Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Cumberland Plateau

December 21st 'Winter' officially begins, but, for those unlucky enough to still be East of the Mississippi (specifically that unruly tribe most recently ensconced at Miguel's), old man Winter sunk his overgrown claws into our tender, rock climbing meat hooks entirely too early.

The pulchritudinous New River Gorge.
As I recall, Thanksgiving smiled upon us as unseasonably balmy temps soared above 70.  We wore shorts, smiles, and tryptophan bulges above the waist line.  But to our chagrin, within days it was 40 degrees further south and our rock climbing paradise had been transformed into a frigid sand castle.  How stark the contrast, we had traded shorts for numb appendages.  For a week we played 'pretend', acting out our misguided optimism, continuing our diurnal climbing routine.  But, after so many days of illimitable warmups, jumping jacks, and sabotaged efforts, it was time to throw in the towel.  There were several inches of snow blanketing Lago Linda's when I pulled the plug.  Forecasts called for cold, snow, and unhappy fingertips.  I headed South...

Pete Chasse puttin' the hurt on Mosaic 12c.
Forgive me, I've gone and time warped again. To bring up to speed, let me explain that we had a great first week in the Red River Gorge before Tiff left me...  ok, she didn't really 'leave' me, but took a three week sabatical, visiting her pregnant sister Kristy and brother (in law) Ron in Colorado Springs.  As you can see in the photo above, we are crazy about each other.

So, after ticking off at least .000198 percent of the New River Gorge sweet routes, we made the 4 hour pilgrimage West to the Red.  It had been almost 2 years since climbing there with Bret 'albino rhino' Johnston, and I was looking forward to doing new routes and finishing some unfinished business.

Primarily, I love the Red most for one reason: options.  The vast majority of its routes have limitless features.  When moves get big there is always some high foot that enables the possible.  The other reason I adore this place is that there are no hard moves.  Endurance climbing defines the Red; though there are a few 'bloc' routes to be had.

After an initially soggy start, we experienced some of the Red's finest at crags like Roadside, Muir Valley, the Gallery to name a few.  One of our favorites was a 5.8 at the Gallery known as "27 years after".  It was stellar!  Earlier in our trip I had told Tiffers so much about the climbing here, and it was great to see her self confidence propel her up many fine lines.

Tiffers totally dominating.
As per camping, we spent a few nights at Lago Linda's.  It is one of the best camping deals around.  For 5$ a head one can have a hot shower, internet (when its working), water, a covered pavilion area, and miles of walking trails.  Not too shabby!

It was there that I ran into many familiar faces.  Peter and Lidija Chasse were a couple I hadn't seen for five years.  They were in residence with their adorable pug "Buster".   I can attest that this gregarious guy steals the show at the crags; and, he will certainly steal a spot on your rope bag if you're not watching.  We love you Buster!

During the early afternoon of Nov 22nd, after a lovely half day of climbing sunny sandstone, we headed to Lex, picking up a cold Ale 8 ginger ale en route.  Little did we see the imminent debacle.  As we pulled near the airport (read: only 20 minutes away) we found ourselves caught in a concrete gridlock.  Had we had opportunity I would have pulled off the freeway beforehand.  But, as fate

would have it we were inexorably stuck.  Though we could see flashing lights a quarter mile down the way, the scene exuded an unmistakable truth, we were trapped until further notice.  After 50 minutes of idling, our anxiety was apparent and I was beginning to consider the idea that she might not make her flight.  But happy day, when hope was most feint we started to move.   From there it was smooth sailing.. With 30 minutes till lift off, we said our goodbyes and she was off to Colorado.

In a nutshell, I restocked provisions and headed back to the Red to get my game face on.  I was super psyched to finish up Omaha Beach: a route in the famous Madness cave.  This quintessential pumpfest had spit me off on my previous trip, when injury, and wicked jug rash had taken their toll.

Fast forward, a few days getting my groove on, ole man winter made his blitzkrieg.  Ahhh, I did have an opportunity to get back on this beast and re-familiarize myself with the moves.  It felt great!  But, once it got real cold all aspirations were quickly vaporized.

The Red is so much fun.  It even made me do a male Bandaloop dance.

This is Miguel's several days after Thanksgiving.  Brrrr.
Mke "the situation" Williams.
My Hero Pete, he crushes rigs.  And Lidija slays rigatoni.

On the morning of December 4th I very cautiously plowed fresh snow as I exited Lago Linda's Hideaway. It was my first time driving the rig in snow, and I had some anxieties over how it might perform; and I was more than nervous about the various descents on my way South, out of the Kentucky hills.  Much to my delight and peace of mind, she did just fine, and before long I was snug and warm at Starbucks, sipping overpriced coffee, and engaged in a skyp-o-thon.  Free internet has a way of diminishing the sting of a 5 greenback latte.  

Later that day the roads turned to slush and I sallied onto the Interstate heading South.  Five hours later I pulled into Chattanooga.  I found a 'nice' motel to park in for the night.  And of course, there was plenty of free internet to facilitate the acquisition of meteorological data and one too many bug eyed Facebook sessions.  BTW: does anything really happen on this website?  What is Facebook?  Of course, I've heard it is way cool; and therefore, I have a Facebook account.  

Back to the weather, predicted high's had slipped back 10 or so degrees.  Classic areas like Obed, Foster Falls and mighty T Wall would have to wait... so further South I went.  Later the next morning I met up with Mike "the situation" Williams.  Mike and I had met at the RRG, and it was serendipitous that we were able to meet up.  He had executed the snowy pilgrimage from the NRG; which had for two weeks been a frigid purgatory, with only his small woody to maintain his mesomorphic frame.  This man drinks forearm "crank" which gives him a mad skills when orbiting sustained overhanging face routes.  

Around 9am I caught up with this road warrior and his rig "mad max" at the KFC parking lot in Fort Payne, AL.  Mike had purchased and converted "max" around the same time as us.  And we had a great time giving respective tours.  But really!  Don't you just love to start the morning hours with a 60 piece bucket of Colonel Sanders Hot Wings?  Am I bluffing?  Well, yes I am.

I'm going to spare you the detail of our sport climbing conquests.  I'll just say that we had an alright time at Little River Canyon.  We both nailed the super classic 'Unshackled' 13b and sent several powerful routes at the Concave wall.  But frankly, it was cold.  After a weeks worth of climbing attempts and rest days we parted ways as Mike headed to Arkansas to experience the Horseshoe Ranch and ostensibly better weather.  With no partner, and an even grimmer forecast, I drove to Nashville to spend the week with my sister Loni and my nephew Beau.  They moved here 5 months ago. It has been a real treat to spend some time with them and escape winteresque van dwelling.

Jubilation!!!  In two days my wife flies in!  She has had a marvelous time in Colorado Springs visiting family and friends.  To everyones delight, Nikolas Christopher Kutsch entered the world on Nov 28th.  He came in at just under  8 lb's.  As you can see, he found the perfect shoulder to lay his troubles down on.  Isn't he cute?!

Tiffers and I are planning on spending Christmas with my Sister, Beaumont, and Sammy Hudson!  It is sure to be filled with delicious food, warm smiles, and copious laughter.   But, prior to that we are going to spend some days exploring Eastern Tennessee.  The forecast is looking much more optimistic currently.  Temperatures have risen above freezing here in Nashville and if we're lucky we might even see some sunshine next week.  Fingers crossed...

We're still unsure where we will be in 2011.  Though, adventure will definitely be on the menu.