Local Zones 101: Zahnd
Zahnd is an area that we had heard of in passing. Normally, when one hears of a place with boulders (assuming that person enjoys climbing on them), it causes an immediate increase in blood pressure. However, when Zahnd was first mentioned, it was during our first week in Chattanooga, and we’d already left projects behind in five other nearby zones. Adding to our list of places to check out didn’t seem like a high priority at the time.
A few days later, we were taking a rest day at Mean Mug Coffeehouse when I overheard the barista say “Zahnd.” Niko and I immediately went up to the register and got the lowdown from a very psyched Sam. That weekend, Niko and I decided to hike around Zahnd and see what all the fuss was about. I’m glad we did.
From Sam’s description, we anticipated finding a small cluster of well-traveled boulders a short distance from the road. We did. The main classic of the area, Harvest Moon, was unmistakable. It’s very cool-looking, a two-move V8 consisting of two jugs with a sloping crimp rail in between. It’s on perfect rock, that wonderful southern sandstone that almost seems to hold on for you…that is, if the temps are right. We found perhaps a dozen great problems and many more decent ones in that area, but we were eager to move on.
Zahnd is like a nice middle ground between the perennially popular Southern Trifecta areas and the almost mythical “super secret locals only” crags. The SCC provides a bit of info, Dr. Topo provides a limited map, and even Climbing Narc talked about it. Still, we were the only people there, the only car in the parking lot.
Back on the trail, we seemed to follow a faint cliffline reminiscent of Stone Fort. Several of the more obvious lines had chalk on them, including a few mini-free-solos. We also stumbled upon The Wave, a V11/12 that we think was first climbed by our friend Alex Savage. The Wave is seriously cool-looking, but Niko and I were chasing down a promise from Sam, that there were unclimbed boulders to be found by only the most intrepid pebble hunters. I hoped we were they.
About 15 minutes from the road is a very narrow series of passageways through corridors 30-feet high. These yielded to a sort of grotto, with what appeared to be many unclimbed easy and moderate problems of good (not quite great) quality, including a 45-foot long roof with a juggy flake that traverses the entire thing, topping out on either end. We also encountered a handful of highball projects of varying difficulty.
Then we stumbled upon the Prow. Here’s a photo:
Begs to be climbed, doesn’t it? More on that later…
The rock at Zahnd is, at its best, equal to that of Stone Fort. However, it seemed like the further back we went, the more we encountered what locals call The Curse. Curséd are the little embedded pebbles that often mar the stone in this part of the country. They are small and slick, and can make a perfect-looking boulder problem so unpleasant to climb that it might as well not exist. These aren’t Maple Canyon cobbles or Grayson Highlands dropstones, these are just rounded quartz (I think?) micro-marbles that are as kind to your tips as cheese graters are to sponges. The Curse can strike anywhere, even the Hospital Boulders and the vaunted Rocktown. (Rumor has it that, on some very popular problems, the curséd pebbles were filed down or chipped off for the sake of comfort. Honestly, I’m not really complaining…I’ve seen a lot worse when it comes to ethics.)
Anyway, Niko and I wandered around a bit more, but had seen more than enough to get us psyched to bring our ladies there for a session.
The next Sunday, Sam invited us out to join him. Katie had to stay in the van with a migraine, but Niko, Vikki and I managed to find Sam’s crew and say hi. We skipped the first area and warmed up in the corridors just before the Prow, climbing a few incredible easy highballs, and a nice little crimpy, vertical face that probably checked in around V6. Sam took off before we got a chance to climb with him, sadly. No matter. We ate some lunch and broke out the brushes.
There were many little faces to scrub in the immediate vicinity, but I was determined to climb the prow that day, or at least try it. I tossed a rope down and started brushing. It was unclear whether it had ever been done; the lack of chalk and the lack of obvious cleaning unfortunately means very little, as half of the boulder is shielded from rain and was already free of lichen. Before you could say “wire brushes are bad for sandstone,” the problem was clean and ready, with pads underneath and a couple of cameras pointed at it.
I put my shoes on, sat down, and started to work out the moves. After a couple of tries, I figured out the beta, and after a short rest, was able to climb the thing to the top!
The boulder problem starts seated with a right handed sidepull and a crimp for the left. Stand up to a left hand sidepull crimp, then right hand to a 2-finger pocket with a curse-pebble for the thumb. Left hand bumps to another sidepull, then right hand to a little crimp on the arete. Then, the crux: jack your feet up and lunge for the flat, square jug four feet above your handholds. Take a breather and execute a tenuous balance sequence to gain the next big jug system, and (carefully) waltz to the top.
I was incredibly psyched. The prow is a 5 star problem and would be anywhere. It’s as good as anything at LRC with the possible exception of the Shield. It has the added benefit of being in a less popular area, and because I found it, I have the extra pride a parent would have in his otherwise average child.
At least, I thought I found it, kinda. In the back of my mind, a little tingle of doubt kept saying that there was no way that a line this good and this obvious could sit a mere ten minute walk from classics like Harvest Moon. After exchanging a few messages with Luis Rodriguez, owner of the TBA gym and one of the early explorers of Zahnd, I was almost certain that the climb had been done by Anthony Meeks. Regardless of that fact, the problem is still special to me, and is still a phenomenally fun climb.
The rest of the day was spent playing on the giant roof with the big flake. There were so many climbs we saw just waiting for a brush and an FA, and we will be back. Luis also told me of another mega-roof with an obvious, hard project on it. Of course, this being the South, the odds of someone having done it, or one of the many other lines we think are virgin, is pretty high. The history here is almost entirely word of mouth, mixed with tall tales and local lore, and there’s no telling what someone might’ve casually climbed in passing.
A Note About Access
Zahnd is public land, administered by the Georgia DNR. It’s occasionally closed off during hunting season, when only licensed hunters are allowed to use the land. Otherwise, it’s free to use.
That first day, on our way back to the road, we met a local named Brad, who later warned us that there was a disgruntled property owner who had confronted some climbers at the parking area. According to the SCC, we’ll have to wait until January 1st to know for sure, when whoever is responsible for looking up this piece of information will have the time to do so. Until then, if you go to Zahnd, please park on the west side of the highway, as we know for sure that that is part of the Zahnd land. If you happen to run in to the guy, please be courteous.