Seneca Rocks


Overview/Background

Purchased by the federal government in 1969, Seneca Rocks is one of the best-known landmarks in West Virginia. These rocks have long been noted as a scenic attraction and are popular with rock climbers.

The rocks are a magnificent formation rising nearly 900 feet above the North Fork River. Eastern West Virginia contains many such formations of the white/gray Tuscarora quartzite. Seneca Rocks and nearby Champe Rocks are among the most imposing examples. The quartzite is approximately 250 feet thick and is located primarily on exposed ridges as caprock or exposed crags. The rock is composed of fine grains of sand that were laid down approximately 440 million years ago, in an extensive sheet at the edge of ancient ocean. Years of geologic activity followed, as the ocean was slowly destroyed and the underlying rock uplifted and folded. Millions of years of erosion stripped away the overlaying rock and left remnants of the arching folds in formations such as Seneca Rocks.

Man has apparently been a visitor to the area around Seneca Rocks for a long time. Some evidence suggests that the Native Americans of the Archaic Period may have camped at the mouth of nearby Seneca Creek. The famous Seneca Trail followed the Potomac River, allowing the Algonquin, Tuscarora, and Seneca tribes to trade and make war.

The first European settlers in the region appeared about 1746. At that time, West Virginia (or western Virginia as it was then) was the edge of the great wilderness. Slowly the area was settled, disturbed by the events of the American Revolution and the Civil War, which pitted brother against brother in these border counties.

It is unknown who the first person was to climb Seneca Rocks. Undoubtedly Native Americans scaled the rocks prior to European settlers reaching the area, but there is no record of their ascents. The historic ascent of Paul Brandt, Don Hubbard, and Sam Moore in 1939 found an inscription of "D.B. Sept. 16, 1908." This has been attributed to a surveyor named Bittenger who was known to be working in the area. (Seneca, the Climber's Guide by Bill Webster).

The documented climbing history of the rocks began in 1935 with a roped ascent of the North Peak by Paul Brandt and Florence Perry. In the 1930's and 40's only a few climbers, mostly from the D.C. and Pittsburgh areas, attempted to climb Seneca Rocks. In 1943-44 the U.S. Army used the rocks to train mountain troops for action in the Apennines. Evidence of their climbing activities can still be found on the rocks. (Webster).