West Vir­ginia peaks draw ex­pe­ri­enced climbers and novices

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

The pale ridge rises like the ragged fin of a pre­his­toric fish in a rolling green sea of low forested moun­tains in eastern West Vir­ginia. Mas­sive and in­tim­i­dat­ing, the craggy land­scape of Seneca Rocks draws se­ri­ous rock climbers from Wash­ing­ton, Pitts­burgh and else­where to its fiercely ver­ti­cal routes. The moun­tain­top, which can be reached with­out tech­ni­cal climb­ing gear, once hosted Amer­i­can com­bat troops train­ing to fight in Italy's Apen­nine Range dur­ing World War II.

De­spite its daunt­ing ap­pear­ance, guides say this is a good place to in­tro­duce novices to a challenging but man­age­able as­cent. "It lends it­self to mellow climb­ing," said Adam Hap­pen­sack, who led a three­some of mixed skill lev­els to the sum­mit re­cently. "It's like the coolest ex­po­sure you'll get for this grade of climb­ing." From the Monon­ga­hela Na­tional For­est Dis­cov­ery Cen­ter ter­race, through a binoc­u­lar scope, you can watch climbers nearly a half-mile (nearly a kilo­me­ter) away as­cend the west face. The peak rises 900 feet (274 me­ters) above a fork of the Po­tomac River be­low. Vis­i­tors can splash in the river, hike for­est trails and stay in camp­grounds or an old mo­tel. The nearby ham­let has two com­bi­na­tion gen­eral stores and restau­rants.

Seneca Rocks viewed from the ground spears the sky with its gray quartzite, but be­comes more in­ti­mate and breath­tak­ing on the way to the top. You hear the birds and soft thrum of the wind through the hard­wood for­est, and oc­ca­sional yells from climbers to part­ners be­lay­ing them on safety ropes. Hap­pen­sack led climb­ing part­ner Phil Brown and me up a seven-pitch patch­work of easy routes to the top, in­clud­ing the Sky­line Tra­verse. Many hand­holds and steps were ob­vi­ous jugs of rock. No pitches were rated higher than 5.4 in the Yosemite Dec­i­mal Sys­tem for tech­ni­cal climb­ing that ranges from 5.1 to nearly im­pos­si­ble 5.15.

One well-known feature is that tra­verse with lit­tle more than a few steps around a rock col­umn into a three-sided chim­ney with ob­vi­ous holds. How­ever, the first moves re­quire step­ping over about a 100-foot (30-me­ter) drop. "It's like the scari­est thing a beginner can get into," said Hap­pen­sack, who has taken many first-timers up the route. He cau­tioned that those ini­tial footholds are worn and slip­pery from decades of boots and climb­ing shoes. It took me a long, slow, breath­less minute to fol­low him: test­ing the lean­ing tra­verse across the space, try­ing to grip the nar­row crack on one side and fum­ble to­ward some­thing to hold on the other with arms spread wide; trust­ing that the slightly smooth step be­low wouldn't sim­ply slide you into space. The safety rope at­tached to my climb­ing har­ness was some­what re­as­sur­ing. 'I had a mo­ment'

This is what climbers call ex­po­sure - where there would be a high risk of in­jury or even death from a false step with­out pro­tec­tion. You have to trust the rope and go. Brown, who fol­lowed me, has climbed for a decade in the Adiron­dacks and did this tra­verse once be­fore. "Wow," he said, when he joined us at the top of the chim­ney where Hap­pen­sack be­layed him. "Cool."

The next day Brown led me up Old Man's Route. Rated only 5.3 for dif­fi­culty, it con­sists mostly of what looks like a gi­ant stair­way along the cliff face end­ing in a 50-foot (15me­ter) ver­ti­cal cor­ner to the sum­mit ledge. At the base, 33-year-old Lindsey En­ter­line, preg­nant with her first child, pre­pared to do it with a friend. A clim­ber for seven years and a run­ner, her ob­ste­tri­cian told her to keep do­ing what she was do­ing but not start any­thing new. She'd cho­sen the easy route in­stead of the harder climb her hus­band and other friends from Her­shey, Penn­syl­va­nia, took on.

"I've done the route be­fore, and it's one that I won't fall side­ways - or do the tra­verse," she said. "I just make sure it's safe. And you have to have cool trust in the peo­ple you're climb­ing with." An­other young woman, on her first climb, mounted the cor­ner far­ther up, kept on a tight rope by the ex­pe­ri­enced part­ner who coached her on find­ing holds. She as­cended with only one or two hes­i­ta­tions. She'd fallen far­ther down the moun­tain, but was caught on the rope and kept climb­ing. "I had a mo­ment," she said with a smile. With no trail to walk down, Seneca Rocks climbs end in rap­pelling on ropes threaded through a de­vice on your har­ness that cre­ates fric­tion and slows the de­scent. "That was scarier than the climb up," the novice said. Other sites that draw climbers to the state in­clude the New River Gorge and Sum­mersville Lake, where cliffs lean out over the wa­ter not far from the gorge. — AP

Photo shows Seneca Rocks rises be­hind the Monon­ga­hela Na­tional For­est Dis­cov­ery Cen­ter in eastern West Vir­ginia. — AP photos

Guide Adam Hap­pen­sack crosses the Old Ladies Tra­verse, a food-wide ledge high on the east face of Seneca Rocks and among its eas­i­est routes in West Vir­ginia.

Clim­ber Phil Brown from Saranac Lake, NY, starts up the three-sided chim­ney just above the well-known Sky­line Tra­verse at Seneca Rocks, W.Va.

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