Trip Report: Red River Gorge, Part II

To read the first part of my trip report, check it out here.

Saturday was our third day of climbing at the Red. For the past couple of weeks prior, the weather report had varied a lot for the region. It was initially supposed to rain every single day of our trip, but most recent reports indicated that Saturday would be our only “iffy” weather day. By “iffy”, I mean that there was a chance of snow in the AM, which would be followed by light rain. We weren’t too worried about the forecast, however, since the Red is known to have a lot of overhanging walls that are still climbable in wet weather.

When we woke up on Saturday morning, however, there was already a couple inches of snow on the ground, and it was coming down fast. Normally, we probably wouldn’t have reacted as stubbornly as we did, but since Dustin was really only visiting the Red for one full day, we decided to venture out and find some dry rock. Stupid mistake.

None of us had been at the Red before during wet weather, so weren’t exactly sure of what wall stay dry in what conditions. We decided to check out Left Flank and Military Wall to see if any of the moderate routes were dry. Both of these crags are located down a twisting mountain road, near the famous Nada Tunnel. The snow wasn’t sticking to the roads too badly at this point, and the weather forecast had called for rain starting mid-morning, so we figured we’d be fine in a Subaru and a 4WD truck. We parked, and started hiking up the trail towards the crags. The snow-covered trails were pretty beautiful, despite them wrecking havoc on our day of climbing.

On the way up, we encountered a family of hikers.

“Are you guys climbing today?,” the dad asked incredulously.

“Yeah, we’re gonna try to find some dry rock. We’re just checking it out. Not sure what to expect,” I replied.

“Good luck…..Mercy the Huff might be dry…” he said before catching up with his family.

Ok Mister Negativity, we WILL find something….. I thought in my head.

Needless to say, the man knew what he was talking about. All of the routes looked dry besides one 12b.

We boarded back into our cars to set off on our quest to find dry rock. Only about a half mile from the parking lot though, our car slid off the road into a shallow ditch. The road had become a LOT more slippery in the past half hour, and we were just far enough off the road, that we couldn’t gain traction to get ourselves un-stuck.

After a couple of minutes of trying (aka Dustin took over driving while I weepingly apologized about a thousand times), a truck past us driving the opposite direction.

“I’m so sorry Dustin,” I apologized for the 1,001 time.

“It’s okay…” he turned around and then added, “they’ve got a much bigger problem.”

I turned around and my mouth dropped open. The truck that had past us had also slid off the road, however, they were on the side of the road that had a huge drop off into a ravine. Only three wheels were on the ground, and it looked to be teetering 😡.. With the little bit of phone service that we had, we called AAA to see if anyone could help us. Amazingly, the couple in the truck ended up being extremely down to earth about the incident, thankful that they were both safe and unhurt.

“We came here looking for adventure, and I think we found it,” the guy joked.

A couple hours past while we waited AAA to send a guy to help us. In that time, we were amazed as every single car that past us stopped and offered to help.

“We’ve got a guy on the way, but thanks!,” we said nearly 20 times.

Say what you will about eastern Kentucky, but the people were extremely kind to us that day.

Finally, after shivering and waiting for what seemed like forever, AAA guy showed up and pulled us out, while the local fire chief was working with the truck couple to help them get out.

We decided that God was telling us to NOT climb that day, so we decided to finally listen. By this point, it was 2:30pm or so, and we were hungry for lunch. We stopped at Red River Rockhouse (another local favorite for beer + burgers) and headed back to our cabin.

Amazingly, the snow was STILL coming down. Climbing was definitely not in the cards, so our options were limited for the rest of the day. There was a short hike that was supposed to be super close to our cabin, so before hibernating by our gas heaters for the rest of the day/night, we decided to check it out. The hike was short (maybe 1-2 miles) but beautiful. It was nice to get a little exercise in on what had become a rest day (other than shivering). I didn’t end up taking any pictures, but we did the Rock Bridge Hike. I’d definitely recommend it as a family-friendly hike as it thankfully was not very steep.

We ended the night with an early bedtime, each of us hoping for some dry rock for the next day.

The next day, we woke up early to find that rain had finally arrived to wash away much of the snow. Woohoo! The boys were headed home that afternoon, but wanted a few dry sunny pitches before we left. We drove to the sunny Fortress Wall to check out some of the Red’s trad climbing routes. Luckily, quite a few of the routes looked to be pretty dry off the bat.

Dustin first led up Calypso II, a fun hand crack that ended up being super heady for a 5.6. It definitely involved some committing moves at the crux. The route grading here was definitely a bit stiffer than the rest of the Red, perhaps because it was an older climbing area (?). Otherwise, it was a very fun climb.

Dustin racking up for his first climb of the day.

Liam also put up Calypso III, a 5.5 and much milder climb, and Snake, which was a very fun 5.8 crack climb. Snake was my favorite route we climbed that morning. It had fun moves, and you could jam the crack or face climb if you chose to.

Before Dustin and Liam left, we had to stop at Miguels Pizza for the main reason they came all the way out to the Red….to buy a Miguels shirt, duh 😝. Miguels Pizza has about 30 different colors of t-shirts you can buy in all different types of styles. It’s kind of like the whole Hard Rock Cafe thing…if you go to the Red, you have to buy a Miguel’s Shirt (and try its mediocre pizza, which we did too).

Pizza with sweet potatoes! Surprisingly okay.

After the boys left, Laura and I decided to drop the pups off at our cabin and check out Muir Valley for the first time. Muir has a strict “no dogs” policy before, so having a cabin where we could leave ours was a nice perk. It was about 4pm by this point, but we figured we could get a lay of the land and knock out a few pitches before dark.

Muir was different from the rest of the Red in some ways. It was extremely well-kept, first of all, from the bucket of spare stick clips in the parking lot to the handful of clean outhouses that line the trail leading to the crag. It was also shocking to me to see how….gym-like Muir seemed. I say this in a positive sense! Don’t get me wrong, it was extremely beautiful, but all of the routes looked super well-bolted and had tags with the name and grade of each climb at its base. This was obviously beneficial in our case, as we were quickly able to determine what climb we were standing under.

We wanted to check out The Great Wall since it has a bunch of fun moderates, but unfortunately it was still wet. We decided to just walk along the cliff side trail until we found dry rock. The next wall over, The Hideout, had a few routes that looked empty and dry. Feeling confident, I led up Moots Madness first (5.10a), topping out pretty quickly. It was short, sustained, and not that interesting. A good warm-up. Laura followed up and cleaned the route as well.

We hopped over the route next door, also dry, which was MUCH taller at 90 feet. It was rated 3 starts on Mountain Project thought, which was our main reasoning to try it. I led up first again on Boltergeist, a 5.10c. This route had everything! It started off with a slabby section, which led to technical face climbing, and ended with a juggy overhang.

I absolutely loved this route. After the slabby section, which was mostly below the second bolt, I had no problem circumventing the route. Laura led up it after me, and cleaned it again.

After this route, most of the climbs in The Hideout area looked to be super wet, so we kept walking on the cliff side trail. At this point, it was almost 6 or 6:30, so most of the climbing parties had cleared out. It was fun to just walk and gaze up at the rock, as we past some of the Red’s most iconic climbs.

Laura, looking adorable as our fearless leader

Finally, we got to a vertical section of wall that was well-bolted and dry. In fact, it looked super well-bolted to me…as in, I didn’t care what grade it was, I’d be willing to try it.

The routes we were looking at turned out to a be a 5.11c and a 5.11b at Indy Wall. Neither of us had led that hard of a route outdoors before, but we figured, why not. There was no one else at the crag to heckle us and we had plenty of bail biners in the case of failure.

According to the guidebook we had, the 5.11b, called Social Stigma, could be extended past the anchor to connect with a 5.10b climb that topped out 30 feet above with a great view, for a total of a 90 foot climb. This sold me as I’m a sucker for anchor views.

We stick clipped the first bolt, and I started leading up the route. It ended up being a lot of thin crimping, and I cruised until the crux, which was a long reach to a small crimpy hold. The hardest part of the route to me, however, was climbing past the first set of anchors to start on the 5.10b climb, which started off on some pretty bad holds before easing up. It was an euphoric feeling scrambling to the anchors, which did indeed top out to a bird’s view of the valley below. I’d personally recommend this climb to anyone who enjoys 5.11 technical face climbing. As we found out the next day, Muir gets a lot of traffic on the classics, so sometimes its worth it to find the hidden, less populated gems.

Anchor views 😍

Laura led up and cleaned the route, before we walked up the long set of stairs back to our lone car in the parking lot. We decided to head back to Muir early the next day (our last day) to try out some of the more popular climbs.

Before we left for our trip, Laura and I planned that Plate Tectonics, a juggy 5.10a in the Tectonic Wall area of Muir Valley, would be a fun endurance route to check out and that we should both challenge ourselves to lead it. At this point in our trip, 5.10a didn’t seem that intimidating anymore, so we headed straight towards the route first thing the next day. The name tag plate below the route actually indicated that Plate Tectonics was a 5.9+, so we decided to just go ahead and start our day on it. I led up first, and despite the good plated holds, was surprised how tiring it was. It may have been a wiser decision to actually warm up on something easier, but several parties had already joined us at the crag. If we wanted to try it, this was our opportunity. I took once before reaching the anchors, and decided to lead it again after Laura’s turn. The second time, I took a few more conscious good rests throughout the climb, and ended up sending the route.

Next, we led up A Brief History of the Climb, which is a classic 5.10b right next to Plate Tectonics. This route was definitely more difficult in terms of endurance requirements, and Laura and I both took a couple frustrating falls before reaching the anchors. I wanted to try the route again, but another couple was waiting behind us for their turn. I might have to come back for that route!

Next, we walked to the crag next door, Johnny’s Wall, which was full of 5.10s. There were parties on all but one of the routes, so we hopped on what was empty. The route was called Mancala, a 5.10b. It was pretty relaxed climbing after a high first bolt until a layback crux move right below the anchors. For some reason, I really struggled with this route, both on lead and TR. The crux involved a pretty big committing move over a bulge, and then some awkward handholds to clip the anchors. Regardless, I tried it twice, fell a lot, and then Laura and I decided to break for lunch.

We ate in the meadow, which was sunny and warm at that point in the day. Both of us were feeling pretty beat, so we decided to step it down and tried some easier moderates. We decided to check out Land Before Time, which had a handful of routes from 5.7-5.10c.

You walk through a cool arch to get to Land Before Time Wall!

When we got there, there were two parties on the 5.8 and 5.9, which were both rated pretty high on Mountain Project. We looked at the guidebook to see our other options….the 5.10a was wet still, and the book basically said the 5.7 route was not that interesting. So we ignored our earlier conversation about being tired, and while we waited for the 5.8 and 5.9 to open, hopped on a 5.10c, called Sabertooth. Laura led up the route first and did really well on it! The trickiest part of the climb was around the 2nd-3rd bolt where you have to make some high foot/high hand moves on slab. I tried it after her on lead, and ended up falling once at the crux, which did not feel good 😡.

We hopped on the 5.8 and 5.9 next, as they were now open. The 5.8, Prehistoric Extermination, was very fun, with clear flowing movement. I would highly recommend it as a great first lead! I loved the 5.9, Ryanosauras, the best though. This route was pure fun. The route is crimpy pockets until a fun crux move pulling jugs over a roof. After those two routes, both of us were pretty tired, so we headed home to relieve the dogs of their cabin prison lol.

We took the dogs out on another short hike (1 mi or so) to an underground arch and a cool cave.

The dogs had fun and were happy to get out!

After the hike, we were definitely ready for a beer, so we headed to Skybridge Station one last time. Our fave πŸ™ƒ

Overall, it was really fun trip! I was initially excited to project some harder routes on this trip, and while I didn’t exactly project anything, I found myself feeling super confident while leading. I was able to successfully onsight some harder (for me) routes. Sometimes I find that in my daily life, I get too wrapped up in “training” for climbing outdoors and it can feel very overwhelming. This trip was a nice break from that pattern. I felt very at peace and just enjoyed the moment for what it was while climbing, even when flailing off of a route…Let’s be honest, the Red is a very inspiring place, and I, for one, cannot wait to get back.

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