Climbers Permanently Protect Hell’s Kitchen

Access Fund is thrilled to announce that the Hell’s Kitchen bouldering area outside Chattanooga, Tennessee is now permanently protected as part of Cumberland Trail State Park. Access Fund bought the undeveloped bouldering area in 2018 to secure the property for climbing after the private land went up for sale, and we just finished a two-year effort to protect this outstanding climbing resource by transferring it to the state of Tennessee for long-term climber-friendly management.

Bouldering at Hell's Kitchen, ancestral lands of ᎠᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi (Cherokee, East) | Photo © Shannon Millsap

Hell’s Kitchen features a densely concentrated boulderfield with free-standing blocks, short sections of cliff, and a labyrinth of hidden corridors offering hundreds of problems and a small number of short, gritstone-like routes. Boasting quality sandstone, varied terrain, and striking lines, this prized new climbing area is comparable to the bouldering at nearby Stone Fort and Rock Town.

Before transferring the property, Access Fund partnered with Southeastern Climbers Coalition (SCC) to establish access to this remote new climbing area, which is located at the top of a steep ridge, high above the Cumberland Trail. With initial help from the Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team, SCC volunteers and Cumberland Trail staff built two miles of new trail across difficult terrain to connect Hell’s Kitchen to the main Cumberland Trail.

“The Southeastern Climbers Coalition led a remarkable, multi-phased volunteer effort to build a sustainable, contoured trail up the mountain to allow climbers to access this remote bouldering area,” says Zachary Lesch-Huie, Access Fund’s Southeast Regional Director.

Southeastern Climbers Coalition volunteers building a new trail to Hell’s Kitchen. Photo © On the Road and Off

“The significant distance and elevation gain from the Cumberland Trail to the climbing area presented a monumental challenge to build a sustainable trail to access the boulders,” says SCC Executive Director Andrea Hassler. “The SCC Stewardship Director spent many days in the field laying out the best route that would make the boulders accessible. We worked with over 100 volunteers during the summer of 2018 to complete the trail construction, including rock structures for retaining walls, talus crossings, and steps.”

Access Fund and SCC will maintain a strong partnership with Cumberland Trail managers to support climbing management and stewardship at Hell’s Kitchen. The state park is already home to many excellent climbing and bouldering areas, including Black Mountain, Laurel Falls, Buzzard Point, Laurel Snow bouldering, Dogwood Boulders, Big Soddy, Deep Creek, and the Cumberland Boulders.

The 2018 purchase of Hell’s Kitchen also included another climbing access property, Dogwood West, which Access Fund still owns and expects to also transfer to Cumberland Trail State Park early this year. Both areas are currently open and accessible to the public.

“The sites add two brilliant galleries to the Cumberland Trail, and we’re mighty grateful for Access Fund and the climbers who support their work,” says Cumberland Trail Park Manager Bob Fulcher. “Adventurers do great things, because they can’t stop at ‘ordinary.’ These will be a couple of exclamation points along the Cumberland Trail.”

Special thanks to REI Chattanooga for providing funding for trail work at Hell’s Kitchen, as well as to SCC, Riverview Foundation, the state of Tennessee, and the individual donors and volunteers who helped secure this property and build out a sustainable network of trails and staging areas for future generations to enjoy.

Hell’s Kitchen Access Information

Hell’s Kitchen is now accessible from the Roaring Creek Trailhead in Graysville, TN. Park in a gravel lot, and reference the map in the trailhead kiosk. Hike north on the Cumberland Trail, until you see signs for Hell’s Kitchen. Reference this guide for climbing information.