So, the guy I was supposed to meet at the New River Gorge lives in Gaithersburg, just outside Washington DC, and I had to pick up my mum from DC the next day, and he'd said I should come and stay and say hello, seeing as we'd missed each other at the New. And it was none other than Mikl Claw, Or Michael Law, depending on whether you're calling in an official context or not. One of the icons in Australian climbing development, with routes all over the country, often adorned with a "Claw hanger" which were some home brew fixed hangers he installed fairly often.
So not only do I get to meet one of these figures, but I get to go climbing with him at his gym, and sleep on his floor! Cool. I thought so anyway. Of course, the mishaps and mistimings continued. I missed his emails and phone calls and he missed mine, and I ended up in Gaithersburg while he was on his way to a gym in Virginia and blah blah blah, we both did a bit of driving.
Wonderful hosts, both himself, and Ness, his charming wife. Lots of insightful comments on climbing, both in the east, and in australia. It was really cool to climb with him. (Ness was recovering from strained finger tendons or she would have joined us as well) And they are both nuclear scientists! Which is just a cool job title. Or neutron scientists if you're not trying to attract quite as much attention. Ness had cool stories to tell about being in a hurry, and trying to move radioactive samples before they'd decayed enough and setting off alarms at work.
They even let us stay an extra night when Mum's bags got lost by the airline, and helped me out when my car got towed out of their appartment complex. They never lost their cool even once, even when I was starting to wear thin. This was a few too many things to have gone wrong in one short period, particularly when I'm used to just staying in the forest and bothering no-one.
So thanksgiving came while we were there, and mum and I went out to try and get some turkey. I really thought that we'd be able to find a restaraunt serving thanksgiving dinner, but they had all shut up, even by only 8pm. So we ended up at a Bennigans, which was a nice feed, but hardly thanksgiving. Oh well :)
The next day it was off to Seneca Rocks, for the second and probably final annual rockclimbing.com thanksgiving party. We'd already missed the thanksgiving dinner, but so had everyone else anyway, so it was now set for the next day. Had a pleasant drive out, crossing rivers with names like the "right fork of the north branch of the potomac" and driving on both new and old Route 55 (or some number)
This was where they were building a multilane divided freeway through an area of West Virginia/Virginia where previously there'd been a windy two lane road. So you'd do a few miles of one, then drive sidewasy for a bit and do a few miles of the other before rejoining again. Kinda different, and they're building some damn high bridges across some of these rivers. Whole valleys are going to become little backwaters, but progress marches on.
Arrived out at Seneca, which is an even smaller town than you'd think, it has a couple of shops, and a few houses spread up the surrounding valleys. Got a campsite and went to see if we could find anyone else. Failed. Set up camp, and went for a walk up the mountain, to see who we could see.
Walked up to the lookout on the north side, amongst the snow, and scrambled out along the ridge top for a little way. Seneca rocks is quite an impressive set of fins. It's a lot narrower than you'd think, looking at it from the side. Scrambled down and around the back, and I went off to investigate a few climbers, who promptly disappeared. Saw another couple further along, but I couldn't get to them either. Oh well, went back to camp, and were sitting around trying to decide on tea, when we see a car driving around looking at the different camping groups. (There were a few other campers, a group of hunters nearby, and a group of kayakers on the other side)
Bill and Bruce turned up, they were two of the climbers I'd seen earlier in the day, and later on Brenda and Kimmy turned up. Looks like we'll even get some climbing in! Bloody cold mind you, but off we went anyway, thermals, thermoses, parkas, beanies, gloves, you name it. Brenda and Kimmy headed up Worrel's thicket, and Bruce and I went up Skyline Traverse to Kaufman-Cardon.
Interesting climbing. Those damn easy grades are always quirky. Weird rock, reminded me of some of the rock at Table Mountain, volcanic, and all odd shapes. Followed up the first pitch ok, bitching and moaning about my parka getting in the way, and not being able to feel my hands or feet.
Oh well, it was my lead next, so I had to suck it up. We weren't taking any of the obvious lines above this belay it seemed. Bruce directed me to skirt straight out and around an arete and then up from there. Whatever man. Up looks way better. I eventually suck it up enough and start stepping around, after clipping one of the many many pins that adorn seneca. Quite airy, but good holds, and I continue on to another ledge.
Yet again, we're not taking the obvious line up, it seems seneca is covered in routes going in all directions and link ups in every direction. Bruce leads off on another traverse, with less gear, but fortunately not as much air. We eventually end up on the main ledge, and go for a scramble off to our next climb.
Resting was a bad idea. I wanted to take a break, but the time I wanted to go again, our warmth window had left us, and moving up to some proper jamming and a real climb just didn't seem appealing when I couldn't feel my fingers. We went and harrassed the girls. Brenda is a lot tougher than us, (or me at least) and was heading up Conn's East, for at least another pitch. Kimmy followed, and Bruce chased them on a second rope. I decided that this is stupid climbing weather, and sat around chatting to some other guys and taking some pictures.
I guess we really should do some climbing though, and I'd found a nice looking climb where the others were going to rap down, so we might as well toprope it before we pulled the ropes. Turned out to be Conns East Direct. A quite hard crimpy start that quickly eased off once you passed the great big death block/chockstone.
It was really time to go now. Not even Brenda's apparently limitless supply of hot tea could keep us warm now. The sun was on the other side of the mountain, and it wasn't coming back anytime soon. We headed back to camp, and found that we had grown in numbers with Dennis arriving from North Carolina. With Bill's magic stealth collapsible bowsaw we collected as much firewood as we thought we'd need, and then doubled it, while Brenda started heating up copius amounts of chilli.
And then we ate. And drank, and ate some more, and burned lots of wood, and put on more clothes, and drank some more, and ate some more. Bullshitted a lot, argued extensively. Put up a great big rainfly that Dennis produced out of his camper, which did an awesome job of keeping the rain off. Put my tarp to shame. About half the weight, and twice the size. But mine was only $20 at Walmart, so I win.
We had wine from everywhere, I think I even ran out of my supplies in the car, we had a double bottle of this crazy Pennsylvanian stuff that Bill brought with him. Cold fizzy and red. quirky. Quite the night was had by all, and then it snowed.
General consensus: Seneca is simply too unreliable weatherwise to really consider a thanksgiving climbfest. Of course, we all still enjoyed ourselves :) (and probably a lot more than the mad kayakers going and getting wet in this weather)
Seneca Rocks township and camping grounds from the rock
Fin central. This is the far side from the south end
Brenda, Bruce and Kimmy on Conn East DS
Bruce climbing in a beanie, and pulling on the death block, it must be cold
Kimmy belays while Brenda warms herself
Ok, I've done the hard bit, and my fingers are cold, can I come down now?
Crimping sucks, where are the big holds?
Full of tea, Brenda needs no beanie, and crimps better than any of us