Sunday, 18 August 2013

Red River Gorgeous (by Karen Varga)

Lowering off a route at Bob Marley crag
Imagine your ultimate sport climbing destination, and I'm pretty sure that Red River Gorge will tick most, if not all, your wants and needs - stunning long flowing routes, ranging from vert to super steep, with no limit on choice and grades - it is every sports climber's heaven!

So what is 'The Red' (as it's more fondly known) and why is it such a climbers paradise?

After your first flick through the Red climbing guidebook you will immediately realise why it's such a popular climbing destination . There is over 60 crags, most with 10-30 routes, and some with 50+ routes, and that's just in the South guidebook! And they are all generally solid lines, not packed sardines where you feel like the route is a tad contrived. The rock is a beautiful orange sandstone, the features being mainly edges, pockets and thin finger flakes. The friction is good, it's more the humidity that's a problem ... but more on that later.

The Motherlode
The Motherlode is, well, the name says it all ... the cream of the Red crop. The crag soars 100 feet overhead, with long super pumpy routes. It's an extremely intimidating crag, and to add to it's intimidation the routes are properly airy. You definitely need to have a good head for big whippers at this crag! However if the Lode is not your cup of tea then there are so many other crags offering different things that you're bound to find your perfect spot.

No doubt you'll be flying to the USA for your Red trip, in which case you have a number of airport choices: Lexington (Kentucky) is the closest, but there is also Cincinnati, Columbus, Louisville or Indianapolis.  We actually flew into New York and spent 6 awesome jam-packed days exploring the city top to bottom. We then got the lush Amtrak train down to Washington DC, and after a week there with some friends we picked up our car hire and headed west! The drive from Washington to Red took a mighty 10 hours, so if you short on time then it makes more sense to try fly to a closer city and pick up your car hire there (note you will need a car to get around).

My first words of newly-aquired wisdom to you are: beware of US car hire companies! They lure you in with seemingly decent prices, but then pull a RyanAir and charge extortionate fees for all the added "extras", which are actually more like necessities. The biggest one being insurance - in the UK by default you have standard insurance cover, normally with a pretty high excess amount, and you can opt to boost that to reduce the excess. But here by default you have ZERO cover, meaning you are 100% liable for any repairs or replacement cost of the vehicle, including tyres and windscreen damage. To add just standard insurance cover is around $26+ per day! They also don't include any breakdown cover and charge another $7 per day for that. And to top it off, if you want to add an additional driver it's another $12 per day! Then there's still Supplemental Liability Insurance, sat nav etc. Add that all up and what started off as $50 per day very soon becomes $unaffordable-per-day.

Once we discovered this injustice we immediately jumped on google to discover what other poor suckers in the same situation did. We found an extremely useful post on TripAdvisor where someone recommended using a company called CarHire3000. I skyped them and bham, just like that we had our car hire booked for just $25 per day, including full insurance and an additional driver :) Turns out this is a British Company who make your booking through a US company (Budget). Since its a British company they don't do all these sneaky hidden costs like in the USA and we all end up happy ... or at least we were!

It's all happenin' in Beattyville :)

The closest town to main lode of climbing is Beattyville ... not quite a one-horse town but pretty damn close :) There isn't much to do there, but there is a small supermarket where you can get some general groceries and a bank ATM to withdraw cash. And since my partner came down with a serious bacterial infection we also discovered that there are a couple of medical clinics and pharmacies in town.  However Stanton, which is about 30 mins drive from Beattyville has a bit more choice on supermarkets (better prices too) and fast food joints.

Stanton drive in!
We also discovered that Stanton has a genuine classic Drive In!  They only open on the weekends (Fri to Sun) and have 2 screens. They show 2 movies on each, the first starting soon after the sun sets (which was 9:15pm for us) and the 2nd after that. They have a website ( where you can see what is showing at the moment.

My first couple days I took it easy just getting used to the rock and style of climbing. I needed more days though to get my head around the long lead outs. The falls were always clean, but I've always had a bit ova weak head with leading, so this was a real challenge for me. The other problem was the sheer volume of crags! With only 2 weeks there how do you choose which ones to go to? 
Me climbing at Bob Marley crag
Drive By crag was actually the first crag I climbed at and turned out to be one of my favourites. Bob Marley crag offers some really steep, shorter (by Red standards) routes and this was also one of my favs. Unfortunately I only discovered Bob on my 2nd last day ... still got so much to go back to!

Once I had my flow I eagerly jumped onto something challenging (Paradise Lost at Purgatory crag, 8a) to see if it would make a good project for me. But I quickly realised that with the humidity levels so high it was impossible to get on anything too hard. The heat smothers you like a blanket, and feels almost like a physical wall  pushing against you.  I am not much of a sweater ... I can do 2 hours in the gym or a half hour run and not have broken a sweat, but here in Red I would arrive at the crag after a 20 minute walk literally soaked. I was having to chalk up on every move, and one dip in the chalk bag wasn't nearly enough to get the clamminess off the hands. So needless to say, with all the slipping and slime-ing and super chalking it was impossible to get on a project. Once I'd realised this I focused on onsighting instead and taking on routes a couple grades below my max.

Fun jump start on a 5.11c
I probably haven't sold Red too well with all this talk of extreme humidity. But fear not, it is purely about timing. We were there in July, which is bang in the middle of summer and when the humidity sets in. Spring and Autumn are very different I'm told, with perfect climbing conditions and temperatures. Despite the sweatiness I still got in loads of climbing and had an awesome time there!

The popular hangout for climbers is Miquel's Pizza ... actually 'popular' is an understatement, it is THE spot and is always busy, even mid-week!  They offer very cheap camping there (only $2 a night, with extra charge for showers) but since we were there for a decent period of time we searched for a cabin rather. But we found that most of the cabins are for 4 or more people, and sharing the cost between just 2 of us was too expensive. But certainly if you are there in a group then google around for cabins coz there are loads in the area and you'd only be looking at maybe $20-25 each a night each.

Pine Crest Camp - the Lodge
We hit lucky though and found an awesome spot called Pine Crest Camp Lodge which offers lodge accommodation (shared bunk rooms or private rooms with private bathrooms) and a communal kitchen and massive lounge area.

The kitchen at Pine Crest
Pine Crest Camp - the fire pit
They have laundry facilities, a wikad fire pit, free wifi and big screen TV with cable. Plus it's really close to The Motherlode and PMRP climbing areas, much closer than Miquel's Pizza. Miquel's offers lodge accommodation too but way more pricey than Pine Crest. Chuck and Brenda, who run the lodge, are such amazing people. So friendly and chatty and helpful. It was the perfect spot for us and I highly recommend it. (

But no matter where you stay you have to treat yourself to a Miquel's pizza at same point in your stay. They have a unique serving choice where you choose the number of slices you want, as opposed to ordering a small, medium or large. You tailor make your pizza choosing from a massive list of toppings, where again prices are determined according to the number of toppings chosen. The price is low, the slices are huge, and they really pack on the toppings, so you're bound to walk away satisfied :)

All in all I loved The Red, the routes were awesome, the countryside is beautiful, and the people we met were welcoming and friendly. And there is sooooo much to climb there! I already have plans underfoot for another trip there next year October :)

1 comment:

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