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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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. 

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Home, Sweet Home: A Return to the Southeast at Red River Gorge

Home, Sweet Home: A Return to the Southeast at Red River GorgeRight now, I’m sitting outside to write, and the air in my lungs is so thick I could drink it. Everything smells like wet grass, and the scenery surrounding my picnic table consists of rolling hills carpeted with trees, old wooden crates stacked with empty Ale-8 bottles, and folks milling about while saying things like “thank you ma’am,” and “pleased to meet ya.” For dinner, we’re cooking black eyed peas and collard greens – and all of this can only mean one thing:

I’m back home – in the southeast.

We drove 20+ hours from Colorado to get to Kentucky, and every moment since our arrival at Red River Gorge has been a whirlwind of me thinking “man, I am so happy to be back in the south.” Climbers here always say hello at the crag (unheard of in Colorado, yeah, I’m calling you out on that), people speak with slow drawls at the grocery store, and I can finally ask for corn nuggets at a restaurant without getting funny looks.  To say I am content would be an understatement – I am elated, overjoyed, impossibly satisfied with where I am at this very moment.

The Red River Gorge is a particularly special place for climbers. We were torn between here and Tennessee as our official “return to the south” destinations, but I’m glad we chose Kentucky. This picnic table I’m writing from is situated under a pavilion at Miguel’s – a legendary pizza and camping spot where climbers from around the world gather. In the parking lot, there are cars from Oregon, California, Tennessee, New York, Washington, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Florida.

When I haven’t been inhaling fat slices of Miguel’s pizza or chasing pups around the campground, I’ve been reintroducing myself to the stone that sparked my love for climbing: southern sandstone. Oh how I missed these exquisitely exposed chunks of pristinely composed sediment, all spritely colored and begging to be gripped. Even when I’m on the verge of tears trying to will my body to move up to the next bolt, my love for this sandstone is unwavering. Southern sandstone is just the best damn rock in the world.

Niko crushing Scar Tissue (5.12a) at The Zoo in Red River Gorge, Kentucky.We’ve spent the past few days revisiting familiar crags and climbing new lines with old friends. My first climb of the trip was at the wall in Muir Valley where I first climbed at Red River Gorge a few years ago – it truly felt like a homecoming. The last time I was attached to a rope on that wall, I was trembling, shaking, hysterically crying on my first big-girl lead climb (I still flashed the route, which almost makes the scene even more shameful). This time, I pulled on the holds with confidence, I clipped the bolts with ease, and not a single tear was shed. It felt good.

As usual, Niko has been crushing and his psyche is sky-high as he climbs old projects and explores new lines. It was great to watch him work Scar Tissue (5.12a) and relive the memories of our last trip out here in May 2012.

Niko and I have been saying the same thing for the past seven months since we left the southeast, and now that we’re back after touring the country, it rings as loudly as ever: We belong in the southeast, and there is nowhere else we’d rather be. 

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The Big Yellow Van has a Plan: We’re Heading to Kentucky Today!

After a month in Colorado’s tri-city area, Niko and I are elated to depart from the mountains of the west in favor of our most beloved part of the country: the southeast. But honestly, we had no solid plans about where exactly in the southeast we were heading – which occurred to us last night while we were trying to figure out a driving plan for the next few days. Oops!

But now we have a plan: We’re heading to Red River Gorge in Kentucky!Climbing one of my favorite routes at Red River Gorge, Plate Tectonics (5.10a).

We’ve got about 20 hours of driving ahead of us, but by Friday evening we’ll be in one of the most beautiful gorges I have ever seen, stuffing our faces with pizza from Miguel’s, climbing aesthetic sandstone lines all day, trying not to pee on copperheads, and drinking a LOT of Ale-8. I can’t wait to get back to the southeast, and The Red is a perfect spot to begin our homecoming tour.

Also on the agenda: our first Cracker Barrel stop since we left the southeast seven months ago. We’ve been hoarding gift cards waiting for the right moment to feast on chicken ‘n dumplins and savory breakfast platters – and the time is now! What better way to celebrate our return to the southeast than with a comfort meal, rocking chairs, and good ‘ole southern hospitality?

I cannot wait to get back to the southeast. These next few months are going to be full of climbing on sandstone (my favorite!), stuffing my face with corn nuggets, reuniting with old friends, and soaking up all the southern scenery. I hear it’s still blazing hot down there, but fall is on the way – and there is no better place to watch the leaves change than in the rolling hills of the south!

So, what does this mean for the blog? Well, Red River Gorge is a notorious pit of bad cell service and spotty wi-fi, so I might not have any updates until Monday. Keep an eye on my Instagram and Twitter for more frequent updates whenever I get into a decent service zone. Cheers!

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Inspiring climbing and a gnarly whipper on Amarillo Sunset at Red River Gorge

While every climb, boulder, and cliff line is undoubtedly beautiful, certain routes offer an aesthetic that sets it apart from neighboring sheets of exposed rock. At Red River Gorge, one of these climbs unrivaled in its glory is “Amarillo Sunset,” a 5.11b that sits in solitude along a secluded area deep in the woods.

The approach to the climb begins with an approach by car. Our first attempts at reaching the back areas of Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve were thwarted by muddy roads with deep ditches carved out in them – no match for my low-profile hatchback. On the second day, we returned with some beta for a better way to get to the crags, and were successful in reaching our pursuit.

Our crew was comprised of the usual Tally Rock Gym suspects, plus two friends-of-friends from New Jersey who were out on their first sport climbing trip. When we made it to the base of Amarillo Sunset, we were greeted by a group who were wrapping up and removing their gear from the bolts. They gushed about what a blast the climb was, and set an atmosphere of charged anticipation amongst my cohorts.

Finally, our crew began to rope up. One by one, the boys crushed through the moves on this stunning line. I had been debating with my lady friend Rachel whether I felt confident enough to lead it, and ultimately settled on top-roping during my first attempt, with the possibility of a second go on lead if I felt strong enough.

I busied myself by clamoring through a thicket thick with poison ivy to a perfectly situated boulder that provided a great vantage point for capturing the impressive stature of Amarillo Sunset. I was joined on my perch by a group of Canadians who humored me with square-shaped Reeses cups and gushing adoration for Niko’s back muscles. We munched on chocolate and watched in awe from our spectacular viewing spot.

When Rachel got on Amarillo Sunset, she instantly squashed my thought of top-roping it as she led it like a true bad ass. Seriously, this girl is 10x the woman I will ever be; she knows no fear, and doesn’t understand the concept of personal limits. For Rachel, the only purpose for limits is to push them.

I snapped photos of Rachel as she powered through the first, second, and third bolts. My own confidence skyrocketed as I watched how effortlessly she seemed to be tackling the route. As she moved to clip the fourth, she hit a tricky spot and didn’t feel comfortable clipping from the appropriate hold – so she continued climbing a bit to gain better footing.

And then she fell.

As all climbers do – and with her legs properly positioned between the rope. Everything was gravy for a split second.

And then she flipped. 

Upon impact with the wall, the rope somehow wrapped itself around her bare legs, and plummeted her into one of those upside-down positions that have you cringing when you watch it happen on Dead Point Mag videos.

There was a round of gasps, and a collective “holy shit” rang throughout our ranks before Rachel quipped down to us with a shaky “I’m okay!” She quickly followed that up with, “I think you should lower me now,” and Niko gently lowered her to the ground then rushed to her side.

After the shock of the moment subsided, I was truly taken by the way my beau tended to my fallen ladyfriend. He was so delicate and concerned, and touched every part of her knee, asking where it hurt. He tenderly flexed her leg and poked at the swollen bits to make sure nothing was broken, and it was apparent that his thorough care for Rachel instantly calmed her.

But enough of my awwww moment. Back to Rachel.

Once the swelling in her knee subsided, she realized that the source of her throbbing pain was actually in her heel – that’s the body part that first made impact with the wall. Someone whipped out a comically sized bottle of Ibuprofen, Rachel downed a couple, and within a few minutes, it was like nothing had ever happened. Like I said, the girl is a bad ass.

I’m a fairly impressionable gal, and Rachel’s experience totally intimidated me – so I got right back to my plan of top-roping the route. Unfortunately, thunder and rain bore down upon us soon after, and that coupled with a whiny European who came up on our group and impatiently mused about how it was a “waste” to hike “all the way” out to the crag to have to wait for this one climb caused me to lose the opportunity to get on the route myself.

Amarillo Sunset taught me a great lesson about regret. If you see a line you want to climb, and you don’t make an effort to climb it (despite weather conditions and rude dudes with snobby accents) – you will regret it.

But now, I have a reason to get back to Red River Gorge as soon as possible. Amarillo Sunset will be mine – and not on top-rope.

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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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Where am I now? Crushin’ rock at Red River Gorge in Kentucky!

Greetings, from a nearly empty Panera Bread in a very, very small town outside of Lexington, Kentucky. After a day of driving that began at 5:00 AM, I’m taking a dinnertime break to co-host the weekly ATQA Adventure Travel chat – and update my lovely readers on my ever-changing whereabouts.

As all my hype on Twitter and Facebook has given away, I am beginning a week-long adventure to Red River Gorge near Slade, Kentucky. Armed with a guidebook, my trusty La Sportiva climbing shoes, and all the appropriate gear, I’m finally putting my endurance training to the test with a crush-fest at this iconic crag. I’m joined by my wonderful co-pilot (in travel and life), Niko, and the owner of Tally Rock Gym, Rich.

Never been to the glorious sandstone wonderland that is Red River Gorge? Give yourself a taste of the adventure with this great video I found while pouring over every bit of Red River Gorge information I could get my hands on prior to the trip:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nm-k2Exp_Wk&feature=related]

I’ve got my eye on more routes than I’ll ever be able to tackle in just a week, but my most beloved project is Amarillo Sunset, a gorgeous 5.11b that is calling my name. I’ll be shacked up at a campsite with wi-fi since I’m not taking any time off work for this trip (LivingSocial, I love you for giving me a job that lets me work while on climbing trips!) – so stay tuned for updates live from Red River Gorge!

For now, enjoy this shot of Amarillo Sunset, compliments of Ben Cassedy, who submitted this photo to the Mountain Project collection. Seriously, how could anyone NOT want to get their hands all sweaty and chalky on this beautiful line?

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