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Red River Gorge + The Freedom To Climb

October 27th, 2010

I had my first taste of apple pie moonshine recently. As I tilted the half-full (or was it half-empty) Mason jar to my lips I was expecting an oral inferno of paint thinner injected crab apple juice, but instead offered a surprised “delicious!” before belting another slug. Katie’s sister made it. This fruity flavored hooch, more hobby than authentic bootlegging, brought to mind our nation’s dip into Prohibition, (piously given the misnomer, The Noble Experiment) but also reminded me that I was still standing and sipping in a ‘dry county’. I was in Slade, Kentucky, at the Red River Gorge (RRG), the southeast’s preeminent sport climbing paradise, emceeing on behalf of Petzl America at the 10th annual Rocktoberfest, the autumnal celebration of all things climbing.

The Access Fund, founded in 1991, makes sure we have access to and the preservation of climbing environs. The AF also inspired many local offspring to climb, and like a good parent steadily partners with them to achieve their likeminded goals. Perhaps the likely frontrunner for ‘favorite kid’ is the Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition. The Red is located in the heart of the Daniel Boone National Forest, a 1,100 square mile strip of Appalachian forest that boasts more than 3,000-miles of sandstone cliffs. While I was there I took the chance to fly over a portion, in an experimental plane akin to a flying Altoids tin, only flimsier, and saw not only my life flash before my eyes but lifetimes of crags to explore.

This was my third and favorite installment of mic wielding at the weekend long event, which includes live music, canned films, pro-climber led clinics, a Cajun-style feed and almost as many raffles raising funds for the coalition as blades of ‘tucky bluegrass. They set a record for proceeds and attendance and a personal best for weather — nary a drop of precip. And talk about ‘crowd gone wild’ for swag (a backronym for “stuff we all get”). I’m talking a froth of screaming, eye gouging fanatics, where each trucker cap and t-shirt tossed into the sea of waving arms were like droplets of blood amidst ravenous sharks. It was fun.

Spencer Victory, the Spike & General Lee of climbing films, complete with bull horn, had his dunk tank on site, (last year after my 15-minutes of celebrity douching I fought off mild pneumonia and severe beaver fever). His other perennial favorite, raised about $1,000, with participants paying a buck a shot to launch a water balloon at distant targets, including a 20-something guinea pig dubbed ‘Idiot Boy’, who walked in unwitting circles until being pegged square in the face, knocked senseless to the ground, requiring me to announce the dreaded line, “Dr Bob, Dr. Bob please come to the balloon launch immediately.”

Miguel’s Pizza, providing the southeast’s best pizza and nylon encampment for vagrant climbers, was jam-packed. My co-host, Lucan Anderson, a precocious 5-year old, raised twenty bucks by providing his person as a roving billboard for vendor stickers. The dyno comp was hopping with the womens’ comp embroiled in controversy over the only dynamic latch getting 1st prize. The event was the best on record and I am eager for 2011 when the leaves again turn golden and we descend en masse to Powell County to toast the preservation of wild places and the freedom to climb.

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