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Free Will in Purgatory

In late November, Mike Doyle redpointed Lucifer (5.14c), a long-standing project at the Purgatory crag, to establish what is now considered the hardest route in the Red River Gorge.

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In late November, Mike Doyle redpointed Lucifer (5.14c), a long-standing project at the Purgatory crag, to establish what is now considered the hardest route in the Red River Gorge.

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Mike Doyle on the ultra-thin Lucifer (5.14c). The Purgatory is one of many crags with crazy potential.

The new-routing visionary Kenny Barker discovered Purgatory in 2004 during a trip to scout out trad climbs.

After establishing a 5.11c crack with his partner, Barker pointed to the overhanging, clean and blank walls to the right, while his partner scoffed at the idea of lines there. Barker bolted Lucifer first as he pioneered the development of Purgatory, which now contains such classic 5.13b’s as Paradise Lost, Dracula ’04 and The Castle Has Fallen.

[Lucifer] was a tall, hard-looking line, says Barker, and the first route I ever bolted, so it was a learning experience. When Barker found the route too difficult, he opened the project and elected his close friend Jeremy Petrovich to take care of business. Petrovich had whittled Lucifer down to two hangs, and looked close to sending, when a debilitating car accident put him in a four-month coma and ultimately left him partially paralyzed. The route remained inviolate and untried, partly because Barker asked potential suitors to wait for Petrovich to return to full health.

Doyle, a 29-year-old Vancouver-based software developer, came to the Red in October and quickly ticked a handful of the Red’s hardest lines — Ultra-Perm (5.13d), Transworld Depravity (5.14a) and Thanatopsis (5.14b). Impressed by these rapid successes, Bill Ramsey, longtime Red badass, directed Doyle toward Lucifer, and with a nudge from Barker, Doyle tackled the demon.

“I think it was the hardest thing I’ve done,” says Doyle, who took 30 attempts in six weeks to send the rig. “The first crux moving past the fifth bolt was probably the hardest single move. I actually fell from there once and ended up with my feet on the ground and my girlfriend, Andrea, at the first bolt.”

In other Red news, Barker sent his extension to Paradise Lost, which he appropriately named Paradise Regained, also 5.13b. This additional 60 feet of sustained, steep-pocked 5.13b climbing begins on the big ledge atop Paradise Lost.

Also in fall 2006, the Australian climber Monique Forestier visited the Red with her partner, photographer Simon Carter. While there, Forestier spotted an arching arete that trails the left side of a blank, overhanging amphitheater at Drive-By crag. “I initially walked up to the cliff looking for another route,” says Forestier, “but this line immediately caught my eye.” After inquiring about regulations, Forestier asked Matt Tackett, owner of Red River Outdoors, to bolt it, and then made an express-send, naming it Kaleidoscope, and rating it 5.13c.

Doyle says the potential for hard climbing at the Red is “unlimited.”

“Some of the open projects and new cliffs being developed are just crazy.”