May 20-22nd 2009
We had honeymooned at Seneca Rocks in June of 2004, and loved it. For some reason we hadn't made it back though. It's easy to drive 2-1/2 hrs. to Chattanooga to climb for a day, and 3-1/2 hrs to NC to climb for a weekend, and somehow not too hard to fly to Vegas to climb for five days, but driving 9-1/2 hrs to climb at Seneca had been difficult.
The Seneca Rocks formation is a giant fin of Tuscarora Quartzite, maybe 1/2 mile long, running north/south, several hundred feet high, and not very thick. Sort of a giant potato chip jammed into the earth on edge, with a big notch taken out of the middle (referred to as the "Gunsight Notch"). It is divided into West Face and East Face routes, and due to the notch in the middle, North Peak and South Peak routes. It yearns to be climbed upon.
The town of Seneca Rocks is basically a 3-way intersection with 4 buildings, and 2 of them are climbing related. One of them is The Seneca Rocks Climbing School, and the other is the Gendarme climbing store, one of the oldest continually-open climbing stores in the country. It's named after a giant pillar
of rock that once stood at the center of the Seneca Rocks formation. The Gendarme was first ascended in 1939. It fell on October 22nd, 1987, a mere 2 days after the last ascent.
We arrived at Seneca Shadows Campground on the evening of the 19th. Anne & Tom would arrive late that night. Seneca Shadows is a beautiful Forest Service campground, with pretty, well-maintained sites and hot showers. It was nearly empty, which rocked.
Day 1 - A quick jaunt to the Gendarme to buy another guidebook, since I'd managed to leave BOTH of ours on my desk at home. Fortunately there is a new edition available, so I wasn't buying something we already owned. The new one is definitely expanded and easier to use too.
The temps had hit mid-40's, and it was still chilly when we started out, so we elected to start on the East face, in the sun. Mistake. We were immediately hot. We would start on the West face and finish on the East for the next two days. We started with an excellent 5.8, Ye Gods and Little Fishes. It's a beautiful corner, with cracks, flakes and jugs. Everything
here is nearly dead-vertical, and VERY sustained, so it all feels pretty sandbagged. Starting the trip with Seneca 5.8 first thing in the morning was a nice wake-up call. From here we traversed right a bit to Dufty's Popoff, 5.7. Based on the photo in the guide, I directed Allison up a difficult face (right). (Anyone who has read our previous posts would think that I would have learned my lesson by now. - Allison) Had we read the description we would've realized that she was supposed to be a bit further right, in a dihedral that looked much easier. Oh well...
We hiked across Broadway Ledge to Frosted Flake (left), and climbed this with the second pitch variation, Kid Galahad, for 2 pitches of 5.9. Although somewhat daunted by the concept, my (Will's) ultimate goal was to lead some Seneca 5.10, and we were just about there...
We scrambled up to the top and signed the summit register for the second time. I'm pretty sure that this was the first place we'd ever been that requires 5th class climbing to achieve, 5 years before.
We rappelled back down to Broadway Ledge and hiked north to the fantastic cracks of Castor and Pollux, both 10a, and both highly recommended. Will led Castor without incident. A short piece of 5.6 which comprises the 2nd pitch of Conn's East landed us on Alcoa Ledge, from which several routes depart. One of them is Orangeaid, a beautiful 10b. Will led this, also without incident. At this point it was getting late, and Anne & Tom had appeared below on Broadway, so we all decided to hike out. We got a little lost on the descent, and separated, but found Anne's helmet, which someone had kicked off of Broadway Ledge earlier. We never would've found it had we not been off-route.
We drove over to the swimming hole on the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River, and cooled off with beer. Made burritos for dinner, with black beans, corn, and cabbage. Methane and sulphur dioxide levels in our truck camper are rising...
Day 2 - The weather is definitely on a warming trend, and even if it hadn't been, we'd still be starting on the shady West Face today. Allison led Banana 5.6, and Debbie, 5.7 as a single pitch. A short scramble leads us to the base of For Madmen Only, a 5.10, which Will leads. This puts us on the summit ridge north of the Gunsight Notch. We've never been to the North Summit, so we mountaineer over to it in a couple of pitches. We rappel down and climb Tomato, an excellent 2-pitch 5.8, which lands us once again more or less on the South Summit. We rappel down the East Face to Broadway Ledge. Will leads Pollux, 10a. We rappel back to Broadway and scramble up through the Gunsight Notch, and rappel the West Face again. Then it's back to camp, where Tom a
nd Anne make excellent chili.
Day 3 - Tom and Anne had climbed Pleasant Overhangs, a 3-pitch 5.7, the day before, and it looked good, so we started on this today. The position on this route is incredible. The entire 2nd pitch is a rising traverse under a giant roof, which Allison led. (left) The route does, however, have a fair amount of rotten rock. Anne pulled off a hand-hold the size of a softball the day before. She carefully wrapped it in slings and lowered it to Tom. They're taking it home as a souvenir (don't tell).
Anne & Tom were leaving to drive home today, and the plan was to finish climbing by 3 pm, and meet for pizza at Harper's (one of the 4 buildings that comprises the town of Seneca Rocks). Allison & I figured that if we really cruised, we could complete one more route to the top in the hour and a half that remained. We chose Thai's, a 5.6 with a number of variations up to 5.10b. Allison led the first pitch, and Will ran the entire rest of the route together to the top. We think the variation we did was 5.9ish.
We hiked out with Anne & Tom and had our pizza. They headed home, and Allison & I turned toward Harper's Ferry, where we'd planned to go kayaking the next day, but when we got back into a cell coverage zone Will learned that his uncle Louis had died that morning. We decided to cut the trip short and head down to Florida to hang out with Will's family.
It was an excellent trip, with a sad ending. We'll have to try to make it back to Seneca in less than 5 years this time.
We just passed a church. Its interchangeable sign read, "IN ORDER FOR YOU TO UNDERSTAND GOD, YOU MUST STAND UNDER GOD".