This past week I had the privilege of taking a trip with a good friend. If you have known me for long, you know that I do some work with a group called Solid Rock Climbers for Christ (SRCFC). I have spent time living with the director, Calvin, while working at the national office for SRCFC. On Tuesday, Calvin flew into St. Louis where I picked him up and we promptly headed eastward towards the Red River Gorge. The reason for the trip was that this year SRCFC was having their Eastern National Conference at the Red. I was super excited to go this year. Not only would I get a chance to climb with Calvin but my good friend Nate, his wife Sarah, along with many other members of Solid Rock would be there. It was going to be a good week.
Calvin and I arrived in the Red around 8:30 that night after driving for about 7 hours. Some people that Calvin knew from Oregon hooked us up with a cabin that they had been using. I was glad because now I wouldn’t have to set up a tent in the dark. The next morning we got ready and headed south to a crag that is known as the Motherload. The Load as it is sometimes called is known for its hard, steep, and sustained routes. The easiest route there is a 5.11a. Besides is there is only a handful of routes less than 5.12. This is the place to go if you want to get worked as a climber. After warming up on an 11a and an 11c, both onsight, we headed to the Undertow was at the Motherload to start climbing hard. I picked a route called Kick Me In the Jimmy (5.12a). It climbs positive holds up and slightly left for 60ft. It is fairly sustained with a few defining crux moves. After falling on the first crux I decided to work it a bit, rest, then give it a redpoint attempt. On the redpoint attempt I managed to botch the move again. I didn’t try the redpoint again that day. After that I didn’t climb much. I did manage to get myself part way up a 5.12c called Resurrection but didn’t have the juice to get to the chains. Nate on the other hand seemed to never run out of energy and managed to make his way up multiple 5.12’s that day with some being redpoints.
The Madness Cave at the Motherload
The next day we headed off to the Long Wall to do some trad climbing and work some other muscles. I also had my eye on an 11b crack called B3 or Beene Brothers Best. After warming up on Autumn (5.9) and Rock Wars (5.10a) we headed down the cliff to the base of B3. The first thing I noticed was that getting to the base of the climb is not easy. The climb actually started 15 feet up on a detached block. After bouldering up on top, we hauled the needed gear up. Nate was wanting to get pictures of me on B3 so he led Perforator (5.10a) which shares the same start. He actually got scared on it because the upper dihedral was very wet. After making it to the top he traversed over to the anchors on B3 and set up a fixed line in which he could hang and take some good pictures. Nate then waited for me to start my way up this beautiful line.
Nate getting a self portrait with me on B3 in the background
The beginning is a wide dihedral that is shared with Perforator. It tightens in the back so that you are able to get some good hand jams in the back of it. After about 25-30 feet of climbing in the dihedral you traverse left on a horizontal, place a piece of gear and head straight up this hand/finger crack. The first section of this crack is varied. You get some face holds to use and the crack can be used to lie back on. Then after pulling through some strenuous moves you get to the hand crack. I placed a bomber #1 Camalot at the beginning and took off up the hand crack. At the first good hand jam my body and mind finally relaxed. Near the top of the hand crack, after running it out just a bit I placed a #2 Camalot and entered into what would be a few tricky moves before an ok rest. I managed to get a few moves into it, place a piece and then I seemed to run out of gas. Once I rested on the piece I noticed that one of the cam lobes was not contracted at all which is not good. After resting for a short period of time I placed a better piece and made the moves to the rest in a horizontal. There I placed another great #2 Camalot, shook out and entered the boulder problem protecting the “Thank God Ledge” on the climb. The first time I entered that section, I checked it out then down climbed back to the #2 and rested on the rope again. The second time I started going up and my foot slipped causing me to take a nice little fall on the cam. It was good. I hadn’t taken a fall like that on gear for quite a while and it took some of the nervousness away.
The boulder problem before the huge ledge
After resting for a little while I headed into the boulder problem a third time. This time I stuck the moves and grabbed the ledge. That wasn’t the end of it though. I had to traverse to my left to get a good #3 camalot placement then to take advantage of the rest you actually lay down on this ledge which is more of a larger horizontal shelf that is just big enough to lie in. Once I got the cam in, I went to clip in the rope and almost fell. Luckily the second attempt proved successful and I relaxed then crawled into the “coffin rest.” There I was able to chill, have a conversation with Nate who was still hanging from the rope taking pictures, and get a really good rest.
The "Coffin Rest" on B3
Once well rested, moved into what would be for me the trickiest part of the climb, the upper dihedral that the guide book calls dicey. Luckily Nate had spotted some good gear placements for me so I wasn’t too worried. Once I was out of the coffin I pulled up to a good horizontal on the right side of the dihedral. There I was able to place a #2 C3 cam (it’s kind of small) and began to work my feet out from under the overhang. I ended up taking a small fall there. I managed to find a foot that I had missed then pulled up into the dihedral the next try. Once in the dihedral I was able to get all of my weight over my feet by stemming and looked for some gear. I managed to get a .75 Camalot and a stopper in before embarking on the challenging last moved. Right near the top there is a small hand crack that will allow for one more piece to protect the last move or two to the anchors. I placed a green Metolious cam and when I went to clip the rope in noticed that the carabiner on the cam was upside down not allowing me to clip the rope in. I then dropped the rope and started getting a little nervous. Luckily, Nate was right there telling me, “keep calm, relax. You got this man.” I then flipped the carabiner, clipped in the rope and made the final moves to the anchors. I was super happy to have gotten that far on this challenging route. After doing that climb I would have been fine with heading back to St. Louis but there would be more climbing.
The upper dihedral of B3
That same day Nate led a 5.12a called the gift. It starts with tricky slab climbing then goes to overhanging with a crux reach to a crimp from a mono-undercling. I was a bit too short to do the move on top rope but Nate pulled it off perfectly. We then got a cool down lap on Autumn. Then greatest thing was that right before we headed down the trail towards the cars, we called Miguel’s and ordered a pizza so that it would be ready for us upon arrival. Then back at camp we met up with Jed, Alex, and Jake. I was also able to take a much appreciated shower. Then we crashed in preparation for the next day of climbing.
The next day, Friday, we headed to the Gallery in the Pendergrass Murray Recreational Preserve (PMRP). The PMRP is an area of the Red that was purchased by the Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition. It is the single largest direct land acquisition ever made by climbers. This allows climbers to enjoy their sport here as long as climbing continues. There are many different crags or areas in the PMRP. This day, we decided to check out The Gallery. There is a good selection of routes there. Supposedly one of the best 5.8’s in the Red is there. We started out climbing on the far left side of the crag on some 5.10’s. Then I ended up getting on a route called Different Stokes (5.11c). I managed to flash this route.
Calvin leading Different Strokes 5.11c
Next up Nate led a 5.12c crack called All That Glitters. It is a beautiful shallow dihedral/lie back finger crack. It has a short boulder problem that is protected by a single bolt then it hits the crack. From there you get a few good hand jams, plug gear and enter into the first crux. You basically have to lock-off on a hand jam or lieback and reach way up to a thin finger lock with your left hand. Then you reach right to small crimp formed by the seam. This whole time your right foot is on crappy smears to the right of the crack and your left is somewhere in the crack. From here you reach up to a jug. The jug would be really pleasing but you still don’t have very good feet. Nate placed a piece of gear here then made a few difficult moves in the crack so that he could stand on the jug. This is the first chance at a good breather on the route. As you continue up there is a small arête that forms another shallow dihedral to the right of the first. You make a committing move around this arête; plug a few very small pieces of gear in the seam, high step your left foot and reach up to the locker finger crack. Once you get here, the route eases to about moderate 5.10 crack. From there you take the crack to the roof, get another piece of gear in and do a balancy traverse to the anchors. I had the privilege of following this route on top rope. The low crux shut me down. I was either too short, too weak, or a combination of the two to get my left hand into the finger lock. I then aided to the jug and continued the climb from there.
Nate entering the crux on All That Glitters 5.12c
After climbing that pitch, I had to give Nate some mad props. Also, Nate had fallen a few times while working the beginning on his initial attempt. So I managed to motivate him to go for the redpoint. He hoped back on it and cruised the route in style. It was definitely one of the more impressive sends of the trip. After following that route I was basically done for the day. My muscles were wasted from three days of hard climbing. I just enjoyed the rest of the day watching everyone else climb. After Nate did All That Glitters; Calvin, Nate, Tim, and Sarah all got on Break the Scene (5.12a). Nate cruised it. Calvin, Tim, and Sarah all gave it all they had but were unable to get the redpoint. While they were on this climb, it had started to rain. Luckily this route, and some others, are overhung enough to stay dry in the rain. To end the day, many of the people in our group gave Gold Rush (5.11d) a go. It is a long, pumpy face with a crux boulder problem right before the anchors. I didn’t get on it because I was still tired from following the 12c a few hours earlier. We then all hiked out and had an adventurous drive back out of the PMRP. The road is a gravel/mud road that goes up and down hills. Luckily everyone made it out without getting stuck. That night we hung out in the café at the campground then crawled into our tents. During the night some storms passed through making a lot of racket and dumping a lot of rain. When it woke me up, I was so tired that I just put ear plugs in and went back to sleep.
Nate nearing the top on Break the Scene 5.12a
The next day, Saturday, we awoke to more rain. This was going to be a rest day for me as well as for Nate, Sarah, and Calvin. The group had decided to go to Muir Valley and try to find some dry routes there. Muir Valley is a privately owned area with multiple crags. It is owned and maintained by Rick and Liz Weber. They are some of the nicest people I have ever met. So if you are ever climb there, be sure to respect the Webers and their beautiful piece of property.
At Muir Valley we met up with two members of Solid Rock, Brad and Ashley. They had come up from Alabama a few days earlier but had stayed elsewhere so this was the first we saw of them. The night before, Calvin received a text message from Brad stating that they had lost their car key at one of the crags in the valley. Since it was a rest day for me, I decided to go look for the key. After meeting Brad and Ashley, I asked them where they had climbed then took off into the valley. Since I was going to be hiking around, Calvin took my car into town to run some errands. As soon as I started to hike in, it started to rain. Luckily I had my soft shell jacket on to keep me mostly dry. The first place that I was going to look was the Practice wall. After I got all the way down into the valley, the first thing I noticed was that I would have to cross a creek to get to the practice wall. This normally isn’t too big of a deal for me since I had crossed many creeks this past spring and had developed my skills of rock hopping across watery obstacles. That would not be happening with this creek. There was too much water flowing to just hop across. I would have to wade through the torrent of freshly fallen water to get to the crag. After looking at it for a few minutes I decided to try the other crag that they had visited, the Great wall. I started to hike the emergency road that follows the valley floor for the entire length of the area. I then hiked up the hill to the Great Wall. Once I got there I slowly searched every bit of the crag only to come up with nothing. I now had a decision to make. Do I want to cross that creek to go to the Practice Wall to look for the key? If I would find the key it would save Brad from a lot of trouble. So I decided that I would tolerate a creek crossing to hopefully help Brad out.
Once again, I hike the emergency road back to the creek. There I take my shoes and socks off, roll up my pants and plunge into the cold, flowing water. After I crossed the creek, I decided to remain bare footed in an effort to move faster and to keep my socks and shoes dry. I received many weird looks from the groups I passed on the way up to the crag. Once I got to the crag I searched it and also let the other climbers there know about the issue with the key. Once again though, I came up empty handed. After admitting defeat I headed back down the hill to cross that creek again. Luckily the trail from the practice wall is not very rocky. It was mostly mud, some grass, and another smaller creek. I was glad that I kept my shoes off because if I hadn’t, they would have been soaked. After crossing the large creek the second time I sat down, cleaned my feet off, put on my shoes and socks, and went off to find the group that was climbing at the Boneyard crag.
At the Boneyard I found them climbing. I found a dry spot and made a sandwich. When I was nearing the end of my sandwich a random climber walked by and asked, “Are you Travis with Solid Rock?” Surprised by this I acknowledge that he had found the guy he was looking for. He then said that my truck had broken down and that Calvin was looking for me in the valley. Immediately my mind starts blazing with thoughts of how to get back home and wondering how I am going to afford a new vehicle. I finish my sandwich and set off to locate Calvin. Luckily with minimal effort I locate him and we walk out of the valley. Tim had given me his car key so we took his car to retrieve mine. Luckily, the problem with my car was a simple problem that occurs sporadically. I quickly fix it and head back to the parking lot to wait for Tim since Calvin took his car to run his errands. While waiting in the parking lot. Brad had a new key made. I wrote the beginning of this post and I uploaded some photos from my camera. Tim and the group arrived a few hours later and we headed off to Miguel’s to get some pizza. Then that night we did a small outreach at the campground. Calvin did a presentation of climbing in Mexico and Hugh Loeffler, a local climber, gave a presentation on the history of the Red with a focus on stewardship of the climbing resources. It was a good turn out with about 30-40 people showing up.
The final day in the Red was Sunday and it was time to give it our all. We headed to the Roadside Crag since it would have climbs for everyone in the group. I warmed up on You Can Tune A Piano But You Can’t Tuna Fish (5.10b). I ended up falling off of this route trying to down climb a move I had made. I got lowered, untied, and tried it again successfully this time. Then I headed over to the 5.10 wall at Roadside to give a 5.11a crack a try called Synchronicity. I had top roped this climb a few years ago when Nate and I visited the Red on our way up to the Adirondacks. As I began the lead, I realized something; this climb gets mean from the start. Normally on a trad route I try to not place a piece right off the ground but on this I wanted a piece after just a few moves. After a while, I began to get pumped and decided to just work the moves and the gear out and go for the redpoint the next go. So I made my way to the top. Caleb then followed it cleaning the gear. After resting I gave it another go. This time I cruised it. I quickly got all the gear in and executed the moves in good style. I was proud of the accent.
Me leading Synchronicity 5.11a (photo by Caleb Edmonds)
I then rested and decided to give Ro Shampo a try. It is a 5.12a that is steep and has mostly jugs. I ended up falling at the crux my first attempt. I then worked the moves to the top. The next attempt I almost fell at the crux but caught myself and then pulled through it. Unfortunately, I fell about 12 feet higher on the route when I just pumped out. My time at the Red was done. I hung out for a bit then at about 4 o’clock Calvin and I headed out. We had decided to drive to Jackson Falls in Southern IL that night and get a half of a day climbing at my home crag before Calvin had to catch a flight home.
Calvin on Ro Shampo 5.12a
While on the road to Jackson, only a few hours into the drive, Nate calls me needing a phone number from Calvin and also asks for directions to Jackson Falls. It turns out that Sarah and him decided to start heading west and decided to join us. I was stoked. We arrived at Jackson late that night. The next morning we got an early start. By 9 we had already gotten a few climbs in at the Gallery wall and headed to the Mr. Jimmy formation so that they could sample some technical slab routes. I hopped on Stinger Direct (5.11d) since I had never been on it before and with good reason as I soon found out. The Last moves on the route are the crux. You basically have to lock off on a good hold with your right hand, smear your feet on crappy holds and pinch a little pebble with your left. I think the required move is to get your right foot where your right hand is. Normally this isn’t a problem if the left hand hold is good. Here the hold is just good enough to pull downward on to a certain point. After that gravity takes its toll and I went flying back towards the ground to be caught by the rope. I took this fall a few times before I would let Calvin try it. He was unable to make the move as well. He then aided through the move so that we could clean the anchors and move on to the Beaver wall.
Calvin at the crux on Stinger Direct 5.11d
There I gave Who Need Friends (5.12a) a try. For the first time I made it past the second bolt to the rest. This was a new high point. I then continued up on the pumpy crack system. I climbed it well making it all the way to the anchor chains with only one problem. I was so pumped that I was unable to let go with either hand to clip the anchors missing the redpoint of the route by a mere clipping of the rope. I guess I will have to give it another go whenever I am back in IL. We then headed to Lovely Tower to give Hidden Treasure a go. After that we busted out of there so that Calvin could get on his flight back to Oregon.
Nate flashing Who Needs Friends 5.12a at Jackson Falls.
The trip was a great one filled with a lot of hard climbing. I think that I only did one route the entire week that was easier than 5.10. So after a week of hard climbing and nonstop action, I am finally able to rest and recover so that I can prepare for what lies ahead in life. Yesterday I basically moved out of my parent’s house. I will be heading to Arkansas this weekend to help teach a trad climbing course at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch. Then after that, I head to North Carolina to begin working with Fox Mountain Guides for the season. It is an exciting time and one that scares the living crap out of me. So look forward to more blog posts about guiding, traveling, and experiencing new places.