Blake Bowling: Millenium Man

posted by dpm on 11/13/2010


Blake Bowling is a Red River icon. He’s been ticking off Red River classics for nearly 20 years and hasn’t showed any signs of slowing. Not only has he likely climbed more routes than anyone else in RRG history; he also runs his own software firm and is an official member of the elite Team Suck, replacing bogus hardware throughout the region.  Last week Blake sent the ultra-classic 5.13a Appalachian Spring at Funk Rock City. Not very newsworthy, unless you consider it was his 1000th Red River ascent. 
photo: Elodie Saracco
DPM: Blake, you just completed your 1000th ascent at the Red River Gorge. What are you going to do to celebrate?
Blake: Working. Not much else. Lee Smith planted the seed of doing 1000 after a conversion about John Bronaugh having done 500 while working on one of the original versions of the RRG guidebook. I was already on a kick to do tons of new-to-me stuff in the Red, so that idea was right in line.
DPM: I would party for a week but I guess it takes a workaholic to achieve something like this.  So what was your 1000th route? 
Blake:  Appalachian Spring at Funk Rock... I wanted it to be a pretty cool route, and it really fits my style, except for all the crimps. It came pretty quick. I stick clipped it a couple weeks ago and looked at the moves, thinking it was going to take a long time for me. I decided to top-rope it to get my gear back and to my surprise, nearly did it. After the HP40 Triple Crown comp last weekend, I started thinking about it again, and midweek, Lee texted me and said “Let’s Go”.
DPM: Has this been a long time goal to climb 1000 routes or did it just happen?
Blake:  Lee planted the seed about the first of September of this year, so a couple months ago.
DPM: How did you keep track of all these routes?
Blake:  I just had a piece of paper beside my development computer for all the new ones.  But for the older ones, I have an account on my friends site and I have kept track on it since moving away from writing them in paper guidebooks.
DPM: Why don’t you plug it all in
Blake:  I have heard of it, but have never used it.
DPM: Let’s go way back…What was your first route at the Red?
Blake:  My first established climb in the Red was Brother Stair, I think. My buddy and I had done tons of TR and bouldering in Eastern KY, but one of our professors was an old school climber from the Gunks. He taught us really good techniques about setting up top ropes to make them safe and not killing the trees in the process.
Martin Rides Again (5.11d) photo: Wes Allen
DPM: After that first one I’m guessing you were hooked on the Red. How long did it take you to go from 1 to 1000?
Blake:  Heh, 17 years.
DPM: Pretend I’m a visiting climber and I only have a few days to visit the RRG and I want to sample the best of the best. What would you say is the absolute best route of each grade.
Blake:  Hell, who knows. They are all subjective grade and quality. The only one I’ll argue my opinion on is Steel Worker, possibly my favorite climb anywhere.
DPM: After climbing so many established routes at the Red you began to establish your own. What was the first one you sunk bolts on? 
Blake:  I started bolting with Terry Kindred, Mark Jackson, Bob Matheny, and Brian Maysler in 1998 or 1999. We put up a lot of routes at what is now the Pendergrass Murray Recreational Preserve. 
DPM: How many have you FA’d? What’s the best route you’ve put up?
Blake:  I really don’t know. We did a lot of development in the southern region in the early 2000‘s, and have focused on replacing bolts throughout the Red in the last few years. Best route? All That Glitters is possibly my favorite as it took me several years to get strong enough to do it. It was a very big deal for me, and I keep a picture on my desk of me, Terry, and Mark standing on the boulder beneath it after the send.
All That Glitters (5.12c) photo: Ben Cassel
DPM: What makes the Red so special that you climb almost exclusively there? 
Blake:  I have done a little climbing all over the US, but the Red is home. The community is unparalleled and the friends that I have made are really my family.
DPM: OK, What’s going to be 1001?
Blake: Don’t know.  I think I have worn out my karma on belays, so it is all about the team again.
DPM: Thanks for chatting Blake. We’ll see you out there.
Blake: Thank you.