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Climbing in West Virginia - October Break 2002

On Friday afternoon, Julie, Bob, and Andy with Chili came over and began stuffing my Honda Civic like a reluctant Thanksgiving turkey. After leaving behind all non-essentials (deodorant, windshield washer fluid), we were on our way to West Virginia. With wistful hearts we drove past the exit for our beloved Red River Gorge, but decided to pay homage and buy some Ale 8 while we were in the area.

Rain was coming down during the entire drive, but I was not about to let weather deter our plans, and only drove faster. However, Mother Nature does not care much for pride, and several miles from our destination - unable to slow down for a sharp, wet turn - we went off the road. I tapped the gas - wheels spun through. So we got out, gave the car a nudge, and miraculously it rolled out of the ditch as smooth as butter. In fact, it came out so lightly that I had to run after it down the hill. I jumped in as it was accelerating and frantically kicked at the pedals: gas (no effect), clutch (no effect), and finally, break. Still shaking from the adrenaline rush, I pulled over and saw the rest of the crew running to catch up with me. After a quick inspection in the dark, we determined that all of the wheels were still on, and that the alignment had remained steady. With the campsite only a few miles away, I drove with a newfound caution, taking the turns at lower than recommended speed. Got to the campsite with no problems, set up a tent for Andy and the dog, laid out the tarp for the rest of us, and were asleep within minutes.

In the morning, we woke up to see the Rocks. Two 300-ft fins rose out of the ground, beckoning us to come and get aquainted. A quick breakfast, a visual inspection of the car (the plastic bumper took a hit, everything else was unblemished), and we were off to the crag. We chose a 3-pitch 5.7 route to the summit - Green Wall. Bob led with me following, then came Andy with Julie. Chili Dog was left on the ground, but she wouldn't have appreciated the climbing anyhow. This was my first true multipitch experience, and it was definitely breathtaking. To belay from a narrow ledge and then climb over a 100+ foot dropoff is something quite different from our regular 60ft routes at the Red. The summit was beyond description. At the top, the rock is at most a few feet wide, so I was able to straddle it and take a look around. Sheer dropoff on the left, another on the right, and beautiful hill country all around; that moment alone was worth the 11 hour drive. We ran into some trouble on our way down - the rapelling point was rather crowded, with shady individuals causing rockfalls just above it. The descent took over an hour of waiting and other unpleasantness, and by the time we were able to get down, it was too late to do another climb. We headed back to the campsite, where Julie and I stayed to make dinner while Bob and Andy - after re-learning to drive stick by stalling out my poor car several times, making it shake like an epileptic at a rave - went to get refreshments.

The next morning, we chose to do Ecstasy, another 3-pitch 5.7, with Andy/Julie leading this time. Andy was getting his revenge on this one, because the last time he attempted it, he ended up going the wrong way - in effect completing a different route. Although the view wasn't as amazing, the climb itself was more interesting than the first - especially in terms of exposure. Once again, no Red River Gorge trip can compare to doing a hanging belay on rusty petons and self-placed gear while your partner is traversing across a vertical face far above the treetops. We made it up relatively smoothly, but had a rope get stuck on the way down, causing Bob to lead a 5.4 pitch to get it out. Delayed once again, the sun was already setting and we headed to a local pizza place.

After dinner, we decided to spend the last two days of the trip at New River Gorge, several hours away. So with tears in our eyes, we left beatiful Seneca and headed out into the night. In the morning, we met another group from Purdue who had spent the weekend at The New. We caught up with them at Cathedral Cafe - a church building converted into a breakfast diner (an old trick used by the Soviets). Communist associations aside, we had a great breakfast and headed to Junkyard Crag, home of the notorious New Yosemite. After warming up on some easier climbs, Andy and Bob led the unforgiving trad crack, with Julie and me following. This experience gave me exactly what I wanted - a proper schooling in crack climbing, replete with hand and foot jams, with no way to cheat. Afterwards, Andy led a smooth-as-silk 5.7 trad, and then a smooth-as-moonshine 5.10b trad. Once again, dusk crept in just as Bob was starting up a 5.11 sport route, so he had to bail. We hiked out in the dark, and went back to our overpriced campsite. We built a fire, which attracted a small crowd. One gentleman proceeded to teach us how to juggle hot coals. It was great fun watching him, but when we tried it, all we got was blisters. However, all pain melted away when Andy procured some - My Goodness! - refreshments.

The next morning was the last day of our break, and we headed to Summersville Lake (about 30 miles away). This area looked and felt very much like our sweet home Kentucky. Julie and I took turns leading a 5.9 and 5.8, while Bob and Andy played around on a 5.11. Since we all had classes the next day, we hustled back to the car and packed in for the long haul back to the flatlands. We stopped by a Pizza Hut on our way out of West Virginia, and then once again in Winchester, KY to buy several 6-packs of Ale 8.

All in all, this was one of the best trips I've been on, thanks to the great locations and great people.

Pictures from this trip

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