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Rock climbing is a growing sport in West Virginia. Popular sites include Seneca Rocks, the New River Gorge, and Summersville Lake.

Seneca Rocks in Pendleton County, an imposing sandstone fin, rises nearly 900 feet to a knife-edge summit. The rock face, which is 300 feet tall, challenges climbers with more than 400 routes from easy to very difficult. According to legend, Indians made the earliest ascents of Seneca’s vertical walls. Paul Bradt, Don Hubbard, and Sam Moore undertook the first documented climb of Seneca Rocks in 1939, only to discover when they reached the summit the mysterious inscription: ‘‘D.B. Sept. 16, 1908.’’ During World War II, the military used Seneca Rocks to train soldiers in climbing and other mountaineering skills. Since the early 1950s, Seneca has seen a steady increase of recreational climbers.

In the late 1970s, a small group of climbers began exploring the miles of sandstone cliffs that line the New River Gorge. By the mid-1980s, a few climbers visited the area regularly. Part of New River Gorge National River, the canyon now boasts more than 1,500 established routes and a wide variety of climbing, from gentle slabs to steep overhangs.

Twenty miles north of the New River Gorge, the cliffs surrounding Summersville Lake also provide hundreds of high quality climbs. The sandstone conglomerate cliffs surrounding the lake offer vertical to steep, overhanging sport routes and a few traditional routes. During the late spring, summer, and early fall Summersville is popular with visiting climbers from Washington and surrounding areas. Summersville boasts safe, bolt-protected sport routes rating from easy to very difficult. Several famous overhanging routes such as ‘‘Mercy Seat’’ and ‘‘Apollo Reed’’ add to the fame of Summersville Lake. During the winter when the Army Corps of Engineers drains the lake, additional routes (reachable only by boat in the summer) become available for climbing.

Several rock climbing guide services now operate at Seneca Rocks and the New River Gorge.

This Article was written by Lucia K. Hyde

Last Revised on October 29, 2010


Barnes, Tony. Seneca: The Climber's Guide. Helena, MT: Falcon, 1995.

Cater, Steve. New River Gorge and Summersville Lake: Rock Climber's Guide Book. Fayetteville: King Coal Propaganda, 1999.

Thompson, Rick. New River Rock. Helena, MT: Falcon, 1997.

Barnes, Tony. Little Big Mountain: Seneca. Climbing, (Oct.-Nov. 1993).

Darmi, Peter. Letting Go: New River Moderates. Rock & Ice, (Mar.-Apr. 1995).

New River Gorge. Rock & Ice, (Apr.-May 2001).

Shull, Harrison. The Old School: If You Can Climb at Seneca, You Can Climb Anywhere. Rock & Ice, June 1998.

Cite This Article

Hyde, Lucia K. "Rock Climbing." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 29 October 2010. Web. 12 June 2024.


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