The Boulder Fields

At the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains, in the rolling hills of Birmingham, lies one of the Southeast’s premier bouldering areas. The Boulder Fields were discovered in the 1960’s by local climbers looking for a place to hone their skills for the mountains, as evidenced by the buttonhead bolts found on many rocks in the area. In the late 60’s, “Master Of Rock” John Gill was stationed in nearby Anniston, and began roaming the area. Although the exact locations of his problems are unknown, Gill’s wanderings among the stone always put modern day first ascents in question. In the 70’s and 80’s, bouldering continued to grow in popularity, with emphasis on the high quality friction slabs – a perfect place for working on technique for the granite of North Carolina and Yosemite.

Although the Boulder Fields were visited from time to time, the popularity of roadside climbing along Shades Crest Rd. (areas which are now closed due to development) were the main attraction for local climbers. The list of developers at these areas reads like a “who’s who” of southern climbing: Tommy Taylor, Les Hutchinson, Hal Smyer, Ken Pitts, John Moseley, Shep Townsend, Maurice Reed, Michael Hanks, Adam Clark, Dean Elliott, Lyle Dean, Jack Pierce, Jamie Silliman, Gene Smith, Curt Merchant, Mark Cole, James Tindill, Bernard Wolfe, Adam Henry, and John Barr.

Perhaps none have made their mark like young, wiry local, Jake Slaney, who entered the scene in 1989. Initially thought to be too weak (rumor has it that he could barely do a pull up!), it soon became evident that his flexibility and finger strength were unrivaled. He spent countless days honing his technique, resulting in ascents of Re-Ignition(V9), Shape Shifter(V4) and Double Clutch(V8), to name just a few. Slaney provided the spark to a once-desolate climbing scene.

As the decade draws to a close, others have begun pushing the envelope of possibilities, among them, Adam Henry and Andrew Traylor. Henry in particular has been a constant force on the Alabama scene for quite a few years, mentoring a loose collective of “talented youth” on the steep plastic of Woodville, a small co-op woody in Birmingham, and putting up tons of problems all over the region. Recently, Traylor has upped the ante considerably, with ascents of Grass Man(V10), Beef It(V9) and a sit start to Re-Ignition(V11), making the Boulder Fields home to the highest concentration of difficult problems in the Southeast.

It is difficult to speculate whether the area is climbed out, but it’s safe to say that there are few “last great problems”. The face to the left of the Jake Face will surely be sent, as well as problems on the 45 Degree Wall. To be sure, someone (probably too young to get a driver’s license, no doubt) will step up and push things forward to the next level.

From Birmingham, take I-65 South to the Alford Avenue exit. Turn right and follow this to a stop sign. Turn right and proceed to Shades Crest Road. Turn left on Shades Crest and continue to a fork. Go left onto Sulphur Springs Road and follow it for 1/8 mile. Turn left onto Al Seier Road and continue for 1/8 mile. Park in a gravel lot at, or across from, a ballpark. A casual 10 or 15 minute walk leads to the first boulder (Ozzy Boulder).