Guidebook Review: Red River Gorge

by dpm | 02/26/2013

Guidebook Review: Red River Gorge


It's hard to believe that it's already been eight years since Wolverine Publishing dropped their flagship guidebook on the market with their 1st edition guide to the Red River Gorge. It was one of the first guide books to move away from old-school hand-drawn topos and fully embrace the convenience of digital photography. The full color glossy photos of the routes your were looking for made navigation easier than ever and provided a template for Wolverine to repeat and for other guidebooks to copy.

Wolverine Publishing and author Ray Ellington have just released the 4th edition of this popular book. The 4th edition maintains all the characteristics of the previous books like full-color photos of the routes and glossy full-page action shots. The directions are excellent and easy to follow and the maps are spot on.

The book has always done an excellent job of reporting on the most recent events in local advocacy and this edition continues with that trend. For example, the Pendergrass Murray Recreation Preserve is now climber owned and protected, but the Roadside Crag is currently closed. In the constantly evolving world of the Red River Gorge, it's convenient for new editions of the book to come out fairly frequently.

Volume 1. Northern Region.

The obvious characteristic to discuss is that the Red River Gorge guidebook is not just a book anymore but two books. Breaking it into two books was done geographically with the East/West dividing line being the epicenter of camping: Miguel's Campground. Everything north of Miguel's Pizza and the Mountain Parkway is in Volume 1 and everything south of them is in Volume 2.

There are obvious benefits to creating two books for such a massive region. First off, due to the continuous route development, the 3rd edition book had gotten so large that some obscure areas were left out to keep the book a manageable size. The growth of the Red has been explosive. In fact, my first edition RRG book is the same number of pages as just Volume 2 in this set! One of the advantages here is that you'll get to carry a smaller book up the hill to the Motherlode. This should prevent your sport climber legs from getting too strong and heavy from carrying around a hefty book.

Volume 2: Southern Region

Another advantage is that those obscure areas that were cut from the 3rd edition are back in there. I always wondered what the 4-star Nevermore (5.9+ R) on Raven Rock was like. Once again, I can gaze curiously at the description of this obscure 5 pitch route including the terms: dirty, belay from a tree, untrustworthy bolts that are missing hangers,  and rope drag. It also seems like much of the newly-acquired available space was filled with more action shots than were found in the old books. This book seems rich with full-page action photos.

Sample page. Paige Claussen on Ultra Perm (5.13d)

The final advantage to the two book method is that if you already have a RRG guidebook you'll probably only have to buy one smaller book to get the majority of the new routes. Nearly all the new development at the Red is occurring in the Southern Region. New routes can be found at: Brightside, The Crossroads, all over Muir Valley, and the Chocolate Factory. So instead of having to buy one expensive new book, you can just purchase the Southern Region book, which includes those areas, for $25. This also works if you're just coming for a short trip and usually stick to one style of climbing. Much of the good trad climbing is in the Northern Region while the Southern Region is the sport climber's paradise.

Each book is individually $25 but if you buy them both in a package you save some dough and can get them for $45. Check out Wolverine Publishing's website and click on the "look inside" button to see some sample pages. You can also purchase the book at the same place. 

Sample page: Zak Roper on Golden Boy (5.13b)