unclimbed. We slowly began branching out from there, adding our own test pieces and developing around 30 new problems in the V2-V9 range that winter season.

Drew Mayo holding the swing on  The Painter . Photo by Micah Gentry.

Drew Mayo holding the swing on The Painter. Photo by Micah Gentry.

Despite being on public land, bouldering potential at Upper Middle Creek remained largely undiscovered. The long, winding canyon and thick canopy serve as a safeguard against those seeking to uncover its mysteries. Many problems were left untouched by the initial surveyors of the area. Others were walked past on a daily basis until the movements were brushed out of them by curious pioneers who relentlessly asked “Why?” and “How?”. Some of the most special boulders were hidden deep in the canyon, deeper than any climber had yet to venture. The Trash Roof is neither hidden, nor distant, nor obscure, nor undiscovered. Yet there it sits, unclimbed, patiently awaiting an appropriate suitor.

Armed to the teeth with latex gloves, contractors bags, and a rake, we set out to tame the Trash Roof. Like moths to a flame, we were drawn to the roof, despite the labor it demanded. We had never planned on cleaning anything more than moss and questionable rock at UMC, yet here we were.

Seemingly endless piles of broken glass were swept out from beneath. Camp chairs were pulled from the rubble and set aside, later to serve as bleacher seats when the action would unfold. We were unraveling someone's life. Peculiar items of sentiment became laughable talking points as we toiled away shoveling handfuls of junk. Inch by inch, bag by bag, hour by hour, we trudged on towards our goal. We'd clean just enough in one sitting to set our pads down and frantically climb the problems revealed by a sanitary landing zone.

Our first round of cleaning efforts unlocked the most obvious line on the roof, OG Trash - a steep V4 which climbs through a series of flake jugs and pinches to a classic Southern lip encounter. Not the best rock underneath the roof, but upon reaching the lip, you're greeted by immaculate grey slopers and a pristine water groove which is used as a lay back to find your way on top. A few more bags of trash and an Extension reveals itself, which traverses the lip of the roof for several more moves than the original. During the Extension, the roof is entirely devoid of foot holds and the gymnastic crux is solved with a clever campus-foot-swing maneuver. Afterwards, you are greeted by an even bulgier bulge, which steadily holds its ground against aspiring ascensionists.

Mark Siegrist eyeing the next moves on  OG Trash . Photo by Micah Gentry.

Mark Siegrist eyeing the next moves on OG Trash. Photo by Micah Gentry.

The gem of the roof was uncovered on our second day of cleaning efforts. Dubbed Litter Clean after a forty pound box of cat litter which was removed from the rubble. An unlikely classic for an unlikely boulder, Litter Clean features unique, thought-provoking movement. This V6 starts on the escaping roof of the face, with absolutely no feet available underneath. To begin the problem, you grip a full-pad iron protrusion with both hands and ninja kick a heel hook above your head. Once you've settled in sideways, a long lock off leads to a sharp crimper from which a series of gastons and hand matches are nervously finagled to finally establish on a poor slot up high. Settled up high on bad holds, you can walk your feet beneath you and make a long reach for the jugs of victory.

On a first ascent attempt, the crux hold snapped off into my face, substantially increasing the difficulty. I came plummeting to the Earth with a thud, my ass slammed onto a crash pad and I was left with a swollen smile on my face. A few easy face climbs round off the boulder, one of which has an undone sit start, haunted by an endlessly seeping starting hold.

The sullen wreckage of the Trash Roof had yet another life breathed into it. Like the shiners, diggers, and lay-abouts before us, the roof had assumed a new form, and offered a unique enjoyment for those willing to transform it. Now home to the boulderer's trash of chalk, shoe rubber, scrubbed rock and swept landings, we had simply replaced the previous inhabitant's belongings with our own. A story of boulder problems was now inscribed within its sandstone tome – another chapter in the ever-changing narrative of Upper Middle Creek.       

Drew Mayo climbing  Stinger . Photo by Micah Gentry.

Drew Mayo climbing Stinger. Photo by Micah Gentry.