There are countless cliffs I have yet to climb in the USA. That being said, I would be shocked if there is a single crag more fun than the Red River Gorge. Located in the middle of nowhere (Slade) Kentucky, the RRG has tons of sectors, grades ranging from ladders to now 5.15, and one of the best climbing community environments I’ve encountered. There is tons of information on climbs in the gorge, but I figured I’d make a post to share personal recommendations and pictures more than anything else.
Trip beta first:
When to come: Fall and Spring will give you the best friction, but you can have serious fun all year round. If you don’t mind waking up on the early side solid conditions can be had even in July.
Where to stay: Miguels Pizza is the place to camp if you are either on a budget, enjoy an awesome atmosphere of climbers, or love tasty pizza. If you have a real job, look forward to a daily shower, and aren’t a fan of noisy crowds, Land of the Arches campground might be the place for you. Miguels is $2 a night to camp, $1 for a 4min shower, and $2 for a week of wifi, while Land of the Arches is $5 a night, showers and wifi included. I have yet to try Land of the Arches because I always have so much fun at Miguels, but I have heard nothing but good things (it is also ten minutes closer to Muir and the PMRP but further from Military Wall and Phantasia).
Guides: For a weekend jaunt or the extreme cash strapped http://www.redriverclimbing.com/RRCGuide/ is a great online guide that will suffice. All the places I mention can be found using their beta. Muir has most of the climbs’ name and grade tagged at the base, making it easy to get by without a book. For everyone else, http://www.wolverinepublishing.com/red-river-gorge-rock-climbs-3rd-edition is a great book with tons of pictures and historical information about the area. They also make an iphone app that looks awesome but I’ve only tried the free version.
Personally Recommended Climbs by Grade:
Land Before Time wall. In Muir head towards the valley floor by the trail next to the building in the parking lot. Before you get to the bottom you will see the land before time sign pointing to the right. This area isn’t in the guide book (it’s brand new) so it is less crowded despite the great collection of well bolted routes.
The Shire has a great line up of 5.7, 8, 9, 10 moving down one wall that makes it perfect for a beginning group. Plus there is a cool cave thing to check out in the middle of the wall. Side Note: it isn’t mentioned in the guide book, but getting to the sore heel parking area ( for the sectors North 40, Gallery, Shire, Volunteer Wall, etc) requires some decent off roading that I wouldn’t want to attempt in a non 4×4 suv let alone a standard car.
For amazing easier 5.10s head to Johnny Tectonic wall in Muir.
For harder tens there is the Chocolate Factory with Oompa (10a) and Loompa (10c). Awesome overhanging jug hauls, and you can check out Pure Imagination(14d) next door. It’s easy to get confused on the approach. The trail you are looking for crosses the stream on the side of the road. Make sure you stay straight on the trail, avoiding the tempting branch off to the left.
For 5.11s there Whip-Stocking 11a at the Drive By crag (Breakfast Burrito and Fire and Brimstone are amazing10ds also at Drive By). A sustained long overhang, huge holds, and not one, but two no-hands rests make this a classic.
Fuzzy Undercling 11b at the Military Wall is another great overhang with even cooler moves than Whip-Stocking. The opening boulder problem, however, will put the send out of reach for many. Be sure to use of the perfect knee bar half way up to fight off the pump.
If you aren’t short, Amarillo Sunset 5.11b, located at the North 40 crag, is one fantastic aesthetic climb with huge moves on good holds. (see parking advice of The Shire)
For 5.12s my favorite is Twinkie at the Phantsia wall. A perfect slab leads to an immense overhang on holds too good to be true.
Another two favorite 12s include Hippocrite and Scar Tissue, both at the Zoo. The neighboring routes climb like continuous boulder problems leading to exciting finishes. Hippocrite will be a bit tougher for the vertically challenged, but the moves are unbelievably cool if you can manage the stretch.
I don’t mess with anything harder than 12s yet so this is speculation, but if I wanted to hang my imaginary sponsor draws, I’d head to the Motherlode, Bob Marley, or Drive by crag, as they seem to be stacked with sick looking hard overhangs.
Feel free to ask specific questions, there are just so many climbs that I can’t fit even all small portion of the information needed to do the Red River Gorge justice.