Trip Report – Seneca Rocks, WV
With the end of the rock climbing season approaching and a cold harsh Midwest winter on its way Matt, me, and a couple friends were clamoring for one last big Multi-Pitch outing to celebrate an amazing season of climbing in 2013. We set our sights on Devils Tower as Matt and I hadn’t quite gotten our fill of it just yet. Unfortunately the 2013 Government Shutdown sent us and many other climbers looking at other options outside of the National Parks and Monuments to go climbing. Just a couple weeks before we were to set to begin our road trip, we had to come up with a backup plan. Luckily our backup plan was a more than worthy destination in West Virginia known as Seneca Rocks.
Seneca is a breathtaking razorback ridge that erupts sharply from the hills below. It rises over 900 feet above the Seneca Creek at its base. It is considered the only “true peak” on the east coast, meaning that the summit is only accessible by technical rock climbing techniques. The quartzite of Seneca Rocks is rich with climbing history dating back to the World War II era when the U.S. Army used it to train mountain troops in assault climbing. Some of this history can still be seen on the wall. One such area that still displays this history is the wall of 1000 pitons; where many of the old Army pitons are still in place. The community is very supportive of and embraces its rich climbing culture.
With Seneca being 6 hours closer than Devils Tower we were able to structure our trip to allow for 2 full days of climbing and one day of Hiking and relaxing. With fall weather always providing a question mark we decided to go straight for the summit on our first climb on day one. To gain access to you have to first tackle the approach hike lovingly nicknamed the “thighmaster”. It could rival nearly any leg or Stairmaster workout you could imagine doing. I’d venture to guess that among the local climbers there aren’t many “chicken legs” to be found. With the temperature on the shaded side that we were climbing down in the 40’s getting the blood pumping with this hike really wasn’t a bad thing. The whole way up the hike I was touching the surrounding cliff walls getting more excited to climb. The rock quality felt amazing. The quartzite there is very hard, but actually has an amazing amount of friction due to being infused with sandstone.
Tired from the drive, and wanting to ensure that we reached the summit we chose an easy classic known as Conn’s West for our first climb. This route starts at the base and goes straight up to the South Summit. The climbing is easy and well protected. It was probably the most fun I’d had climbing a route all year. It may have even been the most fun I’ve had climbing a route in my whole life. There is no better way to describe the route, it’s just fun. We spent a few hours climbing and making the best of our freezing cold fingers and toes as we made our way up the West face of the South Summit. Finally upon reaching the base of the summit ridge we were bathed in enough sunlight and warmth that we could lose our jackets. Now it was just 20 more feet of easy scrambling to take the summit. Upon reaching it there isn’t room for much more than a couple photos with everyone very close together, and a quick signature in the summit log. The summit is only about 2 feet wide and looks straight down to the ground below on both sides quite stunningly. The view of West Virginia’s beautiful fall colors is unobstructed for miles all the way around. The combination of the exposure and the sights to be seen make Seneca’s summit on of the best I’ve experienced.
Day two was set aside for hiking, exploring, and relaxing. After driving straight through and immediately climbing we were in need of a slower paced day. We went hiking around nearby Nelson Rocks. There was a relaxing hike up to a summit that provided us with spectacular views. After that we made our way in the opposite direction of where we normally go, down. We went 250 feet under the earth on a guided tour into the Stratosphere Cave. The caves in Seneca are a great way to spend a rest day. That evening we were lucky enough to have our trip coincide with the chili cook-off at the Gendarme, a local climbing shop. Entrance was free, but you were encouraged to buy raffle tickets to support the local Seneca rescue services. With more than 20 chili’s and kegs of local micro-brews it was sure to be a fun night. We turned in a bit later than usual on a climbing trip, but it was well worth it.
The next morning (day 3) it was apparent that we weren’t the only ones who stayed up a little bit too late. Climbing parties were slow and sluggish to get to the base of the climbs. This allowed us to beat the crowds and get the start of one of the most popular routes at Seneca, Old Man’s Route. While this route is given a very easy rating it does provide great climbing for anyone from the beginner to the most advanced. I took lead on the climb and began my way up to get a good head start on any climbing parties that were coming up behind us on the approach path. The first pitch can be done many different ways and is nothing but pure fun. The second half of the first pitch brings you out onto a very airy and exposed section. It is well protected and easy climbing, but you can’t help but look down and get a bit of a rush as the trees below begin to look like part of a model train set. Once at a large ledge I could bring up the rest of my party and we could begin pitch two. Pitch two is basically just a nice Sunday stroll down a ledge that traverses across the face of Seneca. Reaching another ledge it is back to vertical climbing again. The third pitch offers some great exposure as well. Working my way up it I began to look at the crux portion and perceived it to be much more difficult than it would actually be. I immediately plugged in an extra piece of protection just in case and went for it. I found that the route stayed true to its 5.2 rating as I pulled right through the moves. Upon pulling the crux you make your way through a narrow passage to the belay station. Once you bring the rest of your party up there are multiple ways to the summit from there. Having reached the summit on day one we decided instead to just do some more challenging climbing instead. One of the climbs we did was one of the best sustained crack climbs I’ve personally completed, the Critter Crack. This crack is up high on Seneca where every look you take back or below your feet provides an amazing view of the surrounding area.
That evening we had a big dinner and made our way to sit around the fire with some Yeungling which is the oldest American beer. We told jokes, talked about the climbing we’d done, and talked about the climbing we’d do in the future. It happened to be one of the warmest nights of the trip so we enjoyed ourselves until the last of our firewood was burned up. Finally we retired to our bags to rest up for the 12 hour journey home the following day. The whole way home all I could think about was when I’d be coming back again. Seneca Rocks is a trad climbing leader’s dreams come true. The rock quality is fantastic, most routes are very well protected, and the climbing comes in every varying type and difficulty you could ever ask for. Whether you are a beginning trad leader, a seasoned veteran, or even someone hiring a guide for a weekend of climbing, Seneca is a very worthy destination, and we couldn’t have picked a better alternative to Devils Tower.