Mike Williams is a Fayetteville, W.Va., resident who just published New River Gorge Rock Climbs, the most comprehensive climbing guidebook to the New and its surrounding crags to date. Williams also recently established a new route inside the gorge, Trebuchet, a 5.14b that many say is the hardest route at the New. BRO talked with Williams about dishing local secrets in his new book and why Fayetteville is the only place a climber should call home.
How did you wind up in Fayetteville?
I lived in a van and traveled all over the country to climb, but always came back to the New. When it was time to settle down, the New was the spot. The quality of rock is the best I’ve seen in the country. The gorge has hard sandstone that takes good protection and offers diverse routes with different handholds. No two climbs are the same. Each route inside the New has its own character.
What’s the new frontier for route development?
The golden age of route development is over inside the New. There are still more routes to establish, especially in the 5.13, 5.14 range, but to bolt a new route inside the New is difficult today. You have to pay a $50 application fee, then the Park Service has to analyze the route for months to make sure no environmental damage is done. It sucks, but I guess it’s necessary to keep the Gorge from getting gridded with bolts. Now, most of the development is happening in the Meadow River Gorge. In my opinion, the Lower Meadow is the best stretch of cliff in the region.
If you could only recommend one climb in the New, what would it be?
The Bridge Buttress is the obvious place to go. It’s a clean buttress with nice cracks and easy to set up top ropes. Zag is a 5.8 hand crack that faces the bridge. When you top out, you can see the bridge and the gorge. It’s very pretty. And it was the first route led in the gorge back in 1975. It’s still the most popular route to take climbers on for their first time in the gorge.
And what’s your favorite route?
The Cirque is my favorite cliff. It’s really steep with a 100-foot overhanging wall. Proper Soul is an amazing 5.14a at Cirque. The hardest route in the area might be Still Life, at Summersville. It’s a 5.14b. And I put up Trebuchet a month ago. It’s a 5.14b in Cirque. You climb a steep face up to a big roof. The upper portion of the route is the business, with 5.9 boulder moves up on the roof.
You wrote a book and established the top end route inside the gorge. What’s next?
I’m getting old, so I’m going to take it easy. Climbing is like gymnastics. All the world cup competitions are dominated by 17 year olds. When you’re 23, you’re on your way out in the world of climbing. Here I am at 31, so I’m just going to enjoy climbing.