You’ve been hiking for a while. Your legs are gassed and you’re starting to wonder where you’re going. You round a bend and, through the rhododendrons, there it is—a pristine outcrop of sandstone. No one is around you , and the only audience you’ll have as you explore this gritty, blank canvas is your crew and some chirping birds. It’s time to gear up and see what this new cliffline holds.
If this sounds like some wilderness climbing story out of the 1970s, think again. The Cheat River watershed is home to some of West Virginia’s best kept stony secrets. While the world-class single pitch lines of the New River Gorge and old-school multipitch routes at Seneca Rocks tend to steal the Mountain State’s climbing thunder, seemingly endless boulder fields and exposed outcrops of Pottsville Sandstone dot the rugged topography of Northern West Virginia.
While a short approach and a guidebook can make for a productive day of ticking off classics, there’s something special about a long bushwhack into the wilderness to discover a few lines that, despite a chossy hold here and some lichen there, end up being the routes you talk about all season.
So, how do you find your crag? With a little bit of research and some adventurous spirit, of course. The Cheat Canyon has plenty of remote climbing—both developed and waiting to be discovered. The overgrown logging roads and hard-to-find trails of the Snake Hill Wildlife Management Area lead to gritty boulder fields and obscure bolted routes that are a superb alternative to the chalked-up and crowded boulders of Coopers Rock.
For the adventurous lot who prefer bushwhacking through rhododendron thickets and carefully selecting footsteps on steep drainages, all you need to accompany your rack is a topographic map and some basic climbing instincts.
When setting out for a day of adventure climbing, being cognizant of access issues is key—not just for your legal and physical safety, but for that of future climbers as well. If you plan to scope out potential boulder caches or cliffs on private property, make sure you obtain permission to climb or develop routes—this is important even if you’re simply passing through on the approach.
Remember to be mindful of safety and accidents—remote crags can be very difficult for rescue crews to access. A first aid kit and helmets are highly recommended if you’re bringing ropes. You never know when you’ll encounter loose rock or questionable gear placements.
Embrace the adventure. Part of why we climb is to slip away from society and, for but a moment, become part of the awe-inspiring landscapes that call us to action.
Adventure Cragging Dos and Don’ts
• Check who owns what land you plan to explore
• Obey all posted rules and regulations
• Practice Leave No Trace outdoor ethics
• Practice low-impact and sustainable route development if placing bolts or anchors
• Inform someone of when and where you plan to go
• Triple check all climbing systems and use a helmet
• Bring plenty of food and water
• Trespass on private property
• Ignore rules and regulations
• Leave obvious traces of your presence
• Cut or remove plants, trees or rocks without permission from land owners / managers
• Place bolts or anchors without permission from land owners / managers
• Go on solo outings without letting someone know your plans
• Trust old gear you may discover without testing or backing it up
• Skimp on food and water