Adam Taylor climbed the South’s toughest route in Red River Gorge, KY.

A 26-year-old from Lexington may have notched the South’s hardest climb to date. Adam Taylor ascended an extended Southern Smoke Direct route in the Red River Gorge, the South’s first climb believed to be 5.15.

Taylor’s direct start adds a difficult bouldering sequence of climbing to the existing route, which is 5.14c. While Taylor is hesitant to suggest a definitive grade for the entire 100-foot route, he believes the initial boulder problem is “a hard v13.”

Taylor equates the opening boulder problem to a runner squatting a large amount of weight before trying to run a 5K.

“This is the hardest route I have ever attempted,” he said. “The route begins with a very brief powerful sequence and moves to a long, endurance-oriented section.”

It didn’t come easy. A few days before his successful ascent, Taylor fell just prior to reaching the anchors at the end of the route.

Taylor, who works as a research analyst in a biochemistry lab at the University of Kentucky, has been pushing the limits at the Red for years now with groundbreaking first ascents. In 2009, Taylor punched his own Golden Ticket, a 5.14d first ascent. Since then, Taylor has repeated several other of the Red’s high-end climbs, as well as seeking out new climbs, such as The Tube, a 5.14b that he recently established in the area.

Taylor said he enjoys climbing at the Red River Gorge because the steep sandstone walls make for a very physical type of climbing.

“For me, the steeper the climbing, the better,” he said. The Red’s overhanging routes force climbers to shift more of their weight from their legs to their arms. “This style forces a more tactical approach to climbing. You have to stop and rest your arms, sometimes in rather creative ways.”

Taylor, one of the strongest climbers in the South, has yet to sign a sponsorship deal.

“I climb because it is what I really enjoy doing,” he said. “There is a perfect balance of physical exertion, mental toughness, teamwork, and danger.  I’ve had my foot in the door to get sponsored, but I feel that the pressure might throw the balance off.”

Taylor first started climbing in a climbing gym when he was 12 years old, but before long, the Greenville, S.C., native said that he and his father were making frequent trips to Looking Glass Rock near Brevard, N.C., where he learned the technical aspects of rock climbing.

“My dad told me that if you’re going to spend the time to do something, you might as well do the best that you possibly can. I have stuck with this motto and haven’t wasted much time climbing only halfway.”

Taylor is now turning his attention to a new 150-foot route that he believes will be even harder than his previous accomplishments.

“Locally, pushing into new territory is very difficult,” he said. “Simply finding a line that could potentially be of the right difficulty is hard enough, much less actually doing it.  It takes a lot of work and dedication—and some luck.”

Watch Taylor climbing the Tube, a recent 5.14b first ascent: