Red River Gorge is know for its richness in oil, single pumps dotted around sucking out the black gold. But there's other gold to be found in this deep Kentucky valleys, the Corbin Sandstone beautifully carved by millions of years of glacial erosion. God's own stone, as the locals describe it, this textured sandstone is made to be climbed. Different to the compact, bullet-hard sandstone of the Grampians and Mount Arapiles, and more sculpted than the Cederberg relative, the type of rock at the Red gives moulded shapes on a sandpaper-type texture.
This is my second trip to The Red. On my previous trip five years ago I decided to fly out despite sporting horrible case of bronchitis. That trip gave a good snapshot of the area and a good introduction to the easier crags. On this trip I wanted to taste the harder side of The Red, having some of the most attractive lines in the world at the grades that are accessible to me. Or so I thought. The beauty of this destination is that no matter what grade you climb at, most routes are stunning. You can easily find yourself lowering off a route saying over and over again that that's the best route you've done at that grade.
I thought I knew how to train myself for this trip, but it turn out I was woefully unprepared. Despite upping my volume on rock and focusing on endurance, it certainly wasn't enough. As soon as I started up the steep section of Bohica (8a) it became apparent that I just hadn't done enough for this monster pump-fests. After two days spend falling off big holds I decided to lower the bar and get on 5.13a's (7c+) instead. That proved enough of a challenge and spend most of my trip falling off the top of "Snooker" at the Motherlode. Luckily by the second week I've build enough pump resistance that I managed an "chicken-wing" ascent, but left me pretty much done in for the rest of the trip. So my ticklist is rather unimpressive, but at least now I think I know what I need to do for the next trip. Andre made some really good progress on "Thanatopsis" (8c) but bailed as it became impossible to hold the tiny crimps with the raise of temps and humidity. The rest of the trip I just had a blast doing easier climbs that blew my mind. One that really stood out was "Ballscratcher", a magnificent 5.12a arete that wouldn't be out of place in Nesscliffe, but bolted and on much, much better rock.
I'm surprised how unpopular the crag is amongst Brits and Euro's in general. Considering the decent amount of visiting climbers that sees Utah, Yosemite, Rocklands and Australia, and at similar price for a flight to The Red, it's surprising to not see a single Brit in both trips. But on this visit I found that mates back home were a lot more interested than last time around five years ago. Not that I wish the crag to be busier, but sometimes I wonder what makes crags go in and out of fashion. Like, does anyone go to Rodellar anymore? Some people still do, but seven years ago you'd struggle to find a pitch for your tent at Camping Mascun, and now it seems deserted. Like Siurana 10 years ago, there was same amount of routes back then, but literally empty of Brits except for Steve Dunning and a few others in the know.
So for those who have been asking about the place below there's a bit of trip beta for you.
Flights can be expensive, expect to pay £800 and above. We flew from Heathrow to Lexington, connecting in Detroit. Lexington is about an hour's drive to the climbing, which is handy. But a bit of searching around might give cheaper flights, some options are Louiseville (2hrs drive), Cincinnati (3hrs) or Knoxville (3hrs). Another option to investigate what direct flights get you close to Kentucky and then drive. From Heathrow there are no valuable direct flights, but from Paris you can go direct to Cincinnati, cutting your travel time considerably. So if you fly from Manchester or Glasgow, it's worth having a look. As per rent-a-car, don't bother buying excess insurance, we found most rent-a-cars offer fully comprehensive insurance, so you don't have to worry about scratches or damage to the car. Very handy when bombing up the off-road track at the Motherlode.
As per accommodation, it's horse for courses really. The cheapest accommodation is camping, either at Miguel's (dirtbag central, busy and lively), at Lago Linda's (secluded and quiet) or Land of the arches (newcomer), all for $5/night and good facilities including Wifi. But considering that it rains quite a lot in The Red, I've never fancied camping. The next step up would be to stay at the rooms at Miguel's for $40/night (sleeps two) with shared facilities, or the bunks at Lago Linda's at similar price. Word of advice with Miguel's and Lago Linda, it might be better to call rather than online enquiries. Above that price bracket then it gets a bit pricey, as your only options are to rent cabins. The rule for cabins is that the more people the cheaper they get. A good number of people would be 4 to 6 people, which could bring the price down to $20/night/person. Cabins tend to be really nice, secluded in wooded areas and most have a hot tub. To search for option look up rrgcabin.com, redriveroutdoors.com, Scenic Cabin rentals, Cliffview Resort, climboninn.com or airbnb.com.
The guidebooks to get are the Red River South by Wolverine of the The Best of the Red by Onsight Publishing. There's amazing trad as well but I haven't done any. There's no alcohol on Sunday anywhere in Kentucky, so don't get caught out. To buy beers you are pretty much limited to the Beer Trailer, you'll see it en-route to most climbing crags. The most convenient supermarket is the Kroger in Stanton. Rest day activities can range for swimming in the river, Bourbon tasting (highly recommended, Woodford Reserve being the best), shooting guns, live Bluegrass Country in Clay city or Drag Racing in Clay City as well. Bring waterproof jacket or an umbrella, it rains often in The Red, but it doesn't affect the climbing as most hard crags stay dry in the rain and there's no seepage.
For hard climbing, the jewel of the crown is the Motherlode(aka The Lode), but there's plenty of jaw dropping hard crags like the Chocolate Factory, Dark Side, Bob Marley, Drive-By, Gold Coast and The Purgatory. For easier climbing literally every crag is amazing. You can climb all year around, although the best times are Spring and Autumn. For hard climbing , getting the right conditions can be fickle. I think the best two weeks to go would be last two weeks of March and first two weeks of November. It will be cold-ish, but the friction on the sandstone will be amazing. As it gets warmer and you start taking layers off your project will start getting harder and harder. In October it seems the weather is the most stable, but it's also the busiest time to visit. The good thing about visiting in Autumn is that your project will get easier and easier as it gets colder and colder. Pack down jacket and thermals, but also shorts and sandals. I've been both in Spring and Autumn but got considerably more rain in Autumn. The climbing tends to be very pumpy and endurance-based, so don't waste your time on power and Beastmaker as it's unlikely to make much of a difference. So do your homework and get fit. And work your core, you will need it to make those sloping holds work. Expect a bit of adaptation on the first few days and don't expect Chulilla grades here. If you come properly fit, most routes are very onsightable (if you climb at the grade that is) as they are not very cruxy and the climbing is very "follow-the-white-dots" style.
I hope this helps folks out there to get psyched!