SENECA ROCKS — The pale ridge rises like the ragged fin of a prehistoric fish in a rolling green sea of low forested mountains in eastern West Virginia.
Massive and intimidating, the craggy landscape of Seneca Rocks draws serious rock climbers from Washington, Pittsburgh and elsewhere to its fiercely vertical routes. The mountaintop, which can be reached without technical climbing gear, once hosted American combat troops training to fight in Italy’s Apennine Range during World War II.
Despite its daunting appearance, guides say this is a good place to introduce novices to a challenging but manageable ascent.
“It lends itself to mellow climbing,” said Adam Happensack, who led a threesome of mixed skill levels to the summit recently. “It’s like the coolest exposure you’ll get for this grade of climbing.”
From the Monongahela National Forest Discovery Center terrace, through a binocular scope, you can watch climbers nearly a half-mile (nearly a kilometer) away ascend the west face. The peak rises 900 feet (274 meters) above a fork of the Potomac River below. Visitors can splash in the river, hike forest trails and stay in campgrounds or an old motel. The nearby hamlet has two combination general stores and restaurants.
Seneca Rocks viewed from the ground spears the sky with its gray quartzite, but becomes more intimate and breathtaking on the way to the top. You hear the birds and soft thrum of the wind through the hardwood forest, and occasional yells from climbers to partners belaying them on safety ropes.
Happensack led climbing partner Phil Brown and me up a seven-pitch patchwork of easy routes to the top, including the Skyline Traverse. Many handholds and steps were obvious jugs of rock. No pitches were rated higher than 5.4 in the Yosemite Decimal System for technical climbing that ranges…