In the few years that I’ve been climbing, I’ve had the opportunity to climb in lots of different places, but I’d never made it up to the Red River Gorge until this past weekend. Steve and I had tried to go several times, but due to weather, schedules, injuries, etc., it seems as though the stars were never quite in proper alignment to make it happen. But when several friends invited us to go, and especially after being able to finagle an extra day off of work on Friday, spending Labor Day weekend in Kentucky at the Red seemed to be the only obvious choice.
I had mixed feelings leading up to the trip, for a few reasons. First of all, I’m 11 weeks pregnant, so this obviously means some big changes will be taking place. Between my husband and me, I’ve always been the ropegun. Over the past year or so, Steve has improved dramatically and really stepped up his sharp end game, but this was our first trip where leading was out for me, and all the pressure was on Steve. Thankfully, we went with a big group of people, so not ALL the pressure was on Steve, and he didn’t have to lead every single route we wanted to do.
Now, for all you non-climbers out there reading this, before you freak out about the pregnant lady climbing, please take note at the temporary changes I have made to keep things safe for me and my growing baby. After speaking with my doctor and doing my own research about it, it seems that the main thing to avoid at this stage is any sort of abdominal trauma, which is why a few weeks after we found out I was pregnant, I decided to stop leading, and only toprope for the duration of the pregnancy. To understand the differences between the two, and see some comparison pictures, you can check out a previous blog post that touches on those differences. An article I found very helpful in my research can be found here.
I started the weekend off right by heading to my first prenatal massage appointment with Tracey Obeda, ate a quick lunch, and then Steve and I hit the road around 1 or so. We usually like to stop at a rest area in the mountains and have a picnic dinner on the way up, but we soon realized that we would be on tiny country roads for the last half of the trip, miles upon miles from a nice scenic picnic table, so we had to settle for the Wendy’s in Grundy, VA (doesn’t that sound appetizing!)
We arrived at our campsite around 9:00, and promptly set up our tent and went to bed. Interestingly enough, as we got closer to our destination on the map, we had our eyes peeled for the, well, GORGE part of the Red River Gorge. Every other gorge we have been to has very distinctive cliffs, and at the bottom, has an equally distinctive, usually quite large and fast flowing, RIVER. Evidently that is not the case here, which we found rather comical. At one point we went over a bridge that was labeled “Red River”, but it looked more like a small muddy stream. The only river we saw was flowing off the tops of the cliffs after the rains came on Sunday! But regardless of the geographical idiosyncrasies, there was obviously enough cliff to go around!
Our first day was spent in the Pendergrass Preserve at the Volunteer Wall. The weather was beautiful, the crag was surprisingly not that crowded, and we had a wonderful time! I don’t always like cragging with lots of people sharing ropes, because I usually feel like I end up doing more sitting around than climbing, but considering that these days my endurance is shot and I’m out of breath from the minute the backpack is strapped on, it was probably a sneaky way for God to make sure I didn’t overdo it this weekend (plus I still got in 8 routes, so the day was anything but lazy…)
DAY 1 ROUTES ~
Swap Meet – 5.6
First Time – 5.8+
Nice to Know You – 5.10b
Helping Hands – 5.10d (Steve’s hardest lead to date!)
Darwin Love You – 5.9+
Unknown 2 – 5.11b (first time all day I wasn’t clean, had an absolute flail at the start, and had to hang several times throughout)
Normalized Bramapithecus – 5.10d (surprised myself by pulling the low roof start with no problems whatsoever, hung a couple times to catch my breath up towards the top)
Day 1 ended with dinner back at camp – chicken and pesto pasta and ranch flavored rice cakes (weird, yes, but at least I kept my newly found pregnant pickle fetish back home in NC!)
Our second day we got up early and headed to Roadside Crag. So on Friday when we left around lunch time, our last weather check had not a cloud in the forecast until the early part of the next week, but lo and behold, the rain started around 11 on Day 2. It was tempting to feel sorry for ourselves and be pissed that we had driven 8 hours only to spend it getting wet, but the ironic thing was that it didn’t seem to affect our climbing at all. The Red is so steep, that there are any number of areas that you can climb at and stay completely dry, so it was hard to complain!
DAY 2 ROUTES ~
Ledger Line – 5.7
Trouble Clef – 5.9-
You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish – 5.10b
Altered Scale – 5.9+
Up Yonder – 5.11b (I took two laps on this – on the first one I hung at almost every bolt right before I unclipped, so I could figure out all the moves without taking huge swings that made me have to start over. The second time around I felt much smoother on it, and was clean up until the crux, and then rested 1 or 2 more times on the rope after that)
Day 2 dinner was at the world famous (to climbers anyway) Miguel’s Pizza – thankfully a large group was leaving right as we were walking in, so we were able to snag a nice dry table under the awning! We definitely had a varied assortment of pizzas between the dozen of us – with toppings everywhere from pasta spirals, avocado, goat cheese, bacon, corn, salsa, and of course the classic pepperoni and mushrooms.
Considering the 8 hour drive and my recent ability to not be able to stay awake much past 9, for Day 3, we decided we would only climb until noon, and then hike out and hit the road. The weather forecast was looking pretty ominous, so we decided to climb at the Johnny’s/Tectonic Walls in Muir Valley for the morning. We lucked up and got a golf cart ride for most of the approach from Liz Weber, the very sweet lady that owns Muir Valley, the one makes it all possible for folks to continue climbing there. Sure enough, the walls were dry, and stayed dry even when the skies opened up around 9:30. The only unpleasant part of the day was the 30 minute (uphill) hike back out in the torrential downpour – but thankfully we had full on rain gear, so the drive back was warm and dry 🙂
DAY 3 ROUTES ~
Plate Tectonics – 5.9+
Gettin’ Lucky in Kentucky – 5.10b
5th Bolt Faith – 5.10c
Bethel – 5.10a
All of these routes were similar in style, and really fun – big bouldery moves to giant plates and flakes, steep, pumpy finishes. I was psyched to get everything clean, considering that my forearms definitely felt the day 3 pump from the minute I touched the rock!
All in all, I think good times were had by all. It was quite a different trip for me, compared to what I’m used to, and I think I learned a few things about myself along the way. I realized how much pride I took in being an independent climber before I got pregnant. I took for granted how I could flip through the guidebook, pick out the routes I wanted to warm-up on, have fun on, and then maybe a project or two, and then go out and get them done. This weekend it was hard having to wait for other people to hang ropes up before I could climb. I also realized that pre-pregnancy, I had an underlying attitude that if I wasn’t on the sharp end, that a route didn’t “count,” unless it was something that was so hard it was out of my range to lead. I didn’t proclaim this judgment on other people (or else, as my husband was quick to point out, that would mean that he didn’t actually “start” climbing til a year or so ago) – it was just a standard that I held myself to. But now that I can’t lead until sometime during the spring of 2010, I obviously have to change my standards (and I’m already dreading how timid my head will be when I tie in to the sharp end for the first time again…) But I realized this past weekend that I really like climbing whether I’m leading or not. And I also really like hanging out with other climbers – like I said before, I made several new friends on this trip, and I truly enjoyed their company. No one else cared who was leading, who was onsighting, who was hanging, etc. – everyone was just out there hanging ropes and having fun together – so perhaps before I was caring about that stuff a little more than I should have been. Bottom line is this – I got to spend a whole weekend away from the stresses of everyday life to hang out in a marvelous Creation – all while my body is busy making a marvelous creation of its own!
Thanks to everyone who made the weekend great! We were passing cameras around so much that I have no idea who took what pictures, so I’ll just list everyone for photo credits…
Scott Millbern and Christine Neuper (I don’t think Finn took any pics…)
Zach Millbern and Flannery Lynch
Luke and Lauren Howard
Mark “Huck” Huckabee
Steve and Erica Lineberry