Besides the spectacular sandstone, stunning settings, and sheer number of routes (3000 + trad and sport routes from 5.6 to 5.14d), one of the factors that makes the New River Gorge the premier climbing destination in the East is the possibility of year-round climbing.
The vibrant autumn and verdant spring of Appalachia are undoubtedly the best seasons to see what climbing at the New is all about, but south-facing cliffs and mostly mild winters offer prime conditions September through May.
When the annual clock strikes June, however, things quickly change. West Virginia explodes into a lush jungle—the region itself is just a few inches of average annual rainfall shy of being classified a temperate rain forest. Heavy deluges accompany the almost daily thunderstorms that blow along the western front of the Appalachians. Water gushes from every available drainage and thick, mysterious fog slithers through the gorge like a gigantic white serpent.
Climbing in the summer months is…challenging. Temps can hover in the 90s and 80s, the air is thick and humid, and it can be quite buggy. Imagine entering a thin, technical crux, pumped and covered in sweat, swatting at bugs and avoiding spider webs—sounds fun, right? Fortunately, there are enough crags in the region that possess tolerable conditions for climbing during the ultimate dog days.
From crags shaded by towering oaks to boulders shrouded in ancient hemlocks groves, and from cool mountain streams to a gemstone lake, the New has you covered when the mercury and humidity seem to conspire against your send attempts.
New River Gorge: Kaymoor (Butcher’s Branch, White Wall, Rico Suave Buttress, The Hole)
Tucked away at the top of the Butcher Branch drainage on the southern rim of the Gorge, the crags of the Kaymoor sector are a favorite for morning and evening sends right outside Fayetteville. Butcher’s Branch is the most popular area and offers the most climbs, ranging from the classic Flight of the Gumby (5.9) all the way to the techy testpiece Fuel Injector (5.13b).
Stronger climbers looking to tick some technical New River 5.12 should check out White Wall—this crag stays dry during lighter rains. But ask any local climber, and they’ll all agree—Rico’s dry! The Rico Suave buttress, while only offering a handful of climbs, including the classics Rico Suave (5.10a) and Out of the Bag (5.11d), is virtually guaranteed to be dry during the gnarliest downpours.
Last but not least are the mega-steeps of The Hole. Highlighted by Lactic Acid Bath (5.12d), this crag is the rainy day choice of the summer crusher. A few laps on the Doug Reed classic will have you begging for a shower.
Meadow River: Southside Crags
A bit out of the way, full of classic routes, and deep in the jungle, Southside Crags offers the primal, remote feeling of climbing in the land before time. Over 70 routes and steep rock offer plenty of shaded options between Area 51 and The Other Place.
Beginning leaders and moderate climbers will have a field day on the climber’s left side of the crag on classics like Free Range Poodle Show (5.8) and Scaphoid (5.9). Hardmen (and women) will enjoy testing their summertime limits on Made in the Shade (5.12d) and The Project (5.13c).
Stroll on down to The Other Place and try not to explode on Depth Charge (5.12b). Leaders comfy in the 5.10 grade should strap on a diaper, attempt to decipher the Rosetta Stone (5.10a), and see what a New River 5.10 is all about. On the way out, wash your soul clean with a dip in the gorgeous Meadow River.
Summersville Lake: The Colliseum, Long Wall, Orange Oswald
Come on, you didn’t think we were gonna leave the aquatic paradise that is Summersville Lake off this list, did you? While the flooded Whippoorwill crag is a favorite haunt of revelers and deep-water soloists, those who prefer the safety of a rope have plenty of options.
The Coliseum is the hallowed ground for rock warriors, and the uber-classic Apollo Reed (5.13a) is the battle ground for many a climber looking to enter the 5.13 grade. Visiting German crusher Alex Megos recently established Super Pod (5.14d), the New’s most difficult line including a V11/12 boulder problem right before the anchors—if you can pull this off in the slog of summer, you probably kick it with Ondra.
Take a stroll along Long Wall and Narcissus Cave on your way to the 5.10 paradise of Orange Oswald.
Wait for the lake to cool the evening air and climb Under the Milky Way (5.11d) and finish with a happy ending on Satisfaction Guaranteed (5.11a). Try not to admire your forearms for too long after sending Narcissus (5.12a). If 5.10 is your limit, head to Orange Oswald and check your grip on sweaty slopers, catch a back tan, then turn around and take five steps right into the clear waters of the lake.
It’s summer at the New—accept it. Use our trial-and-error developed beta: avoid the sun, embrace the sweat, and climb in the rain. If you can climb hard in the summer, just imagine what awaits when the leaves drop and the friction rises.
Dylan Jones is managing editor of Highland Outdoors. He likes eggs with every meal and likes to get weird on days ending in ‘day.’ Contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org