Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 24, 2014

TIM PRESTON: Red River Gorge Part II: Adventure is out there

The Independent

RED RIVER GORGE — It seems I’m not alone in the world as a person who foolishly craves adventure despite a horrible fear of heights.

As part of our rock-climbing visit to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge last fall, we were also pointed toward a couple of other adventures available there. One, I had never even heard of, and the other (I thought) would be too “wimpy” to even write about. The first, a Via Ferrata course, turned out to be fascinating, and the other, a series of five ziplines leading to a scenic resort overlooking the gorge, was utterly terrifying yet thrilling for me.

We got some great video of the zipline adventure, with little bits of me getting scared, making excuses and apologizing to our instructors at the start of each run. If we can overcome our lack of technical skills here in the newsroom, I hope to post a video of my wife running 50-plus m.p.h. on a two-line zipline run, with a breathtaking view of the Red River Gorge opening up behind her. I also hope we can edit my “scaredy cat” intros out of the video.

My wife, Alys, knows no fear on this stuff. She practically danced across the rope bridges leading to the different zip line stations, and could not stop herself from abusing my terrified self when she caught me wide-eyed with fear and babystepping through a sort of rope bridge behind her. I got roughly three steps into that span and immediately had a flashback to an old-timey swinging bridge high above the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River between the communities of Hammond (or was that Whitehouse?) and River in Johnson County. Sensing my near-freakout level of panic, my lovely wife returned to the far side of the bridge and started bouncing it up and down, and making it sway from side to side, laughing like a crazy person the whole time.

We were with a great bunch of guides on our zipline tour, and I was most impressed with their setup. At each and every station, however, I had no choice but to look down from the tower and try to get a grip on my vertigo. In some ways, this is an activity that couldn’t be easier — just lift your feet and kick back to let gravity do the work.

If they crowned a king of false starts, however, I’m pretty sure I would have been declared royalty after the first run.

The final zipline of the day, one of two that allows “zippers” to run side by side toward the Cliffview Resort, was undoubtedly my favorite. Shortly after you launch, a most incredible view of the Red River Gorge revealed itself to the right. It was so breathtaking, I was able to let go of my fears and simply be impressed with the natural splendor of the place. The lodge has 16 guest rooms, including two suites (one with a jacuzzi and the other with a fireplace), in addition to a conference room, with an excellent set of amenities throughout the place.

A different climb

After the zipline tour, we aimed ourselves toward the other side of the gorge to meet with Nicole and Daniel Meyer at Torrent Falls Climbing Adventure for a quick attempt at their Via Ferrata course. Our hosts at Kentucky Rock Adventure Guides had explained the course, which was the first of its kind in America, might be an interesting addition to the story, and noted they have nothing but respect for that company’s climbing guides.

The Meyers explained the Via Ferrata (“Iron Road” in Italian) course is a recreational activity born of necessity during World War I when soldiers needed to transport themselves and equipment across a section of Italy’s Dolomite Mountains. The military folks drilled steel rungs into the rock and used the embedded metal for hand and footholds. After the Great War, people in that area then began crossing the Via Ferrata for fun and the idea slowly spread.

The Meyers’ place, and the Via Feratta course, are built into a horseshoe-shaped canyon. When the local streams are flowing, the natural canyon even features a cave behind a waterfall. While introducing us to the course, the Meyers further explained it is divided into sections and becomes progressively more difficult, up to the final section called the Black Diamond. If you make it all the way to the very end, you qualify for a T-shirt proclaiming the accomplishment.

I was already in trembling/twitching-muscle stage by the time we arrived at Torrent Falls (I suspect my adrenaline level was highly elevated), and I was doubtful I could get very far. Oddly, my thrill-seeking wife provided a respite when she strapped into the safety line and kicked up the first few rungs only to discover she had been totally spoiled by the adhesive qualities of real rock-climbing shoes, and that her sneakers were practically slick on the bottom - providing a seriously shaky foundation for the adventure. We apologized, unclipped from the safety gear and begged for a chance to come back and try it again. I could tell the Meyers were disappointed in us (afterall, young scouts do this course all the time), and doubtful I could ever get a good story out of the situation, but they agreed to have us back this spring. We were shooting the breeze before leaving and they explained their family business is located in the community of Torrent, which is part of the greater Campton area.

“It’s basically us, the church and the beer store over here,” one of them said, before adding they do appreciate it when guests call ahead for reservations. And, the Via Ferrata course is far from being the only thing they have to offer at Torrent Falls Climbing Adventure, with certified instructors ready to guide climbers to any and all parts of the Red River Gorge.

For more information about Torrent Falls Climbing Adventure, visit www.torrentfalls.com on the Internet or call (606) 668-6613.

For more information about Red River Gorge Zipline Tours, visit www.redrivergorgezipline.com or call 855-ZIP-TOUR (947-8687) or (606) 668-6222.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.