The Gendarme is a fabulous spire that no longer exists. I wondered about making a page for this - after all if you go to Seneca Rocks now, there is no longer anything left of this once celebrated pinnacle; maybe a few grains of pulverized rock, maybe some boulders resting in tranquility deep in the forests. But then, it was once one of the most famous summits in the Eastern United States, and a feature that helped inspire me to get into climbing in the first place. Besides, climbing is about change and about loss as well. Things fall, people move on or die, but still the memories linger.
Moonrise behind the Gendarme. Photo by Tim Howard.
Seneca Rocks are located about midway along Rt. 28 between Franklin and Petersburg. They can also be reached along US 33 from the town of Elkins.
There really wasn't any red tape to climb at Seneca Rocks when the Gendarme was still standing. Park your car, walk along a nice dirt road then cross over a bridge and climb the steep slopes to the base of the cliff.
The Gendarme from the North. Photo by Tim Howard.
You used to be able to camp directly below Seneca Rocks along the dirt road that led to the cliffs. There was no fee. Later, after flooding of the river, the camping spot was moved across Rt. 28 to a field next to the "Pavillion". Again, it was free.
The definitive guide to the Rocks at that time was Bill Webster's Seneca Rocks W. Va. A Climber's Guide
. The version I have was printed in 1980 by Paulhamus Litho. I used this guide for the route information on this page.
There is a short trip report of climbing the feature here
Seneca Rocks are made from the same quartzite rock that forms the Gunks in New York but is tilted vertically instead of horizontally. At some point, weathering and erosion formed the fabulous spire of the Gendarme in the notch between the North and the South Peaks of Seneca.
Supposedly, sometime back in the 1940's there was a man who was despondant about love and took a whole bunch of explosive material and tried to knock down the feature but at the time was unsuccessful.
The first ascent of the spire was by Paul Bradt, Sam Moore and Don Hubbard in 1940 using the East Face (5.4). Later, the overhanging West Face was climbed (5.8R) by Gordon Grahm in 1974; the North Face was climbed (5.8R)in 1978 by Tim Campbell and Jenny Ruffing; and Mike Schmitt used the South Face to reach the spectacular summit.
On October 22, 1987 the feature fell to the ground.
To climb the Gendarme, you would need:
A few slings
a couple biners
a rope, etc.
a time machine.
The East Face of the Gendarme to the left and the North Face on the Right.
The standard route on the feature was via the East Face. Approach was made either from the East side or the West side of the rocks to reach Gunsight Notch between the two main peaks at Seneca. There was a bit of 4th or easy 5th class climbing needed for this.
From the North-East corner of the feature, move diagonally up a ledge on the East Face to the South-East corner of the rock. Follow this up to the summit (5.4). The route was only complete when you stood unaided on the top.
Protection was entirely by fixed pins, and from what I remember there were a couple of old rusty bolts at the summit.
I'd like to thank Tim Howard for allowing me to use his pictures for this web page.