Monday, March 24, 2008


King & Queen Bluff - Clarksville, Tenn.

Leaving Memphis at 6 a.m., my little group of six adventurers headed northeast for a three hour drive to Clarksville Tennessee, eager to try something new --- rock climbing. Our destination was the King and Queen’s Bluff, an expanse of steep cliffs that overlook the Cumberland River. The craggy limestone bluff is south facing and nestled in a curve of the river; from its superior elevation, the bluff provides a grand view of the river and countryside beyond.

These bluffs are a haven for rock climbing enthusiasts, providing 170 marked and rated routes to choose from. All the routes are rated 5.1 or higher; we saw some rated as high as 5.12 (Yosemite Decimal Scale), which you would have to have a screw or two loose to attempt.

Our climbing instructors, Adam and Karina Beck, met us at the bluffs. They are a young couple that runs Beckonology (, a rock climbing service out of Nashville. Adam is an AMGA certified Top Rope Site Manager, and most of his weekends are spent teaching kids, six to sixty, how to climb and rappel.

Though a couple of us had rappelled in the past, none of us had ever done anything that could remotely be called rock climbing. Just walking the narrow trail at the base of the cliffs and reading the names of the routes etched into metal placards, identifying each route and rating, heightened our level of excitement. ‘Captain Hook – 5.6’ was written on the placard where Adam told us to drop our packs.

Here he and Karina instructed us how to wear our harnesses and helmets, and gave us a brief lecture on rock climbing. Attaching a collection of carabineers to his harness, Adam free climbed up the rock face to tie-in a rope to an anchor for our top rope belayed climbs. Like a fly, he moved with caution and skill up the near vertical cliff. He repeated climbs on adjacent routes to give us a variety of routes to chose from, all being between 5.5 and 5.8 rated climbs.

With the proper safety precautions in place, we began learning how to climb by trial and error. The first lesson was – it IS as hard as it looks. It took some practice and patience to determine the best hand and foot holds to make the accent. The second lesson was – the type of footwear can determine success or failure. After attempting to climb in sneakers, I quickly learned that wearing climbing shoes with rubber gripping soles that maximize adhesion makes a big difference. We spent the morning climbing a variety of routes, and our self-assurance grew with each successful climb.

After a lunch break to replenish our energy levels, the Becks rigged a rope for an 80-foot rappel. One look over the side at the sheer drop caused some of the group to bow out. We had been on belay during our climbs and had safely been lowered back down after each climb, so to me, it wasn’t much different than what we had been doing, just a little higher up.

Standing at the top of the cliff with your body perpendicular to the rock wall gives everybody the heebie-jeebies the first time. But Adam had us hooked into a secondary rope on top belay and reassured everyone that it was safe. After the first trip down, we were eager to try it again, gaining confidence with each successive rappel.

More than six hours after starting our adventure we had had our fill of climbing and rappelling. We thanked the Becks for a most enjoyable day and loaded into our cars for the ride back home, satisfied and pleased to have added another adventure sport to our repertoire.

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