Our climbing group was finally ready to move out from under the sodium lights of the indoor climbing gym. So, half of us having completed a lead climbing course, we decided to travel down to the Muir Valley and attempt some outdoor sport routes. Located in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, one of the largest and most popular sport climbing areas in the Eastern United States, Muir Valley has over 20 crags spread across more than 360 acres of land. The most important part, for us, was that it also has nearly 120 routes which are rated 5.9 or lower.
A little over a year ago a co-worker of mine got me interested in climbing. He was climbing with a long-time friend of his, their partners, and another one of our colleagues. I joined them for one indoor climbing session, but decided I’d rather be outside. So, I started top rope climbing with my son at nearby Whipps Ledges, which is located in the Cleveland Metroparks’ Hinckley Reservation. While I was learning to set anchors and do rappels, they were honing their climbing technique.
The other guys had been talking about climbing outside for a while, but life kept getting in the way. We had also expanded our group to at least 6 people. Everyone in our group has multiple responsibilities, so it is hard to find weekends that work for all of us. Finally, we picked a date which seemed like it would work for everyone, and decided we would keep the date even if someone had to bail. And, when the weather forecast started predicting foul weather, we unanimously decided that we would still go regardless of the weather.
Four of us took off Friday. We left early and arrived at Muir Valley a little after noon. We were glad that we did, the weather was beautiful and we got in some warm-up climbs at the practice wall and the guide wall. We were feeling a little guilty to be having such a great time climbing. Saturday was forecast to have heavy snow turning into cold rain, and we thought the two that were joining us wouldn’t be able to climb on Saturday. Every time Doug, our beta master, checked the weather it said 100% chance of precipitation all day Saturday.
We left the crag and headed to Miguel’s. While enjoying pizza and Ale 81’s we came up with a plan for Saturday. We started thinking about developing a plan B – something to do other than climbing. Ultimately, we decided that it would be easy to find a plan B, we’d rather focus on making plan A happen. We would find some crag’s with overhangs and routes within our abilities, and give them a shot regardless of the weather. We set up our tents behind Miguel’s, cracked a beer, and waited for the rest of our group to arrive before turning in for the night.
We woke up on Saturday to a pleasant surprise. Everything was dry. We were emboldened, but we still took our tents down. There’s no sense in leaving them up to get soaked when we had room in the car to stash them. We headed back to the restaurant for breakfast. That’s when it started snowing.
While we were finishing up breakfast Doug headed over to the gear shop to pick up some beta. He found the best crags for the weather. We would start at the practice wall with some rappels. While there we ran into an AMGA guide and two of his students; he gave us some update info about the best personal anchors. Then, we let Kenny and Mark, the two who joined us late, get a couple warm-up runs on ‘Acrophobiacs Anonymous’ and ‘Yu Stin Ki Pu’.
The snow continued to come down, and there were some near white-out conditions, but we were relatively comfortable under the overhangs. There is a large cave at the practice wall which provides plenty of room to spread out, drip dry gear, and eat lunch. We ran a great group from Ball State University during our lunch stop. Their guide told us about some other crags outside of the Muir Valley which we might want to explore. We made a note of them and headed to the Bruise Brothers wall.
As the snow turned into rain people around us started leaving for the day. The snow on the trails became slush which leaked freezing water into susceptible footwear. The cold humid air chilled people through their puffies, and the frigid rock numbed fingers. Chalk was of little use in these conditions, but our chalk bags were still useful for holding hand warmers.
After climbing ‘Trundling Kentucky’ a few times, we left for the day. We headed back to Miguel’s so that the whole group could get some pizza. After inspecting the half inch of frigid slush covering the tenting area, we all decided to pitch in for a motel room an buy some more quality time at the crag.
Sunday morning we headed over to Global Village to take on the 70 foot wall of ‘Eureka’. As we were gearing up at the car, the guide who told us about the route and his group pulled into the parking lot. They wanted to lead Eureka too, so we let them go ahead of us. Once we reached the crag, the guide caught us and said that there was good news and bad news. The good news was that they were going to start with a different route. The bad news was that Eureka was soaked. We decided to make an attempt. After about 15 feet of climbing Matt, who was leading this one, called it off. His hands were already numb, and the hand warmers were not keeping up.
We decided to head over to Graining Fork Nature Preserve (a.k.a. Roadside Crag). Unfortunately, the routes we wanted to climb were closed while they completed an erosion control project. So, back to Muir Valley we went.
We finally got climbing at the Land Before Time Wall. We ran into some Boy Scouts who were climbing the routes on the right, which also happened to be in the sun. So, we attacked the shady routes.
The ground in front of the routes was slick and muddy; we needed to be on belay to reach the wall without slipping on the mud. Melting snow from above was running down the wall, and down our arms as we climbed. We were excited when the sunny ‘Ryanosaurus’ route opened up.
It was nearly 3 by the time everyone got a shot at ‘Ryanosaurus’. Most of us had a 6 hour drive ahead of us, so we needed to start hiking back to the cars. We arrived back in the parking lot, sorted the gear, and then headed back to Ohio. What we feared would be a miserable weekend with little climbing turned into a great first trip outdoors.
Here are a few tips if you plan on making an early season climbing trip to the Red River Gorge. Be flexible, the route you want to send may be a miserable climb, but there are plenty of other routes to choose from. Bring hand warmers. Using chalk when it is raining might not work so well, but the chalk bag is a great place to throw an hand warmer or two.
Most of the routes in Muir Valley were marked with their name and rating
Canon T3i, EF 50mm f/1.8 II