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West Virginia peaks draw experienced climbers and novices

  • Seneca Rocks rises behind the Monongahela National Forest Discovery Center in eastern West Virginia. The crag draws serious rock climbers though guides say they also bring novices up its easier routes to the summit. AP

  • In this June 25, 2017 photo climber Lindsey Enterline from Hershey, Pa., manages the safety rope belaying her partner at the start of Old Man's Route on the west face of Seneca Rocks in West Virginia. Enterline, eight months pregnant, says she chose the easy and safe route. (AP Photo/Michael Virtanen) Michael Virtanen

  • In this June 25, 2017 photo climber Phil Brown climbs the vertical pitch of Old Man's Route high on the west face of Seneca Rocks in West Virginia. Considered an easy climb, the route ends on the shelf near the upper tree. (AP Photo/Michael Virtanen) Michael Virtanen

  • In this June 24, 2017 photo 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. (AP Photo/Michael Virtanen) Michael Virtanen

  • In this June 25, 2017 photo a sign at the edge of Seneca Rocks in eastern West Virginia, between the hamlet's general store/restaurants and its climbing cliff, describes some of its natural and human history. (AP Photo/Michael Virtanen) Michael Virtanen

  • In this June 25, 2017 photo climber Phil Brown rappels down from Old Man's Route on the west face of Seneca Rocks in West Virginia. The crag has no hiking trail to the top so you have to either rappel or climb down. (AP Photo/Michael Virtanen) Michael Virtanen

  • In this June 24, 2017 photo climber Phil Brown from Saranac Lake, N.Y., starts up the three-sided chimney just above the well-known Skyline Traverse at Seneca Rocks, W.Va. The traverse consists of little more than a few steps around a rock column that requires stepping over a 100-foot drop. (AP Photo/Michael Virtanen) Michael Virtanen



Associated Press
Tuesday, July 11, 2017

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 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 away ascend the west face. The peak rises 900 feet 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 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.

The safety rope attached to my climbing harness was somewhat reassuring.

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.