Friday, January 24

Triumphant Return

The story begins twenty years ago.  January 1994 my best friend from high school and I took off for the See Rocks to try our hand at rock climbing.  We could see the rocks from his driveway and he claimed to have climbed (or in the local parlance “clumb” rhymes with “dumb”) all three rocks in a day once.

North and Middle Rocks from the South See Rock

I followed Andy across South Fork, up a steep hill, and around to the base of the northernmost of the three humungous rocks.  We scrambled up to a ledge, traversed around to the cold, dark north face and he pointed up. 

“Up there?!”  I cried.  It was a vertical face about 40 feet tall.  There was a frayed metal cable dangling from the sky.

He nodded and began climbing.  The route was easy, except for the blank section about 20 feet above the ledge just before the exposure got real.  At that point Andy yarded on the cable and aided past the blank section Batman style.  I followed Robin-like to the summit of a holy-summits-batman real high point.  I felt like a rock climber.  That’s all it takes, right?

Getting down was treacherous.  Frictioning over icy slabs is one thing.  Reversing ice friction on a downclimb is another story altogether.  I’ve ever since had a nostalgic affinity for climbing in winter.  I also learned right out of the gate never to climb into a situation you can’t get yourself out of.
I returned years later and attempted to rope-solo the route free.  It felt like about 5.7 X without the cable.  And that was after I placed a low protection bolt.  The day I returned to free the North Face of the North See Rock I summited all three rocks in a day like my friend claimed to have done when we were little more than kids.

Summit of Minas Tirith, 1994
I was a stylish climber if nothing else

In twenty years I’ve clumb a lot of rock.  I was never a hard climber, though I’ve climbed 5.12 and V5.  Took some whips and ripped some gear.  I’ve onsight rope soloed obscure trad in the Gorge area.  I’ve bouldered hundreds of problems all over the area.  I finally got to climb in the Flatirons and the South Platte of Colorado, but I had to move to a different time zone to do it.  Spent some time in Vedauwoo.  I’ve flung a little chalk about in North Carolina.  Gunked it up once for a couple of days.  Heck, I’ve even bouldered in Central Park.  Got to bag some real peaks.  And I’ve got lists longer than Hugh Loeffler’s arm of routes I still want to do all over the world.

And now, twenty years after it all began I’m back in Kentucky and back in the Red where it all began.  I’m sorry to say I’ve been an unfaithful climber for more than a few years.  I should ask the congregation to forgive me, overlook my long forsaking, and forgive me in advance for all the goofy things I’m going to say that inadvertently start flame wars on Red River Climbing (dot com!).

The biggest difference now, twenty years after I started climbing, is that I now have two little minions in tow.  One just turned seven, and one is going to be eleven soon.  I might be starting them a little late, but during all those early years I dreamed about having kids to share the experiences with.  I dreamed of watching my progeny tear down the walls of the Red River Gorge.  I dreamed that someday my little ropeguns would string up top ropes for their dad while listening to the old war stories with knowing grins. 

So if you see a socially awkward blabber-mouth tooling around the crags backing off the third bolts of easy climbs while reiterating to his children the importance of practicing their clove hitches stop by and say “hi.”  For the record I just want to say…

I’m back!

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