The following is an unedited, stream-of-consciousness personal journal used to experiment with different subjects outside of assignments and to practice free-writing. It shouldn't (at all) be viewed as a portfolio of polished work.

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Climbing the New: West Virginia's Wild Gorge

Rock Climbing in Bubba City, New River Gorge, WV
Not me climbing Bubba City.
“Wild, Wonderful West Virginia,” boasted license plates as I neared the state’s border. Coming from the “Wild West,” I pondered the phrase dubiously: could this little state rightfully stake this claim? I crossed over anyway, bound for the New River Gorge where tales of world-class climbing were spun.

The chance to visit fell on me eight months after I first heard the name of this climbing hotspot. I had taken a remote-based position with an online outdoor company based smack-dab in the heart of the famed gorge and was headed there for a month of in-person training.

As my car drove deeper into West Virginia, a sense of wildness crept upon me. At first it was the dense mountainsides careening over abandoned watermills and railway stations. Once I settled in, the people added to the feeling. Their gruff set of social particulars, passed down through generations of mountain life and coal mining, matched the unkempt wilderness tumbling down the Appalachians.

The climbers were no different. They were hungry, sensing new blood in their boundaries and pouncing for the prey. Within days of my arrival, texts from strangers with names like “Cosmo” asked me to climb with them in places of equal strangeness such as “Bubba City,” and “The Junkyard.” What world had I stepped into?

Never one to miss an outdoor opportunity, Steve, my climbing partner, was soon traveling from Ohio to take advantage of my location. We met at Water Stone Outdoors, a climbing shop in Fayetteville. We were in need of insider information, and these folks were generous in sharing it.

After spending roughly a half hour acquainting us with the area and advising us on routes and crags, we decided to ease into the region’s rock at “Bubba City.” It was a popular crag with a variety of moderate grades just outside of Fayetteville. Though we were both well-traveled, what we found surprised us.

New River Gorge, WV climbing
The view mid-climb
With trees draping the wall with speckled shade, this corner of the Appalachians provided climbing unlike any I had experienced. Beautiful, long one-pitched routes were interspersed with intense short routes; sport lines intermingled with trad. Hard sandstone, so different from our soft southern Utah version, grabbed the rubber of our shoes. Fingers grabbed for holds and stuck without a flinch. 

Here was a playground any climber would relish.

We ended the day on Bobby D’s Bunny—a 70’ line with a 5.6 rating. It was locally renown for being challenging for climbers under 5'6”. Unaware of this, my 5’4” frame struggled, tempting me to grasp alternate holds. Funky first moves smoothed into flowing maneuvers until a high crux crushed any continuity. It took an exercise in trust of my abilities (and the grip of my shoes) to find the right combo and push through.

A sprawling view of the New River, framed by mountains wildly overrun with vegetation, rewarded me for my diligence. I gawked until snapping into reality, remembering Steve’s patient belay during the crux. Removing draws from the anchor, I lowered, satisfied that West Virginia was exactly as wild as it claimed.

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