If you started climbing in the 80s or earlier, there weren’t a whole lot of sport climbing destinations on the East Coast. In fact, name one. You can’t. Pretty much every East Coast climber was a trad climber, or as they were known back then, “climbers.” If you were learning to climb in the mid-Atlantic region, then you really only had 2 choices for weekends of classic multi-pitch lines. One was a towering flake of Tuscarora sandstone in eastern West Virginia called Seneca Rocks.
A road trip to Seneca meant coming back with your ego either soaring or in tatters. While Seneca Rocks may be accessible to many, its alpine demeanor is not to be taken lightly.
What Makes It Great
Difficult approaches. Loose rock. Slippery footholds. Unrelentingly vertical faces and cracks punctuated occasionally by ledges and roofs. Hard-to-protect cruxes. Sandbags galore. These are a few of the challenges Seneca Rocks throws at its climbers.
But for anybody willing to pay the price of admission, the rewards are fun, technical climbing, off-the-charts exposure, rock that dries almost immediately after the rain ends, and the only true peak in the eastern United States.
Another thing Seneca has going for it: quality multi-pitch climbing that actually begins at the bottom of the scale at 5.1. In fact, pound for glorious pound, Seneca has more low-end, yet mega-fun, pitches of rock than probably any place in America. That’s good, because most first-time Seneca visitors should probably back off a grade until they’re used to the notoriously hard-for-the-grade climbing.
Make it through all the adventure Seneca can muster, and you will find yourself perched upon a summit of stone that is only as wide as a sidewalk, but boasts sheer drops on both sides of more than 300 feet. Since a day can often entail ascents on one side and descents on the other, it’s also a good idea to travel light and carry everything up the wall. It’s not uncommon to see people racking up at the car, which seems nerdy, but those are the pros whose lead you might want to follow.
The only warning for more experienced climbers is to stay away from the South Peak on weekends, because while there are many ways up, Seneca only has a few established rappel routes to get you back down. On crowded days, that’s where you’ll find all the sunlight-sucking bottlenecks.
Who is Going to Love It
Whether you on-site 5.12 over micro cams or whimper your way up 5.4s, you’ll dig Seneca Rocks if you only have one quality—a love of true adventure. If you thrive when the outcome is uncertain, then you’ve got to check this place out. Needless to say, Seneca is a true traditional haven. Sport climbers will much prefer Franklin Gorge a half-hour to the east. Boulderers will prefer pretty much anyplace else in the universe.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
If you’re anywhere near the intersection of WV State Route 55 and County 28 in the small town of Seneca Rocks, WV, you can’t miss the crag. For a guidebook and/or detailed beta, stop in to one of the most storied climbing shops in America, The Gendarme, which is right smack dab at the intersection.
Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area is managed by the US Forest Service, so all the normal rules and regulations that come with climbing on federal property apply, from bolting (don’t) to camping (also don’t) to dogs on leashes (please, leave your pup at home).