At the base of the wall out at the Deep End in Miller Fork at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, a 4-year old girl poured handfuls of dirt onto the leafy roof of a stick house. “See how my little pony is protected from the rain?” she said, happily picking up another handful of dirt to drizzle over it.
Marty Vogel stood beaming next to her, after helping complete a teepee-style structure surrounded by a ring of rocks and overlaid with leafy branches. He had come out to the cliff that day to say hi and hang out, but not to climb. As was typical of him, he had trained earlier and chose not to overdo it. While the rest of us rotated climbs and belays, he socialized with friends and helped the young girl shelter her little pony.
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Marty had been climbing in the Red River Gorge for over 10 years, having moved there to climb full-time 2 years ago. On our last climbing outing earlier that week, we climbed at the Deep End where I learned Marty contributed to the cliff’s development, even snagging the FA of Knuckle Sauce (5.12a) with Scott Curran in 2013. He had lots of proud sends in the Gorge, including The Abyss, a powerful 5.12d a few climbs left of Knuckle Sauce. Despite having sent the climbs previously, he was unabashed about throwing himself back on them for a repeat send.
Just as he was with a 4-year-old, Marty was always ready to engage, teach, help and play. He was easy going, kind, social and adventurous, someone who loved climbing, the outdoors, and travel.
His longtime friend Kevin Lange says, “He did everything with gusto.”
While the Red was Marty’s favorite climbing area, he planned to visit new areas and travel more. This past summer, he visited his daughter in France, toured and climbed in Norway, and was entertaining the idea of a winter trip to Cayman Brac.
He lived in Zoe, Kentucky, after a year and a half ago retiring from his engineering position at Wright-Patterson AFB, in Beavercreek, Ohio. The always smiling Marty made the most of his opportunity to be closer to climbing full-time at the Red.
He rented out rooms in his home to visiting climbers world-wide and was excited to show them the Gorge, climb with them, or enjoy a home-cooked meal and some laughs.
If you didn’t meet him through his rental, you probably met him at the cliff, over a beer and some trivia, on the trails doing maintenance, fixing gear around the Gorge, or coaching at the Lee County Rec Center Climbing Gym.
The RRG Fixed Gear Initiative epitomizes Marty’s contributions and dedication to the Gorge: “He was there to help build or repair the trails…and bolt or re-bolt the routes [we all] climb,” read a post on the RRG Fixed Gear Initiative’s Facebook page.
Matt Tackett of RedRiverOutdoors.com shares: “The moment we met and helped [him] back in the early days of [his] climbing at the Red, while staying at our cabins or loaning us tables and helping [us] load our first art show … we knew [he was] a solid cat. Then as the years passed [he] became a fixture in the local climbing community and was always giving back…Beyond the climbing community I always admired [his] excitement and giving [his] time to the local community and its kids.”
Personally, I’ll always value the ways that he helped me contribute to operations in the early days of the climbing wall at the Lee County Rec Center. For the entire first year of the gym’s existence, he coached youth one day per week. Without volunteers, the local climbing initiative would have fallen apart. Even though he was retired and had the freedom to do whatever he wanted, he would talk about his volunteer time at the gym as “going to work.”
The youth climbers at the gym, where Marty volunteered, adored him. One youth shared on her Facebook page: “My first time ever climbing at the Rec Center I was so nervous and excited, and Marty taught and explained so much to me. He also calmed my nerves and told me to never give up on climbing and explained that you have to work for your dreams! He [is one of] my biggest inspirations as to why I wanted to be a rock climber.”
Lynda Cable Griffin, mother of two daughters who climb at the rec center, exclaims, “My girls sure loved Marty. He was so passionate about teaching our kids to love climbing as much as he did! The one time I was able to go out and watch him do what he loved best was something I’ll never forget.”
On September 16, 2019, Marty, 59, was climbing Baby Face (5.12b) at Midnight Surf in Muir Valley when the accident occurred. An experienced climber, Marty was in the habit of tying in with a single bowline with a Yosemite finish. He knew how to stay safe and did the safety checks with his belay partners. When he called, “Falling!” up at the eighth bolt, his belayer prepared for a catch, but the rope never became taut. The rope slackened and Marty continued to fall about 120 feet to the ground below. There was nothing the belayer could do.
Search and rescue came quickly thanks to the RRGCC’s emergency kits near every climbing wall, but it would be a recovery mission, not a rescue. According to Wolfe County Coroner Frankie Porter, the investigation found nothing suspect with the gear. The rope stayed on as he clipped, but it is suspected that the knot came undone when he fell. This incident serves as a reminder that accidents can happen to anyone, and we must all be diligent about our systems.
Marty will be greatly missed by all who knew him and especially the RRG climbing community, who are currently reviewing several different options to honor his contributions.
A climbers’ memorial will be held on Saturday, September 28 at 5:30 p.m. at 290 Jones Rd., Beattyville, KY, 41311.
Marty is survived by his daughter, parents, siblings, and many nieces, nephews, great-nieces and nephews, aunts, uncles, and cousins. More details can be found here.