It’s about the drive down, the stoke. It’s about being there and thinking about nothing else, The New River Gorge in West Virginia is home for climbing. Wherever you come from, once you’re there, it becomes total immersion.
There’s an American Alpine Club campground that plays host to a Craggin’ Classic, just outside the cozy town of Fayetteville that provides the closest camping and possibly the most scenic climbing camping (I’d put it up there with Camp 4).
Nestled in the rhododendrons and hardwoods one wakes up to the sun shining through the mist causing the forest to glow, a beautiful scene to cook breakfast and pack gear. From there the options are endless in a place where the season lasts from mid spring to Thanksgiving. Boulders in the campground, crags at the top of the Gorge with views to live for and walls by lakes in which to cool off during the hot, muggy summers. The New River Gorge provides something for everyone and it starts before you’re there.
During the drive down one can’t help but play John Denver’s Country Roads to help imagine what it will be like down there. And then it hits, the green rolling mountains and dark forests the lakes and panoramic views, nothing else matters once you enter the Gorge; it’s one of the few crags where I don’t hear people talking about Yosemite or other climbing areas.
One can’t help but give into its beauty and spirit that is held up by the climbing community. And I mean the climbing community because West Virginia is the south and weird prejudices still exist there, so it feels good to know there is a support system that exists within the greater community.
That being said if you are rolling with out of state plates be advised to follow all traffic laws to the T, being pulled over looking like a dirt bag with climbing gear can sometimes mean probable cause. I digress, when you arrive at the campground nothing really matters but the climbs that lie ahead.
What are the climbing routes like at the New River Gorge in West Viginia?
After waking up, you’re a few minutes walk and quick drive from the AAC campground to a crag that used to be an old dump but has since been cleaned and provides miles of wall.
The Junkyard crag is a popular beginner spot due to its easy clifftop access and volume of easy climbs.
Most routes can be top roped and among the easier routes are some great sandstone crusher routes.
Next is my favorite and probably the most scenic in the Gorge. Just a 15 minute drive from the campground and right under the iconic New River Gorge Bridge is the Bridge Area, where I cut my teeth.
Easily Flakey was the first route I ever rope climbed, a simple 5.7 but it’s right at the trailhead in a corner of the wall and gives great views of the Gorge. I was nervous and pumped but looking out onto a setting sun over the rim of the Gorge and a river stretching for miles let me breathe deeply and relax into the climb and roll into the first climbing trip of many. The walls down there stretch on forever, at the top of the crag you look across to the opposite side of the Gorge to see miles and miles of wall staring back at you.
From that day on any chance in the summers, my partner and I were at the Gorge pushing ourselves and finding people to push us and then going back to the campground and pounding our feet to some bluegrass with everyone.
That is one of the best parts of The New, the community is strong and keeps it real, from meeting friends at the crag to dancing with someone at night, there are always people down for a good time and stoked to climb with you (provided you can prove competence).
The atmosphere at the camp
Being down there is about the climb and the atmosphere, you’re up early and out all day, The New River Gorge has crags to hang out and set up camp for the day, boulder gardens in the woods and along rivers that provide relaxing afternoons and exposed moonlight walls, it is truly a playground.
At night when the climbers have called it there is a bar and pavilion down the road from the campground where the rafting companies are set up that hosts live music most nights of the week in the summer. Here climbers and tourists and raft guides come together for a party to celebrate the glorious days everyone respectively had. It is the best way to end a day of climbing, coming together with people that enjoy the area as much as you do and showing the thrill of the place, usually barefooted and bodacious.
The last day
It’s a hard place to leave, among the campfires on the last night of my trip, the last time I was in the Gorge, I was with friends and yet met another who led us up the Tower. Three pitches of easy 5.9 climbing, he soloing fifteen feet to the first anchors on a quiet ledge with views above the tree-line. On to the second pitch and more soloing for the leader to another ledge fifteen feet up; the last pitch is more like a boulder and then to the top and once up there enjoy the bright stars among the dark Appalachian Mountains. From there it was a hundred foot abseil in complete darkness, once set up and over the ledge we shut our lights off and zipped through the night.
The New River Gorge is a special place, the environment, the community and climbs, and maybe something that can’t be put in words make it what it is. To be there for a weekend or a summer it’s all the same because when you’re there, nothing else matters, it’s a timeless place.