For the monthly Coffee and Climb with a Ranger program at the Obed Wild and Scenic River in Tennessee, park rangers teach the public to rock climb; Photograph by Gabby Salazar
On the first Saturday of every month, something special happens at the Obed Wild and Scenic River in Eastern Tennessee. People of all ages gather to learn rock climbing as part of the Obed’s one-of-a-kind Coffee and Climb with a Ranger Program.
The program was started by park rangers who wanted to expose visitors to everything the park has to offer, and it has been going strong for more than two years.
Apart from being a great spot for kayaking and rafting, the Obed is one of the Southeast’s premier climbing spots, boasting around 350 permanently bolted sport routes, which range in difficulty from 5.7 to 5.14. There are also good bouldering areas and ample opportunities for traditional climbing.
When I showed up for the program one freezing Saturday morning, I expected to see just a few hardcore climbers at the meeting spot. Instead, I found 60 people gathered around the back of a pickup truck, collecting harnesses and helmets from a smiling park ranger named Matt. There were families, couples, and individuals, ranging in age from around four to 70.
After a brief orientation, we followed the rangers up a steep trail to the day’s climbing spot. The ground was still covered in snow and icicles were dripping down from the rock face. The rangers immediately started to prepare a series of routes, some for kids and some for more experienced climbers. They taught knots and commands and assured climbers that they would be below, acting as belayers.