Good Morning Glorious:
A Nelson Rocks Trip Report (11/11-12/00)
This past weekend, after nearly fifteen years of anticipation, I finally climbed Morning Glory (5.10c) at Nelson Rocks, WV. I first heard about this route when I went to climb Crescendo (5.10a) around 1986. For many years, it seemed that Crescendo was practically the only route frequently done at Nelson. At that time, someone mentioned another finger crack somewhere just to the right of Crescendo. These directions were pretty vague and I was unable to see any definite line through the center of the wall, although I climbed a pleasant 5.9 crack system at the very far right edge of the wall. So Morning Glory became a rather mysterious climbing goal of mine.
Whenever I met a climber with experience at Nelson, I would ask about Morning Glory. Usually, they did not know anything about the route or, like me, had just heard of it. A few times, I met someone who had done the route and they repeated the vague directions. They would usually flash a knowing smile and say that the route was really good. I wasn't sure what to make of this reaction but it further piqued my curiosity. On many occasions, I gazed at the wall from the ledge below and also from across the corridor while climbing on the 007 Wall. I identified three potential lines but I was never sure which one was correct. Finally, I pigeonholed Ed Begoon and extracted some useful information, albeit with the caveat that I should "put on my sniffin' shoes" when I did the route. He also said that it was fantastic and that he had done it several times. Hmmm, sounds good, I guess.
On Saturday, Jarek, Ken Haller, Langston and I met in Manassas, VA and drove to Nelson. It was cold and overcast when we arrived. Graham Dower and his friend Doug were already completing a particularly cold route on the Sport Wall. Fortunately, the sun came out soon and the temperature rose to a comfortable level. Jarek and Ken went to find a 5.7+ sport route but, instead, launched into a 5.12a/b, called The One Tree. Jarek subdued this route through creative means. I tried it on toprope but got nowhere at the crux. When I grew tired of swinging into the tree after every fall, we bailed to Oz, the aforementioned 5.7+ sport route. Ken led this enjoyable romp which Jarek and I followed. Jarek may have led it, too, but I don't remember. Next, I toproped a 5.11b called Shorty from the Oz anchors. It has three bolts but no anchor since its belay tree fell off the cliff. Without an anchor or any protection after the third bolt, it wouldn't be such a hot lead at this time. Jarek also got on this route.
While we were fooling around on the 5.12, Jack Staffa and his friend Pam cruised up the trail towards Sorry Howard (5.9, 165', 14 bolts, West Fin, East Face, several switchbacks above Stone Gallows, start at dead tree leaning against the wall, 1st bolt 15' or so up) which Jack led despite feeling under the weather. When they finished, Jack asked if I wanted a belay on something. Jarek and Ken were waiting for Frank Squillaro and Cali to finish the Foundation (5.10d) to take their turn. I realized that the time had come to try Morning Glory. We joined Graham and Doug on the East Fin. They had done One World (bolted 5.10) and the Foundation before moving to Crescendo. I have to apologize to Graham for underestimating the length of the runout from the end of One World to the anchor (single bolt!) on the Foundation. It's pretty far.
Anyway, while we were racking for Morning Glory, the temperature dropped precipitously. In a few minutes, I went from comfortably wearing a t-shirt to shivering in fleece. I looked toward Spruce Knob and saw that it was engulfed in a snowstorm. The Morning Glory Wall was still getting sun but the belay was shaded. I considered bagging but decided to continue. The route turned out to be as good as I hoped. Moderate crack climbing led to a tricky hand traverse right and mantel onto a sloping ledge. From there, the route followed a more difficult discontinuous finger crack with a wee runout getting through the crux. I wouldn't call it dangerous but it fully kept my attention. The belay had some rotten slings wrapped around a chockstone. I set up a better belay on gear and Jack quickly followed. Now, I have one less climbing mystery in my life. I felt that the route was slightly easier than Crescendo (5.10a) but just as good. It basically goes straight up the center of the wall right of Crescendo.
Jack traversed to the anchors above Excalibur, a 5.12 bolted route. We tried it on toprope and eventually worked out the opening sequence. The upper part of the route was somewhat easier (5.11) and the friction on the cold rock was unbelievably good. I hope to lead this extremely fine route soon. In classic style, we left the crag as darkness fell.
After getting a room at the 4-U, Jarek, Langston and I joined Jack, Ken and Pam at the Front Porch for pizza. Afterwards, Jack, Pam and Ken left for home while Jarek, Langston and I visited with Tony Barnes before heading to bed.
The next morning, we watched the Devil's Brigade on television before breakfast. In this movie, a special unit of American and Canadian (!) troops storm a German fortification on top of a Dolomite tower. They surmount the final headwall with grappling hooks. Perhaps, this lost climbing art should enjoy a revival. I can imagine a crowd of grappellers tossing hooks towards Seneca's summit on Labor Day weekend. Hand over hand rope ascension is another climbing technique that has lapsed into desuetude since the Devil's Brigade first aired. I'll bet Harper's could raise the rate on their 25 cent telescope if climbing became more of a bloodsport.
Glenn Thomas joined us over breakfast at the 4-U and we drove back to Nelson for another round. Glenn led E-Z Wider(5.7) which is a long bolted corner. We rapped back to the Notch above E-Z Wider and I led Notch Up Another One (5.11a). Notch Up Another One goes up the middle of the steep buttress that is well above the Dominion. I wanted to do this route several weeks ago but Chuck Z and I found it swarming with wasps. It turns out that this route is somewhat loose and, perhaps, not as hard as the grade indicates. Still, the position is magnificent and there are a number of interesting moves. After Glenn, Langston and I cleared away from the base, Jarek trundled a large death flake from just below the anchors. The resultant noise was quite impressive. Langston, age 9, urged him to cut loose another round but, sadly, there were no other large blocks available.
Next, Jarek led Lifer's, a bolted 5.10, on the Future Wall and I tried a route to the right of the Sport Wall routes. The Future Wall is just uphill from the 007 Wall on the East Face of teh West Fin. Afterwords, we went to try a route that I had spotted to the right of the Sport Wall. The Sport Wall has several 5.10 to easy 5.11 routes that seem challenging for their grade. The route that I found was mostly bolted and pretty high quality. I had to hang once after I started quaking like a hot-wired Cornish game hen at the crux. I was, after all, at least two feet from the nearest bolt. Jarek and Glenn followed it. I gave it a whirl on toprope and, while I didn't fall, I still found it difficult. Looks like I found a new project, even if it's not so mysterious. There was also another bolted route to the right which looked like fun, too. It was again turning cold and we decided to leave. Other than getting stuck behind a really slow truck, it was an uneventful drive to the Hotel Strasburg for dinner.
Well, it was a good weekend and I have replaced some old Nelson projects with some new ones. I hope to make another trip or two before winter truly arrives.
Nelson Rocks is south of Seneca about 13 miles. There is a web page that has many more details (http://www.nelsonrocks.org/index.shtml). Basically, there are more bolted routes than at Seneca, but also a fair number of good trad lines. Many of the routes are mixed so carefully scope your route from the ground or just carry a light rack. The rock is good and in many places excellent albeit somewhat looser than Seneca due to slightly different geology and less travel from climbers. Helmets are a good idea. There are nice new cabins at the crag that have propane lights but no running water or indoor plumbing. The cabins are similar to the climber's ranch at the Tetons but less crowded and much more private. It costs $5 per day to climb. At the pay station there are usually miniguides that show some of the routes. Some recommended routes: Laeger Route, 5.7 (trad); Written in Stone 5.11 (sport); Stone Gallows, 5.10 (trad); Porcelain Pump, 5.11 (mostly sport); Iriquois League, 5.10 (mixed); Crescendo, 5.10 (trad); Merlin, 5.11 (mixed); Excalibur, 5.12 (sport); Morning Glory, 5.10 (trad); 5.9 cracks right of Morning Glory (trad); 34D Wall Sport Routes 5.10-5.11 (sport); Ed's Fudge Shop 5.9+ (trad); The Dominion 5.10 (sport); E-Z Wider 5.6+ (sport); License to Drill 5.10 (sport); Never Say Never 5.10 (sport); Diamonds Are Forever 5.8 (sport); Foundation 5.10 (sport); Sorry Howard 5.9 (sport with a few pieces for crack at top); Nelson Rockafeller 5.11 (mixed). Millenium is a 9 pitch 5.8 route that traverses the East Face of the West Fin. It looks interesting. Have fun!