Red River Gorge Wrap UP

Last Friday, Tom and I left Kentucky after 5 weeks of sweet steep sandstone climbing in the Red River Gorge. As I have said before, Kentucky has claimed a permanent little spot in my heart. I feel so lucky to have been able to visit here again for such an extended period of time. Lago Linda’s is a beautiful little hideaway, and the people I met (both local and travelling) are so special.

A gorgeous dusk in Lago Linda’s Piney Woods campsite (where in fact, there are no pines..)
A flourish of colour in Kentucky fields
Olivier, Catherine and Tom Tom enjoying some well-deserved pizza at the infamous Miguel’s Pizza

Visiting the RRG in the spring does come with a risk of rain, and boy did we get rain. Rain and thunder and lightning and rain. In most climbing areas, that amount of rain would mean the rock would be wet for a week or more. However, sandstone doesn’t seem to seep quite as much as other types of rock, and the steepness of the rock kept many areas dry. So while the rainy weather made for some muggy and damp holds, we were still able to climb!

Olivier trying hard on Snooker (5.13a) at the Motherlode

With rising temperatures and muggy rock however, I was beginning to put some pressure on myself to send my projects before the Kentucky hothouse season began. As I last posted here, I had two projects; Kaleidoscope and The Madness. After wobbling back and forth between the two routes, I began to focus more on Kaleidoscope, as I had wanted to send this route for a long time. Each day, I would drag Tom to the Drive By. By that point, we were both quite sick of the crag, despite the amazing quality and quantity of the routes here. It was like eating too much chocolate. The Drive By was giving us a metaphorical tummy ache. Yet, I couldn’t let the route go. In the end, I decided that I approached the route completely wrong. My first day on it, I did the route almost bolt to bolt, doing the moves, but not really figuring out the perfect sequence. My second day, instead of continuing to work out beta, I instantly turned into project mode. I figured the beta was simple enough and the crux was just a matter of burling through a big move and then running up the final face to the anchors. However, once I was able to pull through the crux, I found that I was falling over and over on one particular move. Yet the fall from that move was huge (I would skip the last bolt) and instead of “boinking” up the rope (yes, I said boink) I would usually just have a mini wobbler and lower down. I had made a fairly large mistake in the world of projecting. In the sport climber’s project guidebook, the number one rule is to know your beta…all of it. I didn’t have this final hard move dialed, and it made it so that this doable route was becoming an epic for me. Finally, after falling off the move for the umpteenth time, I begged poor Tom to let me “boink” back up the rope, a process that is most unenjoyable for the poor belayer: having to yard up on the rope and then being dropped to the dirt over and over. I did that move at least ten times, figuring out the perfect way to do it, where I was going to the pocket statically instead of hysterically trying to jab my fingers in there while falling away from the wall at the same time.

Falling off Kaleidoscope..again. Photo: Tom Smartt

After finally feeling like I had the route dialed, Mother Nature gave us all at the Red a perfect gift. Two days of crisp, dry weather. It was the talk of the campground, “Did you hear? Sunday and Monday are supposed to be perfect!” And as it turns out, they were. Sunday morning we awoke to a crisp morning with blue bird skies. As Tom and I were walking to the crag, we were in high spirits, fresh from a rest day and bubbling with energy. Tom was eager to get on a route called Angry Birds, an 8a+ (5.13c) that he had tried quite a few times before but had written off as being too hard. “I think I’ll just try to get through the bottom crux,” he said excitedly, “and then who knows, maybe I’ll get through the next crux, and then the next crux, and I’ll get a surprise day send!” His enthusiasm energized me, and I walked up to the crag with a smile on my face.

Once we warmed up, it was Tom’s turn to climb first. He pushed hard through the beginning crux, and reached the lie down rest for the first time on red point. After that, it was the most exciting and the proudest belay of my life. Tom crushed it. He climbed to the final crux flawlessly, resting on holds he had previously called some horrible names (classic British wobblers). By this time, I was literally shaking in my little booties. Physically vibrating, I watched as he pulled through the final crux, recovered from a near game-over foot slip, and styled the final super hero move to the anchors. It was INCREDIBLE. The best send ever. Tom had sent his first 5.13c after just sending his first 5.13a earlier this year and his first 5.12a just the summer before. A born to be sport climber. Bad ass!

Tom Tom climbing through the first crux on Angry Birds (8a+)

Immensely inspired, I headed to Kaleidoscope. It’s meant to be, I thought to myself, I’ll send for sure this time. I headed up the route, climbing it perfectly, with the holds feelings amazing under my hands. I cruised through the crux, not even feeling pumped, gazing up at the pocket that thwarted me so many times. I moved upwards, feeling perfect, and then….bam! Tunnel vision. I completely ignored my well worked out beta and once again just tried to lurch to the pocket. And once again I found myself hurtling into the air, an unfortunate wobble at the tip of my tongue. I held it back..mostly. There were some tears..kind of. It was FRUSTRATING! This stupid route! That stupid pocket! That was supposed to be a glorious send! Gaahhhhhhh!

I sat simmering for a while, then headed out into the sunshine for a rest. Sunshine. Such a cure for foul moods. Within an hour, I felt well rested and ready to try again. This time, I knew what I had to do. Reaching that cursed move again, I put away all my bad feelings towards it and executed the simple sequence that allowed me to hit the pocket. It was too easy. I raced to the chains and gave a nice loud “Whoop!” The Kaleidoscope Curse was over! What a relief! The weight that lifted from my shoulders was physical. Kaleidoscope was by no means my most difficult grade or my most difficult project. In total, I spent 6 days on it (although it felt like a century). Yet in many ways it was a significant accomplishment. This route was such a mental game for me. I had expected and wanted to do it quickly. In the end, it was these very expectations of myself that were my limitations and made me approach the route the wrong way. While it would have been nice to have done this route more quickly, in the end, I believe I learned a lot about the mental approach to climbing and projecting. Win!

The next day was the icing on the cake. Another perfect day of weather and sticky rock. We headed over to the Motherlode, and I sat beneath The Madness. Stoked and with no expectations (see, I learned my lesson at least for one day), I headed up the cave. Despite almost flailing on one move, I made it to the rest before the final crux, feeling good and happy. As I moved through the slopers (which felt amazing!) and onto the final headwall, I was overcome with a feeling that I am addicted to. The feeling that you know you will send, that everything feels right in the world, and all you have to do is go up. And so I did. I skipped those last two bolts and went up, right to the chains. Yahoo! Two 8a+’s in two days. Not a record mind you, but a first for me!

After sending our projects and enjoying a few more days of pressure-free climbing, Tom and I both began to feel the fatigue setting in. We were on the verge of burning out. We made the decision to head out to our next destination: Rifle, CO. After plopping our home back onto the truck, we took off through middle America to reach this classic hardman’s destination. After a wicked storm in Kansas and a wonderful stop off in Boulder, CO, we arrived. We have been in Rifle for three days now, and the reality has set in. It’s hard. Really hard. Cryptic beta, polished limestone, and stiff grades are what define Rifle. I may have to relearn my lesson about expectations here. But I’ve written enough. You’re bored. You’ve skipped through to look at the pictures. It’s ok. More to come soon!

Keep those spirits high and don’t limit yourself with expectations!

Tom Tom on Amarillo Sunset. Photo: Olivier Turgeon
Enjoying the classic moves of Amarillo Sunset (5.11a). Photo: Olivier Turgeon


This is Larry. He lived in our gear tent. Photo: Tom Wright


Tom learning to be a Samurai (5.12b)
Nutella and Graham crackers. The new addiction
Intense cloud formations after a Kansas thunderstorm

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