From Portugal with Love
These included Williams’s four-star 5.10s Dragonslayer, Crazyfingers, and A.W.O. L. Flach, Souders, Greg Williams—those who followed suit are too many to name, but nobody had yet developed the eye for the futuristic super-steep walls. In fall 1990, Porter Jarrard, a loquacious powerhouse who earned his chops on the steep, grey quartzite walls of North Carolina’s Moore’s Wall, showed up. Armed with a power drill, he would become the trigeminal nerve innervating the new, overhanging face of Red River Gorge climbing.
“Porter started looking at all the stuff we were just walking past,” says Loeffler. Within three or four years, Jarrard established over 150 routes. He systematically worked through Hackworth’s guide, visiting the cliffs, cherrypicking five-star overhanging lines like Tis
sue Tiger and Gung Ho at Military Wall and Table of Colors at Left Flank. This multicolored beauty, established in 1990, would become the Red’s first 5.13.
But while sport climbing was getting its electric start, the shop was still holding on by a thread. You might call this the “Love Shack” era: After Miguel and Susan moved up the hill, a series of transient climbers passed through the old farmhouse. The Love Shack (perhaps named after the B-52s’ song—no one seems to know) was without heat, hot water, or electricity, but it was good enough for the climbers, allowing them to form the core of new-route development. Here, they took to cooking on a wok over a kerosene heater (not recommended) that Miguel lent them. Jarrard: “We would cook everything over that kerosene … poisoning ourselves. That’s why I’m brain damaged right now.” Loeffler: “A contributing factor. We slept well, though.”
“Miguel was still just trying to make it work,” says Snyder. “I remember him saying, ‘ Buy my pizzas or I’m going to have to eat my goats.’” But soon, as word about the high quality of the new climbs began to leak out, out-of-state visitors began trickling in. “Miguel’s wound up being this central place where information was being dis
seminated … that’s why I think a lot of the development took place,” says Bill Ramsey, at the time a philosophy professor at Notre Dame
and today teaching at the University of Las Vegas. In the early 1990s, Ramsey, who’d been Alan Watts’s regular partner at Smith Rock, Oregon, during the early 1980s when Watts began his pioneering sport-climbing efforts there, would drive 14 hours round-trip every weekend to the Red. In time, Ramsey put up enduring testpieces like
Omaha Beach and Transworld Depravity, both 5.14s at the Motherlode, an OG Chris Snyder-Porter Jarrard area.
An almost magical evolution took place. Miguel started charging a couple of dollars for camping and made a few renovations. He upgraded the pizza oven to one that now held three 16-inch pizzas at a time, set into the wall and propped upright by a sturdy branch. Miguel’s 15-hour workday would begin before 4 a.m. when he would start the dough and then hand-shred the cheese. His humility, quiet
Daniel Woods on Transworld Depravity (5.14a) at the Madness Cave.
Son and father: Dario and Miguel Ventura.