"Not all those who wander are lost"

Red River Gorge

I do my thing and you do yours. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, then it is beautiful. If not, it can’t be helped.

-Frederick Perls


The drive to the red was swelteringly hot but quite unspectacular.  I pulled into Miguel’s Pizza & Rock Climbing Shop well after the last lights had been shut off so I wandered off through the ruckus of prepubescent climbers to find the quietest place to pitch my tent.

I woke at 7am to the sounds of frogs and grasshoppers.  Only a couple people up had roused compared to the dozens still wandering around at midnight when I went to sleep.  After some oatmeal I sat at a picnic table reading with a sign in front of me reading “Need Climbing Partners.”  It paid off.  I got through two pages of my book before a guy asked if I wanted to join their party of three so before I knew it I was off to Muir Valley with my new acquaintances.

We bounced from crag to crag chasing the shade and ended up climbing several 10s, a pumpy 11, and an amazing 5.12c called Cell Block 6 at the Midnight Surf wall.  Cell Block 6 is a series of big flat ledges with huge moves between them including one all-points-off dyno on a steeply overhanging wall (for non-climbers picture being on an overhanging ladder and trying to jump and grab 6 rungs above).  Needless to say I crushed it.  By that I mean I hangdogged and didn’t even finish it, but it was still a fun time.  At the end of the day the climbing lived up to the criticism I heard that it’s overhanging and tiring but not technically difficult.

(Cell Block 6)


Tuesday started in the same way with my book and sign fishing for partners.  This time I didn’t have any bites.  I walked up to the gravel parking lot to my car and noticed a couple guys getting ready to climb.  I took my opportunity and ended up meeting them at The Motherlode.  If the previousday had lived up to the criticism of the red that it’s overhanging and tiring but not technically difficult then this was just a kick in the face.  The grades in the area ranged from 5.11d to 5.ridiculous (14b or c I think).  The air, as hot and sticky as honey, made the climbing more difficult.  I attempted a couple of the easier routes with more than ample resting between, but spent most of the day watching the other people work their routes.  It was impressive to watch some guys climbing the hard routes, but simply stunning to see an 11 year old climbing a 120ft 5.12d.

(The Motherlode)


(Turtle on the path)


If my first two days affirmed the one-dimensional climbing of the red than Wednesday unraveled the criticism.  Per usual I headed off to climb with strangers.  This time it was Ben, John, and Pat whom I had met the night before.  We piled into Pat’s dust covered gold Subaru and followed the winding road north to Long Wall.  The approach hike was not long, but we discovered it was quite treacherous trying to scramble up the steep trail slicked with mud.

The first pair of climbs were two aesthetic trad routes.  We paired up and climbed the routes.  Although I didn’t lead, it was nice to be back on a trad route and see that I still knew the ropes after doing so much sport climbing over the last 6 months.

(Great crack that we climbed)

Ben and I continued along the cliff to another climb that would further break down the stereotype of the red.  It was a 120ft tall climb named Game Boy (5.11c) that was nearly dead vertical but had some slab sections with nearly no holds and a couple small roofs.  Unlike most popular routes, there was no white chalk marking the holds to use on the climb.  Each time I reached my arm up to grab what I thought might be a hold was a surprise whether it was any good.  The “excitement” grew even more at the very top when instead of clean rock it was covered in lichen making the gently rounded features almost impossible to hold without slipping off.  It was a great route: challenging, exciting, and unknown.

With the day slowing down (or maybe that was just my body) I decided to do one last climb.  Of course, it was the hardest yet.  The Gift (5.12a) is a great looking route that appears to start very easy before a few difficult moves on a bit of an overhang.  That’s not completely true.  There really is no easy part as I quickly discovered.  Most of the chalked holds at the beginning that looked so good turned out to be terribly sloped.  The overhanging wall above was relatively straight forward, but had such great and committing moves that by the time I finished the section I clipped the next bolt quickly and had to rest for a minute to calm the adrenaline pumping through my body.  I don’t often get adrenaline from climbing anymore so this rush was a welcome surprise.

Back at Miguel’s I sat working on my computer in the dimly lit basement.  A few other people occupied other tables playing chess on the boards painted on each of the tables or using their computers.  A grey streak flashed across the far end of the room.  For a minute I didn’t know if I had actually seen something or just thought I had, but then it emerged from the other side of the old upright piano against the far wall.  The mouse skirted the perimeter of the room passing inches away from several feet including my own.  It made four laps, occasionally stopping in a dark corner or behind the piano for a rest from his marathon.  I wondered if the marathon mouse was the one who had crept into my car the past two nights to chew up tissues and steal my bread.  That little cur.  Ah, but he was still entertaining.  He made a few more laps, now stopping in the doorway, but unable to get up the 10in rise of the three cement stairs leading out of the basement.  Poor little mouse, he’s caught running the same pointless circle that so many people do, unable to make the jump to get out and be free.  I focused back on my computer, but occasionally noticed him taking another lap.  When I packed up and headed to my tent he was still trying to find a way out to no avail.


Thursday Ben and decided to go for a quest.  Literally, The Quest.  It’s a three pitch trad route that he was excited to do and I’m always to search for the grail.  We loaded our gear and rope into his Subaru (how do all the dirtbags have fairly new Subaru’s?) and headed north again.  I was uncertain about finding the climb after Ben told me the story of he and Pat hiking all over a few days before trying to find a climb.  It was a challenge finding the “trail” that lead to the climb, which turned out to be no more than a deer path at the beginning and faded to nothing in the middle.  By the time we emerged from the woods at the base of the cliff we had cobwebs in our faces and hair, but were no worse for the wear.

(The Quest)

The climb started off to be just as much of an adventure as finding it.  The sandstone crags of the red are generally solid, but this spot was filled with loose rocks and sand as well.  In the middle of the first pitch was a good alcove to get a rest, but to climb up the roof and out of it proved to be the crux.  I struggled for a few minutes before turning back to sport climbing methods by using a jug to skip a fist jam in the roof, but to my dismay when I did it I heard a pop from my left shoulder and felt a twinge of pain.  The next pitch was good, but very straight forward hand crack up to the bottom of a huge roof for a hanging belay just beneath a city of spider webs.  I hung in my harness belaying as Ben moved out to the right, his curly hair collecting most of the cobwebs as he climbed.  When he began to move up into the final offwidth section the rope began getting pinched where it route turned.  I moved to free the rope but when I pressed down on my left leg nothing happened.  A moment of fear washed over me as I realized that my leg was completely useless, just a flopping piece of meat that I had to move with my hands.  Even without the help of my leg I was able to swing the rope free and kept enough slack to it didn’t get stuck again.  I shifted my position, rubbed the lifeless limb, and shook it around to get circulation back.  I began getting feeling and control back just as been yelled down “On belay” for me to start climbing.  While I started taking care of the anchor the rope got stuck again.  As a result I cleaned the anchor and climbed the traverse with so much slack if I had fallen I would have gone sliding 40+ feet down the rough sandstone face.  I climbed through the remaining cobwebs and got the rope free of the notch and wriggled my way up the remaining offwidth crack to the top where Ben was waiting.  We congratulated each other and rappelled the 200ft to the ground.


I made the same oatmeal that I had ever morning for the previous three weeks and headed to Phantasia with Ben and Pat.  We parked on a narrow dirt pullout next to the tree covered road and walked up the steep slope to the crag.  It was a grey overcast day, but for the time being the rain was holding off.  Enjoying the cool weather we climbed a pair of fun but quite easy 5.9’s before getting on a couple harder routes.  They were both challenging overhanging routes, but provided good entertainment until it began to rain.  At that point we still had gear on one route so I hurried up it, managing to get our gear down before the rain picked up.  As I threw my pack into my car and headed for Nashville I decided, even though we only had part of the day I felt like it was a good way to end at the red.

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