Route Overview, History, and Beta
In the early 1940's, the US Army trained members of elite mountain troops (members of the 10th Mountain Division) at several crags in Pendleton County, West Virginia. These mountain troops would go on to fight with distinction in Europe. More significantly for most of us modern climbers, they also established many of the more classic routes at Seneca. Conn's West is one of these "Army Routes," and is named for two pioneering climbers at Seneca, Herb and Jan Conn.
Conn's West is a three pitch, 5.4 II and is given a PG rating by the guidebook used by most climbers at Seneca, "Seneca: The Climber's Guide" by Tony Barnes. PG suggests slightly less than ideal pro in some places, but still fairly safe. Because the route has so many horizontal ledges, be very careful when the rock is wet; the ledges are a bit polished because of high use, and get very slippery.
The Gendarme, the local climbing shop, is a great place to get info. Tony Barnes's guidebook, "Seneca: The Climber's Guide" is the acknowledged bible of the crag.
Conn's West is on the south peak. The best parking is in the climber's parking lot behind the USFS Visitor's center, though it is also possible to park in the main recreation area's parking lot as well. If you park in the climber's lot, cross Seneca Creek on the low concrete bridge and walk up Roy Gap Road until you come to the southern end of the main fin. Leave Roy Gap Road, cross the creek on your left, and climb the (very strenuous) stairs up the steep scree slope under the south peak. These steps have been nicknamed "The Stairmaster" by many exhausted climbers. Consider it a warm up; take your time. At the top of the Stairmaster, turn right towards the cliff and pick your way up through a slope covered with large boulders. There are also asmall cliff band that requires a short scramble. While its not very difficult, it can be exposed, and a stumble at the right place could cause a 10-15" fall. Watch out when the rock is wet! At the trail junction above the cliff band bear to the left towards the Gunsight Notch; the right branch will take you to luncheon ledge. Follow the trail along the base of the cliff until it bears to the right up several wooden stairs directly below Pleasant O and the Thias Face. At the top of the wooden steps, you can either go straight up some slabby ledges, or step right onto a large, gravelly platform. You want the platform, which is the start of both Conn's West and Old Man's Route.
If you park in the recreation area parking lot, cross the arched steel bridge over Seneca Creek, and follow the trail to the right. At the first trail junction, bear to the right away from the main tourist trail. Follow the trail as it winds crosses two small wooden bridges, then turn left at the junction with Roy Gap Road. From this point, the approach is the same as the other option.
Use caution when hiking up the Stairmaster. Routes line the cliff on the corridor's side, and this puts the trail squarely where most falling rock will land. Many wise climbers who value their brains put their helmets on at the top of the Stairmaster just before the slope of large boulders.
Pitch 1: The first pitch is shared by Conn's West and Old Man's Route. From the gravel platform, climb a series of stair-step like ledges up and to the right. The best pro is found in the inside of the corner's; there are excellent foot and hand holds on both the face and the facing corners, so don't get tunnel vision. Climb up and to the right past a small tree (many leaders girth hitch the tree as they pass and use it as a fixed piece of pro) until you get to ledge directly below an open book corner that leads into a large, flaring, 40" flake. There are no fixed anchor bolts; I usually build an anchor out of a #6 Hex wedged into the corner crack at eye level, a second small stopper in the same crack, and then girth hitching the root at ground level, and then tying them together with a cordalette.
Pitch 2: From the first belay stance, climb straight up through the short (10") open book corner, and proceed up into a flaring, 40" flake. the main face has many excellent small foot holds and cracks. Beware of the hollow expanding flakes at the bottom of the flake; they look great, but they sound hollow and placing gear behind them may cause them to expand. The crux is about halfway up the flake, where the flake almost becomes an off-width. Continue until you come to a small, sloping ledge with a pine tree that is covered with large, loose rocks. Again, you have to build your own belay anchor; I usually put two stoppers in at eye level (#13 and #9, I think...), and then girth hitch a root at ground level, then tie it all together with a cordalette. The second pitch often feels very intimidating for new leaders...and followers as well.
Pitch 3: From the ledge, continue up and to the right into the chimney behind a huge, detached flake. It's a class 4, low class 5 scramble, with huge wedged boulders and lots of loose rock. Use caution. Most folks that climb Conn's West decide not to climb the (fairly ugly) 3rd pitch, and climb the much more scenic "Conn's West Direct Finish," a beautiful 5.5 pitch starting from the second belay stance.
Conn's West is a trad route with a few fixed (anchient) pitons. Clip them for historical value, but don't trust them with your life! You can climb Conn's West with a double set of stoppers (#6-#13) and a set of cams (.3-4). I also like having some mid-sized hexcentrics. The larger cams will be very helpful halfway up the second pitch in the wide off-width section of the flake. The placements are in the very back of the flake, and are in a 2.5-3" wide crack.
You'll also want lots of extendable (12"-24") quickdraws. The first pitch wanders up stair-stepping ledges, so if you don't extend your placements with runners, you'll generate a lot of rope drag. This is also important on the second pitch, with so many placements being deep behind the flake. I always carry several very long (4") slings for the deeper placements and for building anchors.
You'll also want at least two cordalette's for building anchors and for the rappels back down. 4-5 locking pear-shaped carabineers are also very helpful.