Climbing Red River Gorge

Known as one of the best sport climbing crags in the world, Red River Gorge (aka The Red, RRG) is a sandstone mecca I have heard about countless times ever since I was introduced to the sport. The routes in RRG span across a vast area of national forest land and privately-owned acreages: Muir Valley, Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve (PMRP) and Miller Fork Recreational Preserve (MFRP), so The Red is wildly regarded as a place with lifetime of climbing opportunities for all skill levels.

There are over 400 routes ranging in heights from 20′ to over 200′ in the area.

For those not interested in climbing, the valley is also a great hiking destination, offering waterfalls, caves, and mountain streams.

Devin and I recently had the chance to visit RRG and climb the Bruisebrothers Wall. He cruised through the 5.7 ~ 5.9s whereas I struggled, but I did still manage to send all of them at the end! *happy dance* We ended the day attempting a technical problem on 5.10c:

Beta on the technical problem is shown below; scroll past this section to avoid any spoilers!

Beta for technical 5.10c

(1) Push against the left hand to balance. Lift up the right foot to step on a hold about waist level. (2) Push against both the left hand and the right foot and elevate the body. Lift up the left foot to the area just underneath the left hand. (3) Stand up and extend the right arm until a solid grab is reached. (4) Match both hands and push against the hold to shift the bodyweight left. (5) Find a good edge to grab with the left hand and shift body weight completely over. Voila!

I was too afraid to get past Step 1, but will be back to solve it for sure!

Since I was not lead certified, we booked our climbing session with Red River Gorge Guides. Our guide David was extremely professional, skilled, and safety-oriented. He had us start on 5.7 route first to gauge our skill levels, then decided on the subsequent routes to climb on the spot; throughout the session he also checked with us our route preference (length + difficulty) to ensure we were still having fun. Here are details of our trip if you are interested in booking a guide or visiting the area!

First Time In The Red

We booked a half day session with Red River Gorge Guides since it fit our schedule the best (Read more here: Booking with Red River Gorge Guides). The tour was really fun and insightful. We climbed the Bruisebrothers Wall in Muir Valley: an approximately 360 acres of non-profit nature preserve run by climbers, for climbers. There are over 400 routes ranging in heights from 20′ to over 200′ in the area. For those not interested in climbing, the valley is also a great hiking destination, offering waterfalls, caves, and mountain streams.

Direction to Muir Valley can be found on the valley website; this happened to be the direction shared with us by Red River Gorge Guides as well. We had no issue navigating to the parking lot simply by entering “Muir Valley Parking” into Google Map.

Muir Valley Navigation from Miguel’s Pizza. Map data (c) Google 2021

Upon arrival, we paid our $10 parking fee (cash only!) using the deposit box attached to the parking lot pavilion, and filled out an online waiver for the visit. Cell service in the park is spotty so I would recommend filling out the waiver ahead of time just in case. The waiver can be accessed by clicking HERE. AT&T did not load the waiver at all while T-Mobile loaded the form decently well.

When we arrived, our guide David was already sitting in the pavilion reading a book. At first I thought he was just another hiker enjoying the nice day out; thankfully Devin confirmed with him if he was our guide, otherwise we would have waited for another 30min for nothing! After introducing ourselves, David gave us a run down of what to expect, and asked if there was any gear we needed to rent. Since Devin and I both brought our own climbing shoes, harness, and chalk bag, we were only missing the helmets, and David quickly grabbed them from his car.

While we were there, other climbers also asked David recommendations on the 5.10 routes they were leading, and commented they should have booked a guide who knew the area.

Travel Tip: The pavilion is the last stop for running water and bathroom. There is a soda machine and a water faucet at the end of the pavilion, and a bathroom facility close-by. Make sure to use them before the hike!

The trek to the climbing wall was a bit more of a hike than I expected. We followed a steep path to the valley floor, crossed the creek, then continued on the trail up a hill to arrive at the Bruisebrothers Wall, by the Rebel Branch Hollow area. There were already some climbers sending the routes when we got there.

David Setting Up Rope

Throughout our climbing session, Devin (lead certified) helped belay David up the wall to set up the rope and quickdraws while I documented the experience with pictures and videos. The first route David set us up on was straightforward like a ladder. The subsequent ones required more of a maneuvering alongside the surface of the wall. On those routes, David would leave a directional quickdraw to make sure the rope doesn’t swing out too much if we fall. The first person would unclip the rope from the directional quickdraw on the way up, and clip it in again on the way down so the next person can use it. The last person climbing would then help remove the quickdraw from the wall so David doesn’t have to climb up again.

Directional Quickdraws

This was my first time using a quickdraw. When I was tasked to unclip the quickdraws, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to; I don’t like to intentionally let go of the wall and it seemed like I needed to use two hands to remove the gear. Turned out, the task was pretty straightforward and can be done single-handedly as long as I had a solid footing and a strong handhold. Definitely a fun learning experience!

For more details about available climbing routes in the area, check out Mountain Project’s through guide on the subject.

Why Hire A Guide?
David setting up rope

Plenty of the routes in the valley were taller than what I normally climb in the gym, so I felt scared to do certain moves at a few areas. Fortunately our guide David was very attentive and any time he saw me stuck on a problem, he would recommend methods for me to implement and solve the problem. While we were there, other climbers also asked David recommendations on the 5.10 routes they were leading, and commented they should have booked a guide who knew the area. If climbing in the outdoor is something that sounds interesting and intimating at the same time, a guide would absolutely be beneficial, and we enjoyed our tour with Red River Gorge Guides.

When I was tasked to unclip the quickdraws, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to; I don’t like to intentionally let go of the wall . . .

The only caveat we experienced with Red River Gorge Guides was the lack of instruction from the company before the trip. Since this was our first time booking with a guide, Devin sent some questions before the trip with background on our skill levels to get a better picture of what to expect. The company promptly responded, but only shared a map showing direction from Miguel’s Pizza (a must visit if you are in the area! ) to the meet up location, so we were still pretty confused. Would have preferred a sentence or two saying something along the lines of “There are tons of routes in the area; we can choose which one to climb on the spot. Let’s discuss everything at the meet up location.” Other than this, the tour was totally worth it.

Tips for Visiting RRG
  1. Read the respective rules & regulations of the area. Muir Valley; Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve (PMRP) and Miller Fork Recreational Preserve (MFRP).
  2. Cell service in the park could be spotty. Fill our any waivers ahead of time: Muir Valley, PMRP and MFRP.
  3. Bring plenty of water and wear a pair of comfortable hiking shoes.
  4. Check climbing gears before arrival: Rope, quickdraws, helmets, climbing shoes, climbing harnesses, chalk.
  5. Hire a guide if climbing in the outdoor is something that sounds interesting and intimating at the same time.
  6. Don’t leave without visiting Miguel’s Pizza!
Must Visit: Miguel’s Pizza

There was a reason map into Muir Valley was drawn with Miguel’s Pizza as the starting point. Considered as the central location where climbing information are disseminated, Miguel’s Pizza provides campground, shower + restroom, gear shop, and meal for climbers and hikers who visit the area. Climbers could set up camp behind Miguel’s Pizza, purchase or repair gear with the shop, and share information with each other in the camper-only pavilion after the climb, all while devouring the made-to-order delicious pizza. At night there are also chances of seeing the sky lit up with brilliant stars. I have heard Devin raved about the community at Miguel’s even before the trip, and it truly was an eye-opener seeing how this single restaurant made such a big impact on the several thousands of climbers who visit annually from all over the world.

Miguel’s Half Pizza

Comment below if you have climbed in The Red or are planning to go!

Cheers,

ShuMui

Published by Shu Mui

An outdoor enthusiast whose goal is to see the world, one step at a time. This blog documents my journeys and I hope you can leverage them for your trips. Bon voyage!

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