Will We Ever Climb at Rocktown?
By Elaine Elliott
A middle-aged woman staggered out of the driver’s side of the Walker County cop car. She wore the standard officer uniform, curls pleated curtly behind a wide-brimmed hat, shirt tucked in along a widening midriff. Flashing cerulean blue lights cast vivid shadows against her left side, a stark contrast to the dulled foliage backdrop of a fleeting fall. She walked forward a few steps, as Matt and I leaned against the guardrail where the highway slopped into a steep ridgeline.
“Y’all got a gas can?” she snapped.
“Oh, no…” Matt stammered. “We thought you were coming to give us one. We just need a little gas, that’s all.”
“I came to protect this car from getting hit by other vehicles on the highway,” she said between spitting at the pavement below her heels. I wanted to see if the her saliva was comprised of dip or sunflower seeds, but I was too scared to look.
“Y’all call Triple A?” she asked. Followed by another spit.
“Oh, well, no… we were about to, but then we called you instead, and the lady on the phone said you’d bring a gas can. We even have some money — she said we might need it.” Matt’s voice slowly faded with every second of the cop's stern stare.
The officer pointed a thumb to her chest. “Now, my job,” she declared, agitation enunciating her Southern drawl, “is to make sure this car doesn’t get hit. Our patrol cars don’t carry gas cans.”
Although her argument was valid, for the last half hour there had been no sign of anyone coming close to hitting the Buick. It had stalled near the shoulder at the steepest part of the ridge, where gravity made accelerating difficult, and even semis and motorcycle gangs proved to have ample time changing lanes.
“Is there someone you can contact to bring one?” Matt asked.
“No, my partner is way up north of town. He can’t just come down here on the other side of the county.”
LaFayette only has two officers on duty at a time. Noted.
“Ah yeah, makes sense.” Now we both attempted sheepish smiles in hopes of ending the conversation quickly.
Matt and I went back to the car and strategized. “We thought the point of calling her was for her to help us?!” we repeated between fits of laughter. Humor seemed the best, and possibly only, cure for the current situation.
“How about I make a sign,” I proposed, “and we hold it up behind the cars? It’ll say something like 'Gas Can' with a question mark. Maybe someone would pull over.”
Already numerous people had pulled over to see if our stalled car was okay. But we had assured every driver that a cop was coming to help after the first man in a white pickup truck suggested we call 911 to get a free gas fill. “Oh yeah, yeah, that’s what thu’re supposed tah do” he reassured us when we expressed our doubts about his idea. Alas, our prior hesitations were now slapping us in the face.
About 30 minutes ago, Matt and I were en route to Rocktown, a steady stream of jams propelling us toward a fun-filled day at the crag. We were slowly making our way up the last few hills on Highway 136, where there isn’t a building for a few miles. As we drove over the final ridgeline, Matt suddenly muttered a “Shittt, oh shiiiiit” while steering the car closer to the shoulder.
“Wha–” but before I could fully ask, the car came to a standstill and I realized exactly what was going on. "I'm such an idiot," I thought to myself. I had completely forgotten to tell Matt when we left Atlanta that my gaslight had come on yesterday during the drive back from Castle Rock.
My phone never had service on this segment of the trip toward Rocktown. Fortunately, Matt had enough of a signal to call Triple A again.
We waited for over 40 minutes after a representative said she’d try to contact Walker County towing services; Triple A, of course, didn’t service cars in this part of the state. Meanwhile, I started to make a “Gas Can?” sign with scraps of paper from the backseat.
After a few more pavement expectorations, the cop had retired to her front seat and begun browsing Facebook photos on her computer. She continued spitting into a Subway cup.
Our impatience was growing, while the cop’s seemed to have disappeared. Matt tried to call Triple A again while I walked behind the police car and held up the DIY sign. But within moments, the officer was onto something.
“Don’t hold up that sign!” she barked out the window. “Someone might get distracted reading it and crash into the car.”
Matt and I looked at each other and tried not to laugh.
Two hours later, our guardian angel finally arrived in the form of a young man, no older than eighteen, who pulled over in a towing services pickup truck. He filled up the Buick with a small red gas can as we gushed about how happy we were to see him. We politely waved goodbye to the cop and headed down the mountainside toward the closest gas station, hooting and hollering the whole way.
The gas station was about 40 minutes from the Rocktown trailhead, which meant we’d have about 3 hours to climb before sundown. While Matt filled up the car, I went inside to search for a means of drowning our stress. I beelined straight to the back fridges and scanned the aisles for something other than Natty Light.
And there it was. The god of all beers. The holy grail of brewed liquids. The crème de la crème of all Georgia craft. Its bright horizontal stripes of orange and turquoise shined among a sea of domestic pilsners.
Tropicalia is sure to make any beer snob go crazy, but as University of Georgia graduates, we held a special place in our hearts for this IPA . Matt and I were still in college when Creature Comforts opened. We’d all visit the brewery nearly every day after class back when tours were cheap and Tropicalia was only sold in Athens. And now, here it was, shining like a beacon of hope in a northwest Georgia gas station.
I grabbed the case without a second thought and strutted over to the register with a big smile on my face. As I fished through my purse to find my ID, the cashier bluntly deadpanned, “Ma’am, this county doesn’t sell alcohol on Sundays.”
As if I needed another reminder of my East-Jesus-Nowhere whereabouts.
We finally made it to the Orb area in the late afternoon and threw our pads down at the warm-up boulders. We started with Trouble (I’ve made it a tradition of mine to climb this problem every time I visit Rocktown), then moving downhill to where a group of vacationing Pennsylvanian students were trying Jug Surfin'.
The crux hold felt as good as ever, and on the second go I found myself topping out the upper slopers. When I returned after down-climbing through the boulder’s middle corridor, one of the climbers came up to me and said “I really liked your beta — you made it look easy!”
I assured him it was a problem I’d been climbing for years now, and that if I were to visit one of his home crags I’d probably say the same thing to him.
We discussed the beta, and within two goes he sent the problem.
“Thank you so much!” he exclaimed. “That problem was on my to-do list, and after trying it for the past few hours, I was about to give up — until I saw you climb it.”
Even this simple exchange of gratitude seemed like enough reason to visit Rocktown. I loved seeing out-of-towners visit in the fall months and roam these boulderfields like kids in a candy shop. It was a chance for me to proclaim my love of Southern climbing to a group of strangers, simultaneously hearing about their favorite crags and comparing the differences between our regions.
The tables turned later, when some New Yorkers provided useful foot beta for The Hobbit. This problem has proved to be a perpetual nemesis. I hadn’t put much effort into the problem recently, but sending harder grades since my early efforts didn’t help me progress on this boulder. And considering how devoid of luck we were today, well, it was an unsurprising letdown. At this rate, I was just happy to have escaped the spitting chronicles of Highway 136.
The day started to fade as we played around on the vast wall of huge jugs and chickenheads at Hueco Simulator.
Matt gazed up at the stone with big heartfelt grins after each each climb. It was the same way you look at someone when you’re about to part ways for a long time.
And that’s exactly what Matt was doing. This was his last climbing trip in the South before he would leave for Colorado. This meant Matt was yet another friend I was losing to the wonders of the West — a whole other topic I could discuss.
Soon enough, our hands felt too fatigued to continue. We scrambled up the slab near Jimmy Hendrix’s Face and watched the sun’s last rays cast a vibrant blood-orange glow across the crag. It looked like the sandstone was on fire. With no foliage or clusters of climbers to shroud the scene, we watched the burning boulders.
While relishing in the rare silence of a Pigeon Mountain sunset at the peak of bouldering season, I learned that no matter the circumstances or brief time, a trip to Rocktown is always worthwhile.