Lydia Lu

It Was Snowing In Red River Gorge


I just got back from a five days trip to Red River Gorge in Kentucky. Prior to this trip, I have been a gym rat for almost 2 years and never got a chance to explore the great climbing areas in the states besides Gunks. Two years ago, when I just started bouldering at BKB, one friend of mine took me out for outdoor climbing at Gunks. That trip opened the door for outdoor climbing, before that I never see myself climbing a real rock.

Over these two years, I see myself getting stronger, better at techniques and reaching a higher bouldering grade indoor. However, my progress in ropes was very slow. I’ve never stayed with rope long enough to get into lead climbing. I’ve made up many excuses for myself, something as ridiculous as “I am too light to lead belay” or “It is too much effort to match the daily gym schedule with someone else” while the reality is that I never tried hard to find one. I am just using these excuses to make myself feel better. This year, at one point, I gave up roping because I think nobody would ever take me to Gunks again and then I question myself about the purpose of doing indoor TR/lead. Looking back now, had I realized how flawgic and stupid this idea is. I can NOT just sitting there and expecting someone to take me outdoor as it happened at the first time. If one is motivated and eager enough about doing something, he/she can always try to find a way. In this case, the fact that whoever used to take me outdoor can no longer do so shouldn’t be the reason holding me back from doing ropes. Not having a car and not having a partner etc. should not be the obstacles stop me from doing what I’d love to do.

Realizing that, I teamed up with an old friend from BKB which happened to be my size to do lead climbing two months prior to this trip. And I am very glad that they trust my belay and encourage me to do more hard stuff that they see me capable of doing. My plan was to stick with rope for the whole winter and test how far I can go next season. Therefore, when Yunying and Jason asked me if I wanna join them for the Thanksgiving RRG trip, I was reluctant. I was not sure if I am mentally ready for the outdoor lead climbing and I don’t want to discourage myself since I just got some confidence back. But soon, I realized that, this was a rare chance to learn, given that not many people would like to take beginners like me to outdoor as most of the time they would need to babysitting me. So I decided to give it a try but set my expectation to zero. I told myself upon departure that, I am happy to be outside, on the wall and enjoy the moment of getting into the flow. As of grading, I shouldn’t bother that too much.

We left NYC 7 pm Tuesday and after 12+ hour’s drive, we arrived at the Miguel’s Pizza shop around 8 am. I got a wrap as lunch and then we headed straight to the crag without a rest. The crag we visited on our first day is called “Drive-By-Crag” in PMRP area. The first climb of the trip was a 5.10d (in mountain project it is downgraded to 5.10c) named”Breakfast Burrito”. Kosin led it and set up draws and TR for us. To get a feeling of the rock, I chose to TR it first. It was a fun climb, the holds were all good and there was an alcove that you can sit and rest forever. Coming out of the alcove, there were an exposed arete and a steep face to the anchor. It was not a hard climb for me, but I still got nervous and kept sweating on my way up. After TR the route once, I think I am capable of doing it since the clippings are not bad at all even in the exposed arete part. I decided to give it a try. I still vividly remember my heart beating in throat during this climb and how relief I was when I reached the alcove for a rest. I took a pretty long rest and clipped the draw before coming out of the alcove. The final exposed part of the climb was actually pretty enjoyable as all the holds are juggy. Reaching to the anchor, I felt nothing but peace. And I knew that there were more excitements waiting for me out there. Later on that day, I onsighted a 5.10b named “Make a wish”. I also tried to TR a 5.12a called “Check Your Grip” that day with Yunying and Kosin trying to lead that route. The mantle start almost killed my back and I couldn’t figure out the proper way to sit in the rest spot in the middle part of the climb. Thus I gave up and called it a day.

At the anchor of “Breakfast and Burrito”, photo by Kosin

The second day was really cold. We woke up to find out that it was snowing outside! It was not a good condition to climbing hard stuff, thus we went to a short wall named “Bruise brothers” in Muir Valley which is usually packed with novice climbers. I hopped on an easy 5.9- named “Send Me On My Way” as warm-up and setup quick draws for Angel to lead. Not much to say about the climb except that my toes and fingers went completely numb due to the cold condition. But it did take some thoughts to put the draws in the correct directions. And during the climb, I tried to pace myself, think through the steps and be cautious about the anchor at the top. I think it is always good to be conservative and check the knots, other people’s gear, the permanent draws and the anchor at the top before using them. (After reading Tito’s death on failure of quick draws and a recent tragedy about a large chunk of stone holding the anchor being ripped off the wall and knocked the climber unconsciously, I feel that even though sports climbing are relatively safe comparing to trad or alpine, the inherent risks are still high. Any small mistake can potentially lead to injury or even death. Thus being extra cautious is never a wrong thing to do.) That day, I top-roped some 5.10s and led my first short soft 5.11a.

Pulling the roof of ”Rising”, 5.11a

On our third day, the weather was still below 30F, but we decided to stick with our plan to try out “Twinkie”, a 5.12a route at Phantasia wall. As it is described on mountain project, Twinkie is indeed an excellent route with two distinct personalities. The first part of this route is a slab starting with a reachy boulder move at the bottom and finishing up with a small side crimp and mono to the first resting spot. One can sit on their leg to get a no hand rest for as long as they need. I enjoyed the moves on the slab part a lot as it reminds me of the days at Gunks. You have to trust your feet and stand up on tiny little invisible foot chips. I used to over-grip those hand holds as I got anxious. And I still do! After a long rest, what you are facing is a steep intimidating overhang wall full of juggy pockets. It looks like a bee house! The first half of the overhang wall is not challenging, you just need to stick to the move and climb efficiently all the way up to the second resting spot. This resting place is a horizontal crack so one can shake out a little bit but not too long before rushing into the pumpy part of the route. The crux for me is move after the first clip from the resting point. I need to reach out to a not so good pinch with my left hand on that 45 degree overhang wall, and push with my right feet to reach to the next juggy pocket up there. I tried to do the move statically but due to the steepness of the wall and a bad pinch I couldn’t make to the next hold without cutting my feet. I got the move on my second try when I was working on the route draw by draw, but on my two redpoint attempts I just couldn’t do them at all! On my third burn, it was getting dark and cold and everyone expected me to make it to the top so that Jason could TR and help clean the draws (the route is so steep and traverse which makes it hard to clean the draw on your way down). But I kept falling at the crux, five times at least. I got frustrated, and the fact that my arms weren’t so pumped at that time made me angry about myself. It was a mental struggle, I thought about the possibility of bailing, and let others finish the route, but I am glad that I suck it up and gave all I have on my last try. Luckily, this time, my right hand stick with the jug while my body was flying out and my core was tight enough to stabilize myself against the swing. Looking back now, I realized that it was the lack of mental focus made me fail at the crux. If I could focus on my core and my leg rather than thinking about “this is the crux and it is hard!” I would probably push myself through this climb. And also as Kosin said, keep breathing and calming yourself down at the rest are the other keys to a successful redpoint attempt!

Working on the crux of “Twinkie”, 5.12a

On Saturday, finally, it was not freezing cold. The temperature is just about right to keep a good friction of the rock but the climber warm enough. We went to the Madness cave at “Motherlode”. The cave is humongous and it has the steepest collection of 5.13+ climbs in the RRG. Standing at the bottom of the cave is mind blowing already. Kosin, Angel and Me started at the so-called “warm up” wall first, with routes ranging from 5.11a to 5.11d. For 5.13+ climbers 5.11s are Warm Up. But for me, it felt more like Burn Out. Kosin chose a route he thought to be 5.11b but turned out to be a 5.11c. He jumped on the wall first, and everything was fine until the point he couldn’t reach finger pocket far on the right. He fell, one time, two times…four times. The fall didn’t look so scary when I was standing below and watching. So when he came down and suggested I shall lead this route although it was a little bit reachy, I said okay. This route is tricky and slopey with some sequential move that I don’t feel safe if I fall off. When I finally reached the crux, it was about 5’ above the last draw on my left. And then, the sequence is to use a right knee bar to keep the body close to the wall with left hand on a crimp. I had to shift my weight to my right leg to reach the finger pocket above the slopers. I got scared on my first try, and fell right away. The falling was indeed scary! It is nothing like gym that you are expecting a short fall. I actually wanna a soft catch to absorb the impact and avoid breaking my ankle on the ledge/slabs. So I pulled the rope and got back to the wall. The second time I tried, I was still reluctant. The fear of falling off balance and the loss of confidence of having the reach to that hold held me back from committing to the move. I fell again and this time I hit my right ankle. So I bailed. Luckily, we were at the “warm up” wall, so there were plenty of people willing to hop on that route and help us clean the route. I felt really bad about myself giving up on a climb. I knew that this time, we got lucky, but what if nobody came over to clean the route? It was not a right attitude to start a climb with the hope that somebody else can clean the route for you if you can’t make it to the top. If you don’t think you are capable of climbing that route, just don’t jump on it on lead, TR saved a lot of trouble for others!

Jason working on BOHICA, 5.13b at Madness Cave

The rest of the day, I was pretty much beaten up by the warm up and chose to TR and clean a 5.12a for Kosin. That day might not be a fruitful day in terms of sending, but many lesson learned.

Sunday was our last day of climbing at RRG, and we only had half day. We went back to the “Drive-By-Crag” where I flashed a 5.11a called “Whip-Stocking”. And Kosin, after crushing two 5.12a in two days, send his project “Check Your Grip” another 5.12a. I learned a lot from just watching him climb. In the gym, we were about the same level, but outside he is way better than me. He knows how to plan the climb, to curb the anxiety, to breath smoothly and to rest properly. It was not any individual move that shut me down, but to link every piece together and keep the mental focus through the pump.

Knee Bar Rest at “Whip-Stocking”, 5.11a

The best part of the trip is, not only do I get to climb but also meet some new friends and awesome ladies from NYC. Shelma Jun run a blog called FlashFox where girls got to share their thoughts on climbing, what this sports brought them and where this sport gonna take them to.

After this trip, had I realized that climbing is more than a hobby, it is also a life style. It is not the number of hard problems on my ticker list that makes me happy but the moment of get into the flow and conquer the fear inside me which keeps me in love with this sports. Also what I love about climbing is that life can be compressed to its simplest format when you were out there around the crag.

As I keep exploring and adventuring in the future, I hope I can always remember what brought me here and where I started.

It is just pure and pretty!

Categories: Trip Thoughts Tags: Kentucky ”Sports Climbing“