New River Gorge Climbing
This is not your usual New River Gorge climbing story. There are no 15 foot whippers off Apollo Reed. There are no images of blood-stained, chalk-caked, calloused-meat-stick fingers. The stars of this climbing story are just regular old people who love to climb. Sometimes we are strong, sometimes we are not. There are a few cheesy references to some songs to inspire us underdog climbers making a first or second comeback into climbing. All of the climbers in this story are 40 or sitting on the front step of 40. We are all simultaneously stoked and nervous to get back at it for the 2020 season leading outside and climbing outside.
Climbing is Cyclical
Climbing is a cyclical sport. All climbers go through cycles of feeling strong and feeling weak. It is just how life and climbing goes. Sometimes you have a terrible week/month at work, sometimes your partner takes a fall on your clavicle and breaks it, sometimes you have a baby, or sometimes there is a global pandemic. There is always something that is going to get in the way of climbing. Mid-global pandemic, most climbers, like us, are probably working their way back up from a bit of a low spot in their climbing!
We can do our best to maintain our climbing strength through these times, but the truth is, some time or other, we will be in a position where we feel we are starting at the bottom, again. Accepting this as our reality is the best we can do! No need to fight it. Don’t stop believing in yourself and the journey you are on, enjoy the struggle, and be proud of yourself regardless of the grade. Be proud that you are out there, working through the tough stuff, which is mostly our own egos, to get strong again.
New River Gorge Climbing Day 1 (after driving for six and a half hours)
We begin. New River Gorge Climbing. New rope, new, baby, new life. This is Michelle, one of my best climbing partners for the last 6 years. She climbed in the gym until she was 8 months pregnant, has not been climbing outside since 2016, and has been raising the most adorable baby boy who is now almost 3. When our climbing gym opened back up, when the county went green, or orange, or whatever it was, she was ready to rise up Eye of the Tiger style. She did her time, went the distance: 3+ months quarantining with a 2.5 year old, doing online grad school for a second master’s degree, and teaching 5th grade online for Philly Public Schools.
Michelle was the inspiration behind this whole NRG trip really. The motive for the trip was just to get the heck outside. To get on real rock again, to face some fear and to lead stuff she had lead before just to know she still could, and to do what she loved, in spite of all the fear and nerves, again. I am 100% sure that there are a ton of women like Michelle out there, women who are working hard to get back to things they love and balance it with a new baby.
Climb #1: Near Beer a 5.6 at Beer Wall in Bubba City
The first climb of the trip was Near Beer, a one star 5.6 at the Beer Wall in Bubba City, an awesome area for New River Gorge Climbing. We didn’t care that it was a 5.6. We were all going to face a little fear. This is what the trip was all about. We didn’t come to crush grades, we came to get back at it, we came to get our heads in the game. None of us had been outside in a while and we weren’t looking to put away 10s and 11s.
All of us know that climbing outside is NOT the same as climbing inside. There aren’t 5 feet between bolts at the NRG, there are 10, if you are lucky. Success meant just being there and getting on the sharp end, working through some fear, and clipping the next draw to the anchors. Of course, just because it is a 5.6 doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a crux. It is all relative. A crux is a crux. And…..
We Found the Crux! Ugh!
The only thing that would stop us was the crux. Yes, the 5.6 crux. You can swear at it, whimper at it, remind it how tall you are, tell it there is a pandemic, the crux doesn’t care. The only thing that works at the crux is breathing, thinking, followed by commitment. A little crux on a 5.6 is the worst. Because in your mind, you are telling yourself how easy it should be. It is all relative though, there are too many factors that can make one climb harder than another for an individual climber, they can’t all be measured with one number and one letter. The style of holds at the crux, the distance between holds, the height of the climber, the climber’s preferred climbing style, what kind of footwork is necessary, the mental state of the climber, the degree of the wall, the height of a climb, the number of cruxes on the climb, and of course more.
TBH, I find Geisha girl, a 5.8, harder than Bad Ass Tattoo, a 10a. More on that later. IMO, the only thing you can accurately measure with a number and a letter is a shoe size, even then there is room for argument.
But, we were not at the New to crush grades. We were there to just get at it. We got on 3 climbs that day (this is after driving 6+ hours from Philly) Micro-Brew a 5.5, Near Beer a 5.6, and Daisy Cutter a 5.7. IMO, it was a perfect day of getting back on the sharp end. We didn’t care that the grades were beginner grades, our heads were getting back in the game, we were outside, on real rock, doing what we love!
High Volume Low Stakes Climbing Builds a Foundation
If you are planning your New River Gorge Climbing trip of 2020, don’t sweat it! Just work on getting your head in the game. Low stakes fun climbing, just get out for the sake of getting out! Taking time to slowly get your head in the game gives you a nice relaxed head space to start setting goals for the rest of the season! The rock isn’t going anywhere.
New River Gorge Climbing Day 2 Camp Breakfast!
Day 2 begins! You can see from out upside down camp chairs and tarp over tent that it rained all night, and it did not go super smoothly in one tent! On our best days we might be leading 5.11s or 5.10s outside, but on our first days of the season we are just looking to hand up some 6s, 7s, and 8s, but on all days there is camping breakfast! It might look like a mess and like a lot of work, but it isn’t.
There is something so simple and enjoyable about eating eggs and toast out of a triangle shaped plastic camp dish with a plastic double headed spork. And camp coffee, is the epitome of relaxation. Then there is the quarter mile walk to the sink to do dishes, I even enjoy that. We were staying at the good ol’ Chestnut Creek Campground right outside Fayetteville, WV, excellent primitive camping, warm showers. If you are climbing at the New River Gorge, I highly recommend a stay at Chestnut Creek!
New River Gorge Animal Selfies!
Rain, Lots of Rain
Our first night camping came with about an inch of rain. No huge surprise here, we know how to read a forecast! TBH, I personally was not bummed about the rain. Michelle was a bit bummed though. I knew that the rain would make it a light day of climbing, but I also knew that my head would benefit from it. Light, low stakes, easy climbing. This trip for me was all about doing some easy stuff, just to start to get my outdoor lead head on for the season. Plus, it meant swimming in Summersville Lake, something you can do rain or shine. Technically Summersville Lake climbing is not part of the New River Gorge climbing areas, it has its own guidebook and whatnot, but it is a short 25 minute drive up Highway 19.
The rain free window on day 2 was about 3 hours, so we went to the place where we knew the sun would be shining the hottest and the brightestest and where we knew we could have some fun even when it started to pour. Summersville Lake, Orange Oswald Wall. For those of you familiar with the area, you are probably thinking, oh man, I bet it was slammed! But there was not another soul there! We had it to ourselves!
The goal for the day was Hippie Dreams, a 5.7. However, as you can see from the photo, the bottom of it is quite wet, and the first bolt (actually the second bolt, because the first bolt is missing at the moment) is really high, too high for the stick clip. We thought we were out of luck, but Michelle’s friend was brave enough to climb the wet start, avoiding as much wet rock as possible, to the second bolt and get it in safely.
Cleaning a Route in the Rain! Amazing.
We ran laps up Hippie Dreams. It was my job to clean this route. But, after belaying Michelle, it had already been raining for about 5 minutes. We kept the top rope up and I just told her to keep me a bit tight, since at that point we were climbing in a light downpour.
Cleaning Hippie Dreams, a 75 foot 5.7, on TR, in the rain, exposed over Summersville Lake, was amazing. Normally climbing in the rain turns into a dangerous shit sandwich, but this was the opposite. There was no thunder or lightning, and I was on TR. Hippie Dreams is pretty tall, the movement is super fun and easy, the little bit of exposure at the top was breathtaking, looking out over the rain falling on Summersville Lake and feeling the rain falling on me; it was just a beautiful experience TBH.
Peanut Butter-Honey-Banana Sandwich Time
We took refuge in the Narcissus Cave for about 3 hours while there was a steady light downpour and enjoyed crag lunches. I freaking love crag food. After lunch and swimming in the lake (more on this later), I got to looking at Narcissus. It is a 4 star 12a. It is very overhung and it has PermaDraws on it. If I am ever strong enough to climb 12a, and who knows, I just might make it, Narcissus miiiiight be a climb I could try… I like over hung stuff, and it has big moves, but the falls seem great… who knows. Anyway, I’m staring at Narcissus, thinking, “We could totally stick clip the second bolt…”
10 Feet of Four Star 12a
And we did! Best decision I made all trip! It took about 20 minutes of team work and some good laughs, but we got it! Michelle’s friend went up first to try to get the third draw in. No luck. I went up to give it a shot.
The holds were pretty good! Just some feet to work through, and a pretty good swinging fall if things didn’t work out. The falls on my first 2 goes were fine medium swings. On my third try I made one more committing move than before and in my mind (and out loud) I was like, “Well f*ck, it is clip or take a kind of shitty spicier swing than I did before.” But I made the clip! I was so proud of myself for climbing 10 feet of 12a! LOL!
Although I am sure that the part I did was NOT the 12.a part. It just felt so good! The first 3 draws were such fun climbing. Sadly, there are no pictures of me on it. :/ The fourth bolt was a bit more cruxy with the most tiny shitty crimp, to a bad crimp, to a ledge to clip, but the fall was perfect, into empty thin air. Made me think maybe I could possibly work on it again in the fall. Who knows!
Swimming Out a Bit too Far at Summersville in the Rain
Before all the fun on Narcissus, we swam a bunch in Summersville Lake. Swimming at Summersville Lake in the summer is a must for climbing trips. If at all possible, swimming in Summersville Lake in the rain is even better. Talk about relaxing in nature. If you get a chance to swim there in the rain do it! I highly recommend swimming out a little too far as well. Nothing crazy. Do it because you are there, and what better way to appreciate a rainy day than swimming in a beautiful lake!
After swimming in the lake and climbing 10 feet of Narcissus, I was stoked for Day 3. Sure, we had not climbed much, but we were refreshed mentally and our muscles were still fresh, and ready to leave it all on the last day.
New River Gorge Climbing Day 3 Morning Sunshine!
It is hard to sleep in new places. I didn’t feel like I actually got a full night’s rest until our third night there. Right before we left! I hadn’t been on a climbing trip with Michelle since 2016. It is a pretty good feeling to wake up in a tent with some of your best bad ass lady climber friends. I can’t wait to do this again next year. Hopefully sans pandemic.
Day 3: Time to Give it Heck
So far, a lot of this climbing trip has been about 40% swimming in lakes and taking refuge from rain in caves! But not day 3. We had a beautiful forecast, and it was time to make our last best efforts.
Michelle (in the photo) lead Bobby D’s Bunny, a 5.6 like a boss. Sure there were some scary parts, but at 5’1″, climbing always requires some extra finesse. I am in the top of the photo putting the draws up on Geisha Girl, a 5.8. Both of these climbs are almost 100 feet, so they are just awesome. There were definitely a couple spots on Geisha Girl that had me puzzled. I had to stop for a bit and think and of course get a bit scared. It can be so frustrating to get stuck on a 5.8, but I just had to remember, it is all relative! The most important thing was that I was there, trying, and working through any fears with my mind and not just my emotions.
Bad Ass Tattoo a 10b at Sandstonia
Bad Ass Tattoo has to be one of my most favorite climbs at the New River Gorge. It has awesome big moves off big flakes and a super fun roof. The top out at the end is a little annoying though! You will pull the last little roof, think you are done, and see the anchors that are just so close yet so far away! Alas, there are a couple feet of NRG fat rolls between you and the sweet sweet anchors! Get pulling on those lumpy fat rolls!
Badass Tattoo was my proud send of the trip. It was 100 beautiful feet of my style of climbing. My goal for the trip was simple. I wanted to lead a 10. I had done a few 11s in the past, but leading outside can super scary, and I wanted a nice low stakes reintroduction to it for the season, and this is just what I got! THB, Bad Ass Tattoo, a 10b, felt easier than Geisha Girl, an 8. A crux is a crux, IMO, whether you find it on a 5.6 or a 5.12. An insecure move is an insecure move no matter what route it is on!
Day 4: Packing Up and Heading Home!
How many girls is ideal for deflating a full size air mattress? I’d say 3. As pictured. On the morning of day 4 we packed up camp and hit up Cathedral Cafe in Fayetteville for breakfast. We couldn’t have asked for a better trip really. Rain and all. Getting on some relaxing low stakes climbing with some friends just to get your lead head back in the game for the season is just what we needed. We came to get back at it, and that is exactly what we did. Nw I am ready to hunt out some nice 11s to project and maybe even a 12! Don’t Stop Me Now.
Want to Get into Climbing?
Climbing is the perfect extreme sport to try. It will challenge you to go beyond what you thought your mind and body were capable of doing! I had never done a pull-up until I started climbing. It will make you face fears! There will be times that you are afraid to fall, and you will just have to tell yourself that it is OK, and it is OK! Climbing will make you feel so powerful and strong though. Building muscles, getting stronger, and challenging your fears, there is nothing that beats it. If you want to learn more about getting into climbing check out my post here!