The red river gorge is a sport climber’s paradise. The steep pocketed sandstone draws climbers from all over the world, and for good reason. With thousands of high quality routes to climb and play on there is a lifetime’s worth to get your fix. I had the pleasure to go on an eleven-day trip there and had an absolute blast.
The area is situated in the Red River Gorge within the Daniel Boone National Forest. Just driving down the meandering roads offers views of some crags above the tree canopies, giving glimpses of what is in store. Our first destination was Miguel’s Pizza where climbers are welcome to camp on the open fields behind the shop. We arrived late at night and instantaly went to work setting up our camp. When we finished it was straight to sleep, for the morning was our first climbing day!
Day 1 of climbing
Our first climbing destination was at the Lady Slipper – Global Village Crag where we met some friends that came with another group. We got some warm ups in, one of the members from our group (Mary) also had the luxury of having her first lead climb here. An 85ft tall four star 5.6 called Eureka, very pleasant and safe climb. Perfect for a first lead.
After the fun here we left our friends and ventured off to another crag called The Zoo just down the street from Lady Slipper. What a wonderful little crag, steep rock and only 2 other people around to boot! These two rascals ended up becoming good friends. They came all the way from Montreal, and were also staying at Miguel’s. The only problem with these guys is that they happened to be on the one climb we came to this crag to do. Luckily for us they were friendly and didn’t mind sharing. We started by climbing the route to the right of it called Scar Tissue, a four star 5.12a which was steep and had a heart breaking finish. After a few burns on this route we decided to make our way to the next route. This was a short route with big powerful moves called Hippocrite (5.12a). This turned into what was probably my favourite route of the trip, and it suited my style of climbing very well. However I only did one burn on it. Being older than the others and all, I needed some time to get into the groove of things. From here we made our way back to Miguel’s with empty stomachs and exhausted bodies for some well-deserved nutriment and relaxation.
Day 2 of climbing
North was the direction of travel for Monday as we made our way through the Nada Tunnel to Left Flank Crag in the Gray’s Branch of the Red. Amazed! I realized that we were the only ones at this crag. I was baffled since every other trip I’ve made to this crag in the past it was full. And so we hopped on a 5.8+ warm up called Mr. Bungle. The girls enjoyed this one, especially the sit down rest ¾ of the way up. We quickly got on another warm up route called Brother Stair 5.9 and made quick work of it. Next we had a big decision to make! There were multiple climbs beaconing us to climb them. A 5.12a called Too Many Puppies, a super classic 5.12b called Mercy the Huff, and what we ultimately chose the ever so steep Stunning the Hog 5.12d. We tied in and gave it our all. We whipped, we flailed, and ultimately we bailed, but we had a lot of fun. This route was like climbing multiple boulder problems stacked on top of each other, but with no where to rest. Jordan decided he would try one more, and got on a 5.12b called Infectious. Due to his efforts on the previous route this did not go so well. He eventually made it to the chains, but really had a tough time with it. And with that it was time to head back to camp. At this time we also had our first taste of Miguel’s famous pizza. Seriously, I think climbers go for the climbing, but stay for the pizza. It is really good!
Day 3 of climbing
With Jordan and I pooped from the previous days efforts and our skin on our hands in no condition to climb, we made this day the Girls Day of climbing. It was all about them! We were there as belay bitches and draw monkeys at their disposal. So we headed to Bruis Brother’s crag a wall full of moderate climbs and also people. It was also our first stop at the Muir Valley Nature Preserve. This place is absolutely fantastic. It has extremely well maintained trails, easy access, and even vault toilets along the trails. So the girls started their climbing with a route called The Bee’s Business 5.7. They made quick work of this, and Mary even cleaned the route (her first time). Next was a newer route that wasn’t in my guidebook called Ohio Climbing 5.8. I put the draws up first on this one, Nat top roped it and Mary finished it off on lead and with a clean. Finally Mary had her eyes set on route called Rat Stew a four star 5.10a. A group before us had to bail on the route and left a nearly brand new locking carabiner. Hungry for her first piece of booty she made her way to the to the chains and gained her prize while being lowered. After this we made the labourious hike back to the cars to head back to camp.
Day 4 of climbing
More of our friends had arrived at the Red the previous night, and we met them while making breakfast in the morning. With their arrival came the opportunity for me to focus on some climbing photography (other experienced belayers make this possible). And so back to Muir Valley we went. This time we hit up three crags that were all situated near each other. The first was Animal Crackers, a small wall of slab climbs. Very atypical to what most would expect from the Red. A few easy routes routes were climbed, then quickly off we went to the next crag called The Boneyard. Again it was used as a bit of warm up for what was to come. Though some of the routes at The Boneyard were quite good they were still the lemon next to the pie. Off we went to the ultimate destination of Midnight Surf. It was a tall crag with all the climbs ranging between 80 and 100 feet. Jon stepped up to the plate on a fantastic spree of crushing. First on a route called Vortex (5.12c) sending it first go, and then following it up with another route called Tapeworm (5.12d), which he sent on his second try. Jordan was on a beautiful route called Cell Block Six (5.12c) He gave it multiple burns, but didn’t get the send. However one hung it multiple times.
Day 5 of climbing
On day five we made our way to the newly reopened Roadside Crag, a classic crag with some iconic lines. It was closed for about six years due to crowds not respecting the private land. It is now open with a permit system in effect. Permits can be acquired online and require a small donation. It rained this day, but the wonderful thing about the Red is you can climb while it’s raining and not get a drop of water on you! I was especially excited for this crag because one of the routes I was anticipating was here. It’s a five star route called Ro Shampo (5.12a) and has a big history behind it as well as controversy over its grade. Other routes conquered by our group at this crag were Tic Tack Toe (5.12b), Roadside Attraction (5.7 trad), Synchronicity (5.11a trad), Jersey Connection (5.12b), Valor over Discretion (5.8), and Stay the Hand (5.12a).
Day 6 of climbing
Phantasia wall was the destination of the day. It was another rest day for Jordan and I, while the girls took off to climb Pogue Ethics (5.9+) an 80ft four star route. After figuring out the tricky puzzle at the crux Mary crushed it onsight. Nat tried after on top rope. Next on the agenda was Creature Feature (5.9). This route is a super classic four star moderate route that many people attempt. Mary had trouble with this one taking her first whipper ever! So I had to pull the old shoes out of my bag and climb this to get my gear back. After the lower roof it really eases up to some very enjoyable climbing on plates.
Day 7 of climbing
We were off to PMRP this day. The goal was to get on a 5.13a called Paradise Lost at Purgatory Crag, but that plan was crushed when we were at our warm up crag (Bronaugh Wall) and found a beautiful line called Belly of the Beast (5.12c). Jon crushed it on his second go, while Jordan again tried really hard, and came extremely close with one hang. Other routes that were climbed here were Spyder’s Hangout (5.10a), Two Women Alone (5.11a), Little Tea Pot (5.12a), Take the Scary Out of Life (5.10d).
Following this we headed to another crag called Shady Grove not too far where Jon and Jordan hopped on a long over hung 5.12b called Far From God. This route ended up being a kneebar tease according to Jon. But he crushed it on his second try.
Day 8 of climbing
Unfinished business! This was the first day we returned to some crags we had previously visited. I wanted to conquer Hippocrite, so dragged everyone back to The Zoo to take another stab at this route. Just like our first day at the Red our Quebecer friends were back as well trying to wrap up unfinished business. I was first up and hung the draws, taking one fall on my first try. With a short break I sent the rig on my second try that day.
We also decided to return to Global Village. That four star 5.6 was waiting. Nat did a couple mock leads on it, and is well on her way to becoming a lead climber.
Day 9 of climbing
Final climbing day
Back to the north side of the gorge for our final stop. This time the goal was to get Jordan to send a 5.12b! So a couple warm up climbs on Sunshine and Moonbeam (both 5.9s), and straight to Tissue Tiger (5.12b) This place is perhaps the best crag for someone that climbs at mid 5.12s. There is a wall of three 5.12b’s all rated five stars. Then next to those is a super classic 5.11b called Fuzzy Undercling, and the other side of the 12b’s is a 12c. Jordan gave it his all. He tried and tried, but the grade remained illusive to him this trip. I guess we must return with vengeance.
And so we made it through the trip not wanting to come home, but with other responsibilities looming and already extending the trip by one day our plans were cut in stone and we had to leave. This trip didn’t calm any urges to climb, but instead made it far, far worse.
To recap this whole experience. Mary can now lead climb. Nat is now a rock climber. Jordan wants to become a dirtbag and move into Miguel’s campground, and I am hungry for the next destination. All in all it was a quality trip with good people, and fantastic climbing.
The next trip is already planned so stay tuned for what’s to come next.