Dylan Barks is on a tear in the Red. On November 20, the 22-year-old sent Southern Smoke Direct, a 5.14d and the hardest pitch of climbing in the Red River Gorge, Kentucky,before sending Pure Imagination (5.14c) the following day.
In an email to Rock and Ice, Dru Mack, one of the people most synonymous with climbing in the Red over the past few years and Barks’ belayer for Southern Smoke Direct, says, “Dylan tried the route for a bit in 2013, but wasn’t able to finish it. 4 years later he came back stronger and was able to do the route in just 3 days.”
Rock and Ice also caught up with Barks himself via email. “My first time on Southern Smoke Direct this season I was able to climb through the bottom V12 boulder,” he writes. “I’ve tried the boulder before but didn’t have the power to do it. The route boils down to two things: having the power to climb an overhung, core intensive boulder, and also being able to switch gears and flow up a pumpy 14c.”
On the actual send, things felt surprisingly easy for Barks, as they so often do when everything clicks. “I climbed through the boulder first try and found myself at the good holds in the blink of an eye,” he says. “From there I charged to the top, fully believing I would do the route. That belief in myself made the top moves that much more enjoyable.”
Mack has been along for the ride with Barks since day one this season, and was there for the end as well: “I’ve belayed every try that Dylan tied in for the route. We knew the send was super close, so when he actually did it the crag was quiet and the feeling was surreal.” Mack followed Barks’ send with his own success, redpointing 50 Words for Pump (5.14b) just to the right of Southern Smoke Direct.
Joe Kinder made the first ascent of Southern Smoke (5.14c) on November 24, 2008 (almost exactly nine years ago). The route has gone on to become an area classic. In 2011, Adam Taylor added a direct start, comprised of a six-move V12 boulder problem. In October 2012, Adam Ondra famously flashed Southern Smoke Direct.
Riding high after his send of Southern Smoke Direct, Barks hit the walls again the next day, November 21, and sent another of the classic testpieces in the Red River Gorge, Pure Imagination (5.14c). On Instagram, Barks wrote of this second send, “Pure felt like my anti-style for years, but today it felt doable and I only needed a few tries.” Jonathan Siegrist made the first ascent of Pure Imagination in 2010. Other climbers who later dispatched the route include Sasha DiGiulian, Margo Hayes, Adam Ondra (onsight), Daniel Woods (flash), and Alex Megos (flash).
Southern Smoke Direct is Barks’ first climb of the grade. His back-to-back sends in the Red no doubt herald big things to come. Mack writes, “This young man from Michigan is capable of a whole lot more, we have been planning some trips overseas to both hopefully take things to the next level.”