Trip Start Mar 21, 2012
24Trip End Mar 25, 2013
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Where I stayed
Land of the Arches
What I did
Red River Gorge
Lots of world-famous climbers!
We headed East from Boulder, CO, early October to make it to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky ("The Red") in time for Rocktoberfest, an annual, multi-day climbing festival. There are tons of vendors and famous climbers, like Emily Harrington, and fun activities including the Reel Rock Tour 7 showing, crate stacking and live bands.
Hale, Membership Manager, running the booth for the Access Fund
But Ben really wanted to get out there for the climbing competition. He'd never participated in one before and felt like now was the time. This comp was more an enduro comp than pure strength. But complicated point systems certainly favored the more difficult grades (multiplier of 1 for climbs up to 5.10c, X2 for 5.10d - 5.11d, X3 for 5.12a and up).
We passed through the Red River Gorge Climbing Coalition (RRGCC) gate at the playground of the Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Reserve (PMRP) at 9:50am, maneuvering our way to the base of Ben's first climb at 10am sharp:
The concentrated climbing areas are intermixed with steep and slab routes, which made it ideal for Ben to "de-pump" his forearms on lower-angled climbs following the Red's renowned "overhanging jug hauls." As our friend, Mike Hopp once put it, "It's the biggest jugs you ever fell off of." Keeping endurance for the forearm-pumping climbs meant sprinkling in slabbier climbs to continue moving was essential. It had rained the night before, however, so some of the slabs were still a little wet.
By noon, Ben had ticked off about 10 routes, many of which in a striking, somewhat offensive outfit and an English accent to boot, claiming to be Rod Stewart :).
Ben also took time to give a shout out to the Access Fund and OR whilst climbing:
His silly getup certainly worked in his favor. People all around the PMRP wanted to help him win. If just out for a day of cragging and not competing, they'd let him jump in on a climb out of turn and clip up their draws. Some even thanked him for putting up the draws or their rope for them to top rope.
But by 3pm, all the positive momentum took a turn. Ben was running low on energy and calories despite the train tracks of sugar being pumped into his Rod Stewart veins. His forearm endurance and bullet-proof head were waning. Things stopped making sense, but the drive to just keep going, just keep climbing was still drumming through our heads. The reality that this was our first visit to the PMRP had set in. We didn't know where we were going. And as we left one crag (What About Bob) for another (Rival), we got lost. The trails already faint from being covered inches deep with leaves and a poorly drawn map, we tricked ourselves into thinking we could connect the two walls by heading along the base of the crags. Wrong. One dead end after another. Crap. More time lost. More half-baked decisions leading to more poor decisions and time lost. Crap. Crap! It was like one of those bad dreams. Running around, lost, in a kaleidoscope of fall leaves whirling around us as we're running behind and the minutes were slipping out of our fingertips with each poor decision.
Fall colors are a hallmark of this area's natural beauty. Colorful leaves cling onto fall trees as the chlorophyll dies back; and eventually give up and fall, dancing around you like confetti on New Years.
Finally, we arrived at Rival wall nearly 40 minutes behind schedule, but someone was on the route Ben had planned to climb. Crap! Change plans--go to the Shire. More running through the soggy forest. Crap! Someone's on the other 5.10d Ben planned to climb! Instead of running off again, Ben climbed some easier routes around the corner while he waited for the other party to get off the route. Four climbs later and the party was still on the route. The clock displayed 4:45pm, so there would be no time to climb this route before the 5pm deadline. Feeling disheartened, like he gave it his all but feeling it wasn't enough, Ben picked himself up and jogged back with Lindsey to turn in his scorecard: 26 pitches climbed in total.
Later that night, they announced Ben had won first place in his category, and they awarded him with a year's subscription to Rock & Ice and a co-branded AAC/Access Fund Sterling 60m rope!
Team Kunz in front of the OR booth, stoked with Ben's win!
Lindsey got pro climber, Emily Harrington, and Patagonia's Brittany Griffith into a couple of the Kunz family wigs at the party. It didn't take much coaxing on a night of celebration!
The scene at Rocktoberfest is different from any of the climbing events we've attended (which is a fair number now)! The climbing contingent is largely made up from "Midwest" and "Southern" climbers with the odd Rocky Mountainer and West Coaster thrown in. These climbing cultures are different; we felt that the "scene" here is a bit tighter and definitely friendlier - not to say that back west things aren't friendly, just not like as friendly and welcoming as here!
The group dinner, for example, was a delightful surprise. Everyone showed up with some vessel to eat out of (bowl, pot, small cardboard box!) and a make-shift cafeteria line formed. Bourbon n’ Toulouse served everyone with some of the most amazing food this side of the Bourbon Street: Jamabalaya, Red Beans with Smoked Sausage, Cajun Red Chili, Artichoke and Parmesan Cream with Mushrooms, Black Beans and Caramelized Corn, Vegan Black Beans!
Beyond climbing movies and crate stacking, there was the arm wrestling competition-a male and female competition! Lindsey was tempted to compete (and she would have crushed!) but we gracefully declined in order to save her muscles and tendons for the next day's climbing (West Coast thinking!). Well, almost. She did manage to arm wrestle a guy for a rad pair of tight, neon blue shorts!
Beyond that, this group of climbers wasn't so concerned about getting to bed early to climb hard the next day as is often (not always!) the case back home! The party went well into the night and there was a small group of troopers who were still doing keg-stands at 10am!!! We were baffled! But this is a dry county, so really, they must have been doing keg stands of root beer. :)
After the event ended, many people went home, and we transitioned into settling into the Red. Besides the climbing, it's quite the sleepy area, i.e. not much going on outside of climbing. This bodes well actually for those seeking to be focused on climbing and sticking to a budget.
Although the Red is known for its unbelievably steep sport climbing, it actually started as a traditional (crack) climbing destination. The hard corbin sandstone makes for climbing similar to Indian Creek out West. However, climb on anything but the classic lines, and you'll find yourself scratching for tricky gear placements and dirty climbing (most people now climb the sport routes, so left unclimbed, the trad routes get dirty and dusty). Therefore, we went up to Longs Wall for a day to sample the more classic trad routes:
Ben leading up ultra classic Rock Wars, 5.10a
Lindsey climbing another classic trad line, Autumn, 5.9
But, as great as the classic trad lines here are, it makes perfect sense why the sport climbing gets all the beat. With overhanging walls (i.e. safe falls) and mostly closely spaced bolts, it's a training ground for people all over the eastern U.S. making a transition from gym climbing to outdoor climbing; and it's a proving ground for the experienced. Cool holds, fun features, plentiful jugs on steep and acrobatic climbing is the name of the game here.
Lindsey on a Brief History of Climb, 10c
Climber on Amarillo Sunset, 5.11b - one of the most classic and sought after lines at the Red River Gorge
Lindsey on one of her favorite climbs, Toker (11a) at Bob Marley wall. The starting move for Lindsey is a jump off a boulder to catch some jugs and a heel hook/mantel to pull up onto the face. Taller people can lean in and grab the starting jugs (the large, chalked holds at the bottom of this picture).
Ryan higher up on Toker
Lindsey following up Check Your Grip, 12a
Ben maxin' and relaxin' on a chill 5.10c at The Zoo called One Brick Shy. Like most climbs at the Red, the business (like a heel-hook start) is at the bottom.
And many people travel from all over the world to sample this unique climbing, including the pros!
Lindsey and Adam Ondra, currently the world's strongest sport climber!
Our buddy, the young (19yrs) Urs Moosmuller, on Ultra Perm, 5.13d
After redpointing Ultra Perm, Urs got on No Redemption, 5.13b
But between dodging pro climbers, one also needs to dodge other lethal fellows at the Red: snakes! The copperheads, just one type of snake found here, are like honey badgers: they don't give a sh!@! Unlike rattlesnakes, stomping feet and making vibrations does not deter these fellas too much, though one can hardly be faulted for stomping anyway. This little fella slithered his way over our rope bag, just a foot or two from Lindsey as she was belaying Ben at Muir Valley:
Copperhead after slithering off our rope bag
No surprise, they tend to come around more when it's hot out, and they are hard to see among the red and brown leaves on the ground. One particularly hot day, a friend of ours accidentally stepped on one and was bitten through his shoe! Thankfully, no venom was emitted.
Climbing at the Red enforces a pace for us we are unfamiliar with. Being so steep, we've had to take many more rest days than normal. These days seem to whiz by, however, filled with activities on the internet, the occasional hike, grocery shopping, and van work.
Gray's Arch, one of many natural arches formed in this area. We visited Gray's Arch during a 12-mile loop hike we did during one rest day.
Ben, dorking out on our loop hike and fitting right in with the locals
Our journey here at the Red continues...so stay tuned for our next blog entry here as we get a little stronger and meet up with some dear Seattle buddies!
More photos from the Red can be found here.