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Lucky in Kentucky Part 1 Posted on 03.25.2012 by greg.kuchyt

Hiding in the hills of Eastern Kentucky lies the Red River Gorge, home to one of the world’s first-class climbing destinations. Sport climbers from around the world come to test themselves on the infamous overhanging sandstone cliffs that define Kentucky climbing. In fact some of the hardest climbing in the country is still going on there.

Many have come to refer to the Red River Gorge as simply “The Red”. I really don’t like this name and try to use the full name at all times, but for the sake of brevity I will sell out my values.

Climbing in the Red is a nice logistical change from climbing in the Adirondacks. The overhanging nature of the rock means that many of the climbing areas are completely sheltered from the rain, meaning you can climb even in a downpour. As conditions would have it, this was something that we took advantage of on a couple of rainy days. Additionally, many of the approaches are very short, as in 5-15 mins short. After a season of a lot of backcountry climbing last year, I was used to hiking miles to get to a cliff, so this “roadside” climbing was a welcome change of pace.

Since the Red is a world-famous climbing location, the area has grown to somewhat embrace and cater to the climbers. The local climbing scene centers around Miguel’s Pizza, an eclectic mix of campground, pizza restaurant, climbing shop, and hangout. Miguel has staked his claim as the preferred hangout of climbers by offering fields for tents ($2/person/night), a coin-operated bathhouse and laundry, and delicious food. The only thing missing from the equation is the universal constant of beer. Interestingly, the Red River Gorge is comprised of a jigsaw puzzle of counties, many of which are dry. As Miguel’s is in a dry county they stock a strategic reserve of the local favorite soft drink Ale 8₁, known as an “Ale 8” or “A late one”. My personal after climbing treat at Miguel’s is a 4-slice pizza (you can order 2,4, or full 8 slice pizzas) topped with chicken, spinach, green peppers or pesto and a couple Ale 8s.

On my previous trips I have stayed in either a cabin or a hotel (when you know someone with a plane your life changes). On this trip we were looking to go as cheap as possible but we wanted to avoid the chaos that is the Miguel’s camping environment. One of my climbing partners had spoken many good words about the Lago Linda Hideaway. So we chose to follow the praise and stay there. At $5/night/person with included water, covered cooking areas with a kitchen sink, showers, wireless internet, and a peaceful, secluded setting it is jokingly referred to as the “climber’s retirement campground”. In other words, for a campground it is palatial. I was really impressed with the facilities and the sense of shared responsibility from the patrons to keep the place in good order. I would emphatically recommend Lago Linda to friends and will stay there exclusively whenever I am climbing in the Red River Gorge.

Yosemite Part 2 (06.20.10 – 06.27.10) Posted on 07.14.2010 by greg.kuchyt

Day 9 (6.20.10)

We had to move camp out of Camp 4 and down to the Indian Flat campground in El Portal that we were lucky enough to reserve on Saturday. As well we needed gas and the gas in El Portal is about $4.00 a gallon, so we were told by a ranger to drive 30 miles to Mariposa where gas is significantly cheaper, a useful piece of advice. We ate lunch at the Happy Burger diner which had an incredible selection on the menu, as well as free WiFi! Over lunch we examined route topos and decided that we wanted to drive up to Tuolumne to see the conditions and if good, climb the Regular Route of Fairview Dome (5.9).

Day 10 (6.21.10)

We woke up with the plan of driving to Tuolumne and climbing the Regular Route on Fairview Dome. After driving all the way up there, I realized how exhausted I was (didn’t sleep well) and in general the lack of enthusiasm I was feeling. In general I just didn’t have a good feeling about the day. So I put the brakes on climbing that day, a decision that I struggled with the whole rest of the day and really beat myself up about. We drove back down into the Valley and hung out beach side for a while and relaxed, which allowed me to decompress a bit. With the extra rest day, we decided that a big day was in order for tomorrow. So we planned on the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral (5.10c/5.9 A0 or 5.10a). Since this was our plan, we took a walk up to the base of the route to scope the approach so we’d know where we were going the next day.

Day 11 (6.22.10)

Game day. We got an “early” start (6am) and drove into the Valley. Even with our recon mission the day before, we still got turned around a little bit on the approach because we took a more direct trail that we forgot to turn off of. We got the base of the route to find another party on the route, but they seemed to be moving quickly. Matt took the first lead, and linked pitches 1 & 2. I struggled, for no good reason, with pitch 3 and ended up not linking it with pitch 4 because we were going to let a party pass us. However, the party proved to be incorrect when they boasted that they climbed fast, so Matt took pitch 4 and then left us with the dilemma of whether to take the original 5.10c/5.9 A0 pitch 5 or the “50 crowded variation” which goes at 5.10a. While decide the leader of the aforementioned party joined us at the belay. Based on the fact that the second climbed slowly, I figured we could put some distance on them by taking the 5.10a pitch and I knew I could most likely free that pitch pretty quickly as it’s a short bit of 5.10a, then 5.8, then 5.6 all in a style that I’m strong at. Sure enough, I was through the crux quickly and at the bolts before the leader from the other team was anywhere to be seen near the bolts of the original pitch 5. We put a lot of distance on them in remaining pitches until we could no longer see them in the last 4 or so pitches. We topped out the route in about 7.5 hours, and I managed to find a nest of biting ants again at the top of the climb as I was bringing Matt up.

The descent off of Middle Cathedral, in general, sucked. We got totally lost and then we got separated trying to get to a commonly used bail anchor that lead to a rap route that landed us back on the proper descent path. We took close to 3 hours to get down, but we still made it down with plenty of daylight left, feeling quite pleased with ourselves for the route…and straight-up relieved that we made it down.

Day 12 (6.23.10)

Time for a rest day so we can recharge for our repeat attempt at the Regular Route on Fairview Dome in Tuolumne. We took our rest day in Mariposa and poked around at the shops and fattened up on fancy coffee drinks and pizza. After all this we drove back up into the Valley to check out a YOSAR helicopter training session. The training was happening on the route we had just climbed the day before, the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral. It was cool to see them up where we had been, just the day before. While watching the whole deal from the El Cap meadow, we met a pleasant older gentlemen who had climbed in Yosemite a little bit back in the 80s. We talked with him for a while and he filled us in on what teams were on El Cap and let us borrow his binoculars so we could see each team he was talking about. With nothing else to do for the day, it was a nice distraction from our usual process of trying to figure out what to do. After this we headed over to the Sentinel Beach to hang out in the water for a while and then headed back to camp to eat, set the rack up and pack, and get ready for the next day.

Day 13 (6.24.10)

The night before after dinner my throat started to become quite sore. I knew what had happened, but I didn’t want to believe it. Matt had been sick before the trip and had been getting over it the whole time we were there. I had finally gotten whatever had made him sick. I awoke to an incredibly painful sore throat that made swallowing and talking very labored tasks. I couldn’t even get any throat drops as there were no stores that were open. I spent the entire drive up to Tuolumne not really talking, which only made Matt nervous as to whether I was going to back out on this climb again. I was however, very committed to the climb if we could get to it and it looked like it would go. We didn’t know how much snow there was at the base or how wet the first few pitches were.

With all the snow on the ground we got completely lost trying to find the start of the route. Eventually we found it after meandering all around the snowfield at the base of Fairview. There was no party on the route, and no other parties in sight trying to find it. We had a good feeling. Matt took the lead and deal with a dirty and somewhat wet crack, though better than the “flowing with water” description the guidebook warned of in early season. We had gotten a late start after the drive and the mucking about searching for the start, so for the first 5 or so pitches, we both had that thought in the back of our mind that we might be on the route later than we wanted/planned to. Of the first 6 pitches, 5 are somewhat sustained. So we knew if we could get to the top of pitch 6, the terrain eased up considerably and we’d be ok. I think we reached the top of pitch 6 at about 2pm. We knew we had a good weather forecast, so we breathed a little easier. A couple hours later, and we were on the summit, 7.5 hours from the start of the route.

On the descent, we both agreed this was the best route we’d done in Yosemite. It felt like this route was an expression of the skills we’ve learned over the past few years with tricky gear/belays and forcing ourselves to push past pieces with long pitches and only 11 slings. We certainly didn’t set any records, or do anything to impress anyone. But we did it, safely, controlled, and within the guidebook’s time. To us, that’s a huge win.

Day 14 (6.25.10)

My feverish symptoms continued today. Even with Advil I wasn’t feeling 100% so climbing was not really something I was interested in. We had ended the day before on such a good note, I couldn’t see trying to climb our only remaining “obtainable” objective Central Pillar of Frenzy as a good idea. We knew that route would potentially kick out butts, and to do it being fatigued from the previous day and sick just didn’t make sense to me. Matt was in agreement, let’s end it on a note of success. So we basically just kicked it around the village for most of the day. We ate dinner at the Cafe (lodge cafeteria) and then headed back to start packing up to head back to San Francisco the next day.

Day 15/16 (6.26.10-6.27.10)

We packed up and headed back to San Francisco. The rental car needed to be back by 11:30 that night, so we took our time. We stopped in Berkeley and poked around the gear shops and then headed down to Fisherman’s Wharf area and did tourist stuff, went to the Patagonia store, and then grabbed dinner before heading to the airport to drop off the car and crash where ever we could. Our flight left at 06:00 the next morning, so we didn’t see the use in a hotel room…and we’re cheap. We ended up “sleeping” in the booth seats of a food court, though I’m pretty sure neither of us slept more than 30 minutes. Finally, 04:00 rolled around and we got up and headed to security and then to our gate to begin our trip home. After a couple hours delay in Chicago we were finally on the flight home. Foster met us at the airport; a trooper for dealing with our nightmare of a travel schedule being re-worked a few times. All in all a good trip.

Yosemite Part 1 (06.12.10 – 06.19.10) Posted on 07.04.2010 by greg.kuchyt

Day 1 (6.12.10)

Our plane leaves Syracuse around 15:00 destined for a stop in Philadelphia before our flight to San Francisco, destined for a 22:00 (Pacific Time) arrival. We got into to SFO and realized that we were effectively wrecked and needed sleep. We got the cheapest hotel room we could find and decided to get up early the following morning and pick up the rental car, take care of logistics, and drive to Yosemite.

Day 2 (6.13.10)

We picked up the rental car and after a bit of a complicated affair with filling out paper work to record all the scratches and such on the car, we departed the airport. I forgot that Matt had never been to San Francisco so he suggested that we drive out of San Francisco on the Golden Gate Bridge, which was a great idea! It’d been at least 10 years since I’ve been to San Francisco, so it was great to see a lot of things I recognized from my last visit as a kid.

So we drove out to Berkeley to hit an REI so we could stock up on “sport-specific” food. Basically we needed to buy energy gel. We both find that we really enjoy eating it while climbing. It’s easy, convenient, and light. After stocking up on gel, we programmed my phone with the directions to Yosemite and set off.

We arrived at Yosemite to find out that there were about 20 or so spots available at Camp 4 still, so we rushed into the Valley to try and get spots for ourselves. Luckily, we were able to walk right in to Camp 4 at like 4:30 in the afternoon. It’s as if the climbing gods were on our side!

The sheer size of most of the cliffs in Yosemite is at the least humbling for an east coast climber. We really don’t have large cliffs in the east. Wallface and Cannon are really the two biggest cliffs, with the latter being the most imposing. El Capitan, the Cathedrals, Half Dome, Sentinel, and the countless other cliffs stand menacingly above us dwarfing us in size and in spirit. The thought of climbing any route on these monsters, in a day, is intimidating.

Day 3 (6.14.10)

We decided that it would be best to “test” ourselves on some “short” moderate routes first. We decided on a couple climbs on the Manure Pile Buttress, an area whose name does not accurately describe the quality of the routes held on the formation. Two really good climbs are on this cliff, After Six (5.7) and Nutcracker (5.8). Nutcracker is a 5-star classic, with a lot of historical significance. It was one of the climbs Royal Robbins put up using “chocks” he brought back from the United Kingdom to prove they were viable.

After Six is an easy climb, with only one serious pitch (the first pitch). The upper climbing is broken up by a lot of easy terrain. We managed the route fine enough and decided to give Nutcracker a shot. Nutcracker was a step harder in difficulty, and also in terms of how sustained the pitches were (i.e. the climbing would be harder for longer distances). We found this climb to be more what we were expecting in terms of grading. The first pitch was a genuine Adirondack 5.8 that was fairly sustained. The crux pitch has a bad fall potential on a “scary” mantel, so I was super nervous about leading it, but the moves were not worth the hype. In my mind the first pitch is the crux of the route.

This was a good day to show us we could do a lot of pitches on moderate terrain and still feel like we had a lot left in the tank, so we called it quits for the day and headed back to walk around and eat a casual dinner in Curry Village; some of the most expensive, least appealing pizza we’ve ever had. Thankfully we were starving from 11 pitches of climbing.

Day 4 (6.15.10)

After our moderate success from the previous day we decided to step it up and get on Royal Arches (5.7 A0) which is 15 pitches. A longer single route than the previous days activity. From what we knew of it though, it was broken up by a lot of easier terrain, so we were hoping to move “quick” on it. In short, this day was a death by a thousand paper cuts. It took us 12 hours ground to ground to get through the route. We came up quick on a party on the lower easy section before you get caught up in more “difficult” climbing and have fewer options to pass a party. So we rushed like mad to pass this party because we figured we would stay ahead of them. The party had a quick leader but a slow follower. However, the leader didn’t mind being right up our ass all day. It was stressful dealing with this situation, as we would pull away from them on one pitch only to have the leader right up on us again when we got slowed down a touch.

Admittedly I was moving slowly this day. I just didn’t enjoy the type of climbing on the route. I also made a mess of the pendulum pitch as I’ve never done a pendulum before and I wasn’t sure how to use the fixed rope exactly. It took me a few tries to get it down to swing over enough to grab the ledge I needed to get over to. So I was just super frustrated at this point, I think I told Matt at that point that he was leading everything from then on, but I bounced back shortly after. I saw this awesome looking crack system, labeled “5.7 steep hands” on the topo and figured I would give it a go. It had to be because we were just tired at this point (we weren’t eating a lot because of the pressure of the leader in the other party) but I got shut down hard on this pitch. Off the belay I felt like the climbing was harder than indicated and ended up aiding through the 5.7 steep hands section. It just seemed awkward and hard for 5.7…and at that point I was only concerned with moving quickly, french freeing was my best option at that point.

We got off the route feeling roughed up; being in the sun for a long time, not having eaten much, & we kicked our water around the 14th pitch. We’re glad we did the route; for me it was Type II fun. I didn’t enjoy the style of climbing as much as I liked the idea of the whole process when all was said and done.

Day 5 (6.16.10)

We realized a rest day was in order when we both took a long time to get up to our 06:00 alarms in the morning. We also found out later in the day that we were only allowed to stay a week in the park, something we hadn’t been clear on. So we decided to take a good rest day to refuel, rehydrate, and plan out three days of climbing before we had to leave Camp 4 on Sunday and move to a camp site outside of the park. After we got our plan down, we decided to head out to Mariposa Grove to check out the Giant Sequoias there.

Day 6 (6.17.10)

We decided to do a medium volume day on the Five Open Books area to get ourselves acquainted with longer harder multi-pitch routes. We did Munginella (5.6) as a warm-up and Commitment (5.9) to see what 5.9 was like in Yosemite. We linked pitches on Munginella and did it in two pitches and then did Commitment. I found the moves off the ground (awkward 5.8) to be the crux on Commitment. The 5.9 section on the third pitch was hard but I had a bomber #1 cam in the roof right by the crux. Off the ground I had no pieces and was looking at a fall down the 3rd class scramble to the base of the route. I managed to find red biting ants on both Munginella and Commitment, securing my reputation for being the Pied Piper of ants. After doing Commitment we discussed doing another route but decided against it to rest up for the big day we had planned for Thursday, climbing Snake Dike (5.7 (5.4R/X)) on Half Dome.

Day 7 (6.18.10)

04:00 wake up. 05:20 marks setting foot on the trail after some digestive issues with team members is sorted out. We’re in for a big day here, about 16-17 miles of hiking with some bushwhacking and lots of 3rd class scrambling. We did the first 2.5 miles of trail which gains 2,500′ of elevation in about 80 minutes, so we were moving at a healthy clip. Getting soaked from the mist coming off Vernal falls helped that ability, as I was getting exceptionally cold at points until I dried out and the sun came out. We got lost trying to find the climber’s trail that breaks off from the main trail, not knowing it was only 50 yards up the trail so we lost a good 10-15 minutes debating what to do about that, and another 10 minutes or so due to further digestive issues a few minutes down the climber’s approach trail.

Day 8 (6.19.10)

Our last night in the Valley. After the previous long day we definitely slept in. As well we generally just kind of lounged around in the morning with plans to climb Super Slide (5.9) later in the day. The route is only 5 pitches and we planned to do it in 4, so we figured we could bang it out pretty quickly based on our progress so far. We ended up getting a later start than we wanted to due to lots of traffic on the shuttle buses. I think we started the route around 15:00 and ended up topping out the route around 17:45 or so. We’d been having really good luck so far, so it was time for our own little Yosemite cluster-fuck. We got the ropes stuck on the second rappel but after a bit of a cluster fuck another party coming up by us freed our rope for us. We remembered to get their tent site number so we could bring over some beer later that night to thank them.

Red River Gorge (3.30.10 – 4.2.10) Posted on 04.08.2010 by greg.kuchyt


roadside parking area

Busy Tuesday at Roadside Parking Area

We were wheels up around 06:30 and had and unusual NE wind that helped get us to Mt. Sterling, KY in about 3 hours. After picking up the dropped off rental car and driving into Slade on the famed Mountain Parkway, we chose to hit the Roadside Crag for a solid half-day of climbing. We got to the cliff around 13:00 (1 pm) and did an “easy” day just go get mileage in. We did the following:

  • Roaside Attraction (5.7 5-star Trad)
  • Five Finger Discount (5.8 4-star Trad)
  • A.W.O.L. (5.10a 4-star Sport)
  • Crazy Fingers (5.10c 4-star Sport)
  • Pulling Pockets (5.10d 4-star Sport)
  • Fadda (5.10a 4-star Sport)

We wanted to get on Andromeda Strain (5.9+ Trad) but the description and the look of the route made us wait to try and get on it after it had a chance to dry out. We ran into a nice guy who just moved to the area to work as a snake handler at the local reptile zoo (which doubles as a snake venom milking facility) who we made loose plans to climb with. Don and I then packed up and went to the hotel and realized the restaurant was closing so we then went down to Miguel’s to revel in the Gorge’s climbing scene and plan the next day.

Earthsurfer (5.11d)

Don on the lower section of Earthsurfer (5.11d)


We decided to head into Muir Valley with our new found snake handling friend. Specifically we went to The Hideout for the 5-star route Boltergeist. We climbed the following:

  • Moots Madness (5.10a 3-star Sport)
  • Boltergeist (5.10b 5-star Sport)
  • Bushwhacked (5.10+ 3-star Mixed)
  • Preemptive Strike (5.10c 4-star Sport)
  • Earthsurfer (5.11d 4-star Sport) [Greg only w/1 fall; Don climbed first half of route below crux)

At the end of the day, we hit up Miguel’s again with our reptilian wrangler friend and had a good day overall (probably my favorite day of the trip; mellow, enjoyable, and no stress)


Don and I resolved to trad climb today and we set our sights on the Long Wall specifically the two 5-star routes Autumn & Rock Wars. I think this is when things started to catch up to us. I know I didn’t sleep much that night and we were directly in the sun and the temps were over 80 degrees. We didn’t get a lot done, but we were also climbing “harder”. Here’s what we did:

  • Autumn (5.9- 5-star Trad)
  • Rock Wars (5.10a 5-star Trad)
  • The Gift (5.12a 5-star Sport) [Greg led to 6th bolt (above first technical crux, below upper power crux) after two falls and then bailed]

After I bailed on The Gift we wasted a lot of time trying to figure out what to do and then finally settled on just running up a nearby 5.10b sport route, Boom! Boom! Out Go the Lights. We both made it only to the second bolt and then finally bailed on the route due to sensitive skin and what felt like incredibly sharp rock that took any pleasure out of the experience. I just want to say the the Trango Squid is an awesome device that allows you to clean fixed quickdraws with ease. I think you can make a similar setup with a work clamp, but for $30 the squid is worth it to me. We retreated back to the hotel restaurant for dinner and made our plan for the next day; to climb for a half-day and then pack it up and head home.


We woke up early and headed off to Pebble Beach with Central Scrutinizer (5.9 5-star Trad) & Brontosaurus (5.10b 5-star Trad) being the main objectives. Here’s what we did there:

  • Scabies (5.9+ 3-star Sport)
  • Central Scrutinizer (5.9 5-star Trad)
  • Environmental Impact (5.7 4-star Trad)
  • Straight-Edge (5.12a 3-star Sport) [Greg attempted, bailed at the first bolt…no go juice]
  • Brontosaurus (5.10b 4-star Trad)

I pretty much hit the wall on Environmental Impact. My feet were really sore and I was climbing horribly to do whatever I could to not use my feet. I made it to the first bolt on Straight-Edge and just didn’t really feel like I had it in me to try and push through, so rather than hijack the rest of the day I bailed, only to get schooled on Brontosaurus. I just didn’t have the go juice to get through that without falling, thankfully seconding the pitch. I didn’t sleep well the night before and the aggregate exhaustion of the trip and the 80 degree weather of these past two days hit all at once. Thankfully, after Brontosaurus we were heading to the car and the airport.

All in all this was a much better trip for me in terms of performance. I didn’t suffer from the fall anxiety of the last trip at all and I managed to push myself on to a couple of really hard (for me) climbs. Don and I discussed it and I agree with him that the next trip I need to bang out as many 11s as possible to become rock solid at that grade. In all I took back a greater sense of what I’m capable of and a bigger ticklist for some climbs I want to try to attempt here at the home crag in the Adirondacks. We’ll see how this goes.