Dru Mack and his new sponsor, Canopy Crew. Photograph by Michael Lim

Dru Mack and his new sponsor, Canopy Crew. Photograph by Michael Lim

National Swiss climber, Katherine Choong, projecting Southern Smoke while training at the Red River Gorge. Katherine is sponsored by Mammut and Scarpa and will be training for the remainder of the month before heading back.

It's been nearly a month and just as we've settled into a daily routine, my brother and I are having discussions about mobilizing and making way to our next destination. Originally, we had plans to head towards Richmond, Virigina; a place that is becoming more well-known for quality tattoo artists, but given the approaching heat that settles into the east coast around this time of year, our destination might push us north of New York City or back towards the northern Mid-West of the country. Our considerations included Rumney, New Hampshire and the Gunks, New York before heading back west, but Rumney is nearing Black Flies season and the Gunks is already starting to heat up. All things considered, I find it hard leaving the Red River Gorge now that we've made friends with so many locals and long-term seasoners, all while our fitness and rock climbing ability progress.

Me, Trad. climbing the multi-pitch route, Bedtime for Bonzo, at the Red River Gorge. 

I can't imagine any one who would come down to the Red River Gorge for less than two weeks; there's simply too many climbs with plenty of opportunity to improve one's fitness. Albeit, most people, including the vast majority of climbers all have normal lives and responsibilities, but it's my personal belief that if one were to travel to the Red, your duration should be a minimum of a week due to fickle weather windows, acclamation to the rock, and fitness attunement . However, with spring and summer upon us, your starts have to be early before the rock becomes too hot to climb. 

As a beginning rock climber, I've found it not only intimidating, but a great eye-opening experience climbing with others who are vastly superior and stronger than myself. Their opinions and eye for what they wish to see in rock climbing photography, as well as their insight on how to climb more efficiently is invaluable. More importantly, climbing only outside has improved my ability significantly. Unlike my brother, I've only been climbing since our first big stop, Hueco Tanks, Texas; bringing the grand total of my experience to two-and-half months. Since arriving in Chattanooga, I've managed to tick off an ultra-classic V3 boulder problem known as, Ribcage; but since climbing on rope, I've come to realize it's a completely different game. The fear is much more palpable, the commitment to the next move feels much higher, and the consequences of poor safety practices can ultimately cost you your life.

Marcus V., affiliated Granola Products, climber pulling the lip and sending Blood Bath (5.12c), Bob Marley Crag, PMRP, Red River Gorge while Cody Grodzki, sponsored Granola Products athlete, provides the belay.

Just the other week, I saw a woman named Sarah. She bolted a 100 ft sport climb route at the Bob Marley crag, PMRP, Red River Gorge and fell 30 ft. out of the air while being lowered. The rope was a 60 meter that had been cut down and there was no safety knot at the end of the rope, to which it slipped through the Gri-Gri and the belayer's hands. My friend Edwin and I turned to each other and immediately started sprinting across the crag to aid what we thought was a dead woman. Luckily, her spine landed inches between sharp rocks. If she had landed any more left or right, she'd be quadriplegic and a busted left leg and broken left heel would be the least of her worries.

The sight of Sarah falling instilled so much fear, it's been tough to forget about. I was recently screaming obscenities with every move on a Trad-Route pictured above, questioning why am I doing something so reckless and pointless, and why the hell am I so far away from home. However, seeing the mistakes of others has made me more safety oriented. Now, I'm constantly checking my belayer, my rope, my knots, bolts and draws in an effort to avoid the realization of my greatest fear.

Because I'm still so new to the sport, I'm not quite sure how much I actually enjoy rock climbing on rope. Much like ballet, it's about physicality and gracefulness. A great rock climber seems to simply float upwards by finding the most fluid and resistance-free line up a cliff. Many climbers climb for different reasons. Currently, I only sport climb in an effort to quell my illogical fear of heights. The sequence of moves is not what drives me to climb, but simply finishing and conquering something that is constantly scaring me the moment I step onto the rock makes me feel alive. But sadly, the fear never goes away. As you better yourself as a climber, you get onto harder routes, and harder routes mean moving off of even smaller holds which constantly makes the fear parallel your skill as a climber.

Dru Mack, sponsored by Canopy Crew, Rockhouse, and Evolve warming up on Beta-Vul Pipeline (5.12a) before heading over to Southern Smoke.

This sport is an inherently dangerous one, where it's practitioners are constantly trying to make it less-so. The commitment to the unknown with every step is simply an adventure, and adventures should be anything but comfortable. But I guess that's what it means to venture, stepping into the void and fully committing yourself to something in an effort to satisfy the internal conquest. It is perhaps the sole reason I continue to rock climb. This is not a sport you train in order to make a living like an NBA player, you don't train to climb harder routes in order to brag; it's a sport purely dedicated to testing your personal ability against an uncaring cliff. As many climbers have put it, "We're conquerors of the useless."

Since our time here, we've celebrated both my Ben and Alex's birthday by stepping up to the Birthday Challenge taken by many climbers. The birthday challenge requires it's participants to climb the number of pitches equivalent to their birthday. For example: On your 23rd birthday, you must climb 23 pitches without falling, should a fall (hang) take place, you must restart the route or discard it. Both Ben and Alex completed their challenge with great success and completed their days with beer, burgers, and pizza. It's simple, no gifts, no fluff, just a personal challenge one chooses to engage in.

Nonetheless, opportunities for photography have been plenty. Strong climbers of all sorts have been warm and welcoming, and have allowed to me express myself with my camera. My photography seems to be well-received and I believe I'm making photos that aren't just important to me, but bear a different perspective than my contemporaries. So, as I continue forward, pushing my own physical, emotional, and mental limits, I know that I am the master of my fate on the adventure of my life.

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