A West Virginia adventure – Spring Break in the New River Gorge, 2018
Saturday, 26-May, through Saturday, 02-June, 2018
“Life is old there, older than the trees. Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze. Country roads, take me home… to the place, I belong! West Virginia, Mountain momma… take me home, country roads.”
I’m pretty sure that the first real spring break I ever had was with Daniel, years ago, when we drove down to the New River Gorge to climb, and attend the New River Rendezvous. Since that year, we’ve done our best to always link up and go on some glorious climbing trip on or around Memorial Day. This year was a tough one, with Sarah breaking her leg, but she insisted that I go anyways, and let her live vicariously through me as she convalesed at home. I’d already cleared the week as vacation with my boss, even before I was hired for the project, so I was free and clear for a throwback adventure…
Our last full day dawned, and we gorged on bacon, eggs, and sausage. Tradition is comforting, especially in the face of imminent flights, long drives, and significantly decreased climbs per day. Breakfast was no exception, so we helped ourselves feel better by having a glorious spread to put on the table.
Our goal for the day was Orange Oswald, and some hiking afterward – We’d been to Orange once or twice, depending on who you’re talking to (twice for Brian and I, once for everyone else), but the combination of hard routes and interesting moderate routes was perfect for us… and the fact that it has a max-rated 5.10a was definitely a pretty major draw for us. It did take a little bit of convincing for the group, since everyone was pretty tired out after a full week of adventure, but hey. That’s totally fair, and in the end we had a plan that everyone liked.
We drove out! In two cars! It… wasn’t that exciting, I’ll be honest.
Then we parked! With two cars! It also wasn’t particularly exciting.
The hike in was also non-exciting. It was more exciting than the driving or parking though, so… that’s a plus? Also, definitely a good warm up before climbing.
Which… it turned out we sort of needed! Because rain!
Daniel was already on the route when the skies opened up. I was racking up and getting ready to start onto my route. He was on a powerful 5.9, and I was on the highest rated 5.7 in the New. Daniel kept going, but I was unsure… climbing in the rain is pretty difficult and unpleasant at the best of times… leading on these routes was definitely a daunting task.
For me, at least. For Daniel… not so much. Maybe he’s a badass. He was halfway up, so maybe he just figured it was better to press onward. Either way, he battered onward, ignoring the rain and pulling through powerful move after powerful move.
Do you think I stood back, and let him show me up like that?
Absolutely. I was scared. Rain is scary when climbing, man. But after a minute or two the rain started noticably tapering off, and that was the sign that I needed. I don’t like letting Daniel one-up me if I can help it, so as soon as I felt positive that I could climb the route safely, I was blasting off trying to catch up.
The route honestly wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected – the rain had been pretty heavy, but thankfully hadn’t really seeped into the rock, and since it was partially shielded by the foliage that left me with very climbable terrain. Very enjoyable, even though I’d already done this exact route four times earlier in the trip. Just because you’ve done a route before, doesn’t make it any less fun.
The rest of the climbing was even better – the route Daniel had set up was a super fun challenge, with big moves on a really interesting sequence. And that’s even before we got to climb the namesake route for the wall, Orange Oswald…
- Hippy Dreams, 5.7, Lead – Yep, the same route as before. Still super fun, even in the rain.
- Chunko Goes Bowling, 5.9+, TR – This route was glorious. Interesting start, powerful moves, and a wandering sequence led to sustained, super pleasant climbing. It was tough going for everyone else though, so definitely a route that takes a lot of power.
- Orange Oswald, 5.10a, TR – Ohh man. The samesake for the wall, this route was tough and fun. I’m glad I didn’t lead it… but ohh man I want to lead it.
The climbing did take a while, but after everyone got their fill of pulling on rocks, we packed up and headed toward our next adventure – actually hiking the endless wall trail that I had aimed for the day before!
Since everyone was pretty exhausted, we hadn’t planned on spending the whole day climbing – as a trade to accommodate low energy reserves, we rolled out, parked, and headed in to finish up the hike that I’d started yesterday.
We didn’t go directly though – we did stop in at the visitor’s center first. Originally just to grab some more water and use the restrooms, but after looking around for a minute we decided to spend the 11minutes to watch their history of the Gorge video.
And honestly? I’d recommend it to anyone visiting the New River Gorge. It was partially propaganda for the forest service… but hey. They made the movie, I can’t blame them. The rest was really interesting and informative though, specifically about the origins of the Gorge, industry, and how it was settled.
With the movie fresh in our minds, we headed out onto the hike to get some good views of the entire area. I’m still a bit unconvinced that USA Today is right about it being the best hike in the US… but hey. The trail definitely had some pretty impressive overlooks, so that’s pretty cool, right?
Honestly, the hiking was pretty straight forward. We descended the ladders once as a group, but since Daniel and I were the only ones really interested in the cliffs, he and I were the only ones who descended the second time, after the overlooks.
I should quickly mention the photoshoot that occurred a the overlook, though… It was pretty impressive. And it happened twice, since we found two really beautiful overlooks. Now, don’t think that we didn’t enjoy the views! We definitely took our time appreciating the impressive panoramas around us! But we did also take time to pose. Repeatedly. A lot. Everyone. Like… just… so many poses.
It was really fun.
But yeah. Descending. Daniel and I did that. Erin, Lauren and Thomas continued on while we descended the Honeymooner’s ladder, with Brian hanging out at the top taking pictures and keeping watch (Against bears? I assume?). But that meant that the three of us were pretty far behind the others… which clearly meant that we needed to run!
And you can’t run without singing cadence, right? Right.
But… none of us have been in the military. We don’t actually know any cadence songs.
So, instead, we made stuff up. They were great. I’m not going to admit to any of them here. But trust me. Great. Super intelligent, and not poorly rhymed at all. Just trust me.
Once we caught up, it started raining. I mean, not immediately after we caught up, of course, because that would have been creepy. But pretty soon after. So we threw on what rain gear we had and hustled out.
Why did we hustle?
Well, we didn’t want to get too soaked… but let’s be honest. If you’re more than 10min from the cars, you’re going to get as wet as you can get, and hustling won’t help you one way or the other.
The real reason was dinner. Once we were in the cars, we could drive home. And once we were home, we could get changed. And once we were changed… well, once we were changed we could drive to eat BBQ!!!
Our goals always involved getting good BBQ – from the first time Daniel and I visited West Virginia, this has always been pretty critical to our trips. And back then, we’d found the ideal place to go; it was a shack by the side of the road, with a few beat up smokers outside slowly cooking away next to an old truck or two. And it was called Dirty Ernies. So, you know. That’s the kind of place that you can trust to have some legit, down-home delicious BBQ.
Dirty Ernies had closed, though.
Instead, there was Firecreek BBQ and steakhouse.
Firecreek was… well, it wasn’t Dirty Ernies. The pictures looked upscale, and the website made it look like the place you’d go to on a Sunday night after going to church. But as they say, it was the only game in town… so we all got dressed up and headed over for our last night in the West Virginian mountains.
Ohh my lord did we eat. While Firecreek doesn’t quite have the je ne sais quoi of Dirty Ernies, it still had damn good food. I ordered the trio: brisket, ribs, and chicken, and I absolutely didn’t regret it.
- The ribs were some of the best baby back ribs I’ve ever eaten, no exaggeration. We’re not talking “fall-off-the-bone”, we’re talking “try to pick up a bone and it cleanly slides out”, tender.
- The brisket was glorious; not over seasoned, but perfectly flavored. Not as impressively good as the ribs, but still amazing.
- The chicken… ehh, it was BBQ chicken. I’ll be honest, after the other two it was definitely a let down. It was a bit dry, and not super flavorful… but that might just be because of how good the other two were.
- Brownie a la mode – YUP, we had dessert. It was awesome.
- West Virginia Mule – Like a Moscow Mule, but with Bourbon. It was awesome.
After gorging (heh, gorging in the New River Gorge), we rolled our way home. We were supposed to make an early evening of it, just packing up and going to bed, but ended up staying awake a lot longer, just hanging out and talking.
Trips like this are always too quick; no matter how much time we spend exploring and adventuring, it never seems like enough, and I always leave wishing that I’d been able to hang out with people a bit more.