The day-trip adds a good dose of adventure to the normal routine. The planning (whatever little there is), the traveling, and the actual activity all combine for a fresh break into this wide world. To illustrate this, here is a recent account of an excursion into the wild, past ordinary boundaries, and up a huge frickin’ rock: Destination Seneca, West Virginia.
The day started off early and with a full cup of coffee. We packed the necessary equipment, excess food, and ourselves into the vehicle to start our trip to Seneca National Park. An early 3-hour car ride through autumn country roads is always a good way to start an adventure. The road and the miles between our home and our destination stretched on like a long ribbon tied to a present we were about to open. We kicked on some Blue Ridge Mountain Jams, held the delicate balance between coffee and bathroom breaks, and cruised down the Sam Sneed memorial highway, all the while having only dreams of what was to come.
We arrived to Seneca, WV to find all the local climbing shops closed due to nice weather. We took the signs as a good omen and headed to the base of our climb. Full trad rack equipped, three of us started methodically ascending the first pitch and sequentially said goodbye to the ground for awhile.
The first pitch was easy enough, a Seneca 5.6, but between two ropes, three people, and a good handful of placed gear, the climb took some time off the clock. At one point I looked across the landscape to see deep valleys of the young colors of fall. An opposite butte of Tuscarora quartzite towered across the street and fully in my view. I remember thinking, “who would be crazy enough to climb that thing?”
The second pitch was a little shorter, but there were some shaky legs and nervous smiles as the route began to run out a bit making for an uncomfortable situation in the event of a fall. However, it wasn’t until the third pitch did the exposure kick in.
Suddenly our climbing party stood on top of the forest, on top of the landscape, and on top of the world with only way to go; up. Although our multi-pitch adventure had us only scaling so much distance at a time, we incrementally built up a lot of vertical distance between us and the ground. As I scrambled for anything that could constitute as a hand-hold, and looked below my smeared feet to the seemingly thousands of feet (seemingly) below, a sudden realization of my own frailty in nature overcame me. It is the same frailty that turned to astonishment as I stood on top of every pitch, knowing I had surpassed the obstacles of the natural world briefly.
After the fourth pitch we could see the sun starting to dip beneath the mountains in the spread out western sky. It was that time and we knew it, it was bail-o’clock. An old friend once said that whenever something goes wrong in the wilderness that is when the adventure begins. And sitting on top of Seneca rocks as the sun disappeared into the horizon, our adventure began.
We had a guide-book, all the right equipment, and just enough time. What we didn’t have however, was a suitable anchor to rappel directly down from. Down climbing was far from an option and there was little time to sit around. After some scouting and searching, we found a rappel station for a separate route and we improvised.
After hanging precariously from cold shuts and setting the two ropes up for the rappel with a European Death Knot (comforting name, I know), we were ready to rappel halfway down the arête and to an established rappel station. After all the set-up, deliberation, and execution of our off-the-cliff plan, we made it to the second rappel station safely with bloodied knees and an absence of daylight.
Our last rappel was equipped with headlamps and starry skies. The ground felt welcoming after six hours spent on the rock, and my trail sneakers felt like slippers after spending the same amount of time in climbing shoes.
We left Seneca in the dark and a part of ourselves on the rock. Self doubt, unknown experiences, and old weaknesses all stayed behind as we pulled out of the parking lot. The ride home was easy, fueled by unleaded gasoline and the excitement of the day, and we drove home as our headlights pushed forward and to the end of a great day.
Go out and play,