West Virginia, outside of the Gunks, has always felt like home to me. Fayetteville is home to climbers and Gauly people alike. It’s home, period. No matter where I travel during the year, my heart remains here in its timeless summer days at the lake and in quiet moments spent on Colleen Laffey’s beautiful property (which is basically like camping in Wonderland…everything is so GREEN).
Paul Nelson, friend and campground manager at the American Alpine Club, took me to the Greatest Show Area in the Meadows. We both share a love for the New climbing, probably above all other crags on the east coast. The New itself has well over a thousand established routes to climb on some of the most beautiful sandstone rock I’ve laid eyes on.
“Get ready to gawk.” Paul told me as we hiked down the trail.
Until that day, I’d only seen pictures of Mango Tango (5.14a), a beautiful arete that overhangs just enough to make you pee your pants a little bit. And then the unmistakable route, The Greatest Show (5.13a). The first section is R-rated, but beyond a very finger-y looking roof, is a BEAUTIFUL corner crack.
Around the corner from a Puppy Chow (5.12c), was a 5.12 crack called Big Top. Lynn Hill put Big Top up when she came down and did The Greatest Show. The climbing began way left of the route with careful movement up onto nice ledges (the alternative being an unprotectable 5.11 start on the face). Below the roof, I took a moment to listen to nothing. The sound of the meadow river behind me brought me back, and I began to move through the roof where I could clip a few fixed pieces. Then, begin the splitter crack (which was the trickiest of cracks!)
I’d given Puppy Chow an attempt earlier, and when I was figuring out how to reach the ledge on the roof with my height, I took a fall or two. No big deal. It was all on permadraws and every fall was clean and into open air. I had repeatedly grabbed an ear with my right hand, brought my left foot high and tried to lock off to reach the next ledge. It seemed just out of reach every time, and as my feet cut I came off.
Like I said, no big deal. It’s sport climbing. It’s falling on a roof. Not too scary, right?
But as I worked out the crux of Big Top, I pretty much felt scared shitless. I was about five or six feet above what I’d originally thought was a marginal purple C3. In the middle of the crux, I had somehow convinced my fingers to hold on long enough to slot another C3 in. Feeling better and finally ready to move past it, it wiggled out and I caught it in my hand. It made me want to cry. I wiggled it back inside and leaned back, stammering to Paul, “Take, please!”
As I recalled the gear later, Lydia McDonald joked and said that this is why trad climbing is scary.
On the ground, I rattled off a list of excuses and “I’m sorry’s” when Paul said: “Hey. Are you satisfied with your try?”
I stopped rambling and said: “Yeah, totally.”
Paul Nelson asked me how I liked Big Top. It was hard, and I chuffed pretty badly, but I liked it a lot. I told him that lately, I’d been having feelings of fear of falling. It’s kind of a weird, backwards progression for me. I feel like I’ve been backpedaling a little bit, but what I need to remember is that, in the end, falling is okay and I will learn to be okay with it again. Maybe that’s when the confidence comes back and until then, it’s all just sport climbing to me.