Rocks: New River Gorge Bouldering, West Virginia
Words and photos by Pat Goodman
The other side of the NewThe sweeping cliffs of the New River Gorge, which provide sport and trad lines galore, overshadow the endless Nuttall sandstone blocs strewn throughout the hillsides and river ways. Locals get it—we have long known the bouldering here is just as good as those hot spots out West and down South. John Sherman said it best in his book Stone Crusade: “The New would be a bouldering mecca if not for all those damn cliffs!”
Cotton Hill, just 15 minutes from downtown Fayetteville, hosts nearly 200 boulder problems and is comprised of two substantial sectors: Cotton Top and Cotton Bottom. This area encompasses an ensemble of desirable formations: roofs, bulges, steep faces, slabs, jugs, crimps, slopers, pinches, and cracks. Sketches, the bouldering guidebook to the New by Chris Anthony, is a wonderful resource if you can find one.
Cotton Top has an excellent selection of moderate to difficult problems, as well as many high-end projects. Lines here tend to be tall, many topping out above 25 feet. With the current trend toward highballing, this field has seen a resurgence, and several beastly lines have been established recently. Access is easy—you can have rock shoes touching stone about two minutes from the car.
Cotton Bottom offers an abundance of extremely classic problems with quick and convenient access from the parking. This is the perfect spot to dial in a circuit, and has very aesthetic boulders and lines boasting a style unique to the New River area.
- Ride the Gravity Zip Line at Adventures on the Gorge. It soars 200 feet above the ground and goes more than 1.5 miles, zigzagging across a gorgeous ridgeline.
- The New River Gorge Bridge Walk. Take a guided catwalk tour underneath the Western Hemisphere’s longest single-span arch bridge. An incredible way to see the gorge, 851 feet above the New River!
- Visit the ghost town of Nuttalburg. A bygone mining town built in 1880, now part of the National Register of Historic Places, its remains showcase timeworn mining structures and the ruins of a lost era.
- Bridge Day! Every year for one day in mid-October, about 200,000 people converge to party, and some (legally) BASE jump off the mighty steel structure.
Go about eight miles along Highway 16 north from its intersection with Highway 19 in Fayetteville. For Cotton Top, park in the large pullout on the right just after a bridge spanning the New River; this is also the parking for Hawks Nest Boulders. From the parking lot, follow the trail uphill where it will become an old logging road. Stay on the wider trail for a couple of minutes to access the boulderfield. For Cotton Bottom, continue past the bridge for a quarter-mile and park at the first big gravel pullout on the left. The boulders are obvious below the parking.
Highballs and projects abound, as well as various styles, holds, and formations.
- McCauley Left (V3)
- Little Boy (V4)
- Scud Buster (V5)
- Puss Gut (V7)
- Half Moon Tilt (V8)
A series of blocs you can spit to from the parking lot, with a nice blend of moderates and hard problems.
- Walk the Dog (V1)
- The V9’s Right (V4)
- V6-Teen (V6)
- Bat Cave Traverse (V8)
- Pressure Treated (V9)
|Jessa Goebel on Priapus, 12d, Kalymnos, Greece|
Jessa Goebel says: Watch your speed! There are more cops around here than snakes, and they love handing out “invitations” so travelers can discuss traffic violations with the court magistrate. Ideal climbing conditions are in autumn and early spring, although with current trends the winter can also be fantastic. Summer… Well, we don’t call it “Wet” Virginia for nothing!
The Gorge Gateway Center in Fayetteville is a great facility, and you can choose between rental vacation homes, cabins, or primitive tent camping, some with full camper hook-ups. Prices start at $10/night, and it’s 15 minutes from the boulders. Chestnut Creek Campground in Lansing is run by an eccentric host you don’t want to mess with, but it stays quiet and clean. It has secluded and spacious tent sites ranging from $8 to $10 per night, covered platforms, clean restrooms, and hot showers, 20 minutes from the boulders.
Pubs & Grub
Cathedral Café is the quintessential launching platform for most outdoor enthusiasts in the area, with the finest French toast in Fayetteville! Open daily for breakfast and lunch, with Wi-Fi available. For Mexican food, Diogi’s jumbo barbeque carnita quesadilla is a sure bet after a day of tugging. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Pies & Pints Pizzeria’s gourmet selection is heaven. The Cuban pork pie is to die for, but so is the chicken Gouda pie. Or check out buffet night and taste them all. Open daily for lunch and dinner; located on Maple Avenue in Fayetteville.