If you haven’t been to the Red River Gorge, you need to go. It’s simply a fact. The Red is simply unbelievable; great rock, great people, great views, etc.
There are so many crags at the Red that it feels like no matter how much time you have you can’t get anything done. Each one is different with its own quirks. Today’s crag review will be on a still-developing crag at the Red: South Park.
It turns out an old Honda Accord actually can’t get you around the entirety of the Red River Gorge. Especially when there’s rain. I mean, there are some roads I’m convinced can’t be passed without a big Jeep. So, this one rainy day my crew and I find this crag called South Park because the Accord could actually handle (some) of the roads leading there. The approach was about a mile from the lot, and hardly marked at all—as you walk down the road that only a Jeep could take, you’ll see this little trailhead on the right…you might think it’s too small to be a real trail, but it actually does take you to South Park.
The rest of the approach is beautiful. The Kentucky forest just engulfs you. You’ll eventually run into this massive amphitheater, which is insane on its own, and that’s when you know you’re there. Up and to the right there are some smaller routes (still being bolted), but they’re not rain safe. In the amphitheater, there are some 12s and 13s that look absolutely killer. There are some permadraws and cheat piles for the hard stuff…it looks pretty dramatic at first glance.
Through the amphitheater, you’ll pass this bright green mossy slab until you reach this slight overhang that looks like it’s out of a fairy-tale. There are vivid colors everywhere; bright pinks, greens, and yellows covering the ground and the extra raised outcropping for gear stashing.
I cannot stress enough how new this wall is. The climbing was crazy fun, but it’s also truly terrifying. For starters, the rock is loose everywhere. Nothing too massive, but you’re almost guaranteed to be calling “rock” on each climb as little nubs come off the wall. The rock is also super sharp, so you feel like you’re glued to it—a nice feeling to have when the holds feel a little wobbly. The bolts are nice and new, and covered from the rain, so those feel bomber.
That’s not to say that you can’t get in trouble with some of the placement.
We had a draw unclip completely from the wall, falling down to the belayer. On some routes no matter how you angled your draw, the gate would open against the rock. I won’t lie; it was a bit unsettling. I was more comfortable setting sliding Xs with lockers there for anchors than just two draws, but that’s just instinct…I’m no rope access expert.
Lastly, this crag is so secluded. There’s nothing around other than the forest and a shallow valley. The quiet and the Kentucky colors are so serene. Plus we didn’t see another soul the entire day at South Park. At a lot of crags, especially since COVID, there are lines and this urge to keep moving down the wall to get out of everyone’s way. There’s nothing like that at South Park. Since there’s no one there, there’s no pressure to move on quickly. You don’t have to continuously shuffle your gear, because who’s way will it get in? You can hang out in the fairyland and watch nature just exist. You can climb crazy hard or just climb what looks good. It’s all possible.
South Park, rain or shine, is a great crag for any group that can handle any issues with rock fall and gear. It’s peaceful with stunning climbs, it just has a few issues as a new crag. Be safe out there, and get out to the Red when you can! More crag reviews for the Red to come!