New River Gorge – Climbing

Zag - New River Gorge
Chris Wisenhunt on the New's first official rock climb, Zag (5.8, Bridge Buttress).


If you could map the development of East Coast rock climbing, you’d see it spread directly from Northeastern states southward to West Virginia’s Seneca Rocks and on to North Carolina. If you were around when it happened, though, you’d be totally unaware that the spread of climbing leap-frogged what has become the largest collection of world-class routes east of Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. But since its late “discovery” in the 1980s, the pace routes have appeared at the New River Gorge is unprecedented in America. Today, there are thousands of single-pitch sport and trad climbs, and boulder problems here, and that number is still growing.

What Makes It Great

Here’s how it goes at the New River Gorge: first, you visit to climb. Then, you have so much fun that you move here. Why, you ask? The answer is many-pronged. The New has literally thousands of climbs and boulder problems on bullet-hard Nutall sandstone, and at most crags (there are dozens) they all live side by side in perfect harmony. Leaf through Mike Williams’s guidebook, New River Gorge Rock Climbs, and it’s easy to believe that half the weight of its 2 tomes is all the red ink he used to print the stars that mark classic climbs.

It has been said that the New avoided the controversies around style and ethics that plague so many other climbing areas, solely because there’s so much perfect rock to go around. Place a resource of this magnitude right smack dab next to Fayetteville, WV, a thriving small-town community of friendly locals, restaurants, campgrounds, and rest-day activities aplenty, and you get something that is unique in America—a gigantic playground, if you will, for the perfect climbing weekend getaway.

But, there’s a flip side to this coin. The New has a well-deserved reputation for tricky, technical rock climbing that has foiled many a gym-climbing genius. There’s a wealth of top ropes and sport climbs for beginners, but precious few routes for fledgling trad leaders. Climbs tend to consist of long moves between bomber horizontal cracks, and can easily school the unschooled climber.

Nevertheless, easy-access, short-approach crags are plentiful, with top rope friendly Bridge Buttress and Junkyard Wall topping the list. But the crown jewel of the New is surely Endless Wall, a 3-mile-long unbroken section of cliff ranging from 60 feet high to past 100 that is entirely covered with star-adorned classics at every grade from 5.8 through 5.14.

Who is Going to Love It

Who isn’t going to love it? Actually, that’s easy to answer. If you like your climbing served up easy, the New’s technical aspect takes some getting used to. But if you’re looking for brainy, chess-gamey masterpieces of all grades and styles packed into a relatively teensy geographical area, then you really need to see the New to believe it. If you’re a pebble puller, you’ll also find the New to be the most underrated bouldering area in America.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The New isn’t 1 crag. It’s a collection of several, most within the boundaries of the New River Gorge National River, part of the National Parks system. Ergo, all the rules of climbing in national parks apply, from dogs on leashes and wilderness camping to permits for bolting.

Get your beta from the storied climbing shop, Water Stone Outdoors, in downtown Fayetteville, and be sure to pick up the aforementioned guidebook there. Boulderers, you’re also in luck. In 2015, Stella Mascari and Micah Klingler published the first comprehensive guidebook to the area, New River Gorge Bouldering, which adds more than 1,000 catalogued problems to the New’s 1,000-plus roped routes.

Written by Jay Young for RootsRated in partnership with West Virginia .

Featured image provided by Mike Williams

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