summer trip to RRG, KY

It used to be that our family would travel in the fall or the spring, when temps for rock climbing were at their best— or at least their most tolerable. There would be slightly intolerable temps/weather on either side of what worked specifically for climbing. In the fall when we would travel to southwest TX, climbing temps were ideal, hovering around 50-60 degrees during the day in the sunshine, sometimes warmer. But when we were not climbing, in the early morning, in the evening when the sun was already down, and overnight, temps would be well below that, sometimes even in the low 30s and upper 20s. That was downright cold if you had to be out in it at all. We had our van though, and we could cram in there with a heater and be quite cozy. If we went to southwest TX in the spring, temps were often much higher and we would chase the shade a bit more to climb during the day, still hopefully in the 70s. But evening and morning were quite cool and pleasant, and we could hangout. One thing we did not have to deal with much at all when we would travel in the spring or in the fall were bugs, especially out west, weather TX or CO or elsewhere. 

More recently we have not been able to travel in the fall or spring due to school and sports schedules. We have been limited to taking family vacations in the summer— never an ideal time in most places to rock climb. You have to be willing to drive a long way if you live in the northeast. A couple of years ago, we did alright though. We made a little tour out west of places in AZ, UT, CO and WY. Besides climbing a lot, we visited Mesa Verde, the Grand Canyon, and Rocky Mountain National Park. There was some rain, and sometimes it was hot, but mostly pleasant climbing conditions in the shade. These were mountainous areas so humidity remained pretty low in comparison to PA even if it rained. There were a few bugs in WY at the campground but not up high in the canyon where we climbed. The one downside of this trip was that it was a mite too long and there was some fighting at the end. Otherwise, it ranked near the top of the list as one of our favorite trips.

This year there were so many problems even trying to plan a summer trip. COVID19… need I say more? It was hard to plan ahead, so we didn’t even really nail anything down until June. We decided against destinations that were going to be high traffic tourist traps, like any of the main climbing areas or national parks in the west and southwest. After a lot of brainstorming, we decided to travel to Tucson, AZ, to stay with friends and climb locally on Mount Lemmon. Our friends were spending more time than usual up there (high elevation and cooler than summer desert temps). We could camp if we wanted to on the mountain, but staying in our friends’ guest house was also just fine. And they have a pool that would help since summer temps in AZ are in the 100s regularly. The plan took shape and seemed to be a done deal, until June 12 when Mount Lemmon caught fire. Then COVID cases began to flare in the urban areas of the state. And then, by July 4, the monsoon season had not yet arrived, so there was to be no relief for the dry heat that had settled in the southwest. Tucson, AZ, was completely out of the question. 

We could have taken a couple of weeks to go to WY. That seemed hard though since both boys are working this summer, and Seb especially didn’t want to take 2+ weeks off to find that he didn’t have a job when he got back. So we decided to travel closer to home to KY, for one week in July and maybe another week in early August. Kentucky is the home of the Red River Gorge which is a world class climbing destination. The RRG is not typically flooded with climbers in the summertime due to less than ideal climbing conditions (heat, humidity, precipitation = steaminess). We were able to find good camping at the Lago Linda Hideaway with water and electric hook ups for our pop-up camper. Kentucky also has remained pretty low on COVID cases, so we didn’t feel like we’d be risking our health going there.

On Sunday, July 12 we embarked. A storm front had cooled temps to 80s during the day and 60s at night and blew away some of the humidity. The first two days were pleasant for climbing, pleasant for camping, pleasant for feeling like we could relax and be on vacation. Then came Wednesday, our rest day, and temps shot up into the 90s again. Staying at the campground to rest was not an option. We were bickering, we weren’t relaxing. It wasn’t even noon yet, and it was too hot to sit outside, too hot to sit in the camper. Most of us were being slowly eaten alive by bugs. We had heard-tell of a good old fashioned swimming’ hole nearby, so we decided to go searching for that. It took two hours to finally find it, but what is two hours spent in an air conditioned car sipping on an Ale-81? Due to shoddy GPS coordinates to said swimmin’ hole, we were forced to traverse the entire roadway through that part of Daniel Boone National Forest and see some sights we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. We were able to joke and laugh and talk. It was good family time. When finally we did arrive at the parking lot for the swimming’ hole, we found it packed to the gills and the overflow pull outs along the road also taken up. So we decided to just find a spot somewhere along the river where we could be in the shade and wade in the water. Thus we spent a quiet couple of hours in the actual Red River, skipping rocks, cooling off in the shallow sandy water while our toes were nibbled by little fishes. 

The rest of our stay in KY spiraled downward with the increased heat and humidity. We rock climbed one more day, but rain brought with it such intolerable conditions. And since we were exhausted battling bugs the entire time, we decided to go home one day early. We could not break down camp fast enough that Friday morning, and we have not once cursed having to constantly use our air conditioning at home since. 

I daresay, we will not ever plan a trip to KY, nor anywhere in the south or east, during the summer months again. 

Let this be a record to remind me of that.