Sorry Northern Virginia, I’m not talking about you. We have finally found ourselves back at The New River Gorge in West Virginia arguably the best sport climbing destination on the east coast. With nearly a thousand routes and vibrant community centered around the AAC campground, it’s definitely my favorite spot. It also holds a special place in my heart as the first place I ever lead a sport route outdoors back in Spring of 2014.
I hiked down to a cliff called Sandstonia in the Bubba City area with Dimitri, and we were both looking at climbing either of the classic 5.8 climbs at that cliff, Geisha Girl and Mrs. Field’s Follies. It was busy at the crag that day, so we settled on Bobby D’s Bunny, and easy 5.6 that basically looked like a series of chest high ledges. It was my first time leading, so as I began to climb fear shot through my entire body. My legs were shaking, my breathing was unsteady, and I was second guessing everything I though I had learned. I made it to the top no problem, then realized that I really DO know how to rock climb. Full of confidence, I had Dimitri lower me to the ground, and he climbed that 5.6 as well.
After he came down, we looked over towards the two classic 5.8’s only to see that they were both still being climbed. We referenced the guide book, and learned that the next climb to the right of our targeted 5.8’s is a highly regarded 5.10c called Kinestetica. We both looked at each other, and decided that because we could climb 5.11’s in the gym, this should be a piece of cake! I begin to lead the climb, and everything is flowing smoothly. The moves seamlessly link themselves together in a blur of climbing ecstasy until I found myself standing on a ledge just below a large roof. The end of the climb was just above the roof, so if I could make it over the roof I would be done! I edge out until I can peer over the roof, and I clip the bolt that is just over the edge of the roof.
Having placed my protection, I began to make the move over the roof. I moved out as far as I could on the ledge, then reached up and placed my hands on the giant semi-circle flake that the guy in the picture below has his right hand on. Next, I moved my feet up, and reached up over the edge of the roof, grabbing blindly for a hand hold. My right hand grabbed a solid hold, so I restated my feet, and reached up with my left hand. I was only able to find a marginal hold with my left hand, but I decided to try to pull the rest of my body up anyway. I begin to move my feet higher up, and am able to pull my torso and lift my right leg up onto the top of the ledge, but in order to really be on top of the ledge, you have to get your hips over. I find myself unable to do this without a solid left hand hold, and begin to feel my grip strength slowly depleting. I fumble around with my left hand for 30 seconds, but eventually I can’t hold on any longer. I let go with my right hand and fall off the ledge back over the edge of the roof! I only fall maybe 5 feet before my rope catches me on my last quickdraw, and I come to a soft halt, hanging in the air. This was my first ever lead fall, and it was absolutely exhilarating. If climbing the 5.6 minutes before didn’t get my jitters out, this fall certainly did.
I pull myself back onto the ledge under the roof, and stand there for a minute or two, shaking out my arms. After my rest, I get back on the wall, and climb back up to my previous position. This time I reached about 4 inches further with my left hand and was able to find a solid hold. With a solid grip for both of my hands, I pull myself completely onto the ledge and complete the climb! I was also able to return on a later date and complete that same climb clean, without falling once. The New River Gorge will always be a very special place for me, and I plan to return here repeatedly throughout what I hope to be a long climbing career.
We are going to be living at the AAC campground for the next month, and we plan on climbing roughly 6 days a week until we decide it’s time to move on to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. I just climbed a 5.11a called G-String clean today, so I hope to be confident on 5.12’s and projecting 5.13’s by the end of the month with the help of Soylent and Yoga. Expect a few posts in the future about our general fitness, the actual performance of Soylent as a food, and our lifestyle in the New River Gorge.
I know I haven’t written much about any of the Northeast climbing we did after Rumney, but here’s a one sentence summary of each:
Acadia – Beautiful yet limited climbing overshadowed by abundant quintessential hiking.
North Conway – Stunning climbing at Cathedral ledge, and amazing alpine climbing on Cannon Mountain and Mount Washington.
The Gunks – Classic trad spot with super nice people at the local climbing shop, but costs $17 per day.