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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