Kentucky/Tennessee Bouldering

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“Latin for Daggers” V5 Stone Fort Little Rock City, Chattanooga, TN.

Road trips certainly provoke a variety of feelings both positive and negative. Being crammed up in a tiny, somewhat uncomfortable spot for hours desperately searching the radio channels for anything that isn’t Christmas related can be aggravating. However, the sights you see along the way and the random assortment of conversations make it feel worth it. I will never forget that one stretch of highway that was just lined with packs of deer. We must have saw like thirty or more. Since I mentioned the road, I’ll be clear that they were all alive, healthy, and well. We think maybe they were just interested in the salt remnants of recent snow clearing.

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Although Pennsylvania and West Virginia were just covered in thick blankets of fog, when we came across a clear spot, it was beautiful. Lots of farm land, hungry cows, and vibrant sunsets. There are lots of interesting things to see, like that “Endless Caverns” sign that looked like a little Hollywood sign on the mountain or the sad fact that New York now has “Text Stops.” There’s also lots of cool places to stop when you are driving. For the most part, we stayed to a tight schedule though. There was that looming holiday date and family that wanted to see us, so we tried to make it to all the spots we could fast.

Our first climbing stop was the Red River Gorge. We had plans to meet a friend who was kind enough to show us some Kentucky bouldering, but decided to get there a bit early and indulge in a little sport climbing first. I always love the Red River Gorge. It is an incredibly beautiful place. The rock has so many colors and such unique, fun features. Not to mention the large amounts of climbing available in a wide range of grades. We also, like many others, love Miguel’s. Unfortunately, Miguel’s isn’t open this time of year. This is a fact we didn’t look into beforehand and were disappointed. We still enjoyed some Ale 8’s, but Miguel’s is all around amazing. If you get a chance, always go there.

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We went a bit easy on the route climbing, since we wanted to conserve energy and skin to last the duration of the trip. Muir Valley is a favorite of ours and place we know our way around a bit, so we went there to do some easy leads. It was super cold, which works well for bouldering, but not so great for a lengthy route. We handled the numbing toe and finger pain well and managed a few. Muir Valley is a very easy place to go. The trails are very well developed, they have put in lots of bridges, stairs, and things of that nature. Also below each climb is a tiny little plague that tells you the name and grade. If you went without a guide book, signs would point you to different cliffs and you’d know all the grades. It’s pretty awesome. Also, all the climbs we got on at least, had the quick clip anchors, which makes finishing nice and simple. Some were a bit frozen and took some more work than usual, but still easy overall. They do have a parking fee of $10 and ask for donations. I think this is well worth it and totally reasonable, but it’s good to have a heads up when planning a trip, so I’m letting you know if you didn’t.

The rock has that sandpaper grittiness that I love, because I feel more solid on it, but it can do a number on your skin. There are always neat things in the rock. Like a couple climbs we got on had these cool little knob like features that made excellent I’ll-never-fall-off-these feet and hand jugs. The movement flows well and is easy to figure out, but also interesting. Even on the easiest levels, it’s still a lot of fun to explore the route and enjoy a variety of hold types. Jugs, dishes, pockets, cracks, crimps, pinches, slopers, little pebbles; all favorites are present.

After doing some climbs, we spent the night in the coolest yurt through: https://www.redrivergorgecabinrentals.com/

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These photos were taken with the phone and not the best. Sorry. But the yurt was an amazing experience. It was super warm! The structure was so neat. We liked how a lot of things were made with trees, like the bathroom sink was a bowl on top of a tree stump, and as you can see a tree makes a central post in the first photo. It had two bedrooms, a giant sky window at the top so you can see the stars, and a hot tub! The fire place was cozy and it was filled with anything you might need. It’s really clean and just gorgeous. The cabin rental place is the best. The only down side to the experience is that you can hear a lot through those walls. At night we heard a bunch of howling, people yelling, and it was a little bit scary, but everything else was great. I could easily live in one of these. Plenty of room to be considered a full house, in my opinion.

Anyway, back to the climbing. The next day we met up with a friend for some bouldering. It was considerably warmer out, but not warm enough to compromise the friction. He showed us some boulders just south of Lexington. We have sport climbed in Kentucky before, but the boulders were a first. I was pleased to find they are similar to the sport routes in texture and the type of holds, aka Lots of amazing pockets!

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The climbs are so enjoyable! They are still being discovered and worked by locals. There are lots of add ons (can’t recall the proper term). So you start at one point and it’s v4, further back and it’s v7, etc. Every climb we got on further added to my psych level. They were just incredible. They flowed well, had interesting movement, fun holds, and just solid climbing.

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I really couldn’t get enough of this cave climb pictured above. The top out move was the hardest for me and I wasn’t able to get it in this trip, but the whole overhung part was amazing! Lots of giant pockets around to use as a hand or foot hold. It is so overhung that I looked at it and thought this isn’t going to happen with my weak core strength, but then I got on it and it just came together. With good positioning and technique it’s fairly easy. Further back and it gets a bit more challenging.

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Josh isn’t dabbing, just the camera angle

There’s a series of move your body around in a circle moves and then forward. Above my personal level, but Josh sent it with ease and it looked like a lot of fun. They say like V6/7/8 maybe. Somewhere in that range. The texture makes smearing and little toes very easy to stick. There are bumps, cross overs, heel hooks, toe hooks, and drop knees galore. Although it is best in projecting to just work the move you’re struggling with, these climbs were so fun that it was hard to not keep going back to the beginning just to enjoy the experience all over.

Which brings up the question of if it’s best on trips to project or just gain quantity. I try my best to get a feel for different areas by trying out things, but when you find something good, why not just stick with it until you send? I’ve spent whole trips on pretty much one climb and not seen success, but no regrets. I make my plans to go back and try to commit to memory what to work on when the time to revisit gets closer. In fact, when we made it to Chattanooga, I sent a climb that was basically the only thing I worked on the first time we went. It felt amazing! Years between, but remembered quite a bit. Everyone is different and there’s really no right or wrong. Just have your kind of fun, I guess.

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Tommy Wilson, our fantastic guide

Kentucky was incredible as always. I’d really like to go back to the bouldering again. I wish it was a local spot, honestly. The approach is steep and works you out, but it’s quick. The climbing is worth it. However, in the interest of time, we needed to move on. The next stop was a pampered night at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, TN. (http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/bnago-gaylord-opryland-resort-and-convention-center). Josh loves it because it has the best steak and is just a great place. I love it because the cloud like beds and the fact that it’s a total experience all on its own. It has it’s own biospheres with waterfalls, plants, animals (well, fish) and lots of activities.

Apparently for Christmas they go all out. They had their own Grinch Musical, horse carriage rides, ice skating, snow tubing, Christmas tree decorating contests, and more. It was insane. Way too many people for us, but we enjoyed what we could before getting overwhelmed. It’s an expensive place, but if you can save up money, it is worth experiencing once in your life.

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After a luxurious stay there, we went to Stone Fort, Little Rock City in Chattanooga, TN. This is a bouldering area, that shares space with a golf course. It does cost money to climb there, I think it was like $8. The climb shop and pro shop for golfing are one in the same. The people that work there are very friendly, and they do really make you feel as important as the golfers. The boulders here are gorgeous! They look like little works of art.

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These climbs are awesome. They are a blast to work, they look so pretty, but they are quite painful. You’ll probably rip apart your hands and look a little zombie, mangled, like by the end of it, but you’ll enjoy doing it so much you won’t notice. At least I don’t. Just tape it up and push through. These routes got us really excited about climbing, and it was hard to leave. This area is also known for slopery top outs, and well just a lot of sloper climbs in general.

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I really loved the V3 pictured above, which I believe is Tire Knockers. The start feels hard until you figure out the right feet, then it goes pretty easy. You bump up the arete with your left hand, and have some fun crimp jugs to work with the right. The top is slopery, but good because you can rock over on to where the slab starts and pull up nicely. It might not read as really exciting, but it was a lot of fun.

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Josh, who loves a good knee bar, really liked this climb. Red House V7. You can do the knee bar by doing the V4 too. They link into each other. This climb was interesting to watch. He did an awesome job sending it.

We were originally planning to travel on to a different place, but due to how much fun we were having and our time constraints, we spent another day here instead. It was a good decision because we had a lot more fun, but also tired out fast. There are projects still to be finished, and we look forward to a return one day. It probably won’t be for a little while though. We have our eyes set on Joe’s Valley for our next big trip.

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