Red Wing Barn Bluff: A Midwestern Anomaly

“Coming to Carleton was a strictly academic decision,” I explain to the student interviewing me for the Carletonian, the student Newspaper at Carleton College, a small liberal arts college in Northfield Minnesota (think Middlebury in the Midwest). It was my first week on campus and already word had gotten out that I was “some kind of really good climber.” Just like in high school, the whole “big-fish small pond thing” had begun with an interview with a reporter for the newspaper. “But there’s more climbing in Minnesota than people think,” I continue. I can’t help myself. “There are some 5.14’s that Andy Raether put up that I’d be really psyched to try.”

It had been a year since I was climbing really seriously. The stress of a senior year schedule heavy in AP classes, the burden of college applications, increased involvement in debate and a serious relationship took up the bulk of my climbing time. The last competition I was in shape for was the Endless Summer Competition in October of 2006 at Lincoln Park Athletic Club, which I had won. The decision to be a typical high school student for the first time in my life is not one that I regret. But that psyche for climbing, that ever-present desire to climb new routes is still present in me, whether I liked it or not.

Finals at the Endless Summer Comp

Flashing the finals route in the endless summer competition

The word of my “climbing prowess” had gotten out because I had been given a work-study job at the climbing wall, a job traditionally reserved for upper classmen. In fairness to myself, I am more than qualified to have this job – I’ve been climbing for eight years and have experience route setting and teaching climbing in numerous gyms.

My first day of work consisted of some upper classmen eyeing me suspiciously and others asking me if I’d ever heard of Redwing. “That’s the crag with Mississippi Burning (a classic 5.12c) and an alternate start that is supposed to be like .14a! There’s so much I want to do over there.” And so, the second weekend I was at Carleton, we loaded up and headed over to Redwing.

I was surprised by the difficulty of the climbing. As a “local” of the Red River Gorge (read resident of a Northern suburb of Chicago used to making the seven hour drive) I was used to friction and large foot holds. What I found at Redwing was soft limestone, tiny feet and poor handholds. It took me a while to become accustomed to the climbing here. But over a few more trips, I managed to learn how to climb vertical, technical limestone and even to tick a few classics. Here are a handful of my favorites:

Kelly’s Arete (5.12a): Short and technical. Climb this 35-foot arête using high feet and compression moves, make a tough clip and mantle the finish.

Mark Dyson on Kelly’s Arete

Mark Dyson making the tough clip on Kelly's Arete

Perfect Sex (5.12b): Climb up through some poor rock past too many bolts to a hard roof pull. A variety of holds in different places allow for a few sequences. After pulling the lip, paste your feet and continue to smear up the wall while laying back a mega flake for a few moves. A few jugs and you’re at the anchors.

Perfect Sex

Perfect Sex

Starting up Mississippi Burning

Starting Up

Mississippi Burning (5.12c): Climb up a thin crack utilizing the face holds to reach a small ledge. Don’t use the crack to the right; recover what you can, then sprint through three boulder problems to an easier ten feet before the anchors.

Preemptive Strike (5.12b): Longer and more involved than other routes at Redwing. In 70 feet encounter an easy start, a no hands rest, four bolts of sustained climbing, a kneebar and an easier finish.

Paradigm Shift (5.12d/5.13a): Begin with a few difficult gaston moves to access a left leaning crack system. Sustained climbing for twenty-five feet yields two decent crimps for a quick shake. A hard left hand cross over move on a quarter pad crimp allows you to reach the eighth of a pad gaston. Sit on a high foot; grab a quarter pad two-finger pocket and then stab up to a good crimp. From there climb easier ground for thirty feet to the anchors.

Now, I am home for a six-week break lasting from Thanksgiving to New Years. I’ll be working at home and making the journey south to my other home crag. After this break and my ten-week winter quarter, I know I’ll be itching to get back out on the limestone of Redwing. After all, I haven’t even tried to the really hard climbing there yet. And there are some lines that I am really, really psyched to try.

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6 Responses to Red Wing Barn Bluff: A Midwestern Anomaly

  1. nicros December 7, 2007 at 12:07 am #

    red wing is so wack! i live here and i do not go there… boulder in minnesota (so much better)

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  2. Climbing Narcissist December 7, 2007 at 12:40 pm #

    There seems to be a lot of differing stories on the quality of the various MN climbing areas. Hopefully I can decide for myself in 2008.

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  3. Kevlar December 7, 2007 at 7:33 pm #

    Hey Brian, So imgetting some evolvs for christmas and i dont know if i should get the laceup talons or velcro predators. They seem like the same shoe just different lacing. Just wondering if you have heard anything, or know anything

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  4. peter December 7, 2007 at 11:39 pm #

    yo “nicros!”
    i’d be psyched to go boudlering in MN, but I have no idea where the problems are at Taylors / Sawmill is a long ways away from me. Are there any other good bouldering areas as well? The more rock the better. See you out there.
    -Peter

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  5. nicros December 8, 2007 at 10:08 am #

    oh hells yeah!
    just let me know when your in town…

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  6. peter December 8, 2007 at 11:29 am #

    i’m returning to Carleton Jan 2nd (presumeably too cold) to do much bouldering. I’ll get your email from the Narc tonight (I think I’ll be seeing him) and I’ll shoot you one anyway. Maybe I’ll have motivation to bring a pad to school now…

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