The Red River Gorge in Kentucky might not have the gargantuan mountains of the Rockies or the hefty bouldering spots found in the Southwest, but the sandstone climbs here are still some of the best and most difficult in the country. If you’re looking for a real challenge amidst some beautiful scenery and pretty amazing pizza, there’s no better place east of the Mississippi. Next time you’re near The Red, test your might at these epic climbing spots.
Phantasia wall has some of the biggest jugs in the North Gorge. One of the toughest climbs in Twinkie, a 12a steep line sport climb that makes even the most seasoned climbers quake a little in the knees. For a slightly simpler climb, but still, pretty fun, check out Creature Feature, a 5.9 that’s a bit of a guilty pleasure for even the more experienced climbers but still fun for the novice too. Phantasia has over 20 climbs in all so it’ll keep you busy a good portion of the day.
The wonderful thing about North 40 is that you won’t find any beginners hanging around here to cramp your style; every route is 5.11 and up, as long as you ignore Summer Breeze. You can just use that as your warm-up. The real gem here is Amarillo Sunset, a hulking 5.11b climb full of slopers toward the bottom that shift into endless underclings near the top that’ll wear your arms out before you make it to the crux. If that doesn’t do you in, switch over to Swine Flu for the toughest route on the wall.
The Motherlode is, simply put, what climbers’ dreams are made of. It holds the most trad and sport routes in The Red and the potential for some amazingly fun whippers to boot. The Madness, one of The Red’s signature climbs, has 120 feet of 50-degree overhang and is the source of a lot of screams. The real challenges here lie in Thanatopsis and Cut Throat, 5.14a and 5.13b routes, respectively, that contain big moves and a little bouldering skill to make it to the end. Climbers can spend months trying to conquer all the available sport climbing in the Motherlode.
Midnight Surf is one of the most awe-inspiring areas in The Red thanks to the walls that overhang to the point of resembling a wave. It’s also home to some of the best mid 12 climbs in the area. Cell Block Six is designed to crush your forearms with heel hooks and dynos necessary to make it to the top. It’s incredibly steep but, then again, so are all the climbs in Midnight Surf. Shiva is the baddest beast available here, but if you’re looking for a warm-up then Mellow Yellow will probably do.
Bob Marley Crag
If you think that this crag is for the laid-back climber looking for an easy afternoon of big jugs and simple jams to keep you afloat, you’re in for a challenge at the Bob Marley Crag. It houses what is arguably one of the best climbs in the East with Ultra-Perm. The overhang here will have your forearms pumping before you even reach the crux, which is a seemingly endless stretch with nowhere to rest between each clip. There are more routes here than you’ll ever get to in one visit, from the grossly simplistic 5.7 Getting’ Ziggy With It to the monstrous 5.15 Your Heaven, My Hell.