Red River Reflections

Green.
Joel Unema on Charlie, Red River Gorge, KY photo Blake McCord

Joel Unema on Charlie, Red River Gorge, KY
photo Blake McCord

Like the moss on the sun-deprived alcoves of Corbin sandstone.

Like the early fall foliage before fall’s first freezes.

I was green.

Early October found me driving 1800 miles with one of my best friends and partners for both of our first season in the Red.  Like the faithful making their pilgrimage to Mecca, devout climbers from across the states and abroad congregate in the hollers of Kentucky’s Red River Gorge each year to experience the lush forests, the crisp fall temps, and the incredibly featured sandstone that make the Red the premier sport climbing destination in North America.

Both Blake and I had had a taste of climbing in the Red River Gorge, but neither of us had spent more than a few days, so as we drove through the flatlands of Oklahoma and Missouri, our minds were filled with dreams of an endless fall of steep climbing.

Fall in the Red River Gorge is made special not only by the incredible quantity and quality of climbing, but by the community of climbers and the collective excitement and momentum generated by these like-minded athletes.

Joel Unema on Racer X at Torrent Falls, Red River Gorge, KY photo Blake McCord

Joel Unema on Racer X at Torrent Falls, Red River Gorge, KY
photo Blake McCord

The progression of my climbing and the joy of attempting so many new routes was overshadowed by the lessons learned from new friends about motivation, perseverance, selflessness, and love.  Blake’s eye for beauty in climbing, people, and the natural world provides some great illustration for a few of the lessons learned in the Red River Gorge.

Green

Unfamiliar to the place and little known to the community, I was welcomed by a friend of a friend into a crew of a few climbers connected by roots in Colorado.

Martha,  Nathan, and Rannveig took us along for our first day, and we sampled some classics at Torrent Falls.

Martha Strain at Torrent Falls, Red River Gorge, KY photo Nathan Welton

Martha Strain at Torrent Falls, Red River Gorge, KY
photo Nathan Welton

Blake McCord at Torrent Falls, Red River Gorge, KY photo Nathan Welton

Blake McCord at Torrent Falls, Red River Gorge, KY
photo Nathan Welton

Rannveig Ammodt in the Red River Gorge, KY photo Nathan Welton

Rannveig Aamodt in the Red River Gorge, KY
photo Nathan Welton

The climbing at Torrent Falls was a perfect introduction to the Red, and the little crew formed that day stuck

together for the rest of our time in Kentucky!  Martha left only a few days later, but Nathan and Rannveig stayed in Kentucky for the rest of our time, and we became great friends.

As the nights grew colder and the first traces of yellow began to displace green in the canopy, we settled in to a routine of exploring new areas, enjoying rest days, and savoring good food, drink, and conversation with the community of climbers staying at the Land of Arches campground.

Joel Unema on Shiva, Muir Valley, KY photo Nathan Welton

Joel Unema on Shiva, Muir Valley, KY
photo Nathan Welton

Yellow.

Cheerful, happy, and warm as sun on the skin.

With endless routes to sample, great company, and good conditions, the climbing life can be so sweet.

Joel Unema and Rannveig Aamodt share fashion tips at the Red River Gorge, KY photo Blake McCord

Joel Unema and Rannveig Aamodt share fashion tips at the Red River Gorge, KY
photo Blake McCord

I learned much about joy in the face of suffering from the infectious presence of Rannveig Aamodt.  She is a talented climber, writer, and adventurer who has spent the past year and a half recovering from a serious ground fall from the anchors of a sport route in Turkey.  Her story is incredible and her recovery inspirational.  Read about it in her words at http://www.rannveigaamodt.com.  The joy she takes in every day spent climbing or just hanging out despite constant pain was a unique and powerful influence for me.

Nathan Welton in the Red River Gorge, KY photo Blake McCord

Nathan Welton in the Red River Gorge, KY
photo Blake McCord

As fall marches on, the brightness of yellow matures into the depth and warmth of orange.  Colors near their peak at the same moment climbing conditions are about to peak.

Orange.

In the heart of the prime season, we experienced our first taste of condensation… that atmospheric phenomenon in which the rock is cold enough for water to condense out of the warm humid air, saturating the surface of the rock and rendering thingsrrg2013-12

unclimbable.  We lost a few climbing days, but found beauty in some unexpected places.

rrg2013-17

904375_660189887345323_1404338354_o

Fall colors in the Red River Gorge
photo Nathan Welton

The sparks of yellow and orange quickly caught hold and blossomed into full-on fall fire, with every shade from amber to scarlet present in the flames of the forest.

Red.

Passion, beauty, and the climax of fall foliage.

Joel Unema on Jesus Wept, Red River Gorge, KY photo Blake McCord

Joel Unema on Jesus Wept, Red River Gorge, KY
photo Blake McCord

Joel Unema on Death by Chocolate, Red River Gorge, KY photo Blake McCord

Joel Unema on Death by Chocolate, Red River Gorge, KY
photo Blake McCord

Blake McCord soars in Muir Valley, Red River Gorge, KY photo Nathan Welton

Blake McCord soars in Muir Valley, Red River Gorge, KY
photo Nathan Welton

Fall’s flames burned hot, but eventually their fuel was depleted.

Green, yellow, orange, and red die.

Colors burn, leaves fall, seasons end, and brown is all that remains.

Brown.

Chocolate, sepia, tan, rust: shades of decay and the end of color.

Angie, age 9, climbs Golden Boy, Red River Gorge, KY photo Nathan Welton

Angie, age 9, climbs Golden Boy, Red River Gorge, KY
photo Nathan Welton

As the leaves began to lose their brilliant hues and sail away on cold November winds, the promise of the future and the cycle of rebirth began to show itself in the climbing community despite the inevitable arrival of winter.  Gifted young climbers have been making quick work of the hardest climbs in the Red in the past few years, and this year was no exception.  I had the opportunity to watch and climb with some truly talented and motivated kids.  The Edwards family, of Holbrook, AZ, has been climbing in the Red for several years, and this fall Rob and his sons Harry and Preston made the journey to climb in the Red.  Several other talented young climbers were making their mark on the Red this year as well, including Angie, age 9, from the Blue Mountains of Australia!

Harry Edwards on Lucifer, Red River Gorge, KY photo Blake McCord

Harry Edwards on Lucifer, Red River Gorge, KY
photo Blake McCord

Preston Edwards takes flight on The Castle has Fallen, Red River Gorge, KY photo Blake McCord

Preston Edwards takes flight on The Castle has Fallen, Red River Gorge, KY
photo Blake McCord

Joel Unema on The Return of Darth Moll, Red River Gorge, KY photo Nathan Welton

Joel Unema on The Return of Darth Moll, Red River Gorge, KY
photo Nathan Welton

As fall ended and the last leaves fell from the trees, Blake and I packed up and started the drive back to Arizona.  Memories of beautiful places and lessons learned from incredible people will linger in my mind much longer than any climb I managed to send (or not!).

The Red River Gorge is a gorgeous place to climb some of the best rock in the country and more than that, a special place to meet like-minded climbers in search of the same beauty in landscape and motion.

Driving back to Arizona, the conversation between Blake and I drifted from the incredible experience behind us in Kentucky to the crisp fall and winter conditions awaiting us in Arizona and the adventures still to come.

Joel Unema on Charlie, Red River Gorge, KY photo Blake McCord

Joel Unema on Charlie, Red River Gorge, KY
photo Blake McCord

Plans and dreams alight in the eyes of Joel Unema photo Blake McCord

Plans and dreams alight in the eyes of Joel Unema
photo Blake McCord

Thanks so much to Nathan Welton and Blake McCord for the incredible photos.

Big thanks to Mad Rock Climbing and Bluewater Ropes for their support.

Advertisements

One thought on “Red River Reflections

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s