Jake McCrary

A terrifying adventure in the Red River Gorge

Moses, Adam, Seamus, and myself leave Chicago late Tuesday afternoon and drive down to the Red River Gorge. We arrive at the Land of the Arches campground around 2 AM Wednesday and setup camp. We wake up late Wednesday, make some coffee, and head to Muir Valley for some midweek climbing.

Recent weather has been pretty rainy and we get the occasional sprinkle throughout the day. We head to Indy Wall since the guidebook claims it will be alright in a light rain.

This is mostly true. A couple of the routes are wet, but we’re able to climb on plenty others. Indy Wall is the home of the first bolted route in Muir Valley. Unfortunately, this route is wet. At Indy Wall, we climbed

  • Face Up To That Arete, 5.8
  • Makin' Bacon, 5.10d
  • Social Stigma, 5.11b
  • Peer Pressure, 5.10b
  • Posse Whipped, 5.12a

Posse Whipped went really well. I think I fell once or twice but it felt completely doable. Just need to remember the beta for next time (and then try a couple more times). Social Stigma was also a ton of fun.

Next we decided to hike over to The Hideout and we knocked out a couple routes there.

  • Dance of the Druids, 5.9
  • Mantle Piece, 5.10

Adam hasn’t led in a while and hangs the draws on the slabby 5.9. Seamus and I squeeze in the fun 5.10 next to it. It is pretty great.

Post climbing, we head to Miguel’s and chow down on some pizza. Brendan, Seamus’s cousin, is also in the RRG and we hang out with him for a bit.

We try to make a fire Wednesday night and fail. It is slightly wet and we lack a hatchet or any fire starters. Those items would be definitely useful to bring on future trips.

We get up earlier on Thursday and go to Miguel’s for a hearty breakfast. Then we head back to Muir Valley. The weather is beautiful and we go to The Boneyard. The day is full of fun climbing. Below are the routes.

  • Cinderella, 5.9
  • Lucy Goosey, 5.10b
  • One-Armed Bandit, 5.9
  • Captain Blondie Sinks the Ship, 5.11a
  • Glide, 5.12a

I tried Glide as my last route of the day. It has a very blank looking section about three bolts up. There are a few very thin crimps here. I was shutdown. I’m not sure if my beta was wrong or I need to try harder. It was fun but if I’m going to try it again, I’ll need to spend some time hanging on tiny edges on my hang board.

For dinner we head to the Red River Rock House. This place is always good.

Friday we start early and have granola bars for breakfast. We went back to Muir Valley and headed to Sunnyside. There we climbed

  • Kokopeli’s Dream, 5.9
  • Machete, 5.10b
  • Some Humans Ain’t Human, 5.10c
  • Dingo The Gringo, 5.10c
  • Suppress the Rage 5.12a

There are some fun routes at Sunnyside and we didn’t even hit all of them. Once again, I attempted the 5.12a. It had a lot of fun movement. I was once again shutdown about 4 or 5 bolts up. I had a hard time doing a slightly bigger move and latching the next hold. Seamus was able to hit it and make it look doable.

Seamus was amped about the route and felt like it was something we could do. I tried again and failed again. I lowered to give Seamus a break from belaying before he jumped back on the route.

This second attempt wasn’t as good as his first but, after a few falls, Seamus makes it to the top. He clips in to the top anchors and, since he is rappelling to clean, asks to be taken off belay. I take him off and putz around the crag gathering our things.

All of a sudden, I hear a “whoaaa” and look towards the sound. This is when Moses, Adam, and myself see Seamus fall through the air and bounce off the giant boulder beneath Suppress the Rage.

We spring into action. Adam rushes over to Seamus to check on him. I grab my phone and dial 911. Moses runs down towards the valley floor looking for a white tube with a radio (to call for help in case I can’t get through on my phone).

Luckily, Seamus is breathing but probably unconscious. Adam attends to him while I talk with 911. Meanwhile, Moses finds some other climbers and enlists them to help.

Seamus comes to and tries to move. He is in an awkward position with his face down in some leaves. Adam and I carefully rotate him onto his back with his head wound above his chest. Seamus doesn’t know what is going on, but he is talking and able to move his arms and legs. Adam and I keep trying to get him to stay still.

The Wolfe County Search and Rescue start showing up and they take over. They get Seamus into a stretcher with a single wheel while the other climbers help clear the trail of any logs. We get Seamus down to the valley floor where he is transferred to an ambulance which takes him to a helipad. Then he is flown to UK’s hospital in Lexington. During this, I call Brendan to let him know that his cousin just had an accident.

Moses, Adam, and I hike our gear out of the valley (big thanks to the other climbers that helped us get our gear down to the valley floor and helped get Seamus out) and pack up our tents at Land of the Arches. We head to Lexington to stay with Seamus.

It is a frightening evening of doctors figuring out what needs to happen and doing what they can to take care of Seamus. In the end, Seamus broke his back and fractured his neck. He ended up having surgery to put some hardware in his back and is stuck in a neck brace till he heals.

(Aside: I wrote this a couple months after the accident and am editing and publishing it near the end of 2018. I can happily report that Seamus is doing great and is back to climbing.)

McKenzie was planning on coming down to Kentucky that Friday to camp and climb with me since Seamus, Moses, and Adam were going to leave for a wedding on Saturday. She still came down, but instead of climbing we explored the Lexington area.

I stayed in the hospital till McKenzie got down to Kentucky and we find a hotel room for the night. The second evening we found a great campground alongside a river and had a good evening there.

We spent our weekend doing a Four Roses bourbon tasting and trying out various restaurants in the area. I’ve been down to Kentucky so many times to climb but barely at all to do non-climbing activities. It was pretty enjoyable.