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Seneca Rocks

11 Oct 2008

Spencer was home from WVU for the weekend, and it was a beautiful day.  We wanted to get out of the house and see the fall colors, so Seneca Rocks seemed like the logical destination.  We used to bring my grandparents here on Sunday afternoon for picnics.  My grandfather would watch the climbers through the binoculars. Lots of great memories. 


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Seneca Rocks – October 11, 2008. 



Here is an excerpt from the Seneca Rocks website:


Purchased by the federal government in 1969, Seneca Rocks is one of the best-known landmarks in West Virginia. These rocks have long been noted as a scenic attraction and are popular with rock climbers.

The rocks are a magnificent formation rising nearly 900 feet above the North Fork River. Eastern West Virginia contains many such formations of the white/gray Tuscarora quartzite. Seneca Rocks and nearby Champe Rocks are among the most imposing examples. The quartzite is approximately 250 feet thick and is located primarily on exposed ridges as caprock or exposed crags. The rock is composed of fine grains of sand that were laid down approximately 440 million years ago, in an extensive sheet at the edge of ancient ocean. Years of geologic activity followed, as the ocean was slowly destroyed and the underlying rock uplifted and folded. Millions of years of erosion stripped away the overlaying rock and left remnants of the arching folds in formations such as Seneca Rocks.

Man has apparently been a visitor to the area around Seneca Rocks for a long time. Some evidence suggests that the Native Americans of the Archaic Period may have camped at the mouth of nearby Seneca Creek. The famous Seneca Trail followed the Potomac River, allowing the Algonquin, Tuscarora, and Seneca tribes to trade and make war.

The first European settlers in the region appeared about 1746. At that time, West Virginia (or western Virginia as it was then) was the edge of the great wilderness. Slowly the area was settled, disturbed by the events of the American Revolution and the Civil War, which pitted brother against brother in these border counties.

It is unknown who the first person was to climb Seneca Rocks. Undoubtedly Native Americans scaled the rocks prior to European settlers reaching the area, but there is no record of their ascents. The historic ascent of Paul Brandt, Don Hubbard, and Sam Moore in 1939 found an inscription of "D.B. Sept. 16, 1908." This has been attributed to a surveyor named Bittenger who was known to be working in the area. (Seneca, the Climber's Guide by Bill Webster).

The documented climbing history of the rocks began in 1935 with a roped ascent of the North Peak by Paul Brandt and Florence Perry. In the 1930's and 40's only a few climbers, mostly from the D.C. and Pittsburgh areas, attempted to climb Seneca Rocks. In 1943-44 the U.S. Army used the rocks to train mountain troops for action in the Apennines. Evidence of their climbing activities can still be found on the rocks. (Webster).

Due to the hardness of the Tuscarora sandstone formation, and the degree of climbing difficulty, Seneca Rocks offers rock climbers a unique opportunity found nowhere else in the east. There are over 375 major mapped climbing routes, varying in degree from the easiest (5.0) to the most difficult (5.12). Only trained and experienced rock climbers should attempt to scale the rocks. There are two climbing schools located in the communities of Seneca Rocks and nearby Riverton who train prospective climbers in beginning and advanced rock climbing. The school in Riverton also offers a climbers rescue course.

A self-guided interpretive trail beginning behind the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center, the West Side Trail offers the non-climber a way to reach the lofty heights of the rocks and view the scenic valley below. The trail is 1.3 miles and ascends the north edge of the rocks to a viewing platform. Although steep the trail can be enjoyed by visitors of all ages. Steps, switchbacks and benches scattered along the trail all ease the trip for visitors. At the top you'll be rewarded by stepping onto the platform and viewing the lovely valley below.

The Discovery Center is open for the 2008 Season. Beginning August 31, SRDC is open from Sunday, Monday and Thursday through Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. They are closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Discovery Center will close Sunday, October 26th at 4:30 p.m for the 2008 Season.

For more information on Seneca Rocks please contact the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center at (304) 567-2827 or Potomac Ranger District at (304) 257-4488.





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First part of the trail to the top of Seneca Rocks.  This path zig-zags its way up the mountain, arriving on the left side of the rocks by an observation deck.  This bridge crosses the South Branch Potomac River.


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Our first rest break along the trail.  



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We’re there!  This observation deck faces west toward the visitor center.



Family photo at the observation deck in 2003. 



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Here’s a scan of a family photo at Seneca Rocks in 1999.  My, oh my.




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Back to 2008.  After the observation deck, the trail continues a short distance to the top of the rocks.  Of course, this sign only encouraged Spencer and I.  Beth (the wise one) waited at the observation deck for us.  Tragically, we later learned that a climber fell to their death just hours after we were there. 



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Nearing the top of Seneca Rocks.  Nice view of the valley below. 


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The top!  This piece of rock is the highest point on the left side of Seneca Rocks.

This view is toward the east, or back side.



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Here’s a view on top looking west, toward the visitor center.




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This photo gives you an idea of how narrow the rocks are at the top.  It really is just a sliver of rocks sticking up out of the ground.  It’s a 900-foot drop to the right (front of rocks) or about a 600-foot drop to the left (back side of rocks).



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Soon it was time to head back.  This is a nice part of the trail.



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Some of the fall foliage.




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Back across the bridge over the South Branch Potomac, and we were on our way home.

 It was a beautiful day, and one I think we will remember for years to come.



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