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Home of the Soul-Sucking Pump

Submitted by paul3eb on 2006-01-03 | Last Modified on 2010-02-26

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With a gasp of amazement that can only come from wrapping your fingers around a handle-bar jug, weather carved of the world’s hardest sandstone made sticky by crisp autumn temps, you scramble to the first bolt. You make the clip and run: good edge to a flat sidepull, catch the pocket for the thumb, pick your feet up, pause on the in-cut Gaston and stick the flat jug. It’s powerful and hard but not a real problem, maybe it’s even one of the easier cruxes you’ve pulled at the grade. Aside from the little twinge in your forearms (what is that?), you should have this route in the bag. You move on, eyeing the chains with a mix of excitement and impatience.

You clip another draw and push onward, and that’s when you begin to notice that the twinge in your forearms is more insistent, the pump heavier. Sweat beads on your brow and all of a sudden, the pressure in your forearms is overwhelming. As you grope for rope with which to clip another draw, the rumors and innuendo about climbing at the Red become painfully and crystal clear. This is THE pump; the point when your forearms leave you to do whatever they want (usually nothing).

You can tell yourself all day that the hold you’re on is great and but it doesn’t change the fact your hand simply won’t listen. Unsure of yourself, you drop the rope and all the slack you’ve pulled. Desperately, you shake out and shake up, but it’s gone; the strength has left. You watch in horror and humility as your fingers slowly open, despite all your screaming for them to close. Then suddenly, you taste first hand one of the cool, clean falls that echo through the Gorge every weekend.

When you finish and lower to the ground twenty, thirty, even forty feet out from your belayer, I would like to be there and be the first to say to you, “Welcome to the Red River Gorge, home of the soul-sucking pump.”

The Red defines the pump crux. Nowhere else in the country, perhaps even the world, will you find a higher concentration of high-quality, overhanging lines etched into brilliantly streaked and bullet hard orange, red, and black Corbin Sandstone. The cliffs here throw themselves in your face with

hundreds of feet of routes well past vertical and heavily adorned with (mostly) positive holds. Rarely is a route over after you’ve pulled the “hard moves.” Fall shy of having a healthy store of endurance, strength, patience and strategy and you’ll be guaranteed to

fall shy of the anchors. A solid pump is lowering from the chains with forearms that look like shattered windshields, your veins a seething web of acid heat and viscous exhaustion. In the Red, you will quickly understand the luxury of clean, airy falls and the precious advantages of tying in with bowlines.

If you don’t flash-pump yourself to complete failure, you’ll find yourself surrounded by hundreds of stellar routes in the Southern Region alone. With over 270 climbs currently accessible, it comprises the bulk of the Red's famously steep lines

The Southern Region, however, is steeped in a slick history of conflict and tension. In 1998, the Murray family, owners of the Southern Region, gave permission to the Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition (RRGCC) to develop and climb the cliffs on the more than 700-acres of land. This opened the floodgates for development. Once anxious climbers were allowed to bring their bolts and bells, they established upwards of 350 routes in rapid succession. Classics popped up quicker than kudzu. Climbers discovered wall after wall of unique and beautiful climbing waiting under ivy and vines. New areas included walls like Dark Side, a massive sandstone wave boiling with perfect bowling ball pockets riding its crest. Another find was Gold Coast, a vivid orange and black streaked wall with technical and powerful lines.

Shady Grove, a massive wall with huge holds hanging tenuously onto a face so steep your belayer will be need a neck brace by the afternoon, also soon appeared on the map. Add to this the Arena, with it’s perfect mix of dozens of moderate to project-level lines and Purgatory, a wall where you step through a foreboding rock window and find more than a half dozen already famous hard sport and trad routes. Only the bounds of the deed limit the potential for new lines. The past year alone has seen forty new routes go up in the PMRP area of the Southern Region. I would list all the classics but I might as well copy and paste the new guidebook.

But now, there’s another pump threatening our sends in the Southern Region. You can hear it as you clip bolts at Drive-By Crag, smell it as you drive to the Sore Heel region and see it across from the parking lot of Solar Collector. It’s under your feet as you hike to the Dark Side. It’s even in your cars as you cruise the city. It’s Oil, with a capital O. And, it’s not just picking the money from your pocket, it’s also trying to buy the land that makes the Red famous out from under our ropes.

In October 2003, the sound of hammers striking nails proved a bitter wakeup call. Signs saying “No Trespassing” and “Keep Out” appeared on the roads and parking areas in much of the Southern Region. Charmane Oil Company posted, without permission or authority, signs intended to prevent climbers from accessing the region. Despite communication from the Coalition expressing a desire to discuss ways to resolve any conflicts, Charmane continued its aggressive stance against climbers and in December 2003 began towing cars along the county roads in the region. And while these might seem like just annoyances, Charmane also took an incredibly bold step: though it didn’t own the walls themselves, it closed climbers’ ability to access the classically pocketed faces of Arena, Oil Crack, and In-Between Walls. All told, more than 80 routes are now effectively closed at these walls. Charmane Oil doesn’t pull punches; they’ve made it abundantly clear that climbers are not wanted in the area.

despite the oil company bidding in competition, the Coalition put its own offer on the table. On January 20, 2004, thanks to the generosity of the Murray family and support from donations, the Coalition signed a purchase agreement and placed a down payment for the 700-acres of land now called the Pendergrass-Murray Recreation Preserve (the PMRP) in the Southern Region. The purchase signaled the beginnings of permanence. And after four court decisions in favor of the RRGCC, there is some hope that court-ordered mediations will result in the reopening of Arena, Oil Crack, and In-Between Walls.

However, like most of the climbs in the Red, the paperwork was just the technical crux and the pump is yet to come. The true crux remains the lone obstacle to red-pointing the property: $350,000 by 2014 or nearly $30,000 every June. For the past two years, those payments were made faithfully thanks in large part (more than $83,000!) to local climber, and now RRGCC President, Dr. Bob Matheny and the Access Fund. Seeing this all the way through, however, will require the same skills you’ll need to climb in the Red: discipline, strength, persistence, efficiency, endurance, strategy, perseverance and good ol’ teeth-barin’, dogged determination.

There is one more thing, though, that you need to climb in the Red. You can’t build it in the gym or buy it from REI. It’s what Bill Ramsey wrote about in his piece in the new guidebook. It’s what’s behind the Coalition’s signs around PMRP. It’s what created climbing in the Red in the first place and it’s what will help keep it there for decades to come. It’s generosity, the generosity of those that came before us and established the many climbs, the generosity of those that bolted and cleaned while we climbed, the generosity of those that fought for us while we pumped out and the generosity of those near and far who gave what they could even when they couldn’t. Generosity made the Southern Region possible and generosity will keep it a reality.

Fundraising has now hit a critical point. As the excitement of the purchase wanes, so, too, have the donations. To date, more than $21,000 needs to be raised by June 2006. As the word gets out, people are stepping up. Just a few weeks ago at the beginning of December, that number was $27,000. There’s even a move to try to pay off the remaining balance of about $180,000 in a couple years. Aside from the financial benefits (which would be around $40,000 of interest), the amount of energy saved would help the Coalition focus on some of the several other issues facing the region like closures at Military Wall, archeological preservation, and organizing charity efforts for local communities. The route ahead is steep and pumpy but not beyond what we can do as a community.

And the oil company is waiting for its chance. Should the RRGCC default on its payments, Charmane has a standing offer on the table. And let there be no doubt that this will signal the end to climbing in the PMRP. That means no more Gallery, Volunteer Wall, Chica Bonita, Drive-by, Shady Grove, Purgatory, Left Field, Dark Side, Solar Collector, Far Side, Gold Coast, Playground and Bob Marley. That means no more “Paradise Lost,” “Dracula,” “Black Gold,” “True Love,” “Rebar,” “Back in the Days of Bold,” “Elephant Man,” and the more than 200 other routes in the PMRP.

Like a solid belayer, stay with the Coalition through this section. They’re fighting the pump but they’re getting it back. When the time comes to clip the chains, they know your generosity will ensure that they won’t be short-roped when it matters most.


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