On our first climbing trip, in the still very frigid month of March, a group of six of us went to Muir Valley. For our second trip, in the surprisingly sweltering month of May, four of us made the journey to the Red River Gorge. For our last trip of the year, our group had dwindled to three. The rest of the group was, respectively, busy taking care of a new human, finishing a doctorate, and settling in to a new job. Which, from a climbing perspective, was a shame. The weather for this trip was just about perfect. It was cool with low humidity, and the remnants of Hurricane Willa passed to the north of Kentucky, yielding only mild showers on our travel day.
The only downside to beautiful weather is that everyone likes to get outside and enjoy it. I would guess that the number of climbers out on any given day is somehow proportional to the quality of the weather. Fortunately, there is so much accessible climbing in the Red River Gorge that, with a little planning, it is not hard to find a wall to climb. And, great weather opens up routes which are less desirable under cold or raining conditions. Our unofficial guide, Doug, picked some crags in the Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve (PMRP) which seemed likely to give us good climbing opportunities.
In addition to, and perhaps more important than, picking the right wall, timing is a factor in getting an opportunity to climb the rock you want. Specifically, earlier is better. Many people drive to Miguel’s, the main congregating point of climbers in the Red, after work or school ends. So, they arrive late, get to sleep late, and wake up late. Some people arrive at 3 in the morning and assemble their teepee tents from boxes of clanging metal parts while loudly prattling about their inconsequential lives. In the climbing world we call these people assholes. None the less, they are not getting up early to stake claim to any routes.
The first route we planned to warm up on was 27 Years of Climbing, which is located in an area called The Gallery. Getting to the trailhead parking lot requires navigating a very steep and windy dirt road. The road is prone to getting washed out after heavy rains. Many people park at the top of the hill and walk down. But, we were feeling adventurous, or lazy, and decided that the Subaru could probably handle it. There were indeed some fairly large, deep potholes which required a bit of circumnavigation. Fortunately no one was attempting to ascend during our descent, so we made it down with no problem. I was concerned about getting back up the hill, especially in the dark. By the time we left the road had dried somewhat and the hill seemed less treacherous.
Even though we set out early, we still arrived just behind another party. The group ahead of us was composed of more experienced climbers. They wanted to hit up some of the more challenging routes in The Gallery, and just wanted to warm up with something easy. While we were gearing up for the route another three groups came in behind us. We chatted with some people from Quebec who called the route after us. The group behind them decided to give Murano a go while they were waiting. Between 27 Years of Climbing and Murano there is a route which is closed. About half way up the climber on Murano crossed over onto the closed route. We guided them back onto route before heading off to a less crowded crag.
The couple from Quebec recommended tht we give Darwin Loves You and some other routes in its crag a try. It wasn’t far away, so we headed that direction. Almost no one was there. While The Gallery was a east-facing wall, the Volunteer Wall was west-facing. So, the wall was catching wind and the rock was colder. We sent this one and moved on.
If I had to guess the temperature that day was in the mid to high fifties. That temperature range is great for climbing, except when a cold wind is blowing on you while standing in belay. We could have changed up our gear to stay a little warmer, instead we just headed out in search of a wall which was not catching wind. Doug found an easy, nearby route called Lowered Expectations. That is where we finished our first day out.
When we woke up on Saturday there were even more tents at Miguel’s than on Friday. It seemed as if every spot in the main field was taken; there was no room there to pitch a tent. We were up early again, so we headed to Global Village to climb our old favorite, Eureka.
At breakfast we heard at least two other groups talking about this area, and when we arrived at the parking lot there was another group gearing up for the trek in. While were were collecting our gear these guys stopped to chat. It was one of the groups we overheard at breakfast. They were going to warm up on Eureka, but were really looking to climb some trad routes.
After we finished up with Eureka we headed over to Kentucky Pinstripe. The guys we had followed on Eureka were going up Vision, the route to the right. We chatted with them a bit, and they mentioned that they were going to try Father and Son next. This is a nice hand crack which we have wanted to try, so Doug asked them if they would mind setting a top-rope for us when they were finished. As we talked to them we found that one of them was a software engineer from Cleveland, so we invited them to join the Slack channel we created to organize climbing events.
As morning turned into mid-afternoon, we cleaned off of Father and Son. We polished off our lunchtime snacks and headed back to the car. No one had a great idea of where to go, so we just started driving south. We stopped at a gas station, grabbed a few more snacks, and decided to head to Miller Fork Recreational Preserve.
We wanted to visit the Secret Garden. The road to the parking lot was long and rough. And, there were two ways to get to that road, the long easy way and the quick sketchy way. We took the quick sketchy way. Right before we reached the last turn, we came across a sandy stream which looked to be about two car lengths wide. After checking the depth of the stream, I decided that the Crosstrek could probably make it across. Fortunately I was right.
As we approached the Miller Fork parking lot we started seeing a lot of vehicles parked along the road. By the time we arrived it was late enough that there were a few parking spots available, so we didn’t need to park along the road. We hiked back and climbed two slaby routes called You Can’t Piss on Hospitality and Nilbog Night Life.
We called it a day and headed back to Miguel’s, which was completely packed. The line to order wrapped around the inside of the restaurant. We slowly sipped our beers, which Miguel’s is now alowed to sell, as we waited. It took a while to get our orders, but not as long as we expected based upon the number of people there. Miguel’s is efficient at making pizza.
On Sunday we wanted to get some beta on Creature Feature, a route we intend to try in the future, before we headed back home. The drive to the crag for Creature Feature, Phantasia, was interesting. Along the way you have to drive through a very old single lane tunnel. After driving further along the curvy backroads, we found what we hoped was the right pull-off. After speaking to some people who were familiar with the area, we ambitiously geared up and hiked back. Upon seeing the crux of the route, a small ceiling, we decided to save our attempt for another time. We closed out our adventure and headed home.