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.

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Video of Niko crushing Hippocrite (5.12a) at Red River Gorge

Red River Gorge. What a destination. I don’t think I’ve ever been so bummed to see a climbing trip end, particularly because I’ve got about a dozen climbing buddies who are still out there right now. Gorgeous crags, overhangs that stay dry even in downpours, phenomenal pizza, and a beautiful camping experience. A lady truly couldn’t have asked for a better trip.

I have about 800 photos and a dozen or so video clips to edit before the full trip report, but I couldn’t resist posting a quick littleteaser to give you a taste of Kentucky.

This video features Niko climbing “Hippocrite,” an aesthetic 5.12a line that sits towards the left side of a crag called “The Zoo.” We visited this area on Cinco de Mayo, which I declared a rest day. Armed with a six-pack of Coronas, a juicy lime, and a little salt shaker, I spent the afternoon sipping on cold beer while the boys went to town crushing some gnarly routes. Check it out:

Note: This video was shot with my iPhone 4s – and I was about three beers deep when I decided to film the climb, so please excuse the lack of my usual standards, ha. 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajhbj4OR-Ts]

Here’s a fun little bonus photo/story: After shooting Niko on Hippocrite, I was overcome with the urge to break the seal – so I tromped down into the woods and found a nice little spot to relieve myself. In my tipsy stupor, I was totally ignorant to what was going on right in front of me – I didn’t even notice the snake that my stream had narrowly missed.

I literally almost squatted on the slithery creature, and upon noticing it, I immediately whipped out my phone to take some pictures of the cute little guy. Here’s the best one – I reckon it might just be the best picture I’ve ever taken on my iPhone:

It wasn’t until I returned to the group and showed off my shots that I was jolted to be informed that my little friend was actually a copperhead. Oops.

Stay tuned for plenty more updates from my trip to Red River Gorge!

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A perfectly wild, perfectly simple mountain cabin retreat in Willits, California

Up into the mountainside surrounding Willits, California, down a winding dirt road, and past a skinny wooden welcome sign, sits a trio of charming cabins amid a veritable slice of American wilderness.

Welcome to Still Mountain Retreat.

But I digress.

During my trip across America with Niko, we stopped in my old California stomping grounds in San Jose to visit a few climbing buddies. We only planned to stay a day or two, but after being invited to join our cohorts for a weekend escape up into the mountains, we quickly agreed to alter our agenda.

Our evening drive up to the cabins took us past throngs of bay area traffic, up beyond the wine-laden land of Sonoma, and into the most wonderful nook of paradise. The Still Mountain Retreat property is an expansive sprawl of thick trees, mossy rocks, and grassy fields – all of which are intersected by a gushing river. I can’t say I know too many people who can boast having a waterfall on their property.


Immediately upon arrival, we were treated with two creature encounters. Despite misting rain, we explored the area a bit, and quickly found ourselves gazing upon a young doe resting alone in the grass along the muddy path we were walking. No more than a few weeks old, this infant deer made my heart flutter with adoration. Not wanting to disturb her, we carried on and were soon enthralled by the sight of a fuzzy little vole. I instantly knew that this mountainous retreat was the place for me.

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We nearly missed the most important month of the year – April is National Frog Month!

Driving past the Novey Animal Hospital on Tennessee Street always presents interesting little tidbits displayed their sign marquee, and yesterday I discovered something I could kick myself for overlooking: April is National Frog Month!

How I let this slip past me, I simply do not know. Frogs are my favorite creatures on this planet, and April is a great month to pay homage to their pimply backs, glossy eyes and pudgy finger pads – it’s the month where they finally emerge from their underground burrows to splash in April’s showers and gear up for mating season. To celebrate my beloved buddies, here are a few of my favorite frog photos, plus a few interesting facts about these great amphibians.

Frog Facts:

  1. Fish travel in schools, geese fly in gaggles – so what do you call a group of frogs? An army. A group of toads is known as ‘a knot.’
  2. Frogs don’t drink water; they simply absorb it through their skin via osmosis.
  3. A frog can live anywhere from 4 to 40 years – the average lifespan is 4-15.
  4. Ever see a frog with its eyes closed and rolled back in its head? Don’t mind him, he’s just swallowing his prey whole, and using the pressure from his eyes to force the meal down his throat.
  5. You can find frogs everywhere in the world, except for Antarctica. Then again, why would anyone live in Antarctica?

Stay tuned tomorrow for a preview at my graduation photos! I’ll be walking (read: falling) across the stage at the Leon County Civic Center on Friday, April 29th to officially end my time as a student at Florida State University! – But first, excuse me while I find a few toad buddies to play with.

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5 Ways to Celebrate La Madre Tierra for Earth Day!

Looking for a way to pay homage to the beautiful planet that so kindly houses you, feeds you, waters you and creates boulder formations for you to climb? – Consider one of these five ways to say ‘thanks’ to nature on Earth Day.

1. Plant something. The possibilities here are really endless. Plant a tree, take a cue from my neighbor and plant some dainty flowers, or get creative. Eatin’ a pineapple or avocado? You can plant ’em! I currently have a pineapple head and a sprouting avocado pit basking in the sunshine on my patio. Good for the earth, and an entertaining little project. Stick a few tooth picks into the pit, prop it up in a little cup and fill it with water until the base is nicely situated in liquid. Voila!

2. Feed the critters! It is no secret that I am obsessed with my little creature buddies. Birds, squirrels, raccoons – I love ’em all. Making bird-feeders is a quick and fun way to celebrate Earth Day. Check out my how-to make a bird feeder using recycled products, or go old school with a simple feeder made by rolling pine cones in peanut butter. Hang it by your window and you’ll have entertainment all day long, like the time the Squirrel Bandit parkoured his way up to my feeder..

3. Pick up some trash. There is no shortage of litter in this world, and there’s no better day to tote a plastic bag around and fill it with the rude garbage that clutters the earth. I’ll be collecting trash around Tally Rock Gym today after I volunteer a belay party, so feel free to come join me.

4. Thank your farmers. Not exactly thanking nature, but today is a great day to appreciate the people that work hand-in-hand with the earth on a daily basis. Forgo the mass produced food that is processed using methods that create pollution and waste – stop by a farmers market (like the Thomasville Farmers Market, or the Pinecrest Farmers Market) or local grocer, and take a bite out of something good for your body, and good for your earth.

5. Take a hike! Or leisurely walk, or bike ride, or canoe ride. Get outside and revel in everything that the earth has provided for you. We spend too much time taking advantage of our resources, and not enough time appreciating our blessings. Head to a local park, make a drive to your favorite beach, canoe along a river – the ways to cherish the outdoors are endless, so stop making excuses.

Did I mention that these things are great activities for ANY day, not just Earth Day? This holiday aims to raise awareness about our need to give back to the earth, but you efforts to celebrate Mother Nature shouldn’t be reserved solely for April 22nd. Every day presents a prime opportunity to make a difference.

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Image of the Day: Diggin’ for pollen in Denver.

A classic shot from last year’s midwest road trip, and one of my all time favorite critter photos. I can’t recall if we were waiting for someone or just decided to stop, but our crew ended up spending quite some time exploring this charming community garden in Denver, Colorado.

There were bees swarming every blossom, and pudgy vegetables lined the soiled pathways. I’m no gardening expert, but the keepers of this little sliver of land certainly knew what they were doing by the looks of their blushing rhubarb and cautious signs that warned of recently planted seeds or particularly delicate plants. It made me want a garden, so very badly.

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Monday Motivation – inspiring words by L. Sepe and bumble bee photography

Today’s uplifting quote comes from one of the most beautiful ladies to ever grace the planet, Lauren Sepe. This girl has a captivating spirit that seeks out all the beauty in the world around her, which means you’d do well to follow her word.

To compliment her wise words, enjoy a lovely pair of shots I took this weekend at Railroad Square Art Park. Spring is officially upon us, and the bugs are lovin’ it.

“The pursuit of happiness is a matter of choice! If we regularly deposit encouraging thoughts in our minds, bite our lips before we begin to complain and shoot down that harmless negative thought, we will find that there is much to rejoice about. The best things in life are unexpected because there were no expectations. Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference… Make your optimism come true!” – Lauren Sepe
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Lesson of the Day: Don’t Procrastinate Burying a Dead Bird

When I came home from work on Thursday, I found a startling addition to the little garden area by my front door: a downed adult bird, sitting motionless in the grass. I ran inside to put down my bags, then called out to my housemate that there was a hurt bird we needed to help.

“Uh, he’s been there for about four days,” she informed me. Hmm, maybe not so much hurt as he is dead? I still had to investigate my poor fallen buddy.

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Meet Lumpkin, the Ageless Pumpkin from Chattanooga

To celebrate my 22nd birthday in October, Niko and I adventured off to Chattanooga for a weekend of exploring, local eats and even a little climbing. We visited the Tennessee Aquarium, strolled the streets of downtown and spent a few hours at my favorite crag, Little Rock City.

The most lasting impression was made by a small, plump vegetable gifted to me by Niko at the Chattanooga State Farmers Market. Our trip occurred during the peak of autumn, so naturally I insisted on getting a pumpkin souvenir to commemorate my travels to a destination that experiences marked seasons.  I picked him out from a pile housing dozens of pumpkins. His perfectly round body and firm stem made him a perfect choice. He earned the name ‘Lumpkin’ during our drive back to Tallahassee, where we passed a ghost town bearing the appropriate name.

Months passed, and I sadly watched as pumpkins perched on doorsteps throughout Tallahassee became soggy with mold and were carelessly slumped into the trash. I refused to carve my darling Lumpkin, but considered painting him gold and dipping him in glitter a few times.

Lumpkin has traveled from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Tallahassee, Florida, and even made two trips to Miami, Florida for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. He’s a natural adventurer.

Today, little Lumpkin remains firm and hearty as ever. He bears a single little mark, where it appears that a fingernail pierced his thick hide, but his wound is entirely healed over and shows no signs of infection or impending pumpkin demise. It has been three months since I acquired my little vegetable buddy, and I reckon that it’ll be a few more before I am forced to abandon my prize to the inevitable decomposition that awaits him.

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HELP! Sender, climber pup extraordinaire, is MISSING.

A few months ago, we all fell in love with Sender, the amazing Beagle that our climbing crew rescued from the bottom of a mountain while on an adventure to my favorite crag at Little Rock City. After giving her a loving new home, and dubbing her as the official mascot of the Tallahassee Rock Gym, we discovered that tiny Sender was suffering from a horrible case of heart worms. She was relocated to Tampa for a few months while she endured a painful treatment process. Finally, Sender was given a clean bill of health and returned to her proper home in Tallahassee.

Last night around 8:00 PM, baby Sender went missing. Our friend Jeff discovered that the lawn crew that maintains their property had foolishly propped the back gate open with a brick, allowing Sender to wander off during the evening. Niko and I circled the neighbor hood until 1:30 AM, but we unable to locate the precious pup. We are begging everyone to help us bring Sender home. Between the freezing nighttime temperatures and today’s cruel weather conditions, Sender is probably becoming quite ill and needs us to come find her.

Sender went missing off Hartsfield Road and Idyllic Terrace. She was last seen wearing a dainty pink collar, but no tags. Whether or not she is capable of understanding her name is honestly up in the air, but she will respond to any friendly beckoning. Sender loves company, and will readily come to anyone who calls her. If you find Sender please contact me as soon as possible.

Sender is the only lady that has ever been able to tame the wild mountain man that is Jeffrey Williams. Please help us reunite man and pup; it’s dangerous to leave Jeff out on his own without Sender to keep him grounded!

Click here for a link to her TallahasseeSuperAds.com listing. You can also check out her Craigslist ad by clicking here.

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