At the Meadow River, you're staring down the barrel of a loaded adventure with the black sheep of New River Gorge (NRG) area rock climbing. The Meadow River Gorge is the "Wild West" of the NRG area: active development, swimming holes, locals tearing around on ATVs, and backcountry camping. It really has a more remote feeling rather than the more manicured New River Gorge.
A lot of visiting New River Gorge climbers hop on the classics in the Gorge proper and think, “Wow, it doesn’t get any better than this.” Then they visit New’s little sister 15 minutes north—the Meadow River Gorge—and they have to change their definition of quality rock all over again. Though carved from the same rock strata as the New, the Meadow has its own unique personality, which tends to include climbing that is a hair less technical than the New, but often steeper and certainly more remote.
What Makes It Great
There are two sides to every river, and the Meadow has plenty of incredible rock on both its north and south rims. Once upon a time, you could drive all the way in on a system of rail trails, but those have since closed and longer hikes are typically required. That, combined with the spread-out nature of Meadow River crags, makes it the most remote region in the overall area commonly referred to as “The New.” The Meadow does, however, have several different access points.
All of this makes the Meadow more of an adventure than either the New proper or Summersville Lake. When you commit to a day at the Meadow, you’re in for a mountaineering experience filled with long single-pitch routes of all sorts, each in a place that feels like the middle of nowhere.
The water-carved climbs of the Meadow are friendly on the fingers, if sometimes a bit tricky to protect for trad climbers. Here, trad and sport routes live happily side by side, so diverse climbing parties will have no trouble finding projects to keep the whole team happy. Nevertheless, if you’re primarily into sport climbing, head for the Upper Meadow (routes east of the Highway 19 bridge). If you want a bounty of trad, head downstream to the Lower. In either case (and this goes for the South Side crags, too), the farther afield you stray from the bridge, the more adventurous you should expect your day to become.
Who is Going to Love It
Unfortunately for beginners, the Meadow’s many crags are veritably filled to overflowing with rock and, with few exceptions, almost none of it goes at grades below 5.10. The bulk of the Meadow’s routes, both trad and sport, are in the 5.11-5.12 range. If that’s you, and if you don’t mind a bit of an adventure to your day, welcome to Heaven.
If you're looking for routes below 5.10, they are here—and they are outstanding. Head to Rehab Crag or The Other Place, both on the South Side. At the Upper Meadow, sport climbers should bee line for a 5.9 called Bullucks (and expect it to be spicy). At the Lower, traddies should not miss a 5.8 called Gimpy.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Much of the Meadow River Gorge falls under the purview of the National Park Service. As such, all the normal regulations apply from dogs on leashes to permits for bolting.
It’s a bit difficult to describe where to go. Meadow crags tend to be more spread out than either the New or Summersville Lake, and there are as many crags that aren’t listed as there are in Mike Williams’ excellent guidebook New River Rock Climbs. The standard areas, The Upper Meadow and the Lower Meadow are both on the north rim of the Gorge. It's easiest to go with someone who knows how to get there. In other words, befriend a local. (Or ask a local outfitter.)