Since most people won’t read my full write up, and who can blame them it is almost as bad as Ulysses, here is a shorter summary just touching on the best.
On the trip down I got to hang with Mike and Shelley at their new place in Crofton, MD. We watched some Top Gear and got killed at Boggle by Shelley. From there the three of us met Ben and the rest of the gang at Paul and Lauren’s place called Rainbow Farm, all 260 acres of it. Lauren’s parents named it that back when they bought it somewhere around 1980.
For the Fourth of July we had a party at Paul and Lauren’s cabinesque home, complete with electricity and running water but no indoor toilet. The toilet is about 40 yards from the house. We feasted on venison burgers from Jim Webber, lettuce, cabbage and beets all from the farm. Later on we had a frisbee toss around the bonfire (complete with Ben calling “Danger!” any time the disk remotely got close to the flames.
Sunday we were treated with indoor activities courtesy of 12 hours of steady rain. Thankfully Monday cleared and we got some climbing in at the Orange Oswald Wall on Summersville Lake. Mike and Shelley both got to lead a route as well as throw themselves at some hard stuff that Paul set up. More spectacular food was provided at the beautiful Webber house which is just a minutes walk up the driveway from Paul and Lauren’s.
Tuesday was more climbing. Most of the New is sport climbing though there is a fair amount of trad stuff to do. Regardless of the style all the routes are hard. The average route is 5.10 or harder.
Wednesday we did some farm work. There was a tree that needed manuvering so it could be cut into firewood, there were green beans to be picked and above all there were countless blueberries that needed picking. A lady who lives on the other side of the hill from the Webbers/Brenners has a large blueberry patch and she enlisted us to help pick. Her request for us picking was not so much so she could get the berries from us, quite the contrary she gave us all the berries we picked. She just wanted someone to use the berries before they dropped and went to waste.
Thursday was more climbing, this time at the Bridge Buttress. Though the day was abbreviated by massive rains that came through. We ended up having to lower Paul mid-route to retreat to safety. After the initial wave passed he retrieved the gear and we headed home.
Friday, our last full day, we went climbing in the morning back at the Orange Oswald Wall. The second half of the day was swimming, boating and watching Paul deep water solo, all capped by a great mexican dinner at Diogi’s. While climbing I was able to do another 5.9 sport lead as well as two 5.10 sport leads. I was really satisfied with finishing those climbs because they were the hardest leads I’ve done.
Saturday Ben and I headed back to CT. Visiting Paul and Lauren was great. The farm is beautiful. It is hard not to be in West Virginia. There state has lots of elevation but also a fair amount of farms. The view from Lauren’s parents house is spectacular. Looking around they are nestled in a valley, though not at the bottom. There is a great sense of space and topography because of the hills, forest and fields. I had a great time and will definitely plan on returning back again in the future.
Ok for those who have more patience here’s the full write-up of my trip.
The long stressful days working at Sikorsky to release drawings for the 53K have been wearing away at me. Weekday and weekend climbing trips have been taking the edge off a little bit but not completely. Some extended relaxation time was needed. So back in May or so Ben and I committed ourselves to heading down to West Virginia to visit Paul and Lauren on their farm. A week of climbing, eating, and farming might fit the bill to unwind a little. With that in mind Ben and I headed down for the week after 4th of July. Fortunately we were able to take advantage of the 4 day weekend courtesy of the holiday+furlough day.
The plan to leave Connecticut early Friday the 3rd worked out well for us. There was little traffic and we were through NYC before 9 o’clock. After making our way through growing but manageable traffic we arrived in Crofton, MD at the Melchior residence. The newly relocated Melchiors would be traveling to WV with us to partake in the fruits of country living. Ben continued on to Richmond to meet his family.
After learning that Stop & Shop has an alter ego in MD called Giant, getting womped at Boggle by Shelly, watching half a dozen Top Gear episodes and one incredibly fat lady get housed in the TV show Wipeout, we showed up in WV at the farm. In true farm fashion we were greeted by Paul and Lauren riding atop a four-wheeler. Their first piece of advice before driving up the dirt road that lead to the house is, “Don’t pay attention to the dogs at the second house. Keep driving.” Sure enough two ferocious beagles barked their way right up to the car. Normally when dogs approach you slow down. These dogs were hip to that game and stood in front of the car to bark. But given the advice we kept going and they got out of the way. They did follow us all the way up the road to the gate for the Brenner’s. Pound for pound they were a nasty pair.
The first day, which was the 4th of July, brought every one on the farm down to Paul and Lauren’s place. Lauren’s parents, sister, brother in-law, and few other friends. Lauren’s parents, Jim and Ellie Webber, bought the 260 acres back about 30 years ago. During that time the land was used for farming and then for vacation after the Webber’s moved away when Lauren was only 2 years old. The Webber’s originally lived in the house that the Brenner’s now occupy. It is best described as a cottage. A single wood burning stove heats it. There is a kitchen, loft bedroom, pantry, living room and sort of bathroom. The bathroom is just missing the toilet which is about 40 yards from the house. The Webber’s now live just a minutes walk up the driveway in a beautiful new house that they designed and built. The party was nice and relaxing, great food, plenty of cold beverages, bonfire and some frisbee.
Sunday was a washout. NOAA accurately predicted the start of the rain, missing only by 30 minutes. Starting at 2:30am Sunday and for the next 12 hours we got a steady hard rain. No wind, just ceaseless rain. As a result nothing of interest happened but a trip to Beckley to visit Tamarack. If you’re thinking of going skip it. It isn’t much more than an a gift shop and rest area in one.
Monday provided clear skies for us to head to Summersville Lake to get some climbing in. At this point it was just Ben, Mike, Shelly and the Brenners. The drive up from Sandstone to Fayetteville is phenomenal. The scenery is OK, mainly just rural WV with forests and rolling farms mixed in occasionally. The real prize is the road. Smooth, clean, and anything but flat and straight. Mike had a little fun with the well cambered corners in the Jetta. Ben opted for his Mazda 6 for trip so we could get the extra space and gas mileage. Next time I go down there I’m taking my car and doing a hot lap between Sandstone and Fayetteville in about 30 minutes :-).
The approach into the Orange Oswald wall was typical for the most part. The one amazing part of it is nearing the end. The trail goes from well used dirt road to less than singletrack climber path. At that point it winds through an almost tropical rain forest of rhododendron bushes and streams. The best point was the ladder helping us down a waterfall. Unfortunately the canopy was so thick and light so low that there wasn’t much point in pulling out the camera for a picture. There were lots of orange salamanders running around too.
Lauren, Shelly, Mike, Ben and myself all lead and warmed up on a 5.7 called Hippie Dreams, a 50 foot sport route with 8 bolts. During that Paul did his normal thing of putting up 5.9s and 5.10s for us to throw ourselves at. After warming up I was convinced by a couple already at the crag to do Chunko Goes Bowling a steep, 60 ft 5.9. I was a little apprehensive at first since I’d never done a 5.9 sport lead. In fact my last attempt was a frustrating 5.6 at the Pinnacles. The route was a perfect 5.9 lead. Doable start, working to few solid moves which put me onto a less than vertical bulge from which I could rest before the crux and steep section 25 ft down from the anchors. I finished the route and went on to lead another wet 5.7 later in the day.
Tuesday Mike and Shelly headed back to the daily grind. The rest of us decided to head to Bubba City to do some more moderate climbing. Well after getting a little lost and hiking 3 miles on difficult trails with lots of gear (thanks Paul!). Unfortunately the New is not where you go if you are looking for 5.6 through 5.9, sport or trad. Most of the climbs are 5.10s or higher. At Bubba City we did a beautiful fist crack called Basic Bubba Crack (5.9) trad. We did a few other climbs at this crag as well. Ben and I leading Wunderkind (5.6) sport. I lead a 5.4 with Paul which was atrocious because it took me about 40 minutes to do the 60 ft. I think the biggest thing was the fear factor. The climb lead into an enclosed area that had marginal pro and huge consequences with caverns below me just waiting swallow my legs.
Wednesday was a rest day. Since Sunday the weather had been beautiful, Wednesday was no exception. About 80 during the day with low humidity and in the mid 50s at night. We slept in and wandered our way up to the Webber’s place up the hill to help pick green beans, do a little weeding and tie up tomato plants. From there Ellie got a call from a woman on the other side of the hill who has a blueberry patch. There were tons of blueberries and she needed help picking them. We headed over through some amazingly small, windy, dirt roads that were still named public streets. After about 20 minutes we got there to see a snarl of blueberry bushes and the sound of two nice ladies chatting. There was no sight of them because the bushes were out of control. It seems like she planted the bushes, numerous varieties of blueberry, some time ago and had never bothered to trim them.
After crawling through the netting to keep the birds out we found ourselves surrounded by berries. High and low there was no shortage of them. We all wandered in and stood in the same place just turning to the right or left in a circle for 15 minutes before having to move to a different spot. After about almost an hour of picking we found ourselves with about 25 pounds of berries. Ellie froze/canned all but two quarts of them, which Ben and I took back to CT.
After blue berries we stopped by the house of a local, but well known potter, Jeff Diehl, who was in the middle of constructing a large wood-fired kiln adjacent to his current salt-fired one. The structure was still in its early stages, just beams really. But were they ever beams. The main load bearing ones were 12x12s at least 15 feet long. I can’t imagine what they cost.
Back on the farm Ben and Paul went to tackle getting a large tree cut into segments so that Jim could drag it out with the tractor, later to be used as firewood. While they did that I tried to take some pictures of the tons of hummingbirds that frequent the feeders at the Webber’s back porch. Since Paul and Ben had a fair amount of work to do Lauren and I took a tour of the property. Close to ten years ago the Webbers had a timber company come in to take some trees so that they could pay for Lauren and her sister’s college education. The timber operations left lots of small roads, not much more than paths through the woods. After about ten years these paths are getting overgrown. Paul and Jim have been clearing them so they can be used just how Lauren and I used them. We took a four-wheeler and Sal to take a look. The property is beautiful. Steep hills, forest, some deciduous and some coniferous (planted by hand by the Jim and Ellie) and some fields. We spent close to an hour roaming around the small paths with Sal always running out in front of us. Sal definitely has the charmed life, no need to work for his food and 260 acres of fields and forest to explore. Eventually we found our way to the log and helped Ben and Paul out. This one tree should give them almost their entire winters worth of wood I think. We finished up the day with a dip at the local swimming hole which from the rain on Sunday was fairly full. The hole is a nice little waterfall that has a grotto undercutting behind it as well as a couple 8 foot jumps into the water.
Thursday we headed to the Bridge Buttress which as the name implies is close to the New River Gorge Bridge. The bridge itself is an impressive structure. According to its Wikipedia page, it was the highest bridge until 2004 and is still the longest single span bridge in the Western Hemisphere. Climbing so close, it was difficult to get a sense of scale of the structure. At the buttress we climbed a classic traditional crack, Zag (5.9). From there we moved into spectacular cave and did two routes, Labor Day (5.10) and High Times (5.10c). Both great climbs, though Labor Day must be rated for the short overhung second pitch. The first seemed more in the 5.9 range. High Times was a super hard, but fun, crack climb. The last few moves below the anchor being the most strenuous.
Later in the day we searched for some easier stuff with no luck. Paul started climbing a nice looking crack but then we heard thunder. Paul, always the adventurous type, kept climbing. A little while later Lauren and I heard a noise. After about a second we both looked at each other and realized it was an impending downpour that hadn’t quite reached us. Ben and I grabbed all the gear and headed to the nearest roof, which unlike most of the areas we’d been climbing wasn’t a +20 foot over hang. Paul lowered down and we took refuge until the storm eased up. After retrieving his gear we headed back to Sandstone in a driving rain. Thankfully more home cooked, straight from the garden food was waiting for us when we got home. Thanks Ellie!
Friday was our last real day. Jim had committed himself to getting out of work early so he could meet us at Summersville Lake for an afternoon of boating. In the morning Ellie, Paul, Lauren, Ben and myself took the boat back to the Orange Oswald wall. This time by taking the water way. Summersville lake is a dam-made lake. The valley that contains the lake is similar to the New River valley with cliffs near the top. This makes Summersville Lake really beautiful. The water is clear greenish-blue and very deep. The cliffs come straight out of the water creating countless deep water solo routes.
Back at the wall I lead another 5.9. It was one of the routes that we did the first time at this wall. The one sketchy thing about it is that the first bolt is about 12 feet up from a ledge which itself is about 8 feet high. So the first pin is about 20 feet up! Luckily it is lowish angle and relatively easy. From there it gets steeper and smaller holds for 10 feet or so. It eventually tapers into really grippy textured rock at the anchors. Another satisfying lead, my second at that grade. While I was doing that Paul set up She Got the Bosch, and I got Drilled (5.10a), a steep but juggy route about 65 feet high. Lauren and Ben both did it with success and rave reviews. Lauren and Paul both thought that I should lead it. I looked at it for a little and figured what the hey. It was steep and bolted so why not.
The route was pretty straight forward. Similar to the Gunks, each hold is from horizontal striation to the next. There was never any doubt as to where the holds were, just if they were going to be slopey or positive. The first few clips came pretty easily, which was good. After getting out of grounding territory I felt better. Moving higher the route steepened but the holds stayed good. There were a couple places were a rest could be had. I finished out the route successfully, which was very satisfying.
After finishing that route I was convinced to do another 5.10 by Lauren who, “wanted to see me take a lead fall. I mean, see you finish it first, but if not finish, take a fall second.” Great. The route was Strong Arming the Little Guy (5.10b). It was basically the same style as the previous route though Ben had some trouble with the crux, a crimpy layback. Thankfully the bolts were positioned well for the crux and I’m tall which helped me skip smaller less appealing holds. I was definitely getting pumped and there weren’t as many rest spots on this one. Once getting passed the crux without incident I knew I could get it if I could get one last rest. There was a great one just waiting about 3/4 the way up. After some shakeouts I headed to the anchors, bagging my second 5.10 sport lead.
That basically finished up our climbing day and we picked up Jim and headed to the Webber’s favorite rock which allows basking in the sun, wild blueberry picking, as well as swimming. There was also a nice deep water solo within swimming distance for Ben and I. The route was about 25 feet high and lightly overhanging. The water below the route was probably about 60 feet, no chance of hitting bottom. We swam out and both climbed it. It was very different climbing with no shoes or chalk. In a way I was almost not scared climbing. The one concern I had was less about falling, but more about getting myself away from the rock if I did fall. Either way the route was probably a 5.7 and we finished it just fine. The problem came when we were on the top and had to jump back down. Both of us went from no concerns about unexpected falls to hesitating on a planned jump back down. Eventually we both did it.
Paul, Lauren, Ben and I then sought out some nice DWS for Paul. He brought some junker shoes to help. We ended up finding two really impressive, very overhanging routes. On both of them Paul only got up about 25 feet, but that was his plan. His trick to DWS is finding hard overhanging routes that are beyond his limit to climb too high, thus avoiding the painful jump back down.
We rounded out the day at a Mexican place in Fayetteville called Diogi’s. The food was phenomenal. I highly recommend the fish tacos with lime chipole sauce.
Saturday brought another great weather day, but sadly Ben and I would be leaving Rainbow Farm and heading back into the “real world.” We headed out around 8:30am and got back to CT around 6pm. I’m really glad I got a chance to go visit. I”m looking forward to going back in the future when the Brenner’s have more of a real farm going. I want to see goats, chickens that actually lay eggs, horses (it would be an awesome ride to take horses out on the paths that Lauren and I were four-wheeling on), and more farmed fields!