So what do you say when invited to be second camera for a shoot in a well known climbing area half way acress the country that you’ve never been to? You say, “Yes, I want to go!” Even if you don’t know when it might happen, and even if it just so happens to end up being the same week that you’ve already taken a day off to make it a three day weekend trip to Red Rocks, Nevada.

So it was that I found myself bound for the land of Muhummad Ali, green hills, Bourbon, and the Red River Gorge. The shoot was for the American Alpine Club and Adidas Outdoor and I had just had the good fortune to have just been accepted as an Adidas Outdoor Grassroots Ambassador so I was there doing double duty. The main on-camera talent consisted of Adidas athletes, Molly Mitchell and Kai Lightner, and American Alpine Club Education Manager, Ron Funderburke. We were there to shoot a video for the ACC’s Know the Ropes series with help from Erik Kloekker, Muir Valley volunteer and a local climbing guide.

From the parking area for Muir Valley, Red River Gorge, Kentucky, you can’t see anything that would clue you into the climbing potential of the place. Instead, there are chalked space lines and a rain shine shelter with tables, computers and papers for waivers, and a vending machine that promises the bubbly drink of choice for the area, Ale8, a ginger ale / citrus soda concoction that I’ve been told is great for mixed drinks.

Kai Lightner and Molly Mitchell hiking in. It was a cold wet morning in Kentucky.

From the parking area, the path to the crags was well maintained, not very steep, and there were signs at each juncture for various cliffs. When we arrived at our destination for the day, Drive-By Crag, I was impressed by the height and steepness of the climbs. The rock look featured enough, but challenging nonetheless. First bolts were stick-clip high and I found myself thinking I really should make/get myself one since I’d had the same thought when I went to Smith Rock.

Kai Lightner on Easy Rider. Red River Gorge, Kentucky.

After getting several scenes in the can and getting inspired by Kai and Molly basically gliding up steep routes, including Easy Rider 5.13c, Ted and I found ourselves with some free time when Ron had to leave to take Kai and Molly to the airport. The weather was still wet enough that it had been hard to tell throughout the day whether or not it was raining, or if we were just hearing the sounds of a few small waterfalls created from earlier rain fall. The crag was still quite crowded, and included a group of kids that Molly had coached before. I was jet lagged from the combination of my red-eye flight and long car ride and was not quite sure how I’d fare onsighting something. We did find a route that was supposed to be 10b with draws on it already. The first bolt didn’t seem to require a stick clip so I got on it. The start was a little deceptive but I got the first bolt. All well and good but what happened then was I got too set on a hand jam I had found (yes, I found a hand jam on a sport route) and I knew the next move was actually supposed to be a jug above me but that the steepness of the climb was already messing with my head. The combination of moving up above the bolt and possibly falling backwards did not sit well with me and I could only guess how tired I’d be further up the route. I backed off. Not my proudest moment. Ted and I moved along the cliff wall to another 10b I had eyed earlier. There was a group at it but since there wasn’t much choice of routes that were in my onsight range, Ted and I decided to relax a bit and wait and watch. The leader on the route was about two thirds of the way up when she fell, turned upside down, and continued to fall a few more feet. It was a rather dramatic fall. Various people called out, “Are you ok?” She came down and checked herself. She was a bit shaken up, but minor scrapes and bruises were the final tally. I did feel I didn’t want to lead the climb though so asked another person in the group if they wouldn’t mind giving us a ride on their rope. They didn’t mind but the plan changed to one of them leading with our gear so that they could leave and another in their group would just use our stuff to get a top rope climb in before they too left. During this conversation, we were asked how long we’d been at the Gorge. Ted answered it was our first day climbing, and in fact our first climb here. The gal we talked to look surprised, “Well, you picked a stout wall to start!”

The next day the weather had changed considerably. It was no longer cold and rainy but on the sunny side. Ted, Ron, and I joined up again with Erik and we went about getting scenes done for the video. I was called upon to also act in it so I guess you’ll see me in the final video. In the course of getting our shots we needed a rope up at times so we got to climb a little. Once I got on these routes, I understood why the gal the other day had been surprised we were starting at Drive-By Crag. These crags had more variety: a larger warm up range of climbs, different heights, and steepness.

We capped off the day with a stop at Skybridge Station for a cold one before getting back to make dinner at the cabin. We were invited to Trivia night but were having guests for dinner so had to decline. Here I was miles from home but still making friends and even meeting a friend’s family. In other contexts people might say to never mix business and pleasure or your social circles but I’ve found that climbing / outdoor folks often do so with great results.

The next day it was my turn to leave to catch a plane before the day was over. I had to get myself to Louisville International Airport. Luckily we cranked out some scenes and had time for me to lead something finally. It was just a 5.7 but it felt good. I also got to top rope some harder routes, finishing my climbs with Little Viper on Bruise Brothers Wall and letting me leave directly from the area with a smile on my face and pumped forearms. So long Kentucky, I hope to be back soon!

Ted, Me, and Ron on my last day.