West Virginia: Seneca Rocks

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I had no idea what to expect, as I drove to Seneca Rocks after backpacking in the Dolly Sods. The unincorporated community lies along West Virginia Route 28/West Virginia Route 55, on the way to Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia. But, I quickly learned that Seneca is a climbing paradise in the middle of the Virginias.

Jutting abruptly above the forest and valley floor, a razorback ridge towers more than 900 feet high, edging out of the earth like a narrow shark’s fin—250 feet thick—over the Potomac River and Seneca Creek. The glowing monolith is comprised of white-grey Tuscarora quartzite: a conglomerate of pebbles, sandstone and silt that supposedly feels similar to sandstone (I didn’t have a chance to actually climb.)

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Most known for multi-pitch trad climbing, more than 450 mapped routes exist and range in difficulty from a 5.0 (easiest) to 5.12 (the most difficult.) (Quick lesson: trad climbing means traditional climbing, which requires the placement of climbing equipment—devices that hold the rope and break one’s fall—as the lead climber ascends the rock face.)

I stopped at the first collection of buildings that I drove upon:Harper’s Olde General Store, the Front Porch Restaurant, andYokum’s motel. I parked and walked intoThe Gendarme, a climbing shop with a rustic cabin exterior—but that’s stocked with awesome contemporary gear and apparel. The shop operates theSeneca Rocks Climbing School, which provides guiding and instruction courses. The options include classes for beginners; intermediates that are learning how to follow lead climbers; and lead climbing.

Across the street was a second climbing school—with a huge outdoor climbing wall—calledSeneca Rocks Mountain Guides.

There’s also theSeneca Rocks Discovery Center, where I stopped to get some trail beta and maps. The building is really nice (restrooms included), and there’s a telescope on the outside deck where visitors can scope out climbers up above. You can take a 1.5-mile hike from the center up to an observation platform that’s adjacent to the rocks.

That “first collection of buildings” sums up the town! It felt like a cozy climber’s basecamp nestled next to the stunning Seneca Rocks.

Where to stay?

The drive from Petersburg to Seneca is a quick 25 minutes, but I recommend booking a campsite in advance and staying close to the crag and near other climbers, so you can share info and make new friends. Open from April to October,Seneca Shadows Campground offers about 80 sites with various accommodations ($15-$60 per night), and is only one mile east of Seneca Rocks via US Route 33. Plan your meals ahead of time, and bring the groceries with you.

Climbing Beta

Mountain Project features 280 climbs from Seneca, as well as information on camping in the area. You can also pick up the guidebook, Seneca: The Climber's Guide, 2nd Edition, by Tony Barnes at Gendarme.

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