“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.”
Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

If you are the kind of person who pursues adventure, sooner or later you’re going to be tested.  Your adventurous spirit will be put to the test and you will question whether or not it would have been a better idea to take up stamp collecting instead.   You’ll have to take a step you’ve never taken before.  A step that takes you outside of your warm and happy comfort zone and thrusts you into the unknown.  if you’re that kind of person, you’ll have some of these moments.

If you ever aspire to be a person who climbs outdoors, you will probably have  many of these moments.

Climb with safe people, be a safe climber, and ensure all your protection is properly in place and you’re probably more likely to die in a car accident on the way home.   That’s logical.  But logic has a way of disappearing when you’re clinging to a rock 500ft in the air.  And if you were logical, you wouldn’t be up there in the first place!

You stand there, visualizing the route you’ll take to the next ledge, trying to control your breathing and slow your heart rate down.  But it’s hard when you look down and see 75ft tall trees below that look so small they could fit in your pocket.    Sure is a long way down….  maybe you’ve climbed high enough for the day…

Matt, Dave and I have been planning this trip for weeks.  Matt, my climbing buddy mentor,  is a west coast transplant with some big wall credentials.  He’d been pushing us to take a trip out to the Rocks since we started climbing together in the gym last spring, and Dave and I were more than happy to oblige.   The idea was to take the 3 hour drive out to Seneca Rocks in West Virginia on a Friday morning, setup at the camp ground across the road.  Then, ideally, we’d have a couple days of climbing on the numerous routes all over the rocks there.

Seneca who?  Purchased by the federal government in 1969, Seneca Rocks is one of the best-known landmarks in West Virginia. These rocks have long been noted as a scenic attraction and are popular with rock climbers.

The rocks are a magnificent formation rising nearly 900 feet above the North Fork River. Eastern West Virginia contains many such formations of the white/gray Tuscarora quartzite. Seneca Rocks and nearby Champe Rocks are among the most imposing examples. The quartzite is approximately 250 feet thick and is located primarily on exposed ridges as caprock or exposed crags. The rock is composed of fine grains of sand that were laid down approximately 440 million years ago, in an extensive sheet at the edge of ancient ocean. Years of geologic activity followed, as the ocean was slowly destroyed and the underlying rock uplifted and folded. Millions of years of erosion stripped away the overlaying rock and left remnants of the arching folds in formations such as Seneca Rocks.

The town of Seneca itself, across the street from the Rocks,  is what I always imaged what a little climbing town would look like.   The town center consists of 5 buildings; an abandoned garage, 2 general stores (with restaurants built in) and two climbing stores/guide services.  There’s also a small campground right across the street that’s close enough to allow you to walk right up to the mountain.  What more do you need, right?!

So we pulled into the campground on Friday afternoon, setup our tents and headed over to the Rocks to hike around and check out some routes.  It was a little late to actually do any climbing,  but at least we could scout out some spots we read about in the guidebook and be ready to get going first thing in the morning.

The rock formations are impressive to say the least, especially if you’re an east coaster like myself.   Like a set of jagged teeth ripping into the sky, they’re as frightening as they are beautiful.  Matt was as giddy as a little kid on Christmas, Dave and I were quiet.  “Are we going to really climb that thing?” I whispered to him.   “I dunno man….”
But Matt’s confidence was infectious.  We hiked back to the campsite, got a big fire going, and cooked up a huge gourmet campfire meal of chicken tika masala, palak paneer and white rice (which surprisingly turned out pretty well).  After dinner was finished and we’d enjoyed a few nips of whiskey and some delicious pumpkin beers, we headed off to our tents to rest up for the next day.

Morning sun came and we awoke to frost covered tents and bite of a cold November morning.  After downing some cheap breakfast sandwiches from the general store and a few cups of coffee, we set off for our first day on the mountain.

We started off at about 11am on the eastern side of the south ridge on a relatively easy route that would take us through 4 pitches of airy climbing to the top of the middle of the ridge known as the Gunsight Notch.  From there, we’d take another 2 pitch route all the way to the summit.  Matt, the only one with real outdoor experience would lead the climb.  Since this was a traditional or “Trad” climb, he’d also be setting the protection (in the form of spring loaded cams and nuts) in the wall as he went up.  Dave and I would follow, one at a time, each on a separate rope.

It was slow going all the way up, for a number of reasons.  First, Matt took a lot of time to explain to us what he was doing so we’d pick up some knowledge of lead climbing.  Secondly, because there we’re three of us, we had to stop and wait each time for all the climbers to get to the same anchor point before we could continue.  Lastly, Dave and I were both a little nervous (read A LOT NERVOUS) and it took us a little while to get our climbing rythym going.

But aside from being a little slow, everything was going pretty well.  Then we got to the ledge half way up the route.  That tiny little ledge we had to anchor in on. It was barely the side of small table and the dropoff below was at least 250ft.  We each had to stand up, manuever around the other climbers and then sideways climb across a little wall with nothing below us but air.   It was a little puckering to say the least.

I watched as Matt fearlessly traversed across it, set in a piece of protection and continued on his way up.  A few minutes later, he called down and told me I was on belay and I could start coming up.    I stood up, wiped off my sweaty palms and dug deep into my chalk bag to get a good coating of white powder.   I wondered if there was an easy way for me to downclimb from here.  I scanned the surrounding rock and decided the easiest way, unfortunately, was going to have to be up.  Just had to get past this one piece and it all would be easy after that.

So I took one last tug on the rope, double checked my knot and took a deep breath as I stepped away from the ledge.  I slowed worked from hold to hold, taking only a brief moment to glance down at the air below.   The final move involved reaching across a chimney and planting my foot in a little crack in the rock.  Boom, in the rock and I was across.  I let out a sigh.  It had taken about 3 seconds for me to cross, I felt like i’d been up there for a year.

“You made that look easy” Dave’s words of encouragement entered my brain.   I was already moving up the chimney and heading back up towards Matt.

I had just crossed some kind of a threshold.  Anxiety was gone and its place was calm and serenity.  It was as though someone hit a switch inside of me.  I felt transformed.

After about 4 total hours of grunting up the route, we finally emerged on the top of the Gunsight notch with its spectacular view of the valley below and the true summit less that 100 vertical feet above.   Even though it was getting a little late, summited wouldn’t be much of a problem.  Unfortunately, we got stuck in a traffic jam behind another group of climbers who were taking the same route as us.  Rather than spend time looking for another route and attempting a risky late day summit, we decided to rappel down do some top roped climbing down near the foot of the Rock.

We didn’t hit our goal of reaching the summit, but we still had a pretty awesome day of climbing.  We hiked back down to the car, drove over to one of the two restaurants in town and enjoyed some hot pizza washed down with ice cold Breckenridge Beer.

The next morning, we loaded up our gear again and headed back to try and get on top of the summit before we had to head home.  Once again, fueled by cheap breakfast sandwiches and dark coffee, we decided to take a more direct route on the western face of the ridge known as Old Man’s Route.   This four pitch climb was pretty easy, relatively quick (especially since Matt didn’t have to spend as much time babysitting Dave and I) and got us to the lower summit in about 2 hours.

Once up there, we walked a short traverse to the true summit, a 6 foot wide fin of rock rising almost 900ft in the air with sheer drop offs on either side.  It was frightening, breathtaking and awe-inspiring all at the same time.

After taking a couple of quick pictures and signing the guidebook, we headed back to the lower summit, anchored in and took a 200ft rappel off of the western face of the Rock.  It was one last thrill of the day.  Since we didn’t have a rope long enough for a 200ft rappel, we tied two ropes together (which actually works) and used them both to get us down to the bottom of the western wall in minutes. Once down at the bottom we tied up the ropes and hiked back down to the campsite to pack up the tents and enjoy one last celebratory beer.

As I sipped my beer and stuff the poles of my tent away in the bag, I looked up at the giant piece of quartzite that we had just summited, towering off in the distance.  I briefly thought of how different it looked now that I had stood on top of it.  No longer menacing, but now looking purely majestic in the light of the setting sun.   I tried to think of what next adventure could be, but my mind quickly turned to hurrying home and settling in for a nice quiet evening in front of the TV with my wife. I’ve had enough adventure to fill my spirit for a while.

Dave driving to the rocks. We're running late as usual.

Whoops! We forgot the kitchen sink!

View of the rocks from the campsite

Matt making the fire go

Dave trying to fix his little chair

Campfire coffee!

It's a little chilly out

The gear and the beer!

Hold on little carabiner!!

Matt doing some belaying

View of the rocks. We summited the right hand side of the notch in the middle (The Gunsight notch).

Another view

Dave and Matt looking strong for a second day of climbing

Yours truly standing on the fin of Seneca Rocks.

Dave used this opportunity to Tebow on the top of the rock.

I made it down in one piece! My wife will be so pleased.

Dave being Dave.

Matt. Climb leader extraordinaire!

So what’s the next big thing?  In the near term: NOTHING.  I’m taking a couple of months off of adventuring to catch up on the household stuff, work and just relaxing.  But don’t worry,  it’ll also give me plenty of time to check out new gear, do write ups and reviews and do some other smaller adventures and trips.    Also, it’ll give me time to put together THE VIDEO from this trip.  That’s right, I bit the bullet and bought myself a helmet cam and recorded all kinds of cool footage from the trip.   I should hopefully have that up within the next week or so, once I figure out how to use Final Cut Pro!   In the meantime, I posted a short little raw teaser from the trip below.

Happy trails!!!