“Let it go! The cold never bothered me anyway!!!”
My friend Elizabeth and I sang along with Idina Menzel at the top of our lungs from our rent-a-car, feeling like teenage girls about to go out on the town.
But instead, the two of us- far from being teens and far from home- were in a tiny town called Slade in east-central Kentucky.
Rock climbing often brings us to remote places. I’m not talking “private white sandy beach” kind of isolation here, our rock climbing destinations are more- how can I say it- interesting?
Slade, Kentucky, is made up of about 300 Kentuckians and some unique attractions. The most notable include the Red River Gorge and the Natural Bridge (naturally, a bridge consisting of rock). But other worthy landmarks include Hoedown Island (I don’t know what happens here but it sounds like a good time) and the Reptile Zoo.
Apparently, the Reptile Zoo not only has one of the largest collections of venomous snakes in the world but is a hub for venom sales. Right there in little ‘ol Slade, Kentucky, snake venom is harvested for research purposes and developing antiserum. How they extract the venom I have no idea nor did they explain it on their website- and no, I did not learn how to to this in veterinary school. (Side note: I did collect a blood sample from a snake once, and because they don’t have big veins to poke, we used a doppler to locate the heartbeat and I stuck the needle right in that three-chambered reptilian heart- terrifying. The snake was fine.)
But I digress.
Elizabeth and I had big plans to visit these tourist hotspots on our rest days, but it just didn’t work out. However, we did have an amazing day exploring the trading posts, buying -and eating- lots of homemade fudge, and taking photos of each other in front of exotic animal statues. Why not?
Okay, so most of the time we were actually rock climbing. The Red River Gorge’s steep sandstone walls seem to have formed with us in mind. Each of the crags offer a unique style and there are thousands of routes to choose from, but it’s known for its wildly steep, long, forearm-failing climbs.
I was able to redpoint a climb called Dirty Smelly Hippie, 13b. I consider this to be in my personal top five best sport climbs that I’ve ever done. It came together pretty quick and I thought I’d try Angry Birds, 13c, just a few climbs to the right. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make significant progress linking the cruxes while the temps were decent.
And then the cold set in.
Most normal people would look at a forecast of highs in the mid-30s and cloudy for sport climbing and think- maybe we should go to the Reptile Zoo instead? But Elizabeth and I are not normal and we love rock climbing and so we went rock climbing.
Wearing everything we brought in our suitcases, we weren’t exactly feeling stealth and light. But we still did some amazing climbing, and Elizabeth sent her project called Mirage, 12c, on her fourth try second day climbing in the freezing cold. Super impressive.
The cold didn’t bother her anyway.
Back in Colorado, Chris and I were throwing around the idea of going ice climbing together. Chris had climbed a lot of ice in the past but I had never been. I was always intimidated about the cold factor, but after the Red River Gorge experience I felt ready.
So we set off to climb in Clear Creek Canyon, just a half hour from home, scanning the gullies for a frozen waterfall just off the side of the highway.
Chris spotted it, but unfortunately the climb didn’t look “in.” You see, the funny thing about climbing frozen waterfalls is it’s never quite the same. It forms differently each year and if the weather isn’t just right you either aren’t climbing it or it’s really risky. It’s common for premature ice to slough off in big sheets or for the entire block of ice detach with the swing of your pick.
Looking up at the ice climb, called Coors Lite, it looked a little scary. The ice was thin and the feature was melty and watery which was disconcerting to me, but Chris felt confident (or maybe he’s a good bluffer) with the lead.
Chris led his way up and, even though he hasn’t ice climbed in four years, he looked like an old pro. The first two pitches turned out to be not too difficult, but Pitch 3 out of 4 was particularly hairy. Chris gingerly made his way to the anchor, taking care not to stab his crampons too hard or pick too aggressively at the ice.
“This is not a typical ‘first day out’ ice climbing,” Chris laughed to me after he was on solid ground.
I won’t say I’ll be dropping my day job as a rock climber for ice anytime soon, but I did really enjoy being a beginner again- to be challenged in a different way. And the route Coors Lite, although not my beverage of choice, ended up suiting my taste just fine.
It’s important to try new things and be open to adventure. It’s easy to freeze- get stuck in our routines. So take that trip, try something new, do something weird. Because even though it can be painful and cold at first- let it go. This discomfort is short-lived and what remains after the thaw are memories that are everlasting.