Tuesday, November 30

enter the rest

After a solid six weeks spent living and climbing in Kentucky, I finally said my goodbyes and began my journey across the titanic ocean of pavement that lay between Zachariah and Boulder. By now I've spent enough time in the Red that I think I will always feel at home there.. it has become not only one of my favorite places to climb, but also one of my favorite hangs. In-fact, even amongst an eventful trip for climbing, I would still say that the moments with friends enjoying the Kentucky lifestyle are some of my favorite. It was always a great crew of people staying in the house down there. I will miss the evenings, mornings and rest days with all the best characters, right along with the days climbing and crushing. It's all good in the Red.
the crib. Mann Photo
Over the last week I stayed busy doing a number of media days with my good friend and pro photog Andy Mann. We shot stills on a couple of routes and put in many hours of hard work seeking perfect light in near freezing temperatures to shoot video on 'Pure Imagination'. The result is awesome. I've only seen the rough edit, but I can say that it highlights the difficulties and beauty of this amazing climb very well. It will be released on the radical ARCTERYX website in a series of two, along with a video of 'Twenty Four Karats' that I shot earlier with Keith Ladzinski.. keep an eye out!!
some stills..
Also over the last week, my girlfriend Paige Claassen returned to the Red on a mission to dispatch the bouldery 'God's Own Stone' 14a, and after a couple days of work, she did just that. Thanksgiving day she put the hammer down on this test-piece, making an impressive first female ascent and continuing with a truly breakthrough year of climbing. I'm very proud of Paige for her accomplishments.. RAD!!
Paige is no stranger to 5.14
The weather was definitely turning for the worse in our last few days, but we managed to get one last, brilliant day of climbing in on our way out.. I had yet to check out Left Flank, an older established area in the Northern Region. The quality and rock features here are simply incredible.. The walls are jam packed with awesome 5.12's as well as the Red's first 5.13, a Jarrard test-piece that is among the best 5.13's at the Red: 'Table of Colors' 13a. We warmed up in frigid temps on the awesome and varied 'Infectious' 12b, before heading to the business. My primary goal was 'Table of Colors Direct' 13b, which I managed to onsight along with the rest of this incredible wall. Guidebooks frequently toss around statements like best 5.xx in the universe! which rarely live up to the hype, however,'Dinosaur' 12d and 'Mercy, The Huff' 12b could actually be some of the best, ever. I finished the day with a lap on the short and steep 'Stunning the Hog' 12d and it's very cool neighbor, 'Sex Farm' 12b. Next thing I knew, we were knee-deep in Kansas and bored out of our minds..
the long road home
Those rad climbs at Left Flank would be my last for a while.. I'm embarking on something I've yet to try out: taking a voluntary rest period. People are shocked when I tell them that I've not taken more than 5 consecutive days off from climbing in over 4 years. I've always kind of feared rest, in my reckless pursuit of progress - which, no doubt, is why I've come as far as I have in just six years of climbing. I've been telling myself for some time now that it would be a good idea to take some rest, but I always had something too damn motivating on the horizon. Fresh off of a great trip, with no climbing plans directly ahead, it finally seems like a good time to take a little break. So, in this spirit, I'm planning on taking (hold your breath!) EIGHT days off... IN A ROW! don't laugh. this will actually be pretty challenging for me. I'll let you know how it goes..

Monday, November 22


As I move into my final week here in Kentucky, I'm trying to prioritize a few lingering goals and enjoy the company of friends in this amazing place. It's always in the final days of your trip that you realize how much more there is to do.. I feel quite confident that the number of 4 and 5 star routes here in the Red could double with some proper negotiating and an ambitious crew of people, Bosch in hand. The locals are certainly psyched and I'd love to be involved. Unless my travels lure me elsewhere, it would be great to return again next year and specifically seek out new crags - this place is truly incredible!
Paige warms up at the solar collector
Joel makes it count on his final day
Still very much excited about finishing 'Twenty Four Karats', I returned and removed the stray bolts, which has really cleaned up the wall nicely. Now obvious without the grid of bolts, this killer line perfectly mirrors the neighboring 'God's Own Stone'. I'm still super excited about this wicked test-piece, and very interested to see it attempted and repeated!
new route!
One of my lingering goals was to find and bolt a entirely new climb. I had seen a steep, great looking wall on my way between the Bob Marley and Drive By Crag that looked interesting so on my last rest day I decided to rap down it and have a closer look. Turned out that some cool features exist so I went at it and installed some shiny new Metolius hardware. After some cleaning, chalking and climbing a new route has emerged! It's named 'Arachnophobia' after the wolf spider induced terror experienced by all parties involved (belayer and climber) during the cleaning process. We settled with 5.12d for the proposed grade, although it's likely that as it cleans up and new beta emerges it could end up being a touch soft - either way it fills a new grade range at the growingly popular Drive By Crag.. I think it could be a 4 star pump fest classic as it cleans up, please go and check it out!!
In between bushwhacking and cleaning the new route I put in some effort on the last remaining climb for me at the Gold Coast - the ultra bouldery '100 Ounces of Gold' 14a, which turned out to be something of a battle. This punchy outing features some nice resistance climbing before a stopper boulder problem just below the chains that involves two heinous pockets and a wild throw. It turned out to be a pretty difficult sequence for me and in the end required more attempts than any of the 14c's at the Red, save Twenty Four Karats. It was a great challenge though, and I'm stoked to have finished it up.
Ladzinski is psyched on big city living
Now we're on rest day and getting ready to head into Lex for some of the typical luxuries the 'big city' has to offer. I'm unfortunately fighting another cold along with many others in the region, but my fingers are crossed that I can take it down and make the best of my few remaining days here.

Wednesday, November 17

Twenty Four Karats

The Gold Coast, here at the Red River Gorge is one of my favorite cliffs I've yet had the chance to climb on. The wall is strikingly beautiful, and the movement and shapes are amazing. At the Gold Coast there is nowhere to hide - resting is rare and the climbing is in your face. This wall hosts some of my favorite climbs in the Red such as the crimpy, consistent and stunning 'Black Gold' 13c, the endurance masterpiece 'Golden Boy' 13b and the burly and beautiful 'God's Own Stone' 14a. I love climbing on this wall.
Ladzinski Photo
The long standing Gold Coast Projects 1 & 2 sit directly in the middle of this amazing cliff. Naturally, I was interested in these climbs and talked around to gather as much information as I could. It turned out that between these two projects (just a few feet apart) lay one truly exceptional rock climb. A series of varied, albeit poor grips, barely feature this section of wall. The climbable features follow the right bolted project and then gently drift left to finish up the left bolted project. I added a middle bolt to aid with the flow of the route and began working it.
Ladzinski Photo
Over the course of four days I made links, chalked up holds and refined beta. This route is hard throughout, but a very difficult boulder problem guards the bottom third- a delicate deadpoint to a complete non-hold sloping crimp, immediately followed by a second deadpoint to a pad and a half clipping hold (quite good for this particular climb). This crux involved some serious subtlety that was especially hard to execute when coming up from the ground. From the top of the boulder problem you continue through difficult terrain featuring monos, pockets and small edges. There is essentially no resting until you reach the final bolt and finish on some easy climbing to the anchors. It's savage and brilliant.
Ladzinski Photo
Today I finally put the pieces of this route together and fired the first ascent of what I'm calling 'Twenty Four Karats'. This is one of my favorite routes I've ever done and I am honored to have done it first. Finishing this climb was not easy, and even on redpoint I had to fight for it.. I'm suggesting the 5.14c grade for this climb. For me, this route, at this grade, is solid.. it will be exciting to see it repeated. I'm so stoked!!!
Ladzinski Photo
I shot a rad video exhibiting the route with my homeboy Keith Ladzinski. Keep an eye out for the link in the future! Big thanks to Bret Johnston for tons of encouragement and many belays and Keith Ladzinski for generously providing these images.

Friday, November 12

A Beauty

This week in Kentucky marks the longest amount of time I've spent at a single climbing area away from the Front Range. It's been a real pleasure getting to know the climbing here in the Red River Gorge. I've learned my way around quite well and I seldom carry a guide book now. The quality here is truly amazing and even as I've dipped into the world of 3-star climbs I remain highly impressed.

One three star climb with five star aesthetics that I'd been hoping to try was 'Sugar Magnolia' 13d at Bob Marley. Early last week we went to this cliff on a warmer day, so I eagerly jumped on this climb before it went into the sun. A long first move spit me off, unfortunately ruining my onsight - I lowered to the ground (like 3 feet) and then went to the chains. A super cool route, reminiscent of Smith Rock, that tackles a thin face to an interesting arete top out. Totally under-appreciated, and in my opinion, over graded. Let's say 13c, but to be fair, there are 12c face climbs at Smith Rock that are harder.

Next we moved over to the Drive By so I could have a go at Kevin Wilkinson's brand new 'Angry Birds' 13c, a long pitch with distinct boulder problems and a significant pump. I managed an onsight on this rad new edition and finished the day with an onsight of Mike Doyle's thuggy route, 'Beer Belly' 13a.
"you're gonna wanna hold on"
The following day we went to check out some new crags with perhaps the only true Red River local, Kentucky Joe. His understated warnings that we would need four wheel drive resulted in us tackling a class 4 jeep trail in a stock Wrangler. It was exciting to say the least. I also laid eyes on perhaps one of the best looking unbolted crags in the country. Access is everything around here unfortunately. Sigh. The remainder of the rest day was spent touring the Maker's Mark distillery and sessioning Whole Foods. SOLID.
every bottle is hand dipped
new crag: see that little person down there? MEGA
SAMPLES. Bret Johnston photo

The next day I set out to do a traditional route that had caught my eye called 'All That Glitters' 12c, at the Gallery. I remembered from last year that my experience on the trad routes here in the Red was quite different than that of the sport climbs. Let's just say that they are NOT SOFT. I definitely had my game-face on for my onsight of this magnificent climb.

With a waning number of quality hard routes remaining, and the end of my stay here now in sight, I've switched my focus back to my original goal here in the Red: to open new climbs.

The Gold Coast is likely one of the most impressive cliffs I've ever climbed on, and to think that decade old projects exists there was enough to inspire a solid stick clipping effort. What I found was an amazing line of barely there holds and some serious hope for what could be a free climb. The line actually combines two very closely bolted old projects. I decided to move a bolt to prevent rope drag and encourage the emergence of what I think is one free climb between the two bolted projects. I cleaned up the route, chalked up some holds and hung my quickdraws.. loosing sleep last night about whether or not the moves would all go.
Today I finally got to try the rig and I could not be more psyched! After some investigation and creative thinking I managed all the moves on this beast. Second try I put together some promising links, but the heat kept me from giving it a third try. The movement is incredible - powerful moves, deadpoints, sequence specific, foot work.. MONOS! and thrilling run outs. It's literally a dream route, on my favorite wall at the Red. I can not wait to put the pieces together.

Sunday, November 7

Pure Imagination

Yesterday morning we moped about the house as long as possible, waiting for the temperatures to rise from a frigid night. Hours passed as the whole house procrastinated entering the chill outside, but before long my psych got the best of me, thus Bret and I packed up and took off for the Chocolate Factory. I warmed up, as I have been, on the bottom couple bolts of 'The Honeycomb Project' which are no harder than 11+, and tried to prepare myself mentally for some hard redpoint effort. I had made very promising links up until this point, but had only invested one half-assed (fourth day on) true redpoint attempt.

After some easy initial climbing, the route fires directly into a very serious boulder problem on thin, very sharp edges, finishing with a wild, all-points-off sideways dyno to a resting jug. From here the route carries on with difficult lock-offs on crimps and pockets to surprisingly frequent, albeit worsening rests. Towards the top lies the a longest section of uninterrupted hard climbing that finishes with a reachy, shouldery lock-off (redpoint crux). There is a solid rest at the final bolt before you climb a series of pockets and long moves guarding the chains.
photo by Ethan Pringle
With all of this random beta swirling in my head I left the ground for my first try. After getting through the low crux, I switched modes from low expectation to 100% effort. When I made my way to the red point crux, just below the route's final bolt, my fingers were numbing and my confidence low..... I fell. But it was not a failure, in-fact I was STOKED to have made such a great from-the-ground link. I rested in the sun, contemplating my next attempt.

As I left the ground on my second try I was quite confident that I could climb this route. Unfortunately I made a stupid mistake exiting the easy lower section, and my immediate next effort ended with a violent dry-fire not too far above there... good thing - my nerves were racing and this kind of thing is perfect for chilling you out and removing expectations.

With that aside, I climbed onto the route. The lower crux felt great, the following sections went smoothly and I perfectly timed my rests. The redpoint crux arrived and I felt prepared and psyched. I powered (probably over-powered) the finish, determined to clip chains... and I did. This route exhibits some incredible movement, and a lot of hard climbing. It's very bouldery, sharp, and crimpy. I thoroughly enjoyed climbing on this route, and I'm honored to have done it's first ascent. (Adam Taylor, who had been trying the climb for a while before I arrived, is close to sending, and was open and encouraging to me trying the climb- I'm am super grateful. Thanks again Adam.)
After some deliberation about names, my buddies and I sat down and watched 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' for inspiration. I've settled on the name 'Pure Imagination' for the route - that being the classic song that Gene Wilder sings as the Willy Wonka tour enters the fantastical factory - and thus following the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory theme at this cliff. It was only recently that I could have even imagined being able to climb a route of such style and difficulty.. Pure Imagination seems very fitting.

As for a grade, which of course seems to be everyone's chief concern, I have decided to suggest 5.14d. I base this suggestion on A) the relative difficulty of this route compared to the 14b's and 14c's at the Red I've done and B) how much effort it took me in comparison to Kryptonite (about the same number of tries at 12-15 or so). As with basically all new routes, an initial suggestion is only that - a suggestion. It could very well be easier or harder.. I'll be very stoked to see it repeated!
we're GOOD at killing time
Today I was stoked to climb on something fresh, so we headed to the Gallery where I had my eye on James Litz' crimpy test-piece, 'The Shocker' 14b. This route was surprisingly rad.. featuring a mix of heinous crimps and pockets with a nice crux section of deadpoints and taxing movement on slim grips. I one-hung on my second attempt and finished it up on my third, as the sun set early and the crag suddenly got freezing. Bret put the amazing 'Zen and the Art of Masturbation' to rest as well. I'm stoked and undecided on what may come next.. just happy to be here and stoked on some 'Pure Imagination'!

Saturday, November 6

snow in the Red

I got my first taste of winter last night.. watching a few snow flakes drift past the window while we huddled around the house's one and only heat source. Due to popular demand, that propane heater remained on all night, and for the first time I actually felt kinda hot up in the attic. Despite this particular morning's exceedingly late start (due to near freezing temps), this coolness comes as a great relief to many of us.. including homeboy Ethan Pringle, who grabbed the second ascent of the 'Golden Ticket' yesterday after battling sweaty tips and not perfect temps for two weeks. Excellent job dude!

After returning to Kentucky, I went directly back to the 'Honeycomb Project', a route I had frequently thought about while I was away. Over the last few days the pieces of this route have come together really nicely, and now I finally feel ready to redpoint this long, bouldery, beast of a route. The route is so sharp, and condition dependent, that I've been getting only one effort a day on it before retreating to other crags. Thus my progress has seemed quite gradual, but also tangible. With a long stay ahead of me, and the recent arrival of a willing and super psyched belay partner (Bret Johnston, SEATTLE REPRESENT!!!), I'm trying to remain patient (very hard for me) and not overdo my skin trying this thing, knowing that one go too many could cost me days of finger tip recovery time. It's helpful that I have very few remaining routes to do in the Red because it's kept me simply repeating skin friendly, pumpy climbs in the afternoons in-between catching Bret.
Bret's in the house.
Speaking of recovery, we had a killer rest day yesterday at the Woodford Reserve Distillery and hanging about Lexington. Now we're loathing about the house, waiting for the sun as the temperature slowly creeps to 40F. Hopefully, not before too long, I'll be booting up beneath the Honeycomb!

Distillery Tour:
Surprisingly delicious Bourbon. Very cool rest day.