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?

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.

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. 

Exploring Texas’ Best Outdoor Spots: Reimer’s Ranch, Pace Bend Park, and Hamilton Pool

After a short detour in Austin, we planned to meet our climbing buddy, Teresa, out at Reimer’s Ranch on a Friday morning – so Niko and I took a few rest days at Pace Bend Park during the week. This friendly slice of exceptional Texas landscape is a miniature peninsula that sits on a steep cliff line above the water. Folks kept referring to it as Lake Austin, but it looked much more like a river if you ask me.

When Teresa finally escaped Houston to join us for a weekend of climbing, we set off towards stunning, and short, sport climbing. The Reimer’s Ranch climbing crag is located about 30 minutes away from Pace Bend Park, but it’s the nearest campground to the climbing – and the drive isn’t bad. Another great aspect is that once you pay for your camping ($5/night) and day use ($10/day), your parks pass is valid for Pace Bend, Reimer’s Ranch, and Hamilton Pool.

After less than awesome bouldering at Bull Creek Run in Austin, I wasn’t expecting very much from the climbing at Milton Reimer’s Ranch Park – but I was instantly blown away. You pull up to a rather dry parking lot area, which is equipped with immaculate rest room facilities. A few yards down the trail, the scenery switches: suddenly, you’re knee-deep in what can only be described as Fern Gully. The approach to the crag takes you skipping along a little creek, which opens up into a lush area alive with ferns and thick tree trunks. I was in heaven.

Niko climbing at Reimer's Ranch park in Texas during the Simply Adventure trip.

The climbing compliments the dreamy surroundings with pleasurable routes, unbelievably well maintained bolts and anchors, and a great climbing community. The only foreseeable compliant is in regards to the length of the routes – most are only about 40 feet tall, with four or five bolts. As a big chicken when it comes to lead climbing, I was totally content with the short climbs.

Teresa throws for a jug at Reimer's Ranch in Texas.

We hopped on a number of routes ranging from 5.7 to 5.12a throughout the two days we were able to climb, and I had a blast on every line I touched, including a great 5.10 b/c/d (?) called Prototype – which I top-roped twice, “red-pointed” the second go, and really regret not leading.

The most memorable route was a 5.10a called Fat Chicks Trying To Look Sexy. It was Teresa’s unfinished project, so we both worked it until she snagged the red-point. We also gave a go at a sweet 5.12a Niko was working, named Yertle the Turtle. Neither of us ladies made it past the third bolt, but it was a nice challenge.

Most importantly, I took my first lead falls, ever. Yes, that’s right, I had never taken a fall while sport climbing before. I had a pretty good run of on-sighting every 5.10a (and below) I got my hands on, but the time came for me to put on my big girl panties and take a fall. And you know what? It ain’t so bad, y’all!

This is me, not taking a lead fall, but rather successfully climbing at Reimer's Ranch in Texas during the Simply Adventure trip.

The plan originally included three days of climbing, but our final day was rained out, so we packed up early on Saturday evening and finished our adventure with dinner at Emcee’s Eatery – which was good, but took way too long. Fortunately, I was pretty down to have some extra time hanging out with Teresa, so I didn’t mind the monstrous wait to get my spaghetti. (If you eat there, get the burgers, so good!)

This incredible cave at Hamilton Pool Park in Texas is mind-blowing. How does it not collapse?!If you’re ever in the Austin area, Riemer’s Ranch is a must. Right up the road, you’ll find Hamilton Pool, one of Texas’ magnificent wonders. Comprised of a looming cave that hovers over an emerald pool, this destination is a popular spot during the summertime. When we visited, the water was a balmy 53º, but I was filthy so I took a quick dip to rinse my oily hair anyways.

Once again, Texas surprised us with an unexpected adventure. We weren’t very fond of our few days spent in Austin, so it was especially pleasant to discover a rolling hill country with classic climbing just outside the city.

Extra Beta: We’d highly suggest paying a visit to Bump ‘n Grindz coffee shop. A hospitable man, Marco, who welcomes you into his café with open arms, runs the joint where you can fuel up on everything from homemade soup to gelato. The coffee is strong, the outlets are plentiful, and the wi-fi is free.

First outdoor ascents, an epic OR Show crew, and climbing at American Fork Canyon in Utah

It’s been well over a week, and yet I am still reeling from the sights, sounds, and excitement of the Outdoor Retailer summer show in Salt Lake City. It was my first OR Show experience, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to check out some outstanding gear, meet with some potential sponsors for the big 2013 trip, and hang out with some of my favorite folks in the outdoor industry.

As wonderful as my four days spent scuttling around the Salt Palace were, the undeniable highlight of my excursion out to Utah was the day I spent climbing at American Fork Canyon in the company of a crew of adventurers I had only actually met (in person) the night before. We had all known each other for what felt like a lifetime through our weekly conversations during #ClimbChat on Twitter, but it wasn’t until Millet hosted a tweet-up that we all actually became “friends in real life.” The connection between our crew was instant, and I was thrilled when my buddy Josh offered to come scoop me from my hotel the next morning to head up into the mountains.

I spent the drive up to the canyon with my face pressed against the car window, soaking up all the splendor of the mountainous Wasatch scenery that surrounded me – I’m a Florida gal, so even the slightest shifts in elevation get me giddy.

We winded through the thickly forested mountains for a few miles, and then parked along the side of the road before saddling up with gear and trekking towards the canyon walls to the Hard Rock crag with fellow climbers Josh Riggins and Kristie Salzman.

The highlight of my day came early – I got to witness Kristie’s first outdoor climb ever. The amount of stoke that was pouring out of her was infectious, and it was a blast to photograph her while Josh belayed her up Rockapella, a classic 5.7 slab with a groovy little roof at the end.

Kristie totally rocked her first climb, and came down from her ascent with an enormous smile plastered across her pretty face. It was too cool to be there for her inaugural climb, and judging by how amped she was, I think it’s safe to say she’s 100% hooked.

After I took my turn on Rockapella to warm up and get used to the unfamiliar feel of polished limestone, the rest of our group slowly made their way up the steep trail and joined us. We shifted a few yards over to a more shaded wall, and the climbing really picked up – we had about four ropes slung up the wall in a row.

Each member in our crew took turns dominating the various 5.8-5.10b routes that lined the canyon area, including Gas Boost (5.8) and Treehugger (5.10b). As much fun as the climbing was, the experience of hanging out at the crag with some fantastic folks who shared my love for the sport was even more inspiring.

I really enjoyed the change of pace from my usual climbing pursuits. I typically head to the crag with a collection of strictly-male cohorts; if I’m lucky there may be one or two fellow females along on the adventure. It was great to have a day of climbing dominated by the ladies, and the relaxed vibes of the afternoon created a truly enjoyable experience. I’m used to climbing in a way more competitive environment, where the pressure is pretty high for me to perform my best. On this occasion, however, it was all about having fun – I led a few routes, but mostly just enjoyed myself. So refreshing!

My personal highlight came when our clan switched down the crag towards what instantly became one of my favorite climbs of all time – Suicide Blonde (5.11b). Clocking in at a stout 40 feet and 5 bolts, with a bit of an overhang and strong moves to fairly solid holds, this line was a beautiful showcase of classic climbing. I watched as Steve of The Most Epic Trip led the route in a seemingly effortless manner, then decided to give it a go – quickly realizing that Steve made it look much easier than it really was.

The first bolt was the most difficult section for me; the bottom portion of the limestone rock was impossibly polished, so I had to resort to a funky heel hook to prop myself up to the first big move. After a few failed attempts, I stuck it, and took a nice rest at the ledge before the second bolt. I took three or four falls during the climb, but was really impressed by the fact that I actually finished the route – especially given the last segment.

If you know me, you know that slabs and slopers are my least favorite things to climb – and the area between the fourth and final bolts on Suicide Blonde are nothing but desperate slopers arranged along a big slab. Somehow, I managed to propel myself towards the anchors through this section without taking an falls. Victory!

I’m totally already scheming up ways to return to American Fork Canyon to tackle the red-point of this beautiful route.

As the group dispersed, I made my way down the steep, rocky trail with Josh, Steve, Kristie, Gina, and Haley’s awesome little family (did I mention how cool it was to hang out with two kids at the crag?) – and in true Katie fashion, I totally ate it while descending the trail. Oops.

Once the climbing crew dwindled down to just Josh and I, we retreated to Taylorsville to refuel with some awesome jalapeno sushi before I headed to the airport and wistfully left the gorgeous Utah landscapes. I honestly could have happily stayed out there for another few weeks, but Florida was beckoning, and I had to return home.

Utah, we shall meet again. 

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.

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!

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?

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.

A preview of my sport climbing adventures at Little River Canyon in Alabama

For Florida climbers, three-day trips to northerly crags are our vision of a weekend warrior’s victory. With the closest (decent) outdoor climbing sitting five hours away in Alabama, our short visits to sandstone wonderlands provide a highly anticipated escape from our usual indoor rock gym musings.

This past weekend, I ventured to a new crag with three of my climbing buddies. During recent trips to Sandrock, we had all taken notice of signs for “Little River Canyon.” Curious about this destination, we did a bit of digging, and discovered that the area was a prime sport climbing spot. Armed with the recently released Dixie Cragger’s Atlas for Alabama and Georgia, we journeyed to this new wall.

I still have 435 of my own photos to sort through and edit, but I couldn’t wait to share this amazing crag. Little River Canyon is a pure, unsoiled, gorgeous slice of exposed cliff faces and lush forest landscapes. The climbs are organic and challenging, the trails well-maintained through appreciative land stewardship, and the locals are eager to share their love for the area with fellow climbers who approach the area with respect and love for the climbs.

To tide you over until I complete my photography edits, check out a few excellent shots captured by my trip companion, Bo Durham. Shooting with an AE-1 film camera, he snagged some sweet images of our excursion – including a photo that instantly became my favorite picture of Niko and me of all time.

Enjoy!

This trip was a particularly great adventure for me. I climbed my first 5.11a, called Obsession, while we were roped up at The Gray Wall – and while I wasn’t gutsy enough to lead it, the positive experience I had on this route skyrocketed my determination and motivation. My next trip is out to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky during the first week of May, so I’m ready to dive into some endurance training to prepare for the next sport-climbing journey.

Stay tuned for my complete trip report  and the best
climbing photos from my visit to Little River Canyon in Alabama!