Dodging The Weather God At Seneca

photos to follow
For over a year Fabrizia 'Bri' Guglielmetti has had a growing yearning to get down to Looking Glass, North Carolina. Unfortunately, with all that was going on in her life, as well as Indy's, the time was never available to make the trip (it's a 9-hour or so trip one way from Baltimore). With the new Millenium grinding on, and free, available weekends quickly running out, Bri and Indy made plans to dash down to Looking Glass Rock during the first weekend in June (the weather was STILL spring-like!). Unfortunately, the Weather God had other plans...

Thursday evening, May 31st. After giving yet another Hubble presentation, Indy was studying the weather maps. There was a double-front system swinging down from the middle of Canada and scooping up moisture from the Gulf, drenching the Southern States with inches of rain. Looking Glass was looking...pretty wet. It seemed that the weather might break for sunday, but the drive down on friday was going to be through driving rains, and saturday...well, the Weather Channel forecast for Brevard, North Carolina was not looking promising. And Indy, having only been to Looking Glass once, back in the mid-80s, had no idea how fast the rock would dry, or how long the water would seep down from the woods on top. He could find no information from other trip reports posted around the 'Net, either. So he and Bri were resigning themselves to a damp weekend at home (the local forecast wasn't looking very promising, either).

Friday, June 1st. As Indy was slaving over processing problems at work, and Bri taking care of her own work-related problems, their old friend, Phil Sidel, sent out a plea and call for help. Apparently the Explorer's Club of Pittsburgh was having their 'graduation climbing' weekend out at Seneca, and the current numbers of climbing graduates and leaders was skewed in favor of the graduates. That is to say, they were seriously lacking competent leaders for the graduates. Could anyone who was going to be out at Seneca this weekend help? Bri and Indy discussed this for a bit. Didn't take long, esp after Indy checked the forecast. Saturday at Seneca looked more promising than Baltimore's weather did! So they responded, told Phil they'd be there to help. At the very least they'd get a little climbing in this weekend!!

Since they had not packed the night before, once work was done the two of them madly got their gear (camping, climbing) together. After a much delayed start for a variety of reasons, they were finally on the road - it was 7:45pm! Good thing Seneca is a bare 4 hours from Baltimore.

The drive out was relatively uneventful. It rained heavily in Baltimore, and some parts down I-81, but once they got into the mountains of West By-God Smile-When-You-Say-That Virginia, the storms were more scattered, and just outside of Moorefield they saw the moon through a hazy sky! Less than an hour later they were pulling into Camp Site D at Seneca Shadows. It had just rained there, but Indy and Bri had managed to miss it. A few people were hanging around a campfire. Indy set up the tent and chatted with some of the folk around the fire (Hugh Shinn was in charge of the outing; he had not yet gotten everything organized due to last minute scrambles of getting teams put together and trying to find out who was and was not available, so he had not yet assigned a graduate to Indy and Bri yet). Bri had long since retired one the drive out (despite eating Indy's cheese danish) and slept-walked to the tent, where she all but died. Indy joined her a while later, but had a hard time sleeping that night. Never could get comfortable. Didn't bode well for climbing in the morrow.

Morning came. Indy got up and had a shower. Bri, too, was up. The two headed off to the 4-Ever to grab breakfast. Hugh still had not yet gotten anyone assigned to them. 'No worries,' Indy thought, 'there's plenty of time and we'll get our graduate climber assigned to us by the time we get back from breakfast.' Little did he know...

After a rather bland breakfast (the french toast at the 4-Ever has really gone downhill in quality, even though the price had gone up nigh $0.60 a couple years ago) the two returned to camp.

To find it empty. Apparently everyone had left! Oh, the tents were still there, they hadn't left for the weekend. But everyone had taken off to go climb. A couple cars pulled in immediately behind Bri and Indy, and inquired as to where the Explorers Club was. One guy, John, was a graduate climber dude, and had been searching around for the campsite for nearly 40-some odd minutes. His friend had just tagged along (they were both up at Canaan Valley the night before, hiking and/or mountain biking). Bri and Indy were heading for the parking area at Seneca, so John and his friend (Tom) followed.

At the parking lot the group found the Explorer's Club. The parking lot was far from full (unlike how it normally is in the summer; the threat of rains for the weekend must have scared off many a climber - which meant that the rocks would have open routes on them!). They parked and started sorting gear. Hugh still had not assigned Indy and Bri a climber, so spontaneously gave them John. Tom was not going to climb, but go off and do other things for the day. He would meet up with John later. As Indy and Bri were finishing up sorting through their gear, Hugh asked if he could assign another graduate to their team: a tall woman named Rudy. Indy's climbed with teams of 4 many times before, and said sure. Indy was going to be doing the bulk of the leads this weekend (by order of Bri; she got her time in on their last trip to Seneca in April and wanted a 'rest' day), so said sure. He had originally thought to do Gunsight To South Peak, but that's a difficult route to manage four people on (Indy's done it before, but didn't feel like doing it today). He also had a desire to get on Critter Crack, a route he hasn't climbed in some years. It would be nice to get on a good, solid jam climb again.

So the trio became a foursome and headed up. Indy was thinking that they would either head up the first pitch of Prune, then up Front C, and finally Critter Crack - the classic link-up. An alternate start would be to begin on the first pitch of Le Gourmet instead of up Prune. Either would work; they both ended on the same ledge.

The group huffed it up the Stairmaster steps to the boulder field, past the 'Hillary Step', and to the base of the main wall.

Where they encountered 2 parties totally 7 people on Le Gourmet - one party had just started climbing, the other was waiting behind them. Oy, 7 people. That was going to be a long wait. Indy was just about to head over to Prune when he was told there was a party of 3 just starting on that. Indy could see they had only just started up the route. That meant there would be 10 people up on the ledge below Front C! Add Indy's party, that would be 14! Noway. The time delay would be too great. Indy immediately bailed to Option 3a: climb the first two pitches of Old Lady's Route and finish on Windy Corner. They headed over.

And found a party of 3 on Old Lady's Route. Fortunately the leader was almost to the end of the first pitch, and going around to the East Face would take more time than necessary, so Indy and Crew waited. In the meantime, Indy and Bri went over various aspects of multi-pitch climbing with John and Rudy: belaying, how gear is placed, rope management (esp for teams of 3 or more!), etc. Finally the other team had cleared out. Bri decided she was going to do the first pitch then Indy could have the rest. So they quickly re-racked, and Bri headed up.

Now this whole time the group had been in the shadow of Seneca. The wind had been blowing strong, even fiercely at times. All were chilled. Bri found the sun on her way up and instantly thawed out. Indy watched the icicles grow from his feet and nose; he would be the last to go up.

After Bri made it to the belay, she had John come up. John cleaned the gear on this pitch, as it was more or less straight up and any falls that Indy or Rudy might take would not be major penduluum events. Once John reached the belay, Rudy followed. Indy stood alone at the base of the rock, shivering bravely (although all the others around probably thought he was just turning blue for fun). Finally Bri gave him the go-ahead to climb. Up he scampered, and once in the sunlight, he thawed quickly. Ahhh, wonderful warmth!

Indy would now take the next pitch. He collected what gear not being used for the anchors and, stepping lightly over John and Rudy, headed off for the big traverse.

Each and every time Indy has ever climbed this pitch of Old Lady's he always went for the low road from the belay. And while it is only 5.2 or so in difficulty, it always seemed awkward and uncomfortable to him. However, on this nice, sunny, not-too-hot day, Indy toyed with doing the traverse high. Before he never liked the looks of it, but this time...something was different. And it wasn't all the chalked up handholds, either! Whatever it was, Indy opted to traverse high.

And found the route to be far more pleasant than if he would have gone low!! Sweet, bomber handholds, good pro, nice 5.2 moves...what more could you ask? But alas, the high traverse ended far too quickly and Indy was back down on the main ledge. He hustled it over to the next belay and brought Rudy, John, and Bri on over. John was sweating bullets, but was looking pretty happy and pleased. Rudy was exhilarated. Bri was relaxed.

Windy Corner was free, as the trio ahead of Indy & Crew had continued up Old Lady's. Indy regeared again and started up this next pitch.

Indy had forgotten how much he doesn't like the first half of this route. He didn't have a lot of huge pro (that's a big crack to follow!) and therefore got in only 1 piece in the first 25-30'. Unnerving. But once at the ledge, at the Windy Corner itself (and it was a bit breezy), Indy sank a solid stopper. Followed quickly by two more nuts higher up. He also clipped a piton, mainly to show it to John and Rudy; he did not intend to use it as part of his protection system. Up the last half of the route he ascended.

Different people do the final part of Windy Corner in different ways. Some stay to the right. Some go up the middle. Indy tends to keep to the left and play with the loose boulder, clawing his way up and over these overhannging rocks as he goes (no, it's not a graceful way to finish). One day he'll try that right variation. But today...the left.

He finished and brought his team up. They were all extremely happy and ecstatic. They even met Phil Sidel's party coming up from Old Man's. After doing a spot of photo-shooting, the now-enlarged group headed off to the Summit itself.

Once there Indy quickly brought his crew up, followed by Phil's group. They were the only ones up there at this point (it really wasn't a crowded weekend at Seneca - just that everyone was climbing the same routes!). They hung around, did the requisite summit photo thing, signed the summit register (still a shame these things are not kept for historical records and stuff), then descended. Phil's team went down first, then Indy's followed. More people were coming up. Phil's team headed down to get on the Traffic Jam Rappel. Indy thought about following, but given Phil's party and known other parties that might or might not be down there, and given that the Conn's West/West Pole Rappel was completely free and open, Indy opted to do their rapping right there! He belayed Bri, John, and Rudy down to the tree, then followed himself. There they rigged the two-rope rappel, and Indy went down first.

Bri had thrown the ropes and was concerned that they had become hung up and entangled. Indy quickly saw that this wasn't the case - the ropes had been thrown perfectly and unwound perfectly. There were no tangles whatsoever.

Once Indy was down, Rudy, John, and Bri followed. They then quickly set up the next, single-rope rappel. Indy and Bri discussed the autoblock rappel belay brake friction knot with Rudy and John. Bri then went down first. John followed, trying out this new system, as Bri belayed from below. Rappelling with an autoblock is slow, but effective if you are concerned about needing to stop for any reason (whether you're doing a photo-shoot, clearing entangled ropes, or doing a rescue - any situation you need to be hands-free on rappel). It's a good knot to know, as unlike the prussik, this can be unlocked while it is being weighted.

Once John was down, Rudy came over. She had watched, but being a little uncomfortable with this rappelling stuff in general, opted to forego playing with the autoblock this time around. She had enough going on (carrying a heavy pack and just coping with rappelling at all; both John and Rudy had only climbed 4-5 or so times prior to this outing, and their rappel experiences hadn't been the most enjoyable - no reflection on the Explorer's Club's methods, just how they were feeling about rappelling at all!). With Bri belaying, Rudy got herself down with no troubles. Indy quickly followed, and hot on their heels was another team of 3. And behind them another large group of people were coming. It seemed that they were just going to fix lines for everyone to rappel down. Indy and Bri cleared out their ropes before the bulk of the descending climbers appeared. Otherwise they might have been waiting there for a while until they could pull their rope.

Once shoes were changed the group headed out, meeting Phil and Company at the base of the Traffic Jam Rappel. A quick exchange of pleasantries between the groups and Indy's team headed down. John and Indy had told his friend Tom that John would be down around 4p or 5p (or "dinner time"). It was now after 6pm, so the group made good time heading out.

Once down and back in the parking lot John discovered his friend had taken off some time before. Alas, but they would try and meet up again (Tom lived in the exact opposite direction from John; Seneca was more or less a 'midway' point for them). The group hung out for a while, de-gearing and relaxing; John and Rudy met up with others from their classes and exchanged stories. Then Indy heard his named being called. Turned out an old friend of his from DC, another John (John P) was in the area with his two sons. They had just gotten to Seneca (!!) and were preparing to head up. Indy checked his watch: it was after 7p. A night climb?? John P indicated the headlights he was installing on his sons' helmets. Yep, they were anticipating getting darked on. Indy wished them luck and good climbing.

After John P and his sons headed up, Indy and crew coordinated with Phil and others to meet at The Front Porch for pizza. Indy, Bri and John went over to grab tables. Soon they were joined by the procession of Explorers Club members. Pizza was celebrated, the day's events regaled to one another - all in all a festive gathering. From there the group headed back to camp (it was past 10p at this point). Bri, exhausted, retired after a relaxing shower. Indy hung out a while, chatting with John and a few others. The campsite where Indy and Bri were sleeping had become Social Central for the Explorers Club (they had Camp Sites D & E; Camp Site E seemed quiet this evening, while the massed group were hanging around in D, talking noisily into the night). Indy didn't figure he'd sleep right away, so stayed up with them a bit. But after a while he grew tired, too, and thought that maybe he'd be able to sleep through the din of conversation. The moon was bright, the winds aloft were high, and clouds were scattered across the sky. He went off to brush his teeth. Upon emerging from the bathroom, Indy noted a drastic change in the cloud patterns. There were Dark clouds to the South, and the wispy telltale signs of storms-a-brewin' clouds coming over the mountain to the west. Indy figured it might rain, or it might not. He ducked into the tent.

Ten minutes later the wind picked up from a breeze to a roar. The tent flapped hard in this gusting air. By the noise, Indy sensed the people around the campfire were unfazed. Then the faint pitter-patter began sounding on the tent fly. About a minute after this, the skies cut loose. The level of conversation around the campfire dropped to nothing as people scrambled for tents and cars. Indy fell asleep, dimly aware that after the rain had stopped a few people re-emerged to hang by the campfire and finish the night out.

Morning came. Indy had gotten more rest this past night than the last. He and Bri quickly packed up as they were heading out that morning. The skies looked unstable. The Weather God could go either way - cut loose with a storm or two, or break up and give another excellent day. Indy and Bri said their good-byes (John had to leave earlier in the morning as his daughter's 14th b'day was that day; he had to be back in Pittsburgh by noon lest he suffer castration or something worse), then headed off, stopping briefly for breakfast at the Shawnee Restaurant about 6 miles north of Seneca.

The rest of the trip back was pretty uneventful. The two detoured to Sugarloaf Mountain so Indy could do more work on his guidebook (he almost has that chapter finished). They headed over to the Secluded Wall and almost immediately had to deal with some city yahoos who thought it was funny to throw things down on them (rocks and stuff) while they (Bri and Indy) were in the woods below the crag. Indy ran up to the top of the crag had a verbal altercation with them for a bit. They joked that Indy and Bri should be wearing hardhats. Indy pointed out this wasn't a joking matter (Indy was also growing very aware that these were seriously impaired people who think only of themselves, and couldn't give two [censored deleted] about anyone else around them). They suggested that Indy relax. Indy suggested that they switch places and then they'd see who was relaxed. And although the group individually outnumbered Indy 12 to 1, they didn't have a chance. Indy had the Amazon From Ozegna at his side, and a brace of tri-cams slung bolo-fashion in hand. The yahoos (which is about the KINDEST way Indy could think to describe them; even vulgar terms were too good for them) finally left after about 10 minutes of hanging around. Once they left, Indy and Bri set up the anchors (they were waiting because ignorant people like the ones they had just dealt with would think nothing of sabotaging their anchors given the chance). Indy heard the group off in the distance deriding other people climbing in the area. The world produces some wonderful people, doesn't it?

Indy and Bri then spent a nice, quiet couple of hours climbing Closet Love Harpy (5.7), Tender Feet (5.4), The Piton Route (5.5), Purple Spandex (5.4), and Two Faced (5.9), then headed home. The idea was to clean the apartment in preparation for an out-of-town visitor for the week. Reality was that the two of them collapsed, dead tired. They'll deal with the apartment monday after work. After they go climbing after work, that is!

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Mk - June 4, 2001