On friday, August 4th, headed out to Seneca Rocks to climb this weekend with various people: a couple of friends from Pittsburgh on saturday and sunday, and a couple friends from work and DC on sunday.
Got out there friday evening, set up camp. My Pittsburghian friends (Dave and Sharleen) showed later in the evening. We chatted for a few hours (having not really seen each other since....geez, last year/summer sometime!) and retired. Got up early saturday, had breakfast, then went to the parking lot, sorted gear, then went up to do some climbing. Initial plan: climb The Burn (5.8, with an optional 5.6 escape) and top-rope Sunshine (5.10a). That was my contribution to the plan (I hadn't done SUnshine in a couple of years, and I really wanted to give the second section of The Burn a go - the second section is THE 5.8 section!). So Shar led up the first part of The Burn. I followed and went into the second part.
And got instantly stymied and more than a little freaked. I just could not make myself pull into the crux of the climb! Everywhere I wanted/needed to place pro would be my fingerlocks (there are no other handholds). Things were really looking bleak, so I eventually bailed onto the 5.6 escape. Scampered up that and I should've then moved over again onto the upper 1/3 of The Burn (this being past the cruxy part) but did I? Nope. I continued straight up, through the final upper section of Sunshine. This was no cakewalk; it was at least 5.7, maybe even 5.8. But there was a piton I could clip, and a couple feet after that I could plug in a small tech friend, and still have use of holds on either side of the slot where the piton and tech friend were. I finished off the pitch in poor form/style.
I then brought Sharleen up. She did pretty good (she's as good a climber as I am, if not better). She then wanted me to lower her down so she could bring David up (who was sitting patiently down below, napping) and then I would top-rope them up through the 5.8 crux part of The Burn. That all went well. While I was waiting for them to come up, I struck up a conversation with some guys coming to the same ledge via a different route (Ecstasy Jr, 5.4). Turned out that they all are on the Internet, and the one guy I was talking to the most I've seen post before! His handle is 'firstname.lastname@example.org'. 'bioform' is not one you forget easily. ;-) And to top it all off, turns out they live between DC and Baltimore!! Huh. We're going to try and get together and do some climbing someday. Dunno when yet.
Anyway, finally got Dave and Shar up, then I set a top-rope on Sunshine (basically right off the rap tree straight down from where I finished coming up). We went down and gave it a go. I went first, and announced before I got on that I was waaaaay outta shape, and this would be both an exercise in futility and flailing. I tied in and began climbing.
Sunshine is, as I mentioned, 5.10a. It's about 100' long, maybe a shade longer. 110'? Whatever; long. The first move is about 5.7/5.8. It quickly goes to 5.10 after that, for about 30'. Gaaaah!! After that you actually get a few handholds! And then some more as you move up. But while the climbing has eased off from 5.10 to 5.5/5.6, it quickly reverts back to 5.7/5.8/5.9. And remains that way the rest of the way to the top.
I was breathing hard after the first 15' or so. I was breathing a lot. Oxygen deprivation is what everyone around me began to suffer. The foliage was loving it - all that extra CO2. I made it to the bolt (right near the end of the 5.10 section; still a couple moves to go, though), and diced through the moves beyond to 'easier' ground. Breathing hard (still), I worked my way up the rest of the route. And topped off!
Next Sharleen gave it a go. She did it smoother, with less use of oxygen. After her, Dave went. He didn't get far (he's really out of it; hasn't climbed much in the recent years). He never made it more than 10-15' up. :( But persevered to give it a try more than a few times. Finally he was done and it was my turn. I was to go back up and take down the top-rope anchors. I slipped over to the first section of The Burn, to work past most of the 5.10 section, but still had to come back across and do that last couple of dicey moves in the 10 part (you see, since this route was so long, we had to use 2 ropes for a top-rope; this meant that the belayer had to take the climber off belay for a moment to pass the knots by the belay system; this meant the climber had to clip into the lone bolt 30' or so feet up and hang until the belay was back on - no option in the matter). After that I finished off Sunshine, took the t-r anchors down, set up a rappel, and returned to terra firma.
From there we slowly chatted about what to do next. It was getting on noontime, so we wanted to move before it got too warm (we were on the west-facing side of the rocks and in the trees here, lower down from the main rock face). We packed up and worked our way up, deciding to try this bolted route that Sharleen and Dave noticed a year or so ago off to the side of Skyline Traverse. They wanted to set it up as a top-rope and give it a try before doing a lead on it.
The only problem was that Skyline Traverse is a 3-pitch route. The bolted, unknown route starts at the end of pitch 2, off to the side. It required some delicate clamboring around on the fin of Seneca's southern edge to set up a t-r. Dave managed to do this fine, Sharleen belayed him, and I pseudo-napped. Then, once the rope was set in the top anchors, we used the other rope to rap down the final pitch of Skyline (this final pitch is a twisty, turny sort of thing; hard to rap down because it went around corners and things). We finally got down to the unknown route. Dave set up a belay, Shar was ready to climb. The belay area was flat, but small. And dropped off a lonnnnnnng way to the one side. Ugh. I felt not comfortable in the area - not at all. I was tired, felt decidedly uncomfortable with being where I was, etc, and....well, there wasn't much I could do but not move much. ;-) So Shar gave the unknown climb a go. She was psyched for it. She made it up about 20' or so before she could go no further. Couldn't make the moves, couldn't hold on. Too thin. She popped. I didn't want to do this. Thin?? Thin fingers?? Ugh. My poor fingers; I already beat them up on Sunshine. And we thought this was supposed to be between 5.7 and 5.9. We were thinking at first about 5.7. After Shar's fall (on top-rope, remember), we figured maybe 5.9? Dave announced ain't no way he's gonna try it; if Shar fell, it's too thin for him. They both turned to me. "Mark, you're next!". <sigh>
Resignedly I went down and tied in; Shar scrambled up to where I was sitting. Unhappily I began climbing. Eh, wasn't bad. Everything was there. Not entirely straightforward on this wall full of relief; the holds - all finger holds - were hidden well. But there. Then I got to where Shar had gotten to. UGH! Yuck, this is tricky! Dance, dance, dance, my forearms were beginning to burn. I kept dancing my feet around, trying to get a better stance and take some of the weight off of my arms. Dance, dance, move up, dance. Finally I get to 'easier' ground. Not much easier, mind you; maybe a grade easier. Dunno. My forearms are on fire. Argh!!! I keep going. Shar and Dave are both cheering me on, but I try to ignore them; they're now background noise. I move, dance, reach up - is it positive? No! Reach to another protrusion. How 'bout that? Yes!! Dance, move, reach up, dance, move, repeat as needed. The top is far away; God, it's far! My foremarms, my forearms. I felt like I was climbing Breakaway (a 5.9 80' route about 50 minutes north of Baltimore). Argh, I'm tired. "Up rope!" It feels like the rope is down by my ankles, even though it's not. This is probably 5.7, 5.8 continuous. The pain, oh man, it hurts. I keep going. Can't fall (why? I don't know. Just....can't). Reach up, dance, move. Are the holds getting more positive?? I can't tell; my fingers are going, my forearms are going. All I can think of is to keep moving, keep dancing. I scrape my arm on something, drawing blood. But it's an incidental thing; my focus is to keep moving. Upwards. Up. Wait, the cold shuts - they're just above me! Yes!! Movemovemove! I reach up - whoops, bad hold. Reach over, good hold. Good! Match hands, move up, and....VOILA'! I'm there.
Tired? You betcha! Dave and Shar are cheering. My arms are throbbing. I look to the southwest. Black clouds. Uh-oh. I ask for slack and traverse around to the very edge of the rock, checking the weather. Things to the west are clear; to the south, ugly. Okay, it should pass to the south of us. I lower off.
I get down, Shar prepares to climb out the last part of Skyline Traverse. She will then bring Dave and then myself up. I'm tired; my forearms are taunt. It's pain, but it's that good kind of pain, ya know? Shar starts up, and it begins to rain lightly. Okay, so maybe we'll be caught by the fringe of the storm. Thunder sounds in the distance. It rains harder. Shar makes it up to the top. It's now raining. Really. Dave goes next. We fight with the top-rope rope on this unknown route; it is stuck around a corner. He finally frees it, pulls it out, and coils it on the shelf where he is. I tell him to leave it, I'll grab it on my way out (along with all the other gear). It's now really raining. A lot. Dave gets up. My turn.
The rock is wet, slick. Great. Good thing I kept my climbing shoes on. I put on the two tons of gear, grab the rope, and begin climbing. Ugh!! No good. I trail the rope instead, hoping it won't knot on me. I climb up, and finally top off. I find a semi-secure stance, and begin pulling up the rest of the rope. It's pouring now, by the way.
It gets stuck. Fuck! There's a knot in it somewhere. Goddammit! <sigh> Flip the rope around; maybe it'll clear? It does; I bring it up. There is one BIG knot in it!!! Amazed it didn't get caught on anything else. We're now drenched. Lightning is blasting all around us, the sky afire. This is Not Good. We rapid-coil the ropes, and move up the slope a bit. We're at the base of the main rock, but still about 600' above the valley floor. My car windows are somewhat open. Oh well! Wonder if my tent's still standing. The rain is coming down in sheets now, in curtains; lightning is blazing like crazy, getting as close as a mile from us. I can see it hitting the distant hills, barely a mile or so away. We're not exactly in shelter here, at the base of the main rock, but on a 5' wide shelf with a 100'+ drop before us. There are trees scattered around - just enough to be lightning bait. There is no place to hide; we seek 'shelter' against the east side of the cliff face. We've divested ourselves of most of the metal gear we were carrying, tucked it away about 50' or so from us. We're on the east side; the storm is mainly coming from the west/southwest. But the wind whips around Seneca like a dervish; there is no hiding from this Stomping! We are not only soaked and drenched, but we have Become One With The Water (thoughts of WaterWorld dance in our heads).
The lightning storm rages on.
It was actually kinda nice, sitting there, in the driving torrents of rain, watching the lightning strikes blast through the hillsides of West Virginia, getting closer than a mile from us at times. At one point Dave mentioned that he and Sharleen were considering abandoning the gear to retrieve later and bug out. I was content sitting where I was, told them that if they wanted to go then go. I didn't think this would last all that long (but then again, I had forgotten all about tropical depression Erin merging with a 'cold' front from the upper Mid-West). Besides, I had actually managed to remember to bring some sort of rain gear (a cheapie $5 poncho), and Dave and Shar (for the first time that I can remember) left their raingear in their car. I was happy in my poncho. But I hadn't gotten it out until after we had dumped the gear and were all wet, anyway.
About a minute after this discussion, Dave and Shar hadn't actually gone anywhere. Suddenly everything went very briefly blue. <FLASH> KaaAAA-ROOOM!!! Urrrr....lightning strike on the west side of Seneca somewheres, prolly on the hillside or so. Dave and Shar opted to wait the storm out with me.
About 2 hours after the storm blasted in, it abated somewhat. The lightning and thunder strolled off into the distance, and the rain lightened, and soon all but stopped (light drizzle). We moved. Quickly. Gathered the gear, ropes, we carefully scrambled back around to the West Face, then down the trail to the cars. Half an hour later, we were back at the cars. The rain picked up to a light rain. We dumped our gear, gorged on blackberries found along the trailside, then took a dip in the river to clean up a bit.
After that, back to camp. Where I found Shar and David's fly had been blown from their tent. The entire interior of their tent was soaked through. It didn't take them long to decide that they were going to pack it in and return to Pittsburgh - EVERYTHING was soaked through. Even after we emptied their tent of sleeping gear and stuff, Dave and I up-ended the tent and dumped out nearly 3 gallons of standing water. Ugh. My tent was fine. Thankfully.
Dave and Shar packed, showered, then we all went into town for dinner. Then they left, and I headed back to camp. The rain came and went throughout it all.
I got to bed about 9:30p. The rain picked up again 10 minutes later and didn't let up the rest of the evening.
3:00am. I roll over. <splash> Wha-hello??
I reach out for my headlamp. <splash><splash> My tent is flooded. Everything is soaked. It is still raining. I am now in my very own waterbed. It's not chilly, so I nap on, waiting.
5:20am. The rain stopped. I pack up everything, and take down camp. The tent site is a lake, hence why the tent flooded. It didn't leak, from the top, anyway. Dave and Sharleen's now empty tent site was a lake, also. Maybe it was just as well they decided to go when they did. Minutes before I finished packing the car the rain started again. I squeeze what water I can from the tent, toss it in the car with everything else, grab a quick shower, then head to breakfast, where the plan was to meet with the B'more/DC contingent.
We met, and sat in the restaurant (the 4-U) for 3+ hours. We entertained ourselves, watching the neon sign flicker the 'MO' in 'MOTEL', and watching the sheep in a nearby field not move in the downpour. Yes, it was still raining.
We eventually moved to the Gendarme, the local climbing shop. We hung out there, listened to the rainfall on the roof, talked to John Markwell (owner of the climbing shop) about the unknown route I was on the day prior (turns out that it's called Easy Skankin', 5.9, a sustained finger crimper), listened to the chatter of other, disappointed climbers as they strolled in, waiting to see if the weather was going to break. It wasn't. Not for a long time. Finally we departed. It was still raining....