You decide to visit the South, somewhere outside the busy growing heart of New River Gorge, recently re-"exposed" with a new guidebook and a slew of magazine aticles. Seneca Rocks is a bit firther off the map and offers the history and cultural background to make the trip more than simply an excercise in rock climbing. Added bonus, there is a small sport crag nearby... downside is, it's one with a vociferous, cantankerous curmudgeon railing about the trails and access and responsibility and generally making an ass of himself.
But you are the Sensei... you transmute the raw stuff of humanity into human beings, as best you can with your wits and the tools of academia. There is something familiar in the issues this geezer is raising, the same issues as have risen again and again across the face of the clinmbing world; impact, disregard, and apathy. A misplaced sense of entitlement that overpowers and supercedes the more important perception of responsibility and sustained, active involvement of stewardship. Besides, the harsh bastard seems to put up more than a few lines and he's pretty damned funny, from time to time.
If the Curmudgeon cannot come to the Sensei, the Sensei indeed will come to the Curmudgeon and his mountains.
Jamie Struck, the Sensei in question, led a Spring Trip crew from the Outdoor Adventure program of Lyndon State College into the shadow of some of the most historic and controversial of West virginia's climbing areas. He turned shite to gold and forever altered my perception of what a small group of determined people could do to mkae a real difference all while HAVING FUN!! LSC was the first group whose approach was entirely proactive. Their first day at Franklin began with trailwork, replanting at the base of Castaways and mulching a bare hilllside with 8 bags of local cedar mulch. They also moved several hundred pounds of stone, re-edging a long stretch of trail and helping build the cross-rail below Franklinstein.
Then they broke out the ropes and pulled all the nmoderates and a few harder lines about an inch closer to the ground.
The following year was one of controversy and questionable actions at Franklin Gorge, many of them mine. I apparently erred in assuming that I could act without the concensus of the same community which failed to speak out as groups and dogs trampled the undegrowth out of existance, dug open hillsides and trails, and left trash scattered from the last route to the insanely-full parking lot. I accepted the fact that a new era had come to Franklin, one in which I was not welcome, due as much to my own sparkling personality as to any major shift in ethics. Good routes, a personal vision and ethic of climber responsibilty and stewardship, and long hours of trailwork cannot compete with laid-back personality, crag dogs, and world travelers with a connect to The Scene. The sheer volume of the weekend masses from commercial ventures crowding this tiny crag on private property without the knowledge or consent of the landowners became far more than I could silently stomach. I saw the same group of posers and hard pullers completely avoiding any trailwork or responsibility for the impacty of the crowds they guided through the crags they had taken no part in creating.
In searching for a place to escape the endless circle of questions and cascading inevitabilities of impact, I followed the oldest program I know... I turned down an old back road to nowhere.
On the same evening Clay Clarke and Mike Fisher were putting the twilight send on the steepfest "Davey Jones Locker" at Franklin Gorge, I was walking through the falling dusk, ten miles away, staring at walls of pockets and horizontals, of stacked roofs and long, varied face climbs. I had climbed the same ridge, lost in thought, only to stop dead in my tracks at the foot of a featured wall with two bolted routes tucked into a pocketed corner below what was obviously a local huter's boneyard. Nearby was another, with a few abandoned tools in the brush at the base and a trace of initial trailwork, or at least pruning and trundling.
But the webbing on the anchors proved stiff with age, and it seemed no one had been here in at least three years, maybe four.
Thus the nom du crag The Boneyard was born. This was my second trip, hiking in from where the cliffband eventually bent down to touch the shoulder of the road. I moved steadily along the featured base.
The potential left me speechless, and the mystery of the apparently abandoned routes added spice to the game. I contacted the local NFS offices and gat a handful of computer overlays that seemed to indicate the cliffs as Public land, but they were ambiguous at best.
When Jamie and crew contacted me that spring, we discussed the situation at Franklin and eventually the crew decided that LSC's efforts would be best spent on preserving and improving public lands.
The Lionhearts, as I had nicknamed them, returned to West Virginia, bringing their energy and skills to yet another lost crag, Secret Crag #7. Steps and trails were built, lessons taught and shared, a minimal number of digits smashed or deformed, good food and times had by all despite crappy weather much different from sunfest of the year before. What had been an obscure cliffband took its first steps towards becoming a crag. Many mighty efforts were expended on attempts at the face that would later become "Shaved Scamper".
and when away from the crags, Jamie and the crew encountered and interacted with locals in a positive, open way. They stayed in locally-owned campgrounds, shopped for meals in local stores and ate their final WV meal in the Korner Cafe in Franklin. They touched the heart of the crusty old curmudgeon, got their first taste of venison, climbed a via ferrata, scaled lines at Seneca, pulled trad in Judy Gap and fostered hope for another generation yet to come, even if they had to come from the other end of New England.
This year's crew was true to that tradition in every sense of the word. They powered through the 13-hour commute and had camp set in less than an hour. They rose to snow and sleet and Mike Gray's famous breakfast burritos and went out to do great things. They rallied in the face of truly crappy conditions and saddled up. The sleet changed to snow and the rain almost died but still kept falling and they still shouldered tools and went up the hill to go to work. They built trail and moved stone like junior titans, laughed and swore, farted and ran around excitedly, all while redefining about 100 yards of game trails, loose stone and steep hillside. The sun came out and shone down upon their golden and brown curly heads.
They ate (read: inhaled) a lunch of homemade chicken salad and bean soup, grabbed ropes and shoes and packs and went back up the new trails to shred like rabid weasels. They followed this first day with a week of discovery and imagination, community and humanity; exploring Germany Valley's karstlands, cranking trad at Seneca and encountering their first local reptile. They returned to Nelson Gap to find the new owners competent and professional, and finished their trip by becoming the first visitors to cross the South Branch and onsight Eagle Rock AFTER a full day at Nelson. We waved them good-bye at 4:30 a.m. from the chilly sidewalk lights below Cindy's apartment.
Lyndon State College defined the top of the bar, throwing down the gauntlet for every other climber and organization that carries a rope into the woods of West Virginia. Not by words but by deeds, they left a clear message.
"This is the Model."