We have been at Miguel’s at the Red River Gorge for a little over two weeks now. The first thing that comes to mind is that the weather is a little bit like Tony Soprano’s behavior towards Anthony Jr.: totally unpredictable. It’s usually pretty warm, occasionally fair, but it can turn dark and stormy at the drop of a quickdraw. A hot, humid morning may turn into a breezy, cool afternoon. A chilly, dry morning might become a hot, muggy day. Quite often, the sky turns on the smackdown around 11pm, as bolts of lightning rip the clouds open and the rain threatens to drown the grass. Thankfully this is the sport of Sport Climbing, which requires much less by way of “good temps.” On top of that, most of the good lines are steep enough to stay dry during inclement weather.
Poor Vikki has been nursing a hurt ribcage due to a fall that I made her take. Though her form was perfect, she ended up falling past a little roof and swinging in, hitting her side against the corner. She’s been climbing minimally, but has been maximally psyched. I gotta say, this girl doesn’t complain much and is really good about having the right attitude about things. If you can, find a travel companion like her.
The rhythm of Miguel’s in early May is interesting, reminiscent of the Hueco Rock Ranch in early March. As in Hueco, we’re a little bit late for the season, so while we don’t get prime conditions, we do get the prime sectors and standout routes all to ourselves. The weekends explode with activity, and moreso here than in Hueco due to the proximity of many major cities to the Red. By Monday, it calms down, and you’re free to explore everything that this incredible region has to offer.
We ran into our friend Shadow Ayala, who had come down from Bishop last week and is spending the summer working for Miguel and climbing here. If you have ever seen his videos over at Dead Point, you know he loves first ascents. In that spirit, we accompanied him to the Gallery a couple of days ago to check out the wall and help him put a bolt in on a new route he’s working on. The climb is way cool, a steep face with good 5.12 climbing leading to a mini-roof and a crux establishing on tiny crimps on a long brown ironrock face. I tried the moves; they’re fantastic through the beginning, and really hard in the middle. It’ll be much harder, probably a hard 5.13, once everything that’s going to break does. The rest of the day was spent on some of the classic moderates of the crag, including Gold Rush, a steep and pumpy (surprise!) 5.11d with a dynamic lunge at the top. Vikki, getting more comfortable on the sharp end, led 27 Years of Climbing, the Red’s best 5.8, and did a one-hang ascent of A Brief History of Climb, a 5.10c with huge moves. Watch out, Sasha DiGiulian…
After last weekend, we were psyched to have Matt Morse back in the house for this weekend. We had both given good attempts on Harvest, a phenomenal .12d at the Motherlode, and wanted to get back on it. He came down with some other Bloomingtonians, including Patrick Lafree, another psyched young sport climber who came out with us.
We got a somewhat late start since it had rained hard from midnight until about 9am on Saturday morning. We weren’t expecting much, but set off for the Lode anyway. Even though it was a weekend, there were very few people there due to a couple of factors. One is the road, which turns very soupy after lots of rain (but nothing Bert can’t handle with a smirk). The other, bigger factor is that Dario Ventura, the son of Miguel and owner of the land that the Motherlode sits on, was getting married on top of the ‘Lode that day. Thankfully for both climbing and wedding parties, the weather not only cleared up, but stayed cool and mild all afternoon. Sometimes unpredictability works in your favor, I guess.
We warmed up on Injured Reserve, and Patrick gave Buff the Wood (.12b) a few good burns. Then it was time for Harvest. I tied in and cursed my decision to wear shorts, as there are two kneebars that help you recover. I did the opening boulder problem and got to the first kneebar, feeling strong. I nearly pumped off the next section but held it together long enough to get to the second kneebar, which I couldn’t use due to sharp rock and bare skin. Thankfully the jug is good enough to obviate the need for knee-funk, and after resting a good long while I launched into the final sprint for the chains. I got insanely pumped, but managed to keep it together long enough to get the rope into the biner at the top. This climb, with its unique rib feature and stellar movement, comes highly recommended by me, so go do it if you know what’s good for you.
The spice of the route, like many in the area, is that the distance between the last bolt and the chains is abnormally large, like 17 feet or so, and what’s more is the top is where the holds get small. When projecting things near your limit at the Motherlode, be prepared to take a few rides. Thankfully, it’s one of those fall-into-space things, and all you can do is enjoy the swing and try not to grab the rope. I’m still working on the latter.
Matt shoed up next and made it look easy through the bottom, but pumped out midway up. He worked the moves some, and then lowered off and untied. On the way back to the other end of the cliff where Buff the Wood stands, we hear an extremely loud thump followed by a bone-chilling string of curse words, uttered by someone not just in pain, but panicked. Matt had turned his ankle on a rock, had heard it pop, and was on his hands and knees in pain. We rushed back to help, but there wasn’t much to do.
Matt is a champ. Not only did he insist on staying out for the day so we could continue climbing, but he was positive the whole time (possibly assisted by the painkillers I had given him). He grabbed a stick and hopped his way up the rocky trail, a distance of several hundred yards, back to Buff the Wood. We spent the rest of the afternoon there, Patrick projected and I checked out the moves on an awesome .12c called Heart-Shaped Box. (On a side note, I find that whenever I try a climb named after a song, I can’t stop repeating the song in my head as I climb.)
After climbing, we headed back to the beer trailer and then to Rockhouse Café for grub. I had a BBQ pork burger, which is a cheeseburger with pulled pork on top of it. I don’t know if I’ll ever eat a burger without pulled pork again. It was a near-religious experience.
It was an awesome day, and on top of all that we could hear the celebrations and the bluegrass music of the wedding taking place above us, though we never saw it. It lent a festive atmosphere to a lovely day in the woods. The only bummers of the day were Matt’s ankle and Vikki’s inability to climb. Oh, and a particular person hangdogging in the Madness cave.
She was a boulderer, and was screaming at her belayer that she hates “this endurance shit” and never should’ve tried the route and this isn’t her thing. The belayer patiently encouraged her to keep trying, and the climber kept throwing tantrums. It should be noted that the Madness cave has a tendency to amplify sound, meaning we had front row seats despite being 8 routes to the right. Having been to many climbing areas and observed many climbers, I can say that the only thing that bugs me about this typically chill and friendly community is when people don’t try hard and make excuses instead. I don’t care if you send, just don’t complain about it. A bad day of climbing is better than not being outside by a gorgeous cliff. I gain motivation from someone like Matt, who long ago mastered the fear of falling, and who never lets go. Last weekend he said he was feeling weak because he was battling MRSA and was on antibiotics. He still tried his project relentlessly.
I find myself awkwardly averting my eyes when people just quit, when they complain about routes not being their style, complain about their skin, or throw a fit when they fall. It’s just climbing. Even the pros don’t get rich doing this. Since we’re out pursuing our own passions instead of volunteering our time to help others, the least we can do is have a positive impact on those around us while we dance around on rocks like the misfits we are.
So now it’s Monday, and things have calmed down again. Also, so far this Monday is a lot better than the last one!. We’re leaving the Red on Friday to visit Bloomington, and then Vikki and I drive off into the sunrise (a clever way of saying east?). We’ll be stopping by the New River Gorge on the way to see some friends at Duke, and then up to New England for a couple of college graduations, my cousin Alec’s and my brother Eliot’s. We’ll be documenting things with our brand new Rebel T3i, so never fear, the RV Project will live on through this brief climbing break!