A Guide to Climbing Balms

Here’s the thing about climbers: we have pretty gnarly hands. We spend all day grappling with slopers, shredding our skin on crimps, and cranking on underclings. From sandstone to granite (and yeah, sometimes plastic), our hands take a beating on a daily basis. Our most abused body parts also happen to be crucial for climbing – so climbers need to take proper care of our hands.

During my yearlong climbing trip, and throughout my five years spent training indoors and crushing outside, I’ve tested dozens of hand care products. My relationship with climbing balm has been through bleeding flaps of skin, fingertips cracked from the dry cold, random burns from campfires, blood blisters, you name it. This comprehensive review has been a long time in the making, and I’m excited to share my thoughts on what I consider to be the top three salve brands in the climbing industry: ClimbOn!, Joshua Tree, and Giddy.

Climbing balm review with ClimbOn!, Joshua Tree, and Giddy. [Read more…]

Colorado List: Climbing My First Multipitch in Clear Creek Canyon

Long before the #ColoradoList adventure project was born, I had a dream: I wanted to climb my first multi-pitch route. For my non-climber readers, Santiam Alpine Club describes it as: “A technical climb that is longer than a single rope length, thus requiring multiple anchors and belay stations.” Basically, I usually climb routes that are between 40 and 90 feet tall.

Playing Hooky is a 400′ tall, four pitch route in Clear Creek Canyon.

After months of not climbing at all, I decided that it would be a fantastic idea to go from couch-to-crag on my first multi-pitch climb ever. Because, why not? It was the first time I actually met the wonderful Jason Gebauer in person, and there’s no better way to really solidify a friendship than to trust someone to belay you up four hundred feet of granite while teaching you knots at hanging anchor stations.The view from the second anchor station on Playing Hooky in Clear Creek Canyon.

I was definitely a little bit nervous as I pulled on my harness and laced up my shoes, but Playing Hooky is the perfect route for a climber looking to experience their first multi-pitch. Playing Hooky has an overall grade of 5.8 – but the pitch breakdown is 5.9 on pitch one, 5.8 on pitch two, 5.7 on pitch three, and 5.8 on the final pitch. Most climbers link the last two pitches, which is what Jason and I did.

The first pitch is undoubtedly the most difficult. There are two defined cruxes on Playing Hooky, one of which is just a few dozen feet off the deck. It was my only “fall” on the route, as I had to take to totally redo my ugly footwork while trying to reach the next hold. Surprisingly, in a situation where I would usually have started to illogically panic and cry, I took on a new perspective: I started to problem solve. I employed way more hand-foot matches than are necessary on a 5.8, but managed to work my way through every tricky section I hit.

Climbing the four pitch Playing Hooky in Clear Creek Canyon.

The second half of Playing Hooky mellows out until you hit the final exposed section and have to top out. If I wasn’t the second (meaning I was on a top-rope), I totally could have lost my head in that moment – but the intimidating finale led to the most victorious view from the top. It had drizzled on us a bit during the last two pitches, and a mean wind started blowing as I approached the final set of anchors.

After clipping my daisy chain into the anchor, my climbing blinders disappeared and I was greeted with an incredible view of Clear Creek Canyon. The cars below in the parking area looked like ants, and I couldn’t even see the bottom of the wall I had just climbed. It was a proud and empowering moment, and I am so grateful to Jason for showing me the ropes (couldn’t resist the pun).
The view from the top of Playing Hooky in Clear Creek Canyon.Katie Boué at the top of Playing Hooky in Clear Creek Canyon.Heading down from Playing Hooky in Clear Creek Canyon.

After rappelling down the route, obsessively checking ourselves for ticks, and munching on a few warm strawberries, Jason and I headed up to Lookout Mountain for a little photo-shoot he wanted to do for Mile High Clothing. We set up a slack-line between two trees, and I did my best to maintain my balance without making my signature hideous try-hard faces – it was no easy task, y’all.

My toes crushed a lot of pinecones while falling off the slack-line, but I think Jason got some killers shots – I can’t wait to see the final product! Here’s a quick shot he grabbed of me on my iPhone:

Jason Gebauer's quick shot of me slack-lining while rockin' Mile High Clothing.I am proud to say that the first tick is officially accomplished on my Colorado List adventure bucket list! Thank you Jason Gebauer for entertaining my demands for photos (any one you see of me was taken by him!), letting me steal your fruit, and being such a great climbing partner!  I’m already debating which #ColoradoList excursion I should go for next – I’m thinking a big hike this weekend. Stay tuned for more as my Colorado List project continues to grow.

What’s your biggest goal outdoors?
What are you doing to move towards accomplishing it?

A Holiday Gift Guide for Dirtbag Climbers

So, what do you buy for that dirt-caked, vagabond person on your shopping list who responds “I want to live in a van” when you ask them what they want to do when they grow up? You could waste your money and purchase a gift that encourages them to get a real job and start planning for the future – or you could embrace their dirtbag lifestyle, which is totally what you ought to do.

These items have all been put through my yearlong adventure living in a van to climb across the country, so they’re 100% dirtbag approved. Give this guide a gander, and spoil the dirtbag in your life with a thoughtful and practical holiday gift:

Kendal Jackson BagsA Homemade, One-of-a-Kind Chalk Bag

Since the beginning of my climbing career, I’ve had one chalk bag – a Kendal Jackson Bags original, a beige canvas sack with little earth-colored mushroom fabric accents. It’s my lucky charm when I climb. Kendal Jackson is a wonderful friend of mine from Tampa, who makes beautifully crafted bags that are sold everywhere from Four Bridges Outfitters in Tennessee to Rock Ventures in New York. You can order one of his already made creations, or you can make a request for custom work. With so many generic chalk bags dangling from harnesses, climbing with a one-of-a-kind is something to be proud of – and you’re supporting a small, family-owned, made-with-love business. Win-win, all around. (And stay tuned for a Kendal Jackson Bags giveaway soon!)

Climbing at Red River Gorge with my Yellow 108 Travis Beanie.Something to Keep Your Noggin Warm

Climbers spend a lot of time exposed to the elements. We all claim to love cold weather for prime sending conditions – but life in freezing temperatures can get pretty miserable. I was gifted a Yellow 108’s Travis Beanie at the beginning of my yearlong climbing trip, and I’ve been wearing it religiously ever since. Made with 30% hemp and 70% recycled organic cotton/hemp, this beanie is as cozy as it is stylish – and when you live in a van, you need all the style points you can muster. Keep your ears warm while covering hair that hasn’t been washed in over a week? Yes, please!

Bonus points: The products made by Yellow 108 use either recycled or salvaged.

 

A Way to Stay Charged – For Free

Goal Zero Nomad 7 solar charging kit.Here’s the thing about dirtbags: We’re really cheap, and usually broke. Spending money on anything is just not on our to-do list, which makes solar power quite enticing – the sun is free! Goal Zero makes a huge selection of products that help you harness the sun’s rays and turn them into energy that can power everything from phones and laptops to blenders and electric razors (both true stories, Niko loves making fruit smoothies in the van, and our buddy Spenser from The RV Project once used our solar battery to power a haircut in Squamish). Our entire van is powered by Goal Zero products, and we absolutely adore it all. For a first-time solar user, I would highly recommend the Nomad 7 Solar Panel. Solar power is the gift that keeps on giving!

Hiking the Annie U White trail in Boulder with the Topo Designs Klettersack.A Sack for All Your Gear

Again, I’ll reiterate something about dirtbags: We don’t always look too good. We’ll wear the same tatter tank tops for years, refuse to buy new gear, and rarely even register how disheveled we often look. Topo Designs creates the perfect products to sneakily offer climbers a way to combine style with functionality. My favorite pack is the Klettersack, a sleek piece that takes aesthetic cues from vintage design while providing durable portable storage for everything from laptops and electronics to camping supplies and climbing shoes.

My favorite part about Topo Designs? The products are proudly made in the USA – right in beautiful Colorado – and the folks behind the brand are all wonderful.

 

Billabong Brady Slippers.Cozy Non-Hiking Shoes to Warm Your Toes

If you hear a climber mention “prime sending conditions,” it probably means that the temperatures are dipping far below what normal folks would consider pleasant. After jamming frozen toes into down-sized climbing shoes all day, there’s nothing like relaxing and restoring blood flow to your feet with a pair of cozy boots. Surfdome recently sent me a pair of Billabong Brady Slippers, and these comfy slippers make my toes feel like royalty. They admittedly aren’t the most durable pair of fluffy boots, but check out this collection of boots for some snug inspiration from brands like The North Face and Sorel. Bonus points if you spoil the dirtbag in your life with one of those pairs of boots that have battery-powered heaters built in!

Something to Sip by the Fire

This gift suggestion is something that won’t be accompanied by a specific product endorsement – but the overall message here is this: dirtbags love campfires, and dirtbags really love sipping booze by that fire. The most obvious choice here is whiskey, but a six-pack of quality craft beer is just as enjoyable. Bonus points if you get something brewed or distilled locally!

Stocking Stuffers:

ClimbOn Lip Balm – For the climber that already uses a hand balm, step up their game with a little lovin’ for their lips.
PROBAR – Cookie dough flavored nutrition bar that packs 20 grams of protein (and it’s organic and vegan), need I say more? Probar is currently my favorite energizing snack on the trail.
Action Wipes – No words needed. Dirtbags are, well, dirty. Help ‘em stay somewhat presentable for those rare occasions when we need to interact with the rest of society.

What are you buying for the dirtbag on your shopping list?
Dirtbags, what do YOU want for the holidays?

Gear Review: Cypher Phelix Climbing Shoes

I’m somewhat of a climbing shoe snob. I have unwavering loyalty to my favorite pairs, despise certain models just because they irk me, and am not easily won over by newcomers to my shoe collection. The Cypher Phelix is a beautifully created shoe for female climbers. It features a feminine (but not too girly) design that I have gotten countless compliments on, and Velcro closures that use webbing for a sturdy solution that won’t be worn out easily.

Here’s the official description of the Cypher Phelix shoes from Liberty Mountain:

“Designed for a lower volume foot and heel, the Phelix comes with a perforated toe-‐box and heel-‐cup designed for technical toe and heel-‐hooking. Not all feet are the same, for that reason the Phelix uses the cross-‐velcro system to provide a custom fit to the foot. Made of leather with an inside cotton lining. 4.2mm Enigma HP rubber provides a sticky sole to land any of those tiny foot jibs.”

The Cypher Phelix climbing shoe at the Red River Gorge.Climbing Plate Tectonics at Muir Valley in Red River Gorge with the Cypher Phelix shoes.

I received my Phelix shoes while in Colorado, and have since tested them while bouldering on granite at Rocky Mountain National Park, sport climbing for three weeks at the Red River Gorge, route-setting at Tallahassee Rock Gym, and adventuring through my favorite southeastern boulder fields. Overall, I’m a big fan of these shoes – but I don’t think I totally agree with the “official description” for them.

The ultimate strength of these shoes is smearing on slabs or vertical surfaces. I have never had a pair of shoes that I truly felt confident smearing with until I climbed “The Scoop” at Rocktown in Georgia while wearing the Cypher Phelix. Every millimeter of the shoe’s surface gripped onto the sandstone slab as I shuffled my feet along the rock, never once slipping. Impressive. You can press onto the tiniest of jibs and the Phelix will stay put.Projecting The Kind at Rock Mountain National Park while wearing the Cypher Phelix climbing shoes.

One of the striking features of the Cypher Phelix shoe is how comfortable they are on your feet. I wear a street size 6 and got these climbing shoes in a 5.5, which provided just the perfect amount of masochistic-climber-toe-crunch while still being cozy enough to wear for hours while setting routes in a rock gym (which is another one of the situations where the Phelix becomes my preferred shoe – they are so comfortable while you’re pulling an all-night route setting session).

Routesetting with the Cypher Phelix climbing shoes.

Initially, I was very skeptical about the Enigma HP rubber on the Cypher Phelix – it’s super soft compared to the usual hard rubber I climb with, so I feared I would wear through the shoes very quickly. Surprisingly, the rubber has held up well, except for a few spots where it seems like I wore through the first little layer to expose the stronger surface beneath. The softness allows me to feel small features when I’m dancing up a slab, which I love.

As with any climbing shoe, I did notice a few things that the Cypher Phelix shoe isn’t built for: namely, overhanging climbs and heel hooks. Cypher specifically mentions heel hooking as a strength for these shoes, but my heel is just a little too big to finagle strong heel hooks in the Phelix – but it would probably be a great fit for someone with a smaller heel. For reference, La Sportiva Katanas and Testarossas are my favorite shoes for heel hooks – so if those heels are baggy on you, the Phelix will likely be a great fit. 

Overall, these shoes have earned their place in my small collection of go-to climbing shoes. The Cypher Phelix is my new preferred shoe for climbing slabs, long sport routes, warming up, and setting routes. I would highly recommend it as a first shoe for beginner climbers, or as a comfortable shoe for someone like me with way too many pairs of aggressive shoes. Retailing for $100, the Cypher Phelix is affordably priced and worth the investment. These shoes look good, feel good, and will leave your feet feeling cozy even after a long day of sending.

Starting to Circuit the Best of Southeastern Bouldering (With my Proudest Send!)

My crew of lady crushers at Rocktown in Georgia.One of my favorite things about the climbing culture of the southeast is our pride. Folks around here are proud of their local boulderfields, proud of hard-earned sends, proud to be a part of a community with camaraderie, hospitality, and deep-rooted, well, pride unlike any other population of climbers I’ve encountered on this trip. This is my favorite place in the entire country, and it feels so good to be home in the southeast.

For the remainder of my yearlong trip (less than 12 weeks, whoa!), Niko and I will be circuiting the climbing areas throughout Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and a bit of North Carolina. Our main focus is what we consider the true triple crown of the southeast: Stone Fort in Tennessee, Rocktown in Georgia, and Horse Pens 40 in Alabama. Now, I love Hound Ears more than anything, but it’s only open one day a year (and no days this year), so I think it’s about time Rocktown earned some respect with triple crown status.

We spent the weekend climbing at Rocktown with old friends from Tallahassee Rock Gym, and Vikki and Spenser from The RV Project. For once, the ladies outnumbered the men! It is so good to be crushing with Vikki again – she is the queen of short lady beta, and has helped me crush a few problems I was struggling with.

Finishing the top-out on Grape Ape (V4) at Rocktown in Georgia.Rocktown impressed us with some crazy autumn colors, easily the best we’ve ever seen out there. I spent the weekend getting a little mileage with a few new sends mixed in, like Belly Button (V3), and a totally-intimidating-can’t-believe-I-sent-it V4 called Grape Ape. It’s a fairly committing, tall boulder that demands you to trust your feet and lean over a funky slab to a great, but slightly out of reach, jug. I was mildly terrified at the top, but somehow made it work.

I’ve yet to find any big projects that really inspire me at Rocktown, but we’ll be spending a lot of time there so I’ll do some exploring until I stumble upon a climb that pushes my limits and motivates me to challenge myself on it. In the meantime, I returned to Stone Fort near Chattanooga to tango with a climb that has haunted me for way too long: Shotgun (V6).

During our last southeastern climbing trip before starting our yearlong trip, I fell in love with a boulder problem that was way out of my league, but absolutely enchanting. The fellas I was with quickly sent it, while I fumbled around on the first move without making any progress. For some reason, I was convinced that this was the one, and vowed that my goal for my yearlong adventure was to come back to the southeast and send Shotgun.

And I tried and tried. I came up with crazy beta that doubled the amount of moves I had to do compared to most folks who climb it. And I made progress. Then I got shut down, left Stone Fort for a while, and trained a bit at Tallahassee Rock Gym. And then I came back, and everything clicked.Gunning for the big pinch on Shotgun (V6) at Stone Fort. I’m still not entirely sure how I managed to get up to the top out of this boulder, but it happened. It was my last attempt for the day, and I wasn’t quite feeling it, so I decided to just really throw myself at the big pinch move that had been shutting me down – and it worked. I reached up to the victory jug, recollected myself, and prepared for the notorious top-out.

I’ll admit, I spent a LOT of time hanging out on those slopers. There’s seriously just nothing there. You have to slap your hands on the flat nothingness, trust your feet, and stand up. Luckily, I had Spenser snapping pictures from the top of the boulder, plus Vikki and Niko cheering me on from below. It was an ugly struggle, but I had to do what I had to do.

Sussing out the top-out on Shotgun (V6) at Stone Fort in Tennessee.Working out the slopers on the top-out of Shotgun (V6) at Stone Fort in Chattanooga.Photos: Spenser Tang-Smith of The RV Project – he’s the best. 

Folks, it was a big moment for this little lady. There was totally a happy-dance on top of the boulder. Now I need a new project to keep me motivated at Stone Fort. The icing on my yearlong trip cake would be to send a V7 before the adventure officially ends – but that’s definitely dreaming big.

Since we’ll be around the Chattanooga area for the next few weeks, Niko and I (along with Vikki and Spenser of The RV Project) decided to show some love to my favorite climbing organization, the Southeastern Climbers Coalition. We’ll be volunteering at the second annual Buy Your Own Boulderfield fundraiser party at The Crash Pad on Friday night – and if you’re in town you ought to be there! (And if you’re not in town, it’s totally worth making a weekend trip for – we’ll go crush some boulders afterwards!) The SCC will be auctioning off awesome swag like crash pads, climbing videography workshops, rock gym passes, and even a climbing day with Lisa Rands.

Come to the BYOB party in Chattanooga –
I’ll be serving up all-you-can-eat chili all night!

That Time I Made a Cameo in a Climbing Video, But All I Did Was Eat Nutella and Apples

Shannon Joslin climbs A River Runs Through It at Joe's Valley while Niko and Spenser film her ascent.No, but seriously. My two friends, Spenser and Vikki, from The RV Project made a killer climbing video, and I’m totally in it – and all I do in my cameo is sit on a rock and stuff my face with Nutella and apples while everyone around me is cheering. Wow. But really, does this shock anyone even a little bit?

Here’s the story: You remember how Niko and I planned to visit Joe’s Valley in Utah for two weeks, and ended up staying for two months? Well, Spenser and Vikki totally instigated our long-term stay, and while we were there we helped them shoot a sweet project they filmed featuring our lady friends Shannon Joslin and Flannery Shay-Nemirow. These incredible women climb for La Sportiva and Five Ten (respectively), and wanted to do a head-to-head battle to see which climbing shoes are better.

It took weeks to film, and months to edit, but Spenser did an incredible job with the final product – it’s such a fun video. Niko and I are really proud to have had a small part in it – mostly Niko, who helped Spenser shoot a few scenes. We both make a cameo during the “A River Runs Through It” scene, and my La Sportiva Katanas get worn by Shannon in the “Self Service” segment. Awesome!

Check it out:

Those ladies know how to crush, amirite? They make those stout climbs look like a cake walk. Bonus points to Niko for his hilariously edited fist-pump. And then there’s me, just hangin’ out, stuffing my face like a total lard. And I wonder why I don’t climb V10 – it just might have something to do with all the Nutella. Sheesh.

Check out more from The RV Project on their Facebook page, and show ‘em some love on Twitter!

Review: Stonelick’s YOSE Crash Pads for Bouldering

Climbing at Moe's Valley in Utah with the Stonelick YOSE crash pad.One of the most profound and important pieces of climbing gear in my yearlong-trip arsenal is my crash pad. Tasked with keeping me from busting myself apart while popping from crimps and punting off boulders, crash pads are as vital to my bouldering as my trusty climbing shoes. Niko and I have three different crash pads provided to us by Stonelick for our yearlong trip, but my go-to pad is the Yose.

It all starts with the hinge-step system, Stonelick’s signature innovative technology. Eliminating any soft spots or creasing, the Tetris-style folding technique ensures that I have an even landing every time. Visiting new bouldering areas on a weekly basis means that I am constantly battling new elements, and frequently falling off problems, so having a crash pad set-up I can trust is crucial to helping me keep my confidence when I’m in try-hard mode. One of the most valuable things I’ve gained on this trip is confidence in topping out boulders, which I credit largely to having an awesome spotter (thanks, Niko!) and reliable crash pads.

Aside from being a generally primo landing zone, the Yose has a few features that set it apart from any other crash pad I’ve totted around a boulder field. The biggest item for me is the thickly padded waist belt. I’m a tiny gal, so when I hoist a big ‘ole crash pad full of gear on my back, it quickly becomes a top-heavy, unbalanced mess. Having a comfortable support system to help distribute and manage the weight of the pad helps me carry it around with ease – and Stonelick gets bonus points for making a waist strap system that actually accommodates my miniscule hips. But on a brutally honest note: I still totally knock myself over all the time bumping into trees and rocks. I’m the worst.

A crew of Stonelick crash pads out at Red Rocks in Las Vegas.

Another great crash pad amenity offered by the Yose is a dual-flap adjustable closure that makes my closed crash pad a perfect slotted vestibule for stuffing in my gear, snacks, extra layers, and camera gear. I never have to worry about stuff falling out while I’m hopping around in search of climbs. During the entire nine months I’ve spent lugging my gear around in my Yose thus far, I have yet to drop a single item while tromping from boulder to boulder.

With features like a ballistic cover, reinforced corners, and a hardy, multi-layer foam interior, the construction of Stonelick pads is something that has always made this brand stand out from the crowd in my opinion. Spotting one out at a climbing area is somewhat of a rarity, so it’s always great when climbers fall on my Stonelick pads and compliment their superb structure and durability. Bonus points: These beautiful pads are made in the USA – which I love.

Climbing Ripple (V2) at Rocktown in Georgia with a Stonelick crash pad.Stonelick crash pads, made in the USA!

What Would I Change? Honestly, there isn’t much I would tinker with if I was to “rebuild” the Yose. The only thing I don’t love about the crash pad is the metal hooks used to close up the pad, but I really don’t mind ‘em too much. I’d make the metal hooks a bit fatter/thicker so they’re easier to maneuver, but the current system works perfectly fine in terms of keeping my crash pad shut.  

Bottom line: I won’t lie, Stonelick crash pads can cost a tad more than other options, but the extra dollars are totally worth the investment. After nine solid months of a non-stop climbing trip, my Yose is still in excellent condition, and the quality foam has proven itself time and time again. I’ve frayed a few corners with my overuse, and have begun to pull a few stitching out from daily use, but I am truly impressed that the Yose has been able to keep up with my bouldering adventures. From what I figure, Niko and I have put in the amount of climbing days in nine months that most folks clock in a few years, so these pads will last you a long, long time.

Even better? The two folks behind Stonelick, Arone and Diana, are downright awesome people who love climbing, and have a deep passion for what they’re doing. I love supporting Stonelick because I know who is making my pads, and can climb with confidence knowing they were built with love by folks who get out there and beat up their gear as much as I do.

Want to get your hands on a sweet Stonelick Yose crash pad?
You can grab one on the Stonelick online store for $279.
Be sure to tell ‘em I sent ya!

25 Climbs for 25 Years at Rocktown, and a Perfect Weekend in Chattanooga & North Carolina

In an attempt to say “no thanks” to the typical 25th birthday, which according to my generation includes a quarter-life crisis where you wonder what you’re doing with your life and why you aren’t as so-called successful as your peers, I decided to do something different: I challenged myself to climb 25 boulder problems.

I thought it was going to be easy. The original plan was to head to one of my favorite spots in the southeast, Stone Fort, where I have a pretty decent circuit of familiar climbs. Instead, the weather forecast relocated us to Rocktown – also a wonderful crag, but with a few hang-ups. The boulders are drastically spread-out compared to Stone Fort, and the lines aren’t always as clean.

The day started strong at a familiar warm-up spot near The Orb, a classic Rocktown V8. I made quick work of almost 10 climbs ranging from V0 to V2, including a few new lines I hadn’t climbed before. Things were looking good.
Climbing at Rocktown for my 25th birthday challenge.Climbing at Rocktown for my 25th birthday challenge.

After a few failed flails on Double Trouble (V5) and an old send, Jug Surfin’ (V4), I realized that if I was going to succeed at climbing 25 boulder problems, I was going to have to take it easy. We moved on to another cluster of easy problems, knocking out 5 more lines. I was convinced that V0s were all I’d be able to send, but resigned myself to having a fun day instead of focusing on v-points.

We visited a new area I haven’t seen before, and I flashed two sweet climbs called Ripple (V2) and Mario (V3). A quick moment of redemption, but still no impressive sends.
Climbing Mario (V3) at Rocktown in Georgia for my 25th birthday.Flashing Ripple (V2) at Rocktown during my 25th birthday challenge.

The remainder of the day was spent climbing lines that looked like no one had touched them in a very, very long time. First was a tall arête climb with a sweet iron rail feature, which I quickly cruised up. Then we moved onto a trio of lines on a triangular boulder called Pommel Horse – and it was game-on. This boulder was completely grown over, and anything that could have been a hold was caked in moss or draped with cobwebs. Even Niko struggled to decifer where the various V0s went, but we finally finagled our way up the boulder and I bagged three more sends.
Climbing at Rocktown for my 25th birthday challenge.

I ended the day on what can only be described as a choss pile. My favorite southern food buffet was closing in only a few hours, and I still needed five more climbs. We hiked back towards the front of the boulder field, and climbed unappealing problems toilet-themed names. It wasn’t pretty, but I was determined to finish all 25 climbs.

Twenty minutes of hiking, and an hour of driving later, we arrived for an all-you-can-eat southern feast at Wally’s Family Restaurant in Chattanooga. Once our bellies were bursting with collard greens and bacon, we retreated to The Crash Pad where we were treated to the hostel’s newly opened private room – which is crazy cozy and has a great upstairs view of the grounds.

The next morning, Niko and I made a long haul out to Waxhaw, North Carolina, where we met my family and two favorite fellas for a relaxing birthday weekend. We explored the Q-City BBQ Championship in downtown Charlotte, wandered around Asheville, and I even got to blow out some birthday candles over a slice of red velvet cake. It was the perfect way to spend my birthday – my 26th is going to have a lot to live up to! 

Climbing & Creatures – a Photographic Look at Red River Gorge in Kentucky

Marking our official return to the southeast after eight months of exploring the crags of the west, our three weeks spent at Red River Gorge in Kentucky easily surpassed any expectations I had. Niko and I have climbed there before, but we’ve never found ourselves so fully immersed in the community, culture, and climbing found at this humid gorge. I was ready for the incredible overhanging climbs littered with jugs and sandstone features, but I wasn’t quite prepared to find myself growing to love a family of climbers who call Miguel’s Pizza shop (and dirtbag campground) home.

Leaving here was a bit harder than I expected, and saying goodbye to all the pups and people was a bit heartbreaking. The folks we connected with at The Red are so full of love and instantly welcomed us into the community. Niko already has plans to come back in November – so we won’t be missing Red River Gorge for too long.

Because words can’t really describe the past three weeks spent climbing and living at Red River Gorge, I’ll let the photos do the talking. (Spoiler alert: In true Katie fashion, I picked up a lot of creatures, and naturally took their portraits.) Enjoy:

Projecting the classic climb Hippocrite (5.12a) at The Zoo in Red River Gorge.Taking a fall on the classic climb Hippocrite (5.12a) at The Zoo in Red River Gorge.View from the top of Pistol Ridge in Indian Creek at Red River Gorge.Rocks.Steven Jeffery on Scar Tissue (5.12a) at The Zoo in Red River Gorge.King Rat Snake at Red River Gorge.Camp life and pumpkin spice lattes at Red River Gorge.One of my favorite routes of all time, Plate Tectonics in Muir Valley at Red River Gorge.This little toad was a stowaway in our rope bag at Muir Valley in Red River Gorge.Niko's project at the Mother Lode crag in Red River Gorge, Stained.
Yeah, something tells me it won’t be too long before we make our return to Red River Gorge.

Accident at Red River Gorge Offers a Too-Close-for-Comfort Reminder to Stay Safe While Climbing

Seriously, folks, climbing is a dangerous sport.

It’s so easy to become complacent when you’re doing something every single day of your life, but climbing is inherently a dangerous sport sometimes, and even the most comfortable, skilled climber can have an accident. It happened here at Red River Gorge a few days ago.

My wonderful, kind, strong, incredibly well-spirited friend Roro was climbing a trad route at Pistol Ridge (the same place I had just had my wow-I-love-adventure-climbing experience) in the north portion of Red River Gorge a few days ago – business as usual. From what I gather, the route was a bit chossy (something that would never deter his passion for climbing lines), and he took a fall – and his first piece of protection popped. According to this press release, he fell 40 feet, and decked, hard.

Fortunately for my buddy, the universe was on his side and Roro landed right in between a boulder sticking out of the earth and a few stumps. It easily could have been a very, very bad situation, but thanks to his climbing partners that day and the folks who came to help rescue him, Roro made it out relatively unscathed after a four-hour mission to get him down from the crag.

The climbing community owes a huge THANK YOU to the Wolf County Search & Rescue team for keeping climbers safe at Red River Gorge.  *click the image to see their photos of the rescue*

The climbing community owes a huge THANK YOU to the Wolfe County Search & Rescue team for keeping climbers safe at Red River Gorge. *click the image to see their photos of the rescue*

I thought I’d help him out a bit by spreading the sole message he posted while in the hospital:

“Attention rock climbers. Wear a helmet.
It saves lives. Don’t be a square.”

I won’t debate helmets for bouldering, or even for sport climbing (because I shamefully don’t wear one), but if I ever get on a trad climb, you can bet your bottom dollar I’d be wearing a helmet. Niko bought one the moment he started placing gear, and every wise climber I know wears one on trad lines. Our friend we met here a few weeks ago admitted that he always wears a helmet, but didn’t when he came to Red River Gorge because he didn’t see a single person with a helmet – let’s change that. 

But mostly, just use this accident as a reminder to never, ever get too comfortable when climbing. Always double check your knots, always inspect your gear, always have good communication and double-check everything with your belayer. It doesn’t matter if you climb 5.14d or 5.9+, always be aware.

And never stop being grateful for your climbing partners. Don’t let the moment they get hurt be the moment you realize how awesome they are to have in your life. Roro, we can’t wait for you to get back to camp buddy, we all miss you.

Want to really show your appreciation for the folks who keep climbers safe? Donate to the Wolfe County Search and Rescue team to support Red River Gorge safety, or find your local crag’s SAR crew and give them some love.