BLAKE BOWLING - "Team Suck's" Red River Gorge caretaker


Blake Bowling on the Red River Gorge classic B3 (5.11b), Long Wall. Photo by Wes Allen


Not everyone would be proud to be part of “Team Suck,” but Blake Bowling, 33, is glad he joined. Team Suck ( comprises Bowling and a crew of Red River Gorge, Kentucky, aficionados who’ve worked the last eight years upgrading spinning/rusty hardware on the crags’ porous, often-wet, but heavenly Corbin sandstone. With personal funds, donations, and help from Climbing’s Anchor Replacement Initiative (ARI), they’ve kept many a Red classic ready.

“We started taking a closer look at the bolts we were falling on,” says Bowling, who owns Sharp End LLC, a software firm in Lexington. “So we bought a drill, did some research, and began fixing routes that needed it.” To date, Team Suck estimates they’ve placed or replaced more than 1,000 bolts — more if you count “honorary members.”

How is the Red’s original sport hardware looking? A few different types aren’t holding up as well. Most of the early ones we replaced were 3/8” stud bolts, and many still had “Porter Hangers” (angle iron). The hangers were strong, but the stud bolts didn’t have enough expansion to hold up well for long periods.

How’s the work been received? We typically fix the holes well enough that most climbers don’t even notice. Many times, people will give me cash to fix this bolt or that route — they literally walk to their packs and get their pizza money. The ARI has helped spread the word about bad bolts, and we’re setting the priority list of routes to fix this summer.

What are some problems unique to the Red’s rock? The stone’s density varies a great deal — it can be crazy hard, to damp brown sugar, in a couple feet.

And some of the sketchiest bolts you’ve seen? The really bad ones are mostly the spinners. As the climbers weight the bolt, it slowly cuts through just behind the head, with little sign of wear. One day, we pulled off three bolts — from Strevel Gets in Shape, Way up Yonder, and Stay the Hand, all at Roadside — all 75 to 90 percent cut by the spinning hanger being used over and over.

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