Forums: Climbing Information: Regional Discussions: Re: [dingus] Nashville climbers - familiar with this crag?: Edit Log


Aug 14, 2009, 12:24 PM

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Re: [dingus] Nashville climbers - familiar with this crag?
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I told this story back on the wreck – but I get all my lies confused sometimes so maybe some of the details will be different haha.

I grew up in rural Tennessee some 40 miles west of Nashville. The Cumberland Plateau is an interesting geological feature... it’s composed of both limestone and sandstone layers.

The sandstone dominates the eastern rim of the Cumberland and accounts for some famous southern rock - Suck Creek, Tennessee Wall, Sunset Rock, Rock City, etc,

The rim itself is sorta like a terlit seat around the sink that is Nashville. Because Tennessee is traditionally divided into east, middle and west, many of us refer to Nashville and environs as Middle Earth.

Limestone dominates the western rim of the plateau. It’s in the east too but not as visible as the sandstone. The western rim lacks the sandstone cap completely. This limestone layer is vast and accounts for the justified fame of TAG amoungst cavers (Tennessee Alabama Georgia). It stretches well into Kentucky and also accounts for Mammoth Caverns one of the largest cave systems in the world.

So... where I grew up limestone was in abundance.

That's me when I was a kid circa earlyish 80s. This is not U.C. but nearby at Sydney Bluff in Ashland City on the banks of the Cumberland river. Another former quarry face. We climbed the sh#t out of that little face and bouldered all the probs. There are now 3 4-bolt sport routes on this wall, superimposed on our 30 year old free solos. I could not care less about that.

In the early to mid 1800s forges were built to make iron, utilizing the lime as part of the process.

Grant invaded middle Tennessee in the Civil War of course and a big part of the initial push from Clarksville south to Nashville was to capture this region of iron production. The little town of Cumberland Furnace in my county is a perfect example.

So a goodly portion of the Civil War was fought within 50 miles of my home, places like Shiloh Church. And some of it was fought over the little towns quite close to where I lived. Pretty cool growing up with all that shite… confederate means something quite different to me than *just* racism and crackers. Me and my high school bros all had confederate underdog pride and it had nothing at all to do with racism really. Just poor boy’s pride is all.

ANYWAY, limestone. So there was this quarry. I have no idea who made it or why. But the limestone at this quarry was quite good and they apparently quarried it for a long time.

A nice 80-foot or so dead vertical face where me and my old buddy Jr. Bishop did some of our first climbing and it was certainly where I did my first 5.10.

The limestone there is in 2 layers and apparently the lower was the one they were after. Rather than remove the top of the hill they quarried back into the ground, creating tunnels. Big ones, with 12-15 foot ceilings. You could and we DID drive our cars back in there, on occasion a dozen or more cars.

The cliffs have several openings, some of them partially caved in but others not so much.

When I first became aware of this place in 1972, unbelievably, some dude had tried to make an amusement park out of it. We'd laugh at the notion today - just the liability alone would be staggering.

Maybe the same summer you were soloing Salathe Wall?

He paved a big parking lot in front of the place and opened a small shop and the most outlaw bar imaginable..... a place where even the marginals felt uncomfortable. An outlaw biker bar – my sister’s first husband and his brothers (Glazer clan) hung out there.

The ‘developer’ called this place Underground City and its where I basically learned to climb.

The bar was pretty big. He built a whole building back there in that cave and it had a dance floor and a stage and a kitchen. By the time I was old enough to drive it had been out of business for a few years. Vandals, drunks stoners and the occasional rappeller/climber , would hang out there.

Some of us covered all 4 categories at once, haha.

We once had a mid-winter party deep in the bowels of the cave as a snowstorm raged outside. We drove 8 or 9 cars maybe a hundreds yards inside, circled the wagons and had a HUGE bonfire in the middle. Flames shot all the way up to the ceiling and spread out like some Dante's Inferno.

The smoke we created that night permanently stained the ceiling of the caverns black. Damn that was a wild event, totally outlaw. I walked outside about midnight and the smoke coming out of those caves was an awe inspiring sight, in some horror story kind a way. Dr. Sh#t was back there with his Mind Blower amplified stereo system and he was cranking out a couple of hundred watts of southern rock.

No sane person would have walked back there that night. Demons from hell. ZZ Top Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers at ear shattering decibels. We were jumping through the flames afore it was all done haha. Billy Black and Jr Bishop just slept back there that night. I eventually went home.

We had so many adventures in there. Half the cavern was filled with water and you could (and we did) canoe in the gloom. It was very Gollum and we totally expected to find orcs in there.

So we established some 10 routes out on the face.

This is the only photo I have handy. Its The Original Route. I first aided the crux, then Jr and I figured out a way to dyno past the bulge. As we got better the dyno became static and eventually we dispatched with the rope. In this pic is Steve Byrnes (in cowboy boots and a jean 'suit' haha), me just above him, framer hammer in my holster, and Jr. Bishop belaying me up his lead. 1976 I reckon.

And inside the entrances of the caves we did many boulder problems. You could climb in there summer or winter, regardless of weather, but the rock was perpetually slimy from lime dust and dampness and we had to clean routes of gunk to keep our shoes dry.

One particularly large hall was maybe 40 feet tall. Tall enough the roof eventually collapsed and a hole to the sun came into being. In the back of that hall was a mined out platform way up off the floor - we called it the Balcony. And it was a right of passage for any of my climbing partners (I use that term loosely) to boulder the little 5.7 route we had to get up there (just one 5.7 move about half way up, enough to scare the bejeezus out of us kids haha).

We'd sit in the gloom up on the platform and smoke dope and talk about all the great climbs we were going to do someday.

Got busted by the cops there twice, once by Sheriff Doyle Wall who caught us all skipping school, half drunk and way stoned, at 10 am on a school day. Got meself in a bit O trouble that day, I did. Got out too, by telling the Sheriff the truth (yes Sheriff, I DID smoke dope this morning - he was impressed with my courage and let us all go and sent us back to school but of course the school found out anyway).

I guess our swan song for Underground City came one night just before I went off to the military. Billy and Jr. had willingly signed up for a 4-day send off drunken binge with me and day-3 had us driving Billy's F100 up over the berm one last time. The bridge over the creek by then was getting f*#king scary and you had to be drunk to risk it.

So we went back into the old Underground City Bar, this had to be 1979. Billy was f*#king around with his lighter after lighting up a FatBob and he held it up to some rotting material that I think had at one point been wall paper.

It lit afire. It went out pretty quick but Billy had a firebug streak and he lit it again, on a dare from Jr. Then he got that mean drunkeness thing going and he let the old rotting wood of the stage. Shortly there after Underground City was dying in a final blaze.

Keep in mind this bar was a hundred feet BACK INSIDE THE CAVE. It had 4 walls and 2 doors. The front door opened to the front of the cave. There was light out there.

There was a back door out through the old kitchen and that door exited on the backside of the building, deeper inside the cave. It was the Dark Side.

The room quickly filled with smoke, like duh. After a few minutes of watching Hell spread we scampered out the front door.

Billy Black (who is regularly in touch with me by email to this day) was a bit of a darer, not much of a doer. He wouldn't climb with us even though he liked caving and kayaking.

"Jr.," he said in that southern drawl of his, "I DARE you to run through that motherf*#ker and come out the back side." He said this slowly, southern mannerisms.

Jr. Bishop at T-Wall in Nov. 1985. I left TN permanently some two months later.

"No f*#king way." was the response. This went back and forth a time or two and I said,

"I'll do it," and I ran into the burning building inside the cave.

The stage was completely engulfed by this time, the flames spreading out on the ceiling like our earlier bon fire deeper inside.

The smoke line was maybe halfway down the walls. I wasn't in any real danger, just scampered out the back door and brailled my way along the wall till I got back to the light.

I guess my foolishness was contagious because all 3 of us went the next time.

And two more times after that. By then there was only 3 or 4 feet of clean air at the bottom of the room and it was getting quite hot. Had to hold our breath all the way through or risk some serious smoke inhalation. I won that game of chicken that day. I was the last man inside Underground City and it scared the sh#t out of me. The rock in the ceiling was making funny noises so we fled before the cops caught us.

So I was there and partially responsible for the torching of Underground City.

I have some old pics at home of the cave entrance - I'll try to remember to post one or two when I get back from this trip. It was truly a place of madness and wonder and I know to this day how blessed I was to be a country boy there, in that day and age and to have the run of it.

I lost my blue suede RRs there too, left them on the roof of the car one day and drove off. Didn't even miss em for a few days so they were lost forever damnit.

Last time I drove by there the bridge had collapsed and a high chain link fence and lots of no trespass signs discouraged a slightly more responsible Dingus from taking a closer look but I reckon I got in a good 10 years of The Sh#t at U.C.

I loved that place. We had some seriously stupid boulder problems and Jr and I soloed the easy face routes on the main cliff like they were hikes.

So you can see why your thread title caught my attention - I literally and truly learned to climb at Underground City. My first rappel ever, my first top ropes, my first bonafide leads (all FAs all done in total isolation I didn't even meet a real climber till I was 18 or so)

I remember Jaco puking white beans all over the parking lot after over indulging in cheap Red White and Blue beer and then getting dizzy watching Jr and I bounce rap the cliff, then giggling with white bean puke breath and shouting drunkenly,

"I'm an ALL AMERICAN... my eyes are red, white and BLUE!"

Crazy f*#ker, he's dead now.

But last trip home, two summers ago now, Jr and Billy and I hooked up. Jr took me and the girls caving with his boy Cody, then we hung out with Billy at the Bishop clan homestead (seriously, those southern irish rednecks are clannly and all the Bishops live within sight of each other’s houses). Jr.'s dad Carl was there too.

I worked as a framer for Carl, for two summers in high school. I learned cabinetry from my Pop and house framing (by hand, no pneumatic nothing for our crew, hammer and nail, son) from Carl. He's in his 70s now and he smiled at me, now a dude in his 40s with a family of his own and said fondly,

"We drove a lotta nails, didn't we boy!?"

We sure did Carl, we sure did. Drove a lotta f*#king nails.

I take a little Underground City up every muthafuggin climb I do. I never woulda imagined, had you told me back then, that I would later move to California, consider it my home and subsequently do literally hundreds of routes there. Life sure is a strange and wonderful trip.


(This post was edited by dingus on Aug 14, 2009, 12:28 PM)

Edit Log:
Post edited by dingus () on Aug 14, 2009, 12:27 PM
Post edited by dingus () on Aug 14, 2009, 12:27 PM
Post edited by dingus () on Aug 14, 2009, 12:28 PM

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