Fall Trip to Red River Gorge

I’m from the Midwest, and I don’t particularly like leaving Colorado to go back, but I regularly have Red River Gorge, KY on mind. My girlfriend can attest that I compare pretty much every climbing experience to ‘the Red.’ Basically, most complaints fall under “it’s not overhung enough.” I was psyched when she said she needed to use 5 vacation days and wanted to see what climbing in Kentucky was all about.


Melissa getting a sit-down rest on EGBG (5.10a) before 60 feet of overhanging jugs at the Chocolate Factory

She loved it! I love it. And I can’t wait to go back.

I got to explore some new areas and go back to some of my favorites. The first day I accidentally took her to Bruise Brothers at Muir Valley (was aiming for Tectonic Wall, but I went on autopilot and walked almost all the way to BB before I realized it). Rat Stew and The Return of Manimal are superfun routes to really get you in the RRG mood. We then explored Bibliothek, an area I’d somehow never gone to before. Incredibly aesthetic, overhanging jug hauls, a less steep Motherlode. I jumped on a Josh Thurston original with a tag at the base that says 5.12a, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I was psyched to get the onsight but felt it was easier than 12a. Turns out most everyone agrees that it’s 5.11c.  I then tried The Fury, which is a beautiful arching overhang that you see from across the amphitheater. My leftover pump from Unbearable was too much, and I ended up taking 2 or 3 times.

Day two we drove down to the Motherlode area by PMRP. I’d spent a lot of time at the PMRP but never stopped at the Motherlode. Cars were parked all over the road leading to the big hill down to the parking lot, which I thought was odd. In the past, this was frowned upon. As I make the turn to go down the hill, spray painted signs warn entrants, “4×4 only!!! Do not drive 2WD Down.” Typically the low flats areas are the problem, mud pits that I used to rally my Mazda Protege5 down with mostly no problem. So in my dad’s 2wd Toyota Tacoma I thought it would be fine. The hill was the worst I’ve ever seen it, enough I worried about getting stuck at the Motherlode parking lot.

“We can deal with that later.” I wanted to check out The Chocolate Factory since it had several highly rated moderates. Wonkaholic 5.10a felt quite a bit harder than the previous day’s Rat Stew. We then did EGBG, which is new and not in the book. Fantastic! Way better than Wonk.

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Melissa after finishing EGBG

I tried the fun Hip to the Jive (11b), which starts with a superfun handcrack at the bottom and moves into shallow pockets in an overhang. I missed a hold at the top while above a clip and took a 30-some foot whip, sending Melissa far into the air. My thought while falling, “Man, I hope I don’t hit that face to the left!”

We climbed the classic 10’s, just to the left of the incredible looking 5.14c, Pure Imagination. The Glass Elevator, Oompa, and Loompa. All felt hard for their grades but are fun routes.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention, the best part of going to Red River Gorge the first week of November was being in the magical sub-tropical forest with all the beautiful changing leaves.



We met up with an old friend and her boyfriend, and climbed at the Gallery on day 3. I forgot how awesome this place is. The classic five star warmup, 27 Years of Climbing, had a line, so I put up A Brief History of Climb (5.10b). So so very good, and incredibly beautiful arching overhang. I quickly ran up a second time with my camera so I could shoot Melissa on her Onsight attempt.



Melissa concentrating through the overhanging jugs of A Brief History of Climb

Johnny B. Good, Guernica, and Preacher’s Daughter rounded out the climbs in the main area. Preacher’s Daughter is soo soo good! (this is a continuous theme in the Red. Even 2 star routes here would be 4 star classics in most climbing areas)


Another climber on A Brief History of Climb

I tried Gold Rush with our friends, a stellar 5.11d with a stout, overhanging crimpy crux to a dyno finish. It’s exciting! Then after I was pumped out I tried Random Precision and felt rather shut down. I put up the draws again on Johnny B. Good and Melissa one hung her first 5.11a!

Thursday it was supposed to rain, so we went to the area near our cabin, Military Wall. Always a classic with climbs like Fuzzy Undercling and Tissue Tiger, it’s a safe place to climb it does start raining. The start of Fuzzy has been eroded down, and so the climb has been upgraded to 5.11b, purely because of the very powerful, hard boulder problem start, getting to the second bolt. Day four on and my skin was finally tired after pulling on the crimp undercling too many times. once to the second clip you get to enjoy overhung plate goodness to a no-hands knee bar rest and fun jugs to the finish. Our friends put up Tissue Tiger (5.12b), so I gave it a try. I was very surprised how easy the bottom 3/4’s of the climb felt, just good-enough jugs to a couple of rests. But then you hit a series of big moves through powerful crimps and side-pulls. It’s going to take me a few more times of sussing out the crux before I’m able to clip those chains.

My goal for the trip was to send one of my two 5.12a projects, so after 3 climbs on day 4 decided to take it easy, especially after the rain came. Melissa and I went to discover what Natural Bridge State Park had to offer.

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Awesome views on a moody late afternoon.

We woke up on Friday surrounded by a deep fog. I wanted to get on my project early so we could get back to Bloomington at a decent hour to see old friends. Driving to The Zoo I couldn’t help but stop and photograph this scene before sunrise.

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But even after sunrise I couldn’t help but shoot some more.

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Finally, we get to the Zoo and I warm up on my project, Hippocrite (5.12a). I thought I might send, putting up the draws, but messed up what has been my crux, clipping bolt 3. I’ve tried this climb for years, and I was ready to put it to bed.

Melissa wanted to record my attempts, which I’m happy she did. I’ve never had a video of me climbing before.


I love Red River Gorge. No matter where in the world I’m climbing, I don’t think I’ll find a place I love more. I can’t wait to come back!