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Lambert and Ditto Migrate Back to the Red River Gorge
Posted on November 6, 2015

Fall in the Red River Gorge is a magical time of year; the view itself is worth the struggle and pump of the steep routes. The Drive-By crag is home to some of the Red's most striking lines.

Born and raised in the American South, Katie Lambert had long heard stories about the climbing in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. Yet despite her recent climbing migrations, she’d never experienced one of the most important climbing meccas east of the Mississippi. That all changed when Lambert and her husband Ben Ditto packed up for the season and migrated east to spend a winter in residence, seeking the hard, overhanging bolted lines and world-class sport testpieces that made The Red so famous in the first place. This is our first look at how they plan to spend their winter in The Red.

—LYA Editor

Tension and finesse go hand in hand in climbing, a balance that is achieved only in practice.

Words by Katie Lambert, Images by Elodie Saracco

For over two decades, I’ve been hearing about the climbing in the Red River Gorge. When I was 15 and barely making my way up 5.10s, Katie Brown was on-sighting 5.14s in The Red as if it were a normal thing. In the years that have followed, many other youth of impressive strength have followed in Brown’s footsteps and have made jaw-dropping ascents in The Red as well. Being from the South, The Red would seem to be one of the “local” crags, but it was always just a little too far for the weekend warrior status of my youth, and once I moved out west, it became that much further.

Each fall and winter we travel for climbing, but the past several years have been dominated by trips to Europe to sample some of their best limestone—a rock type and style that seems almost exotic in North America. Despite how much we travel and all of the climbing areas we’ve visited, there still appears to be an endless list of premier climbing areas I’ve yet to experience. One of the biggest challenges in being able to travel for climbing is where to go, as there are too many good options and just not enough days in a lifetime to see them all.

The colors and patterns reflect the light like a Kaleidoscope as Ben Ditto makes his way up the classic route at the Drive-By.


As our season in Yosemite started to come towards an end, we decided this year we would stay stateside and check out The Red. For most of the year we live in our van, but when we travel we like to enjoy more modern-day comforts like indoor plumbing, an oven, and the Internet, so we rented a cabin in the woods and decided to leave our dear “Vanly” in California. We packed a winter’s worth of stuff in our car, from climbing gear and bikes to sweaters and cast-iron pans. Being aging rock climbers wanting to always perform at peak levels means that a lot of maintenance needs to take place. So with our self-massagers, yoga mats, therabands, weights and rice bucket in tow, we hit the road and headed east. We left the burning Sierra Nevada behind in hopes that it will have a winter blessed with lots of snow, and set our sights on the oncoming fall in the southeast.

Ready to strike, Lambert spots the next holds.

Three carsick days later, we arrived via winding roads and rolling hills in the heart of Kentucky. We were wasted from driving, but eager to feel the Corbin Sandstone of The Red, and thus our “break-in” period began. Coming from the Sierra, we don’t do much climbing during the spring and summer on steep rock, so when we change up the scenery, there is always an adjustment period as our arms get used to the pump and our mind eases into taking big falls through the air. The steepness of The Red can only be compared to such crags as Rodellar, where it can be almost disorienting to figure out which way you are facing as you flail your way upwards.

The first two weeks here were dedicated to building our fitness base. As we’ve gotten more honed through the days, we’ve been privy to a change in color of the landscape like I’ve never seen before—deep greens have turned to gold and crimson and cooler temps line the diminishing horizon. We aren’t getting as pumped and we’ve ticked some nice on-sights and red-points in our first few weeks. We have established a good rhythm of climbing, resting, yoga and biking, and we’ve made good progress in exploring the local options for truly farm-fresh food. At times I have felt like one of those “tweens” who crush The Red without a second thought. On the days I feel good, I feel invincible, as if I could hold on forever.

Fall color of the east coast migration. Another awesome day out ends with a walk through leaves of gold.

Read more about Ben Ditto and Katie Lambert at

Author: - Friday, November 6th, 2015

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