The following weekend I was riding in a friend's car screaming around
hairpin corners to my first trip to Seneca Rocks. My partner for the day was
Mike, a fellow freshman from Florida of all places, but by my deductions had
all kinds of climbing experience. We set out to climb Lower Skyline Direct,
(LSD), a multi- pitch 5.4 up the Skyline Buttress of the south end. Tying a
Swiss-Seat around my waist and lacing up a pair of borrowed climbing shoes,
EB's, I was ready to test my new belay skills. Mike did not place any gear
on the entire climb so I was not sure why I was belaying but it was good
By the time we reached the Summit ledge it was getting dark. Not that I
would have noticed, I was too busy scrambling over every ledge I could find
looking at the incredible views. With a quick lesson in rapelling we are on
the ground hiking through the Hemlock Grove down through the switchbacks
leading to Roy Gap Road. I am filled with this incredible feeling again -
joy. Mike breaks out a pipe and the ensuing effect only heightens my
A couple days later I notice a sign-up sheet in the cafeteria for a
non-accredited class in rock climbing being taught three times a week for
four weeks, cost fifteen dollars. Scraping together the cash my roommate,
Alan, and I head over to the student center with a couple other guys from
our freshmen floor. We meet our instructor, Steve and settle in to watch two
films. The first being Solo and the second was El' Capitan. I was beginning
to feel the hook being set in my mind as I watched with great excitement
these two films. At the end of the movies Steve hands out to each of us our
very own copies of Royal Robins Basic Rock Craft...Joy!
The last class with Steve was our group's second trip Seneca Rocks. Whizzing
over the mountain roads in his beat-up Subaru station wagon I took notice of
the unusual terrain. It helped paint a picture in my mind where for a
moment I drifted off in a dream of great adventures to come. The west face
of Seneca Rocks came into view and my daze was wiped clean as we rocketed
around the last turn headed towards Roy Gap Road. That view, wow! I never
have gotten used to it. The rock draws me in every time I revisit her. The
joy of being excited, like when I bought my first pair of Fire' (FeeRay)
climbing shoes or my very first sit harness, a two-piece Troll.
Alan and I along with Steve and some of his friends were hiking up the west
face switchbacks towards the Hemlock Grove. Steve made sure we stayed on the
trail and fought the temptation to cut across the poorly marked switchbacks.
When we arrived at the Hemlock Grove we were greeted by Mike from Florida
and his partners for the day, Doug and Mark. I asked Mike if he is going to
lead anything today, "nah" he replied. "I am afraid I might fall" he
replied. Seems Mike was coming down off of a three day trip with some
"friends" named after the climb he had me on previously and was severely
lacking in sleep. We bid each other good luck and parted ways.
Arriving at the base of Le' Gourmet Steve quickly racks-up and scrambles up
the first pitch to set a top rope anchor. Alan and I are going to do our
first lead climbing with the security of a top rope, Alan first then I.
Everything went better than expected. After a couple laps on the first pitch
we moved around the corner to Le' Gourmet Direct a 5.5 that goes strait-up a
shallow south facing wall to the Old Man Traverse Ledge.
Alan and I were not the best of roommates and he was not going to be
out-done by some Millhonky from Beaver. His friends back home in the more
affluent town of Monroeville; PA would never let him live it down. This
jockeying for positions was because Steve had brought up the idea of leading
this climb without the security of the top rope. It was going to be our
first lead! I could feel my pulse in my neck as Steve began belaying Alan up
the first 15 - 20 feet of the climb.
Guided by advice and encouragement from Steve, Alan placed several stoppers
and small hexes. Alan climbed steadily to the base of the crux and was
stopped dead in his tracks. He made several attempts to enter into the crux
but he backed off each time. Alan rechecked the security of a small Forest
Stopper and made one last all out effort but could not muster the courage,
as I knew he had the strength. Down climbing he reached the ground untied
from the rope took a swig of water and handed me the rack, challenging me to
out better him. If he could not do it I certainly could not as well.
It was all I could do to hide my anxiety I shouldered Steve's rack, checked
the water knot on my Swiss Seat and the figure eight tie-in. However, the
only thing that I could feel was the blood vessels in my neck pounding away.
It was so pronounced that anything audible was background noise. I thought a
vein would explode at any second. Going through the well rehearsed belay and
climbing commands Steve gave me a quick wink as if to tell me this was going
to be my day. Climbing on top rope up to Alan's high point I placed a small
Chouinard Stopper slightly above Alan's last piece and entered into the
Making stemming moves with my feet and pushing against the rock with the
palm of my hand I found myself in an awkward chimney position in an open
flaring section off rock. Amazed that I was not going to slide out of this
notch I began to calm myself enough to reach high above my head for a small
ledge and a bent piton. Blindly clipping the piton I let out a huge sigh of
relief, as I was able to do the last move out of the crux. The pounding
pulse in my neck was replaced by a surge of adrenaline racing out the top of
my head. Every hair was standing on end. I was incredibly happy.
Taking notice of my position and the incredible views I found it very
interesting how I was not the least bit afraid while clinging to the side of
this rock. It is amazing how I could intently focus on this little TV like
screen directly in front of me tending to my hexes, carabiners, rope, hand
and foot holds. The next moment I was leaning out from the rock, relaxed
and looking all around. What joy I have found. Moving between these two
focal points I climbed comfortably to a small alcove with a sloping ledge.
Clipping another old piton and placing a hex my euphoric state is broken by
loud crashing sounds and screams. Nothing in my immediate view seemed to be
wrong but I could feel that my joy was slipping away.