Climbing in Kentucky and Arkansas

Picture of group.

A group shot from the Land Before Time Wall.

I recently made the trek along with six others to Red River Gorge in Kentucky. This is one of the country's premier destinations for sport climbing, so the nine-hour drive from Madison is normally well worthwhile. Instead of staying at the famous and overcrowded Miguel's, we pitched our tents at Lago Linda's. There's a shelter for cooking, free hot showers and a lounge with a fireplace, making the $5 per night camping fee a great bargain. Plus on weekends Linda cooks blueberry pancakes or burritos for a reasonable price. I'll probably stay there next time I'm in the Red as well.

For our first day we went to Muir Valley and climbed at the Land Before Time Wall, an easy-to-medium grade sport wall that was bolted only a few years ago. It was a warm, sunny day and the routes were a pleasure to climb. We rounded off the day with a walk around the valley to take advantage of every minute of daylight.

We woke the next morning to the pitter-patter of rain which only grew heavier as the day droned on. The forecast for the next few days didn't look good either: falling temperatures and snow. After a group meeting, we decided on a change of scenery and spent the afternoon and night driving to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in northwestern Arkansas.

We got into the ranch in the middle of the night. We had rented the teepee, which was far easier than trying to find a campsite in the dark, but it was cold. It got down to something like 18 degrees that night and the teepee offered little insulation with drafts coming up through its floorboards. We shivered through the night and barely got any sleep.

Picture of climber.

Katie leading a route on our last day.

Climbing for the next two days was freezing, but better than what we would've faced had we stayed at the Red. Our biggest obstacle was dodging the falling icicles that had accumulated across the North Forty's walls. Still, everyone seemed to have a good time despite the freak cold front that was plaguing the middle of the country. After our second day at the ranch, everyone other than Katie and me drove back to Madison, but not before stopping at the Ozark Cafe for the best fried mushrooms we'd ever had and some damn good burgers to boot.

The following day Katie and I went to the east side of the ranch. Other than two women from Minnesota, we had the entire area (probably 100 climbs) to ourselves. The weather took a stunning change for the better with sunny skies all day and temperatures in the fifties. The few remaining icicles had fallen by mid-afternoon. The highlight of the day (and probably week) for me was Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, my first 5.11a lead. It was really a fantastic climb. Too bad it was just the two of us climbing together and we barely got any photos. But at the end of the day we met a solo traveler from Denmark named Hans who agreed to climb with us on our last day.

For our final day, Katie, Hans, and I went back to the North Forty, which was only a five-minute walk from our campsite. I had been wearing three pairs of long underwear for the last four days, and now I finally got to shed some layers. There was no more ice, which opened up the majority of climbs, including Sonny Jim, another 5.11 that had been covered in ice a few days earlier. We climbed route after route in the sun and greatly enjoyed Hans' company.

Because of the change of venue, we passed through St. Louis on our way home. Katie and I had made many friends there through Couchsurfing in the last year. Naturally we stayed in the city for the weekend, caught up with friends, and even squeezed in a tour of Missouri's wine country. Even though the weather caused us to drive hundreds of miles out of our way, it was a great week of fun times.

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