North Peak View from the south peak
A Use for Facebook?
In general, I find Facebook to be pretty lame. While it's been useful as a way to communicate with people I haven't seen for many years, I mostly find the site annoying and don't go there unless I want to post some pictures or unless I get an email notification of a message someone has sent me. Somehow, it saddens me to see people eagerly announcing the utterly mundane details of their lives on a serial basis. And then there are the unwanted invitations. And the "Liking" and being a "fan" of something or someone, mere invitations to join a herd. And the people collecting friends-- I'm sure I'm not the only one who has received a friend request from someone he doesn't know, someone who apparently is friending him because he is a friend of a friend, or something like that. Sad.
But I was pleasantly surprised to find two nice things about Facebook that I had never thought about before-- meeting climbing partners and learning that SummitPost does indeed reach an audience beyond its registered members.
About two years ago, I received a message on Facebook from someone who was asking if I was the Bob Sihler whose mountain photos he'd seen on SummitPost. He wasn't (and isn't) an SP member, but he told me that he uses the site for information. When later he was planning a trip to Glacier National Park and I sent him links for several SP pages, including some of my own, he told me he had no idea how many times he'd read one of those pages and had never before noticed that I was the author of it.
Yes, I'll admit it gave the ego a little boost to know that non-SP members were viewing, appreciating, and using my pages, but more importantly, it confirmed to me that SummitPost works. Often, I've wondered if people other than contributing members really use the site all that much. I've been told that they do many times, but here was the proof, and I was glad to see it.
So this guy-- his first name is Dan, but I'll keep his last name out of this-- and I traded messages once in a while and talked about doing a hike or a climb if we were ever near each other (he lives in Illinois), and last September, he said he would be going to Seneca Rocks and asked if I would be interested in joining him and a friend for some climbs of some of the easier routes, as he'd been learning to lead climb and wanted to practice his new skills in a spectacular but comfortable setting. I said I was up for it, and we made plans for the first weekend of October.
Unfortunately, some health issues popped up almost at the last minute, and Dan had to cancel or, as he optimistically put it, postpone until the spring. So there I was, fully in the climbing mindset by then, with plans blown apart. I could sit around in a bad mood, use the suddenly freed-up time to do some things with the kids, or just go by myself and make the best of things.
I hit the road shortly after dinner.
Only twice before had I been to Seneca Rocks, and neither time had I done anything more than get out of the car to take some pictures. The first time had been Memorial Day Weekend in 1997; my girlfriend (now wife) and I stopped there on our way to Blackwater Falls State Park. The second time was in May 2002; again, I was headed for Blackwater Falls, but this time with some students who had joined a hiking and photography club I'd started.
A Day at Seneca
Well, I went out with plans to hike the trail to the north summit and then use the east-side scrambling routes to circumnavigate the rocks and get a good look at some of the features and routes on them. Almost as an afterthought, I packed my helmet and rock shoes in case I decided to check out some of the routes we had planned to climb and see how far I could go on them. That turned out to be a good decision, for the day went from a scenic hike to climbing almost from the beginning. The pull of the rocks was just too much.
As I hiked to the north summit, I thought I might like to scramble and bushwhack up to some ledges near Gunsight Notch. Soon, I stumbled across one of the climber's access trails and found myself at the base of Old Man's Route (5.2), one of the easiest and most popular of the routes at Seneca Rocks and one of the routes we had planned to climb (we had also talked about Old Ladies and Skyline Traverse). It wasn't much longer until the helmet and rock shoes were on and I was below the third pitch (both final and crux) on Old Man's.
While I pondered the wisdom of negotiating the slightly loose chockstone of the pitch, especially on an unprotected downclimb, a part of me said to play it safe and smart, be happy I'd gotten as far as I had, and wait for the spring and a protected climb. But another part of me thought it seemed such a shame to quit when the summit was so close, especially since the south summit at Seneca is the highest technical-only peak east of the Black Hills and is, by all accounts, a remarkable summit for the exposure and the views.
Yet common sense prevailed and I turned back. Halfway along the narrow, exposed ledge traverse that comprises the second "pitch" of the route, though, I had another change of heart and went back to the crux pitch. A few minutes later, I was at the top of it, having taken great care to make sure I could downclimb the pitch safely, and the Class 3/4 scramble to the highpoint of the south summit was all that remained. Before going there, however, I first took some time to play around on some of the other small, exposed pinnacles nearby.
It was definitely worth it. The morning was a beautiful one, and being atop the summit allowed me to appreciate how narrow, exposed, and spectacular these famous rock fins really are in a way that I never could have from a mere roadside view or even a hike. I understood right away and without any doubt at all why Seneca Rocks was long the premier climbing destination in the East between the Gunks and Stone Mountain (NC) and why it is still a formidable proving ground.
Starting out at dawn meant that I was the first up that day. Normally, the south summit sees a steady stream of climbers on a nice weekend day, but I had the place to myself the entire time I was up there, about a half-hour. And I only saw two other climbers on the route as I headed down; they were with rack and rope and were pretty surprised to see me heading down their way. Back at the base, there was a group of four getting gear together and almost ready to start, so I was glad to be finished with the downclimbing before encountering anyone else and interfering with their climbs (normally, people rappel down the cliffs rather than retracing the route after climbing Old Man's).
As many who have climbed Old Man's will say, the route is pretty easy, with only a few real Class 5 moves, and roping up probably isn't necessary except on the last pitch, if it's even necessary there. Still, it was a nice introduction to the routes here, and I felt good about getting out and doing it. If Dan and I do get together in the spring, I hope we'll try something harder, though; the extra time and energy required to rope up and protect the route would probably drive me crazy. Of course, I could look at it as practice, which is always a good thing to get.
Once I had descended the route, I bushwhacked back to the main trail since the climber's trail would take me back almost to the very start of the trail, and I completed the hike to the north summit, which turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. I was aware that the trail ended at an observation platform and had hoped that the actual summit would be an enjoyable scramble away, but it was just barely a scramble and only took about a minute to reach. Still, it was an airy perch, not as airy as the south summit, but still pretty nice, and with great views of the south summit (and the many climbers on or near it already).
|North peak | |South peak from the north
Getting two summits I hadn't been on before, one of them a technical one, in one morning had been nice, but I wasn't finished yet. For a cap to my tour-de-Seneca, I wanted to climb to Gunsight Notch, which has always struck me as the most impressive feature of Seneca Rocks (as seen from the road, at least), and I knew there was a Class 5.I-can-do-it way up on the eastern side. In fact, it turned out to be mostly Class 3 and 4 with one short, exposed Class 5 pitch at the very end.
Gunsight Notch-- what a spot. Directly between the two main summits, the site has terrific exposure and an awesome perspective of the two main fins that comprise the north and south summits. From the notch, those fins appear so thin and delicate that you are almost amazed that people dare climb them. For several minutes, I just sat there in the warm sun, photographing the rocks and watching the serious climbers on the stout routes. Someday I will have to go back much earlier in the day in order to get some great shots without people in them, but this time, it was pleasant to watch the human spiders do their work.
|From Gunsight Notch-- North peak... | |...and south peak
The rest of the day was for feeling satisfied and lazy. There were other routes I was tempted to try, but there were too many other climbers out, and I'd have just been in the way of them, their ropes, and their other gear. What the etiquette in those situations is I really don't know, but I figure it's probably that you defer to the group that got there first, and while it would have been incredibly frustrating to sit and wait for a few people to climb and clean a 5.2 pitch, I can certainly see how the other group might not have been too happy at the prospect of my blowing through and possibly messing up their gear placements.
Late in the afternoon, as I lay shirtless on a blanket, reading a book and stealing a last bit of tanning conditions before the ugly whiteness of winter, I noticed a blonde checking me out. This made me feel good-- my 40th birthday was less than two weeks away, after all-- until I noticed that it was my wife. Oh, I forgot to mention that I'd suggested she bring the kids out there to go camping the second night of the weekend.
Hey, at least she was checking me out. When your own wife stops wanting to look at you, then you know you've truly gone to shit!
Because Seneca Rocks is about a 2 1/2-hour drive for me, it's not a place I'll visit often. Still, I know I'll be going back, and I already have some targets in mind. It's good to finally know what all the fuss is about.