Elizabeth Furnace

Elizabeth Furnace Recreational Area, located in the George Washington National Forest in Shenandoah Valley, VA, is about an hour west of Washington, DC. Elizabeth Furnace has two walls: Buzzard Rock and Talking Headwall. We decided to check out the Talking Headwall.

The trailhead is easy to miss; we had to turn around and circle back even though we were looking carefully.The parking lot is small so get there early. The approach is short but be careful as it’s hard to see cars coming around the bends. The wall is mostly shaded and has plenty of space to lay out your gear. You can walk around the wall and set up a top rope anchor on some routes.

The resources we used for Talking Headwall are Mountain Project and RockClimbing.com.

I Love Big Jugs (5.8)- I sport lead this climb which was a confidence booster since I didn’t sport climb all summer. The holds are great (hence the name of the route) and I felt comfortable hanging the quickdraws and clipping in.

Sport leading "I Love Big Jugs"

Sport leading “I Love Big Jugs”

Fortis (5.10a/b)- Bryan sport lead and I followed on top rope. This was a fun overhanging route. I had some trouble with the roof but once I figured it out the rest was fine. Stephanie heel hooked over the roof and made the climb look very easy.

Discontinuance (5.9)- I watched Randy sport lead and he had quite a bit of run out, albeit over easy terrain. I followed on top rope and thought it was just OK.

Figuring out the beta on "Discontinuance"

Figuring out the beta on “Discontinuance”

Fat Bastard (5.7)- This was a great warm up sport climb. Finding handholds from the last bolt to the anchor was a bit tricky for me but overall I enjoyed the moves.

Last clip before the tricky roof on "Fat Bastard"

Last clip before the roof on “Fat Bastard”


Red River Gorge: Climbing 2015

We climbed in the Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve (PMRP) and Muir Valley. We picked the south side since we only have experience with sport climbing and the difficulty of the routes were within our skill set. Both the PMRP and Muir Valley require waivers to climb on the properties.

Miles gifted “Red River Gorge North” and “Red River Gorge South” by Ray Ellington to Bryan for his birthday. These guidebooks are invaluable and must-haves for climbing in the RRG. An iPhone/Android app is also available for the Red River Gorge South where you can purchase a 2 month rental, digital guide, or digital guide plus print copy.

A Muir Valley Pocket Guidebook is also available. We didn’t buy this but you can purchase a copy at Miguel’s Gear Shop, Skybridge Station, Torrent Falls Via Ferrata, and J & H Sporting Goods.


DaVinci’s Left Ear (5.10b), The Gallery- We “warmed up” on this route as the PMRP was very busy with all of the Rocktoberfest climbers. I followed on top rope and didn’t feel there was any flow to the route.

27 Years of Climbing (5.8), The Gallery- I sport climbed this route which had solid hand holds and good feet at every clip. I would recommend this for a warm up or a beginner’s first lead.

Murano (5.10b), The Gallery- I followed on top rope and enjoyed the flakes. Next time I will try sport climbing!

Miles sending "27 Years of Climbing" and me on "Murano"

Miles sending “27 Years of Climbing” and me on “Murano”

Darwin Loves You (5.9+), Volunteer Wall- This was a spicy warm up sport climb for me. Only four bolts, this climb is short and pumpy.

Swap Meet (5.6), Volunteer Wall- Easy sport climb with jugs.

Nice to Know You (5.10b), Volunteer Wall- I followed this slabby route on top tope. The first clip is a little sketchy to me since it’s on a hill, but Bryan breezed through it.

Climbing "Nice to Know You"

Climbing “Nice to Know You”

Tong Shing (5.10d), Volunteer Wall- Super crimpy and pinchy. This was probably my favorite climb of the trip since I had to push myself harder than I ever have to send this on top rope.

The G-Man (5.10c), The Shire- I pumped out early on this as I climbed Tong Shing right before. Mostly pockets and slopers.

Muir Valley

Muir Valley does not charge admission or parking fees. However, they ask for a donation to help keep up the building and maintenance of trails and bridges, emergency rescue equipment, and utilities and supplies for the public restrooms. In addition, all of their climbs have medallions at the base of the route to identify the route and grade. The “Red River Gorge South” guidebook lists all of the Muir Valley climbs from right to left.

Slabalito (5.7), Practice Wall- This was a fun warm up as it’s only two bolts. Excellent feet and hands.

The day I decided to be a free solo-er!

The day I decided to be a free solo-er!

Shawty (5.8), Practice Wall- Again another short, aptly-named route with two bolts.

Mercenary of the Mandarin Chicken (5.9), Practice Wall- Fun arete climb with a bit of overhang near the anchors.

Beta Spewer (5.10b), Practice Wall- I followed on top rope and thought this short climb was fun. The start was the crux for me with the side pull, but the holds near the anchor were solid.

Built for Life (5.8+), Guide Wall- Really long, really weird climb. If you wanted to, you could climb a ladder and stairs to get through the first few bolts. I sport lead and didn’t hate this climb, but didn’t love it either.

Mona Lisa Crack (5.8), Guide Wall- There is only a crack to the first bolt which was disappointing. I thought this was similar to Built for Life in that it was long and nothing stuck out.

Dragon’s Mouth (5.6), Practice Wall- This was a fun and scary chimney. Getting through the chimney makes you feel like a spider. The ledge to the anchors was scary because there is a tree you will hit if you fall. I ended up throwing up a heel hook to top out and set the anchors.

Getting ready for some spider action on "Dragon's Mouth"

Getting ready for some spider action on “Dragon’s Mouth”

Casey (5.8), Animal Crackers- Super slabby and balancy. I had a good time until the second to last bolt.

Captain Blonde Sinks the Ship (5.11a), The Boneyard- The moves up to the third bolt are nice and juggy. The route moves left and becomes more overhung. Most of the ledges were just covered in chalk which made it difficult to find where the hand holds were. Lots of pockets.

Getting a sweet rest ledge on "Captain Blondie Sinks the Ship"

Getting a sweet rest ledge on “Captain Blondie Sinks the Ship”

Cinderella (5.9), The Boneyard- Really tough start, Hannah basically pulled me on top rope. This was one of the longest routes we climbed and I sure did get pumped out after about 40 feet.

One-Armed Bandit (5.9), The Boneyard- This was a great climb to end the trip on. Start on an arete, move right, and then back left. I found mostly crimps but everything felt solid.

Red River Gorge: Camping

We stayed at the Natural Bridge Campground and the Land of the Arches Campground during our week at the Red River Gorge.

Natural Bridge Campground, 90 L & E Railroad Place, Slade, KY 40376

Natural Bridge Campground is located less than a 1/2 mile from the Mountain Parkway in Slade, KY and has sites ranging from primitive to 30amp/50amp and water hook-up.

Campground Features

  • $15 per night per campsite, a campsite can consist of 2 tents, 2 registered cars and 4 people, see the website for additional fees
  • Bathrooms, showers, and wifi are included in the camping fee
  • 35 private sites are available: primitive sites have a fire ring, electric sites have a picnic table, and field is available for tents
  • Shelter available with electricity and picnic tables
  • Firewood, ice, and snacks are available for purchase at the shelter
  • Dump station available by the shelter
  • Reservations available
  • Catch-and-release fishing pond
  • Quiet hours are from 10pm – 7am every day
Sea of tents in the field

Sea of tents in the field

Our Experience:

We stayed here during Rocktoberfest. We pitched our tents in the open field since we didn’t make reservations for a private site. The private sites were right next to the vendor booths and crate stacking so I’m glad we were a little bit further away from the crowds. One of the women’s bathrooms was out of order for the entire weekend and the second was out of order after Saturday night. Mike used the showers and said they were warm with high pressure. The shelter is exposed on the sides. Natural Bridge Campground is far from the PMRP and Muir Valley. My experience is skewed due to the festival but I wouldn’t stay here again.

Land of the Arches Campground, 5150 KY 715, Campton, KY

Land of the Arches Campground has bathrooms with showers, has an indoor area to lounge in or “camp,” and is 5 minutes from Muir Valley and 15 minutes from the Motherlode and PMRP.

Things to Know:

  • $5 per night per person for camping, $3 per person for showers only
  • Showers and wifi are included in the camping fee
  • Private and group sites are available. Most group sites have a picnic table and a fire ring.
  • Game area / indoor camping for available. There are outlets, games (ping pong, Foosball), tables, and chairs for everyone to use.
  • Picnic pavilion includes picnic tables and industrial sink with potable water
  • Firewood is available for purchase on site at $5 for 10 pieces of wood
  • The bathrooms are clean and have toilet paper. Some had soap. None had paper towels.
  • Trash cans, recycling bins, and a compost are available by the pavilion
  • Quiet hours are from 11pm – 7am every day
Our only picture of the campsite at Land of the Arches

Our only picture of the campsite at Land of the Arches

Our Experience:

We really enjoyed our time at Land of the Arches Campground. We had 5 people camping and were able to get a spot with a picnic table and fire ring. The site is relatively flat which was nice for our tents and stove. Everyone at the campground respected the quiet hours. This is an excellent campground for those who want a low-key Red River Gorge experience.