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Alli Rainey: Climbing The Milk Chocolate Wall

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

The Milk Chocolate Wall at the Chocolate Factory, Red River Gorge, Kentucky


“There is something about very cold weather that gives one an enormous appetite. Most of us find ourselves beginning to crave rich steaming stews and hot apple pies and all kinds of delicious warming dishes; and because we are all a great deal luckier than we realize, we usually get what we want — or near enough.” ~ Ronald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory




As winter approaches with her frosty talons to clench this hemisphere in her grasp yet again, the season winds down at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. There will be some more sunny days for climbing, for sure, but today dawned gray and cloudy and below freezing, bringing with it a feeling of finiteness and a readiness to move on.


I did not have the season here that I expected to have this year, but it’s turned out to be a good one nonetheless. This autumn I played a minor supporting role (belayer, route cleaner, ground support) in Kevin’s efforts to flesh out the crag he started bolting last year during our trip to the Red. Last year, he suffered a knee injury on our third day here that put him out of climbing for the remainder of the trip. Thankfully, he’d brought along his drill, and he started putting some routes in on the right side of the Chocolate Factory on the days when he wasn’t belaying me – which he did on every single day that I went climbing, nearly. It came as no surprise to me, then, that Kevin wanted to equip more routes at the Milk Chocolate Wall this season; opening up new sport routes is what moves him in climbing the most. He loves to see new routes come into being, not only to climb on them himself, but also, to watch others enjoy the experience.




Kevin’s not the only person who has bolted out there – in addition to his eight routes, several others have contributed to making this a great new addition to the sport-climbing offerings at the Red. There are at least five other climbs bolted by at least four other people in the major amphitheater, plus a bunch more on the trail on the way there.


It’s been a cool and different Red experience to see a crag go from a virtually unknown locale to – in merely a few weeks – getting on people’s radar. Watching other climbers get stoked on and fired up about routes that didn’t exist a week or two before was pretty fun, especially because most of the routes seem to have turned out to be enjoyable climbs. There’s definitely a sense of luckiness involved in this outcome; it’s not always that a crag turns out to have so many worthy climbs awaiting bolting, especially in a place as well-traveled as the Red River Gorge. We don’t always get what we want when we head out in search of new climbs to develop (not to mention results in our own climbing performances), but sometimes we get lucky. And the bottom line is that all of us who are lucky enough to have the time, the health, and the means to savor sport climbing and/or route developing in such a magical, made-for-climbing place like the Red River Gorge are some of the luckiest people alive.


~ Alli Rainey, prAna Ambassador


Learn more about Alli and Kevin