The Red River Gorge is full of sport climbers. Traditional climbing curmudgeons like myself love to hate sport climbers. Crowds drive me nuts. At popular sport crags there are bits of litter all over, poorly disposed of human feces are only a stone’s throw away in the woods, chalk is everywhere and beta spraymasters are a dime a dozen. Grrr.
Rock Wars, one of the finest 5.10a pitches in the U.S.
That being said, I recently returned from an amazing trip to the Red. This visit, my third, sealed a deal of sorts. I’ve climbed extensively throughout much of the Southeast. It’s an awesome place to live if the only climbing you do is rock climbing. You won’t find any alpine climbing, ice only forms during short winter cold snaps, and the only significant multipitch climbing is found in southwest North Carolina. All this aside, the southeastern sandstone belt hosts some of the finest rock climbing in North America. The New River Gorge has a lifetime of amazing hard climbs yet offers very little for beginners. In contrast, the Red River Gorge offers a lifetime of amazing traditional and sport routes for climbers of all ability levels. Even if you’re injured or you only want to climb easy trad routes, you’ll find weeks of worthwhile climbing in the Red.
Dolci on another classic 5.9 at the Wall of Denial
My partner Dolci and I like to keep all options open, and we usually roll pretty deep in the gear department. The overhanging, pocket-laden bolted faces typical of the Red are nice and incredibly fun, but we’ve always been unable to ignore the many stunning traditional crack lines. The Red’s crack lines vary in width – it’s not uncommon for a single pitch to have a technical crux in a thin fingercrack followed by an offwidth section. We routinely used a couple of 4” cams and the 5” and 6” (a.k.a boat anchors) on many pitches. The Red’s trad routes typically involve crack climbing skills and are technically demanding too.
The Inhibitor inhibited me in the first 30 feet
During this recent midweek visit we stayed at Miguel’s and enjoyed our time there. Miguel, who’s nearly always present, is friendly and intelligent. He’s made serious upgrades since our last visit four years ago, and at $2/night this place is a serious contender for the most dirtbag friendly climbing area in the east. Despite the fact that the Red is a serious sport “hardman” area, Miguels was full of friendly approachable climbers. Apparently, ego isn’t part of the scene there, which is nice.
I guess they make big spiders in Kentucky
We visited several very traditional crags during our 5-day stay and were blown away by the lack of crowds and beauty of the climbs. Climbs like Autumn (5.9-), Rock Wars (sustained 5.10a), Riptide Ride (5.10c with no moves easier than 10a for 60 feet plus blind shallow gear placements, can you say sandbag?), Blue Runner (amazing varied 5.9) and Funhouse (never-ending challenging 5.7 in a steep corner) are among the best trad pitches of their grade in the U.S.
Thousands of ants hatched and flew away in a few minutes
So, no lines, awesome rock, friendly camping and cheap food at Miguel’s – why wait? The Red is an awesome spring and fall destination with lifetimes of amazing sport and traditional climbing. It’s definitely on my radar for another trip this fall.