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Seneca Rocks


by Phil Sidel

December 29, 2001

Eric Boyles and Brian Schwadron drove down on Friday night and camped in Seneca Shadows. Hugh Shinn and Phil Sidel drove down on Saturday morning. We met a little before 10 am in the Visitors' Center Parking Lot.

We set up as two teams. On Saturday the teams were Hugh Shinn and Brian Schwadron to climb Ecstasy Junion and then work on Triple S and Phil Sidel and Eric Boyles to climb Conn's West or Le Gourmet.

Though foggy and overcast through much of the morning, it was a very hot day (in the 90's). But we took plenty of water (about 2 liters each), put on potent (#45) sunscreen, and stayed on west side which stays shady till later afternoon.


We got plenty sweaty from the hike up the switchback, but we were rarin' to climb. A party of two (one a beginner) was just starting Conn's West, so we decided to turn back and do Le Gourmet. The couple ahead of us there were already at the first belay station and moving well. It turned out Mark Kochte was right next door with a party of folks who were doing Prune. He spotted me right away (must be the helmet); I needed a second take and some help to recognize him, but it was fun to chat a little when all the introductions were made. One of the pleasures of Seneca is making and renewing freindships.

Eric was starting on his first ever lead/ multipitch climb, so I explained some of the things that were different from top-roping. Eric caught on fast and we were ready to go in a very short time (even taking a short time out for some picture taking with Mark K.).

When I got to the first belay ledge, I saw Mark K. cranking up the tough first pitch of Cast of Thousands. I wanted to take his picture, but by the time I got off belay and got my camera out he was up and mostly out of sight on the front face. From the expletives I heard from his direction, I decided not to ask him to hang out a ways and smile for a photo.

Eric followed me up the first pitch, set up his belay. It was great to have such a capable partner. His shoes were ordinary running shoes or something of that style, and he was carrying the pack and the second rope (for a long rappel down), yet he made the pitch in good time with no groans or complaints. He was unable to clean one of my small stoppers, so I downclimbed and worked on it with the nutpick and a large hex for hammering. As so often happens, it moved just when I was about ready to give it up, and we got it out fine.

The second pitch is a long, fairly easy traverse to the right, then around a corner for a short climb up a right-facing ramp and over some boulders to the end of the "Old Man's Traverse". To avoid rope drag, I belayed the second pitch from the outer edge of the ramp -- about ten feet below the true end of the pitch. When Eric came up I gave him an option of continuing over the fairly easy rocks up to the regular belay station (where there was a convenient tree on which to tie in). He went for it and made it fine. A fall would have been unlikely, and not fatal (he was still on belay) but pretty bad, nonetheless.

The next pitch is really class 4. With one sling around the big tree ten feet above the belay ledge (as a directional), I scrambled up the ramp to the left along the "critter wall" to the south-facing cracks and edges of varying widths known as "Le Gourmet Chimney." This was the only part of Le Gourmet I had not done before, and I was anxious to complete the full route.

It was a nice climb -- hard enough to be interesting, but with lots of alternatives as to which crack or ramp to follow. I was seldom, if ever really chimneying. A major decision is knowing where to top out. After a couple of starts at the somewhat dicey traverse to the top of the "critter wall," I decided to climb on up to the top of the wall segment above me -- about 20 feet higher than the "critter wall." I had no idea how we would get down from this spot, but was not too worried. If all else fails you can always rap off your pro. I set some belay station anchors and got ready to bring Eric up.

I had Eric leave our pack and second rope at the base of Le Gourmet Chimney, and follow me up. When he arrived, we took some pictures and I had Eric reconnoiter for routes down. He saw a tree with slings about 25 feet down to the north, but I opted for a route that I could see from where I sat. I belayed Eric down an easy sloping south-facing chimney that started at the northeast corner of our belay and led down to a walking ledge on the east side. Then he belayed while I "led it down" (placing pieces knee to waist high and removing them after climbing below them).

From there the route was familiar; we walked to the Traffic Jam cut-through to the top Old Man's belay, and set up our single rope rappel. Eric rapped down to the next rap station, and I followed, stopping off on the ledge halfway down to unclip and pick up our rope and pack. Then Eric and I dropped both ropes and fastened them for our final rappel. All went smoothly with no problems.

We got back to the parking lot just twenty minutes after our scheduled six p.m. rendezvous time. Hugh and Brian had still not returned. At seven p.m. we left a note on their car and drove up to the campsite for a shower. We registered and paid the modest campsite fee with the ranger at the amphitheater: $5 for a single-pad site (Friday nite) , $7 for a double-pad site (Saturday nite). Each pad has space enough for one large tent or two smaller ones. We drove up to the campsite; moved Eric's tent to one of the pads in a double site, took much-needed showers (Thanks, Eric, for letting me use your towel while mine was still locked in Hugh's car). Then we drove back to the parking lot. Hugh's car was still there. It was 8:30 and growing dark, and we began to worry, but after a few minutes Hugh and Brian appeared on the trail.


Hugh and Brian started off on Ecstasy Junior and report that they found it a delightful climb. They had a comfortable lunch on one of the cool belay ledges and finished in plenty good time. Note: Don't go into ANY of the "caves" on this route. It's tough to get out of them. - H.S.

Then they walked north and followed the west wall over to Luncheon Ledge and Face of A Thousand Pitons. There the epic began. Several years ago Hugh and Salim Kayhan had attempted Triple S, but gotten stuck at one difficult point and given up. Hugh observes that he is a stronger climber now than he was then, and was eager to try again. He started to lead Triple S, but after placing several pieces and getting a fair distance up, wisdom took the upper hand, (e.g. his brain turned itself on. Can you say GRIPPED ?) and he decided to bailout. This he did (on a number 4 hex and an almost wide-open camalot. "GENTLY Brian - lower me GENTLY!!"), but the result was several pieces left in the wall.

How to recover those pieces? After some discussion between themselves and with other climbers in the area, Hugh and Brian decided on an easier route to the top of Triple S. They climbed through the Old Ladies Route (unroped) and across the Old Ladies' Traverse (roped). Then they took one of the low rated climbs up to Windy Corner. From there, there was still a difficult downclimb to a ledge 10 feet above the the bolts at the top of Triple S. There's a BLANK slab section between the upper ledge and the bolts, which made for an interesting rap to a ledge below the bolts. Finally they got there, put in some slings and three carabiners that they would leave there as booty for someone, and rapped down, cleaning their gear on the way. All this took considerable time, so it was 8:30 -- turning dark -- when they reached Roy Gap Road and walked out.

After a brief description of our day's activities (much briefer than this report), we went back to Seneca Shadows, set up Hugh's tent in which he and I would sleep, and went to dinner at the "Front Porch Restaurant" above Harper's store. After dinner we returned to the campsite, where Eric and I headed for our tents and sleep, while Hugh and Brian shared a couple of ales and relived their adventure. [We also talked about a "new to you" type store, but that's another story... - H.S.]


Sunday I was up, washed, and breakfasted early -- eager to get on the rock -- I had a long climb planned and wanted to get an early start. Saw Mark Kochte returning from the washroom. He and his partners were planning to hit the lower slabs for a while before returning to Baltimore and Washington.

The others in my group woke about an hour later (how could they sleep with me rattling around the campsite?) but were pretty efficient at dressing, washing, and breaking camp. While they were off to the 4-U Motel Restaurant for breakfast, I sorted my gear for the day ahead. On recent leads, I had noticed that the bunching of all the gear and slings at the bottom of the carrier sling was a real problem -- everything was so packed together that I could't tell if it was all properly clipped on the carrier and I couldn't tell which size of pro was where. For today I decided I would wear two slings -- pro on my left and slings on my right. I set it up that way, and it did work much better than the old arrangement. My next project, however, will be to sew loops on my harness -- a much better arrangement for carrying at least some of my gear.

We got to the parking lot around 9:40. Brian was to be my partner for the day and Eric would climb with Hugh. Brian and I were on the trail in reasonable time -- I was pushing because my goal was to climb Thais. I knew it was a long climb and at 5.5 it was close to my top level for leading. I told Hugh I would shoot to be back down about 5 p.m., but that 6 would be a more realistic return time.

Just as we reached Roy Gap Road we realized that Brian still had the club nutpick and I had mine, which meant that Hugh and Eric had no removal tools. Rather than send Brian all the way back (it was even hotter than Saturday), we decided Brian could just wait for Hugh on the trail, give him the club nutpick, and come up and join me at the base of Thais. We even asked Mike (from Exkursion) and his partner (who passed us on their way back toward the parking lot) to inform Hugh that we would wait for him at the hemlock grove with the nutpick. Brian waited lower on the trail, so he could see Hugh and Eric if they decided to do some South End or East Face climbs. As we agreed, he waited ten minutes then came up to join me. I had been going slow, so Brian reached me while I was still on the talus slope.

We got to Thais and started to flake the rope out. A short ways down the trail Brian found a tiny stopper, somewhat gouged. I told him it was nice booty, but remember that a piece like that is only adequate to hold static weight, not to catch a lead fall. Shortly after that Duke and Maggie Snyder came up to the corner, also planning to climb Thais. Duke mentioned having seen Hugh in the parking lot earlier. We were discussing who should go first. Duke and Maggie would probably move faster, but we were there first.

A couple of minutes later Mike and his partner returned to climb Pleasant Overhangs or something in that direction. They reported that Hugh had gotten the message but still had not started up the trail when Mike started back for the rocks. That decided it. We let Duke and Maggie go first on Thais, and Brian went back to the Hemlock Grove to give Hugh the nutpick.

While she was belaying Duke up the first pitch, Maggie told me of the fall she had taken the day before leading Pleasant Overhangs. She had gotten off route into a way harder section and peeled off. Two of her five pieces popped, and she took some somersaults and fell about 75 feet before she stopped just ten feet above her belayer. She said she was very glad she had been wearing her helmet; all she got was some minor scrapes and bruises. Everyone was sort of freaked over the fall -- especially Jeremiah, her 13-year-old son, who had been watching. She had lost the #2 stopper that pulled out -- it must have popped from the biner as well as from the rock. I told her that I was pretty sure Brian had found it.

When Maggie started up the pitch, I finished stacking our rope and putting on my shoes. Brian returned; Hugh and Eric had finally arrived at the hemlock grove to pick up the nutpick. As soon as Maggie was belaying Duke up the second pitch I started climbing the first. It was fairly easy (about 5.4, mostly) to a nice ledge.

The Second pitch was up a chimney -- I only went in the chimney once (to set some pro), the rest of the time I stayed on its edges. Then up a crack that went up from the top of the chimney. The route was getting harder. I was using every rusty old piton that I came to; I put in only a few of my own pieces. It was to be a 110 foot climb. We either stopped early or started from above the standard first belay station. We used less than half the rope for the second pitch. I considered going higher, but I was running out of slings and biners. Besides the belay platformd was nice and wide; why not use it?

We were still very close behind Duke and Maggie. While I belayed Brian up and while we were sorting our gear from the second pitch, we listened to the communications above us. At first it sounded like they were way far above us and to the right, then we heard Duke from somewhere much nearer. He was just a short way (30 feet or so) above us and at the inside corner on our left. We heard Maggie directly above us complaining about a traverse that she "didn't like." Duke waved to us and called down some beta. The ramp goes up to a nice belay ledge and looks like the route, but don't take it. You have to traverse back down to the inside corner. Yeah, that inside corner spot is a mere thirty or forty feet away, and it looks pretty easy to get to. Besides, there were a line of old rusties up the crack above me to get to that level.

We got set, and by the time I was starting up that third pitch, the Snyders were moving ahead from the pitch above us, they probably leapfrogged. Okay, though, I was only about 30 feet below them, we might even meet them at the top. Well, that third pitch was the longest one - timewise. I went up a ways, and the pins kept going up overhead, but the direct climb became increasingly formidable, and the easy ramp to the right was most inviting. I took it. It was a piece of cake. A walk, but with every step up I was a longer traverse away from the true route -- and there was nothing to traverse on. I tried stepping around the corner at the ideal spot. A few more inches and I could have reached a good handhold on the left and made it, but I couldn't reach it, and the things I could reach were too sloping -- even when I chalked up. I tried lots of things, including backing down to where I had stepped off onto the ramp in the first place. I contemplated the direct climb, and again rejected it. Back on the ramp. Finally, I decided I would make the steparound at the most likely spot, but first I would put some pro, with a long runner above me on the wall to the right, so if I fell, it wouldn't be a twenty foot drop on a rusty, WWII piton. I put in the piece with a 6 foot sling, clipped in and made my move. The drag of the rope around the corner actually helped me stay in toward the wall (a bit of aid climbing?). Anyway, I made it! I clipped in to another piton above me and was ready to go. But first I had to do something about the rope drag from the pro around the corner. I stepped partway back onto the ramp on the right and attached another two footer to the sling from the side wall bringing it out beyond the corner. The Snyders were no longer within earshot. I had used quite a lot of time on that one move.

From there it was easy to get over to the small belay platform where Duke Snyder had given me such good advice. I tied in on three more pitons and belayed Brian up to me. It took him a while, but nothing like the amount of time it had taken me.

There wasn't room for two of us at this platform, so I figured Brian would belay me from a good sized ledge next to me. However, he said it didn't appear to be a very good belay station -- especially with his pack on. So I climbed ahead about six feet and let Brian take the spot I had been using. This would have been a great place for leapfrogging leadership -- the second continuing ahead and leading the next (final) pitch. But Brian didn't have his rack, and I figured this might be a tougher pitch than he was ready to lead. When we got the gear exchanged and Brian got me on belay, I led off on the next pitch. It was solid 5.5. -- rather fun, because their were problems to be solved, but none so difficult and scary as that one crux on the previous pitch. The scary part was hearing a clap of thunder and then feeling some rain sprinkle down when I was a third of the way up, but the rain soon stopped and turned out to be a non-factor.

The climb tops out at the saddle just a ten foot scramble down from the top of the South Peak. I tied in and sat down in comfort to belay Brian up. After a short while I heard a stream of unprintable explatives about %@$#@&*$! chimneys. I couldn't tell where it was coming from. Then I heard "Phil, Phil, Phil, Have you got me? I'm gonna fall!." It was coming from Brian just below me. I could hardly believe it. "Yeah, Brian, I've got you." An almost imperceptible tug on the rope. I guess he fell, but then the rope started coming up again, so I guess he got past the problem. [Brian tells me this happened while he was on the *second* pitch; I still remember it as happening while I was belaying at the top of the climb; the readers can visualize it wherever suits them best. In any case, it was a real surprise coming from the usually soft-spoken Brian.]

It was nearly 6 p.m. when we got to the top. Nevertheless, we couldn't pass up the chance to take off our gear, scramble to the top, sign in on the register, and take a few photos. I signed in: "Thais, well named -- a wicked and sensuously seductive temptress." The climb had special appeal and meaning for me because it is the one big climb I remember doing when I climbed here about 1960 with the Washington Climbers. Jane Showacre led the route, and I went second -- working hard to pound out the pitons that she had pounded in. George Yntema brought up the rear. Of course that was a different route from today's Thais route. The huge block on which we had climbed fell away back in 1972.

Coiling ropes, scrambling down to the top of Old Man's Route, rapping down, repacking, and getting back to the parking lot takes a long time. It was nearly 8:30 and turning dark when we got back to the parking lot. Hugh and Eric were extremely good natured about our tardiness, and for that we thank them. We exchanged adventure stories, and started back for Pittsburgh. Hearing the account of Hugh's and Eric's Climb, I decided that Brian and I had had the better day of it.


Hugh and Eric started out climbing to Windy Notch -- via Old Ladies' and Jane's Route, I guess -- to try to recover the slings and biners that had been left at Triple S. They were too late -- someone had taken the easy booty before they got there. The rest of the day was spent looking for things to climb on the East Side with a lot of rappeling and low level, but hot and arduous climbing. Finally they went back to the parking lot and thence to the swimming hole. The water was great. Cooled them off for what turned out to be a long wait for Phil & Brian.

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Live To Climb