Overall my first trip to the Red was fantastic, but one route in particular stands out in quality of rock and movement that parallels or exceeds the best climbs I've seen from around the world.
Shortly after the World Cup in Boulder and a couple days at the Monastery near Estes Park to finish off the mega-classic Grand Ol' Opry, I left CO for the Red. A few friends were already there so as soon as I arrived I joined the ongoing exploration of the numerous crags hidden in the trees near Slade, KY. Initially, I focused on trying to onsight as much as possible to get used to the endurance-based style the Red is known for but lost the onsighting motivation after a mediocre attempt on Omaha Beach. Now inspired by the steep, adjacent lines in the Bob Marley Cave, I cycled back and forth between 50 Words for Pump and Southern Smoke for a few days until I had the beta for both dialed.
A cool, breezy day rolled through and I could tell it was going to be a great sticky day of climbing after warming up on Ultraperm so when Southern Smoke went down first go there was only one obvious route to try next. After about 45 min, I felt ready to climb again and punched through the low crux on 50, took a little extra time at the rest right below the final hard moves, and got completely lost at the easy head wall before clipping the chains on all three routes in the cave in a day...except Adam's recent addition of the real line of the cave with a burly direct start to Southern Smoke.
On the way back to the parking lot from Bob Marley, I convinced my friend Will we should stop at the Motherload on the way back to Miguel's despite the pink sky for a little headlight redemption on Omaha. One set of fresh batteries later, I was charging past bolts in the steep section of the Madness Cave and realized I was getting WAY more pumped then my onsight try, Southern Smoke burn, or 50 burn but there was no way I was going to fall at the same spot as before so I punched through the mini crux and raced to the top skipping the final draw. After clipping the chains to complete the most solid route climbing day I've had, I knew my rope wasn't going to reach the ground so I unclipped the anchors and looked down to see my rope passing the last draw and disappearing into the darkness...I don't know how far I fell but after way too much time for both Will and I to think I was a goner it was certainly no longer a "no fall" day.
The Golden Ticket
Once the leaves have fallen the Chocolate Factory, which houses the Golden Ticket, is an incredible place to be on sunny days. Not only does it warm the best 5.10 in the Gorge but numerous 100 ft trees cast clear cut shadows on a wall that becomes vibrant from a seemingly dull gray in the shade. Check out the photos I've attached.
Adam Taylor, the FAist, has described the route already but I'll do it again. For me the route is broken into five sections:
Four bolts of fun but relatively easy movement to a bat-residing slot rest.
A somewhat runout, progressively more difficult, and very condition dependent crux. It took me several days just to climb from the forth to fifth bolt without sticking past it. For me this section definitely holds the most challenging movement on the route and is climbed quite differently depending on the climber's height.
After shaking in a good slot and a couple moves on cool slopey holds, two long lunge moves. Each of these moves took several tries to find the best foot and body positions to efficiently pounce to and from the unique holes. The second lunge in particular is amazing in it's superficially ridiculous appearing distance that makes it seem like a dyno. However, once you slide your fingers to the edge of the launch hold, walk your feet up as high as possible, open up your shoulder, and extend your arm to "lock off" in a nearly straight arm position you can stand way up to reach the next hole in a surprisingly controlled manner. It's a sick and very unique move.
A perfect boulder. The red point crux starts matched in the second hole you lunge to with a small cross into a decent crimp on the left side of the hole. The next hold is a split finger directly to the left of the hole so I found a sweet drop knee on perfectly positioned smears to pull my body to the left and carefully place my fingers in their precise positions. Next is a right hand-foot match because the feet nearly disappear below you to lead into a right hand cross to another precise finger placement hold with a cool thumb catch. After, bring your left foot up to a small scoop. You need to release the tension on your right foot in order to keep moving left so you swing the right foot off and kick the wall before a cool intermediate block and bump move to the left. Next is a spicy heel hook to get to better holds and a good left hand to clip the final draw and shake on since it's next to a decent crimp for the right. This left hand apparently wasn't there when Adam did the FA, but is in Ethan's video, so you would have had to gun for the top or grab a narrow right hand slot to shake.
A little boulder guarding the chains that can be done at least three ways depending on the climber's style.
After a 10 day visit to PA to see my Aunt Kay for Thanksgiving (and avoid the two heinous four day storms plaguing KY), I returned to the Red with a single goal in mind...right after I get my endurance back. A week or so after returning and back at the Ticket, Dave Graham and Nick Duttle were pysched so we had a blast sharing beta and working on the route together. I've always liked Dave's style of moving technically and efficiently without any unnecessary wasted energy or silly jumps but had never climbed with him before so it was particularly fun to watch his intuitive way of moving and applying it to find ways to refine my own beta. Although Nick and I used very little of the same beta it was also interesting to see how completely the cruxes flipped based on height and style. The low thin boulder that shut me down for so long he made look like V3 while the high boulder with hand-foot matches and high feet I could do consistently but he struggled on.
Eventually, I made a very unexpected link from the "bat rest" through the bottom crux and went to the top. Progress, yes! But darn! I should have just started from the ground and tacked on the initial easy section! A couple more days of finally making it through the bottom consistently and one falling the route in a different spot every time told me the send was inevitable. Hopefully. My Aunt Kay came out to the Chocolate Factory to watch because she was driving from PA to TX to see my brother. I really thought this little extra motivation would make it happen but just another "one fall" ensued and she left for TX. Finally, after a proper warm up the rig went down in a very uneventful manner; it's crazy how much you can refine something to transfer it from feeling ridiculously hard to cruising up confidently.
Three weeks in the Chocolate Factory without getting on Pure Imagination didn't seem quite right and since the Ticket went first go I had to give Pure Imagination a shot before heading "home" for the day. With only two days left before I HAD to leave for Christmas Eve I worked out the moves with no intention of doing it. The first bolt-to-bolt go went well with every move going first try except the low crux at the fourth bolt. Before leaving for the day I wanted to figure out that move as the idea of polishing off the wall this year seemed a more likely possibility after feeling out the moves. Second go, I figured out the low crux is a flag then careful stab to a pocket. Then I went to the top again to remember the beta and figure out the best resting positions. Wait, can I do this before leaving?
Feeling a bit worked the next day I take a rest day to give a final solid third burn before leaving. After a good ol' Chocolate Factory warm up, I leave the ground on Pure Imagination breathing and moving with a surprisingly good momentum; nailing the bottom crux and finding myself resting at the fifth bolt. I typically do well with this style of route that's broken by rests then punchy sections so I quickly move to the next ledge and sink two heel-toes to relax and think about the upcoming sections. Punching again, I get to the decent rest before the redpoint crux and take a few shakes. There are just a few more hard moves before the rest at the final draw so I skip the draw below the red point crux. Yelling in uncertainty I then hold my breath through the long bump that is the redpoint crux but catch enough of the crimp to rebite and get to the rest at the last bolt. "I held my breath that whole section," I say out loud.
All the wrong things start racing through my head...the anchors are right there! I can do it before I have to leave! After a few minutes reality sets in and I yell, "I'm kinda pumped!" to Nick, my belayer. The damage is done from holding my breath (or I at least convince myself of this), I hang out here for several minutes trying to recover but it's not going to happen. I have to just go. A couple moves later my butt sags and I crumple to the end of the rope. After hanging for a bit I refine a little anchor run beta...for next year. Time to make the 2300 mi journey to Galt, CA to see the family.
Thanks to the developers, belayers, photographers, and everyone else I dragged around the Red. Psyched to join Team 5.10,