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.

His or Hers? A Battle of the Climbing Photographers

Niko and I are constantly engaged in war – an ongoing battle between our climbing photographs. If I take a particularly impressive shot, he’ll quickly snag the camera and one-up me with an even better composition. When he finds the perfect lighting, I’m quick to steal the Nikon to shoot some photos of my own. Our little feud has become the best tool to pushing us to get the best climbing photos we can – but we can never decide who took to the better shot, so we’re asking you to help us decide.

Check out these two climbing photos, and choose your favorite (*click the photos for the full-sized view). Leave a comment at the bottom of this blog post letting us know which one you prefer. We’ll reveal who shot which photo once the votes are tallied and a winner is chosen!

These two photos were both taken at Indian Creek in Utah. We spent three weeks living in the desert, and snapped some of our best climbing photos of all time while we were out climbing sandstone cracks in the sunshine. There were dozens of photos that blew us away, including a few I shot of the fellas climbing Scarface while a thunderstorm rolled in – but these two are our favorites:

1. Jeremy Rush with a desperate face-press on Incredible Hand Crack (5.10c).

Jeremy Rush using everything he has on Incredible Hand Crack (5.10c) at Indian Creek in Utah.

2. Bryan Cox illuminated on Anunnaki (5.12).

Bryan Cox crushing Anunnaki (5.12) at Indian Creek in Utah.

There can only be one winner, and the choice is up to you. We’re pretty competitive with this idea, so we reckon it’ll become a series of photo contests – and the loser has to buy the winner a sweet treat of their choice. Glory and the promise of a free snack, it’s on!

Three Weeks of Climbing at Joe’s Valley in Words and Photos

A frozen waterfall at Joe's Valley in Utah.It all began with a dreary midnight drive through the nothingness of rural Utah. We arrived in Joe’s Valley after a brief stint in Moe’s Valley that left us eager for cooler temperatures and a landscape with more than just blistering sand. It was dark when we pulled up to camp, so I was elated to wake up on the first morning surrounded by tall pine trees, snow patches, and a gushing river that snakes through the left fork of the valley.

I didn’t do much sending during the first week due to my tweaky tendon, but just getting to explore the incredible valley was enough to keep my spirits lifted. Our old housemate Bo was with us for the first few days, and another Tally Rock Gym-er, Bryan Cox, drove out from his new home in Salt Lake City to join us during that first week as well. Even better than the climbing was getting to watch all the fellas reunite.
Niko, Bo, and Cox messing around on the landmark crack boulder in the Left Fork of Joe's Valley in Utah.We broke up our three weeks in Joe’s Valley with a weekend in Salt Lake City, and a quick escape to Moe’s Valley for two days while the temperature dropped down to single digit wind chills in Joe’s – but every time we left for a bit, we felt a persistent urge to return to the valley. So, we kept coming back.

There were many highlights for the crew during our long climbing sessions at Joe’s Valley, including a very successful Easter Sunday where Niko sent his first V10, and I climbed V6, 5, and 4 all within two or three attempts. Our lady friend Emily sent her first V7, and many more projects were ticked off all our lists. I also had an awesome experience flashing a V5 for the first time, which I totally did not expect to happen. Here are a few of the highlight shots from the past few weeks:
Angus executes the ultimate beast-mode while climbing Playmate Of The Year (V9) In Joe's Valley.Here's a shot of me flashing Blue Eyed (V5) in Joe's Valley, Utah.And a few more..
Angus looks heaven-sent while projecting Beyond Life (V10) at Joe's Valley in Utah.Bo throws some fancy footwork on during his send of Bring The Heatwole (V7) at Joe's Valley.
My favorite climbs at Joe’s Valley were two V5s that offer a style of climbing not often encountered at this climbing destination full of face and mostly vertical climbs. The first send, Self Service, is a beautiful line in the New Joe’s area that follows big holds through big movements up to a committing top-out. I’d call it a bit soft for the grade, but a blast nonetheless.

I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to send Self Service when I first hopped on it – one of the first moves is a left-hand reach up to a crimpy edge, and my tendon was still aching like crazy, plus my still-sprained ankle was NOT happy with the heel hook beta I originally tried. Eventually, I found my own beta, muscled up a bit, and pulled off the send.
DSC_9618
The second favored send was possibly my hardest personal triumph in climbing thus far. The problem, Kill By Numbers, is an outstandingly burly V5 with gnarly heel hooks, strong arête slopers, and a big first move that required some serious lady beta for me. I spent days working it, with two days of many attempts, followed by two days of “oh man my butt hurts,” and one “today is the day” attitude that led to a send on the first go during a fresh day. I think it may just be my proudest send of all time – it feels even more earned because of all the work I had to put into it.
Gunning for the perfectly placed crimps on Kill By Numbers (V5) in Joe's Valley, Utah.Thus far, we’ve spent the majority of our time at Joe’s Valley in the company of our friends Zach, Emily, and Angus – two of which had to return home to Minnesota, and one who headed out to the Red Rock Rendevouz in Nevada. We ended up spending a total of 30 days traveling with Zach and Emily, from Hueco Tanks to Red Rocks to Moe’s and Joe’s Valleys. It was an incredible experience meeting them and becoming a little family on the road together. As for Angus, well, the kid can crush, as you’ll see in this awesome Joe’s Valley bouldering video he recently posted (and he’s as sweet as he is strong).

It was a sad moment when we all parted ways. The crew spent our last evening together huddled around a campfire, roasting marshmallows and drinking the only full-proof beer we could get our hands on in this little Utah town. In the morning, we all scattered to our respective “final projects” in the valley, and bid our final farewells.
The original Joe's Valley crew on our last night together in Utah.
After a few days on our own in the valley, we met Spenser and Vikki from The RV Project, and have been camping, climbing, shooting footage, and hangin’ ever since. Meeting them has totally reinvigorated our stoke on climbing at Joe’s Valley. We were originally planning on leaving Joe’s Valley to check out other areas, but have decided to come back to the area for a bit after we do a little bit of sport climbing in Moab this week.

Come back tomorrow to read more about why we’re coming back, and Niko’s V7 first ascent!
And, since I’m in such a sharing mood, check out this still we pulled of Niko climbing Resident Evil (V10). We’ll have an awesome video coming out sometime this week, featuring some of my favorite Joe’s Valley climbs, with a few bonus sends from Moe’s Valley and Red Rocks!
Niko getting the high foot on Resident Evil (V10).

My first sport climbing adventure to Little River Canyon in Alabama

Last August, I journeyed up to Steele, Alabama for my first sport-climbing trip to a crag known (by some) as Sandrock. Despite the graffiti-drenched boulders defaced by locals, and an ungodly amount of broken glass strewn about the trails, I had an amazing time leading my first routes – but the most lasting impression from this trip was left by a small metal sign on the drive towards the mountain. It read “Little River Canyon,” and pointed towards the north.

After a few seasons slipped by, Niko and I finally made plans to check out the mysterious Little River Canyon. Perfectly timed with the release of the new Dixie Cragger for Georgia and Alabama, we were able to embark on an informed journey to the new crag. I practiced my light packing skills, tossed our gear into the trunk of our buddy Bo’s car, and spent the seven-hour drive up to Alabama dreaming of sandstone.

Naive about any camping situations available in Little River Canyon, our crew decided to stick to the free, and unbelievably scenic, camping at the top of Lookout Mountain, deep in the rural bits of Alabama. Things got a tad interesting on Easter morning, when we woke up to a passionate sunrise sermon held a few yards from our tent.

It must be noted that the small metal sign beckoning climbers to detour towards “Little River Canyon” is slightly deceptive. What we had imagined to be a quick hop, skip, and jump over to the crag from Sandrock was actually a 30-minute haul – but I enjoy leisurely mornings, so I had no complaints.

I was pleasantly surprised by the ease at which we were able to locate the climbs at Little River Canyon. Our main haunt was The Gray Wall, which is accessed via a discreet trail that sits right off the winding mountain road that runs through the preserve. Given that we were in a canyon, the approach involved a bit of scrambling, down climbing, and getting dripped on by miniature waterfalls.

At The Gray Wall, we were introduced to a crew of southern climbers who demonstrated a keen passion for Little River Canyon, which is actually a national preserve. The boisterous group welcomed us to ‘their’ crag with enthusiasm, and offered to let us use their draws on a few warm-up routes.

And by warm-ups, I mean a wide row of 5.11 climbing.

I hear there is just one 5.9 hidden somewhere in Little River Canyon, and a small handful of 5.10s are strewn about – which basically means that this crag is a destination reserved for more advanced climbers.

 
In my honest opinion, I believe the more demanding level of climbing is what has kept this crag as well preserved as it is. I saw nary a single spray of paint on the sandstone, nor any piles of wayward trash. Unlike Sandrock, this crag has evaded traffic from the masses, and retains its pristine natural glory.

It’s such a pure area that I honestly hesitated to feature it on the blog. So if this post inspires you to visit Little River Canyon to bask in the beautiful climbing, I implore you to exercise the utmost respect and land stewardship.

As for the actual climbing, this canyon delivers such phenomenal lines that our crew all agreed we’d probably never visit Sandrock again if we were in the area – Little River Canyon trumps it tenfold. I climbed my first 5.11a, a pumpy ledge-filled route called “Obsession” – admittedly on top-rope, and it was not a red-point. The boys climbed a handful of 5.11s at The Gray Wall, and then Niko briefly jumped on a burly overhanging route called “Tension.” We also fooled around on a quirky, short slab route that no one could conquer. Check out the photos:
 The main event of our adventure was our time spent on the hardest section of The Gray Wall. The star of the show was Lion, a 5.12c sport route with stout movements and burly demands. The boys were eager to hop on it after watching a local climber, Rob, barrel through the cruxes. (Did I mention that Rob is about to turn 60, and crushes sandstone harder than I ever will? He was such a cool dude.)

        In true Katie form, I hardly climbed as much as I should have. Instead, I busied myself by climbing up one of the 5.11 routes, clipping myself into a bolt using long runners, and hanging from the sandstone while waving my camera around at the boys as they climbed.

The trip was a huge wake-up call for me – it mercilessly reminded me that as a boulderer, I seriously lack endurance. Both Bo and I were pumped out every few moves on our climbs, and we both left the trip determined to improve ourselves. Thankfully, while we were totally shut down by lengthy climbs, we managed to not be conquered by chiggers (unlike my last trip to Alabama, when I ended up with chiggers nesting in my belly button, true story.)

Despite the harsh realizations, this trip got me incredibly stoked on sport climbing. My silence on the blogging front is a direct result of my newfound passion for training. Little River Canyon motivated me to dive into hardcore endurance training, and I have since spent every single day climbing to my limits. Last night, I red-pointed my first 5.11 in the gym, and practiced my lead climbing on a few easier routes. Today, I’m indulging in a rest day, after seven straight days of training.

Stay tuned for more updates on my training efforts as I prepare my body and mind for my upcoming trip to The Red River Gorge.