EMPLOYEE FAVORITES: Jeremy Steck, New River Gorge, WV
Here at Black Diamond, the Inspiration to innovate is driven from within. When we're not at the office, our dedicated crew of employees is out cranking at the crags, putting in miles on the trails and questing around the mountains in search of untracked descents. In this ongoing series of posts on the Journal, we'll be highlighting some of our employee's favorite rock and ice climbs, ski descents and trail routes.
This month's Employee Favorite comes from Product Design Engineer Jeremy Steck.
Over the years, while living in Pennsylvania, my wife and I spent nearly every vacation traveling throughout North America to climb at some of the premier climbing destinations. Some of our favorites have been Squamish, Yosemite (on our honeymoon), Joshua Tree, Indian Creek, The Red River Gorge, Penitente Canyon, Rumney, and Red Rocks. But after all of these vacations, we found ourselves being super psyched to get back to the New River Gorge. Now after relocating to Utah, and living in a place that we have vacationed to for years, we still keep saying that we can't wait to take a trip back to the New.
I'm not sure that there is one particular thing that makes the New stand out over the other places that I've been, it's the whole package that makes this place unique. To start, the bullet-hard Nuttall sandstone is some of the best rock to climb anywhere. It's easy on the hands while at the same time having great friction, the gear is bomber, and the many water-formed features breed strikingly colorful and eye-catching lines. Also, it's not predominantly a sport area, or a trad area, both are plentiful and each are top-notch, so you don't get as much of the Trad vs. Sport mentality there. Also, nearly every crag has excellent surroundings that you are just happy to be a part of. When climbing at the New proper, you always have amazing vistas of the roaring rapids of the New River 800 feet below you. At Summersville Lake, the cliffs are at water level so you can swim in between burns during the summer time. When climbing at the Meadow River it always feels like you are in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by lush Appalachian forest with more of a wilderness feel. We've seen plenty of bear, grouse, and deer while climbing there, plus getting your car into some of these crags can be an adventure in itself. I guess another factor that makes this place special is the people. There's a pretty tight-knit community of climbers there, some local, but most live hours away and are dedicated to making the drive every weekend. For this reason, everyone is psyched to be there, because they truly want to be. Also, the non-climbing locals are some of the nicest folks you'll ever meet. West Virginia sometimes gets a bad rap on this front, but by and large, the people here are simple folk, who are always happy to chat and share with you the special place that they call home.
Now for my favorite climbs, boy that's a tough one! I've climbed 447 of the routes at in the New River Gorge/Meadow River/Summersville Lake area (I'm an engineer so I keep track of these things!). Of these routes, both trad and sport, there's a few that really stand out.
Apollo Reed (5.13a) - Damn this thing is good! My first 13a and still one of my favorite climbs. It's got everything-it's steep, it has kneebars, a dyno, hand jams, fingerlocks, a potential bat hang, and the crux above the mail slot is just plain sweet.
Chunky Monkey (5.12b) - Another amazing piece of rock on bullet hard Nuttall sandstone. This thing is pretty darn hard on your first go, but once you learn a few things, it becomes possible. It starts out thin and techy, to a welcome shake. After you bust out a pretty big dyno and think you're done, it throws you this brain-like face that keeps on you to the finish.
Jesus and Tequila (5.12b) - A nice long line at the Endless Wall (or Sendless as some say). My wife Dana and I always use this a benchmark 12b, but it sure seems to make other 12b's seem easy!
Mutiny (5.11d) - What a cool line! Only accessible during low water periods at Summerville Lake. For the most part it's just reachy jugs on an overhanging arête above a dry lake bed. Every time I've done this route, it feels like it's in the bag until I reach the last bolt, where it sure gives it to you with a techy crux to reach the anchors.
Titan's Dice (5.13a (my ass!)) - Still haven't sent this one, There can't be too many lines like this in the world. I like it as it draws upon my trad skills from my early climbing years. This thing is like a wrestling match with the rock! Here's the blow by blow: Climb up into a hand crack, knee bar, knee bar, knee bar with some hand jams. Try not to blow it too bad because there's ground fall potential until you're at the 4th bolt. I prefer the belay from Weston (AKA The DMF -Dense Mo-Fo). Then you get into this dihedral thing, somewhere in the sequence you'll bust out a one-arm push up. Then as you traverse into an overhang, you'll have to dyno. It's not quite done yet, there's still a techy finger crack thing that will get you to the anchors. Man, I need to get back there and send this thing!
Agent Orange (5.11d) - This thing is freaking sweet! Amazingly vibrant orange stone that follows an overhanging hand crack. As the hand crack ends, you plug some gear and bust out left to get onto a pedestal (crux). Shake, place some gear and do some sporty moves past an off-fingers crack to some jugs at the finish. I was so psyched on this climb that I even drew a diagram of it in my guidebook after returning home one weekend! As it turns out, my beta diagram was crap since I didn't use any of it when I finally got the send.
Leave it to Jesus (5.11c) - When I first saw this route on the cover of Climbing Magazine many years ago, I just knew that I had to climb it, but at that point it was way out of my league. Over the years as I improved as a trad climber, I kept saving this one, always walking by it and looking at it...someday! Finally in the fall of 2008, I felt I was in good enough shape to give it a go in good style. It sure was worth the wait! Sending this one I felt to be one of my most memorable single pitch trad lines. What's not to love about an 80-foot finger crack system that you can protect entirely with Stoppers!
Welcome to Beauty (5.11b) - This is a nice 120-foot crack system at Beauty Mountain. I was totally inspired by the line as I walked past looking for something cool to get on. I was so psyched, that I didn't consult the guidebook to see exactly what climb it was. I thought it was a 5.10a. While climbing it, I kept telling myself, come on Jeremy, this is only 10a, this shouldn't be this hard. I kept pushing until I got to the top and set a belay. As I belayed my life long buddy up the pitch, I kept feeling mixed emotions, I felt good that I pushed through, but thought I was having a bad day or something because it felt pretty hard. After rapping back down to our packs, I looked in the guidebook and was blown away that I had just completed my first 5.11b trad line!
I could keep going for days giving stories and descriptions of cool routes at the New. Aside from the excellent climbing, there is just a lot of adventure to be had, which is unique for a place that primarily has single pitch cragging-type routes. It took me years to appreciate what a unique climbing destination this truly is, and now that I live in Utah I can't wait to get back!