Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attempt my first traditional climb (known as a trad climb) as a follower, which is the individual who climbs up after the leader and removes the protective gear that was placed. I journeyed to Seneca Rocks, WV with two other members of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC), which was about a 2.5 hour drive from Washington D.C. The approach provided an amazing view of the rock faces, which were prominently displayed against the serene woods that surrounded it. After parking near the visitor center we grabbed our gear and began our hike up to the bottom of the routes.
This was my first time on trad and I was extremely excited, but also pretty nervous. The stakes are higher than top roping and my actions would affect my whole team. There was also a lot for me to learn (and remember) on this trip. Luckily, I was joined by an experienced and patient leader, as well as a second follower who lent tips and shared many laughs with me. My biggest mental block has always been trusting unfamiliar gear or methodologies. It takes practice before I feel secure that I would be caught in a fall. If I am using something for the first time, I like to test it (by pulling, jerking, etc.) just so my mind is put at east.
It took us three pitches to get to the top (known as a multi-pitch climbing). The first pitch was a climb called Le Gourmet, which provided a good warm up and a chance for me to get used to how the equipment functioned. This was followed by a 20 or so minute break (while we waited in line for the next route to open up) where the other follower and I sat on a small ledge in the middle of the rock face and enjoyed the beautiful view. After the group ahead of us had completed the next climb, we ascended Front C, which was the shortest and easiest climb of the day. Our third pitch was Critter Crack, a challenging 5.6-rated crack climb. This was probably one of the most difficult climbs that I have completed thus far, and brought a great sense of accomplishment. On the larger scale of things, it may not have been the highest-rated route by a long shot, but it showed me that I was progressing on skill level, and I was satisfied with that. After Critter Crack, it was just a short distance up to the South Summit. Our leader short roped us up the technical scramble, where we signed the summit log and took a short break before descending.
The descent was a bit terrifying. We proceeded down Conn’s West Rappel, which was by far the longest rappel that I had ever attempted. The actual descending wasn’t what had made me nervous, it the three of us squished together on a 6-inch ledge while the leader set up the ropes for the next drop. Again, after I began to trust the equipment, my stress level greatly decreased. It was the other follower’s first time descending altogether, so we both took it one rappel at a time until we were safely back at the bottom of the rock face.
It was an amazing day with great company. There were intense challenges, and rewarding successes. I was content after we completed the decent and was ready to get some food! The other follower was still amped, so she and the leader did one last climb on another 5.6 route named Banana, followed by a short descent on the Gunsight West Rappel. Afterwards, we headed down the trail and to the local restaurant to fill our stomachs before the drive back to D.C. I will hopefully be returning to Seneca in July, and am excited to take on even greater challenges on the impending trip.