Autumn Climbing Review: Red River Gorge
The Red River Gorge in east-central Kentucky is a mecca for climbers. Full of waterfalls, rock shelters and sandstone cliffs and arches, the gorgeous landscape is matched by the quality of climbs up the rock faces. Every autumn, men and women from around the world come to try out famous routes and to mingle with the top athletes in the sport over beers around campfires.
This year has been a particularly exciting time in the remote Kentucky hills, as climbing prodigies Adam Ondra (19, Czech Republic) and Ashima Shiraishi (11, United States) made history on the rock. The routes they climbed are rated based on the size and availability of holds, as well as the degree of overhang. The current system extends from 5.0 to 5.15c, with higher numbers and letters indicating harder climbs.
Shiraishi went to the Red River Gorge with one goal: To climb her first 5.14a. After accomplishing that goal on her first day, however, she set her sights higher. Within a week, she had bagged Southern Smoke and Lucifer, both rated 5.14c. This made Shiraishi the youngest person to ever climb the grade.
Ondra arrived in the gorge with the mission to climb routes sight-unseen that otherwise would be relatively easy for the man who recently established the hardest climb in the world. After smashing the hardest the Red had to offer, Ondra bolted a new route—one he felt sure would give him some trouble. After working through a few sections of the new project, Ondra said the route would be a “lifetime project.”
Not only did Ondra conquer the Red’s most difficult climbs, he also helped re-evaluate their ratings, suggesting that the famous climb Pure Imagination be downgraded to a 5.14c.
Daniel Woods, who climbed 24 Karats (5.14c) and 100 Ounces of Gold (5.14a) during his time in Kentucky, confirmed Ondra's assessment after becoming the first American to flash the grade. The decision has interesting implications for Sasha Digiulian’s recent record. A year ago, her ascent of Pure Imagination made her the first North American Woman to climb 5.14d.
Stay tuned for updates as climbing season in the Red River Gorge continues.