POC Fall Seneca 2000

Here’s a trip report from my first real climbing adventure, by Phil Sidel.


The Pitt Outdoors Club has had fantastic leadership the past several years, and on October 21-22, 2000 it resulted in a record turnout of about 60 participants in the Seneca weekend. We arrived in 4 big vans and about 8-10 private cars and over-filled Group Sites E and F in Seneca Shadows Campground.

The multitude of POC-ers were rewarded with superb weather the entire weekend – though that mattered only slightly to the twenty or so who went caving in the area.

In addition to the Pitt leaders and first-timers, there were several volunteer leaders who came to help out. The Outdoors Club is grateful to: Bob Dodson
Dennis Melko and his friend Paula
Richard Weller
for helping with the leading. On Sunday Cathy Cox and Patrick Nickler from the Explorers’ Club also helped out as experienced seconds.

Bob Dodson and I were among the first to arrive, and we set up our tents at the back of Group Site F. By about ten o’clock the campgrounds were swarming with campers, and soon after the tents were up Dan Latt got the climbers together and organized into teams.

Unfortunately, there were not enough leaders for the number of first-timers, so a large contingent had to make Saturday a top-roping day.Those who got to go on multipitch teams were in for great times on the challenging trad routes of Seneca.

My two partners – Lydi Perr and Philip Magistro – were both first-timers. I was concerned; I always prefer to have an experienced multi-pitcher bringing up the rear. However, both indicated that they could top-rope 5.5 or maybe 5.6 and Lydi had about 6 years of experience toproping (although most of that had been 1 or 2 trips a year at a summer camp.)

I put my gear – including the extra trail lights harnesses, hardware, and slings for two first-timers – in Bob’s car. Then, after making sure that my team members had helmets and proper clothes, I walked with them down the trail to the parking lot to meet Bob and start gearing up. It is important for the leader to think ahead about making sure his/her team has all the gear needed. At the parking lot I used my check list (copy attached) to make sure we had everything we needed. That took a bit of time, but was worth it. There were a couple of items we would have forgotten had I not used the list.

Since Bob’s team needed another belay rappel device, Lydi purchased one at The Gendarme and I loaned my figure-eight to Joe. I knew I would be just fine using a munter hitch for my belaying and rappelling. Bob Dodson had his team purchase prussic cords, and he taught them the basics of using them. I believe this is a good idea; prussiking should be part of the club’s climber training program. However, since Seneca is a busy area and there usually would be plenty of other ways to get a stuck climber off a pitch, I didn’t try introducing Philip and Lydi to prussiking at this time.

We were on our way out of the parking lot a few minutes after 9 and heading for the rocks … a bit later than I had hoped, but still not bad. Given the info my partners had given me about their experience and abilities, I decided Ecstasy Junior would be a good climb to start. There was only one team of two and that was a guide (Ian) and client (Brian). I knew they would be fast, so we flaked out the ropes and got ready to start. I gave Lydi the nut key and explained some general points about belaying a leader and cleaning the placements. As anticipated, our wait was a short one and I was soon climbing. The pitch is circuitous, but not very difficult for 5.4, and I was soon up. Both partners followed – one on each of the twin 8.6mm ropes I had used on the lead. I explained that the second climber should just remove his rope, and the third (Lydi on this pitch) would clean to pro as she came up. Philip and Lydi followed with no problems, and we re-racked the gear and re-stacked the ropes. For the second pitch we switched the order. Lydi would come up second and Philip would belay me and come up third and clean the pro. I led up, slowly as always, but with no problems. I love the vertical slot that just fits my #11 hex as I move around to the west face of the wall. Soon I was bringing up my partners. They made it fine. A little slower than on the first pitch, but no problems.

It was well after noon when we finished and scrambled through to the trail that leads to the main west face climbs. We stopped for a leisurely lunch, and scrambled to the top ridge of the west buttress for photos. Then we hiked northward. I pointed out some of the general landmarks as we passed them. Then, seeing no one on Le Gourmet, I decided that would be our next climb.

It was now close to two o’clock, but I was hoping we could do Le Gourmet and the end of Old Man’s Route to get to the summit and down before dark. As I led up Le Gourmet first pitch, I became aware that we might not make that schedule. It was somewhat harder than I remembered and I was slow leading it. Nevertheless I was up with no real problems and set for a good belay. This time we were set as we had been on our first pitch; Lydi was belaying and would clean.

Philip started up second. He moved well for a while, but up on the final vertical section he slowed down; progress was very slow. Then there was a heavy tug on the rope. I knew he had fallen. After a while I felt him get back on the rock, and again move up, but slowly. Finally he made the top and came back to the belay tree to tie in. He told me his foot had been stuck in the crack when he fell, and he was concerned whether his ankle was in shape to continue – but he thought it would be.

Lydi was up next. Her progress was a somewhat slower, largely because she had to clean the pro. But when she got to the cruxy upper section, it became really slow. As I belayed I could feel her reaching around to find holds. Then she fell. After a wait she fell again. She was definitely at a crux. There were two more falls, each longer in time than the last. But finally, she worked it out and reached the top. The directional on the main wall above the top of the climb was too high for her to reach, so Philip cleaned that.

He had to use the nut tool and a cam-lock to clean it; the stopper had been strongly set catching those falls. Now it was well after 4 pm., too late to go for the summit. We decided to head down early from where we were. We set up a rap and descended to the trail.

This was the night of the big End-of-the-Season-Picnic at Tom Cecil’s Seneca Mountain Guides and the Big Chili-Cookoff at John Markwell’s Gendarme. No one would go hungry.

Many of the POC crew went back to camp for showers and changes. Jamie and Dave were preparing to bring some chili for the cookoff. I didn’t want to miss much of the festivities, so I headed for the picnic and talked to climbers including Brian Butz (who had been ahead of us on Ecstasy Junior) and others I had seen during the day on the rocks.

After picnicking and visiting there for a while, I went over to the Gendarme to sample some of the chilis and visit with the folks there for a while. Many of the POC group were there, but I didn’t see Dave or Jamie and I didn’t get to try their chili.

Then I went back to Tom Cecil’s to see two slide shows on Big Wall Climbing. One was by a client of Tom’s who had been guided on his first Big Wall (Washington Column in Yosemite) by Tom. It was a great show that gave a clear picture of much of what is involved in Big Wall climbing. The second was by Bryan, a professional, world class climber from Red Rocks who climbed a first ascent of a spectacular rock wall in Pakistan. It had been a 26-day ordeal, many of the days spent in (eventually leaky) portaledges while rain made climbing impossible. Bryan and his wife had done it with Steve Snyder and his wife. Neither show made me anxious to try Big Wall climbing.

After the shows I walked up the trail to camp (glad there was enough ambient light to see my way), and hit the sack for a wonderful night’s sleep.


Sunday morning I awoke at seven, had a good shower, then started waking the others in the campsite so tents would be packed and climbing teams on their way before it was too late.

Fortunately, Bob had arranged with the camp ranger or host that he and I could leave our tents up until we came down from climbing. That would mean we would not have to pack them all wet.

Shortly after nine, the climbing teams were set up. Those who had top-roped the day before got first pick on being on multi-pitch teams. Jeff King and Mark Bernosky were my partners for the day. Philip had decided to rest his ankle for the day and Lydi was teamed up with Dan Latt. Pat Nickler and Cathy Cox were available to climb, so I took Pat on my team, so I would have someone experienced bringing up the rear, and Cathy joined Dan and Lydi to serve the same role.

Again I used the check list to make sure my team was fully equipped. Pat Nickler had to rent a helmet, because Mark had picked up the last of the club helmets. This time it was a little after 10 when we started out from the parking lot. The plan was to be back by 3:30 when the vans were to leave.

My team this time was a little less experienced, so I decided to start out on Old Man’s Route. If any of them had trouble on the cruxy section right below the long traverse ledge, we would stay on Old Man’s. If they all made it easily enough, we would move onto the Conn’s West route to the summit ledges. At the base of Old Man’s we saw four climbers ahead of us and a fifth just beginning the lead up Old Man’s. However the party of three was doing West Pole and using a direct start that wouldn’t put them on Old Man’s at all.

I used the time while waiting for the team of two to clear the start to instruct our team in multi-pitch. We were again using the twin ropes for my lead, one for bringing up each of the beginners. The second beginner would trail (and clip) a third rope for bringing up Pat as he cleaned.

I led the first pitch, set up my belay, then brought up Jeff and then Mark. Pat cleaned up the rear. At the crux he tried several times without success. The I dropped a loop of rope down to which he attached the pack. After I hauled up the pack, Pat had no problem finishing the pitch.

It was already well after 2 pm, but we had climbed beyond the start of Conn’s West, so I figured it would be easy to finish that pitch. We restacked the ropes and I stepped around the corner to the left and onto the Conn’s West route. It turned out to be tougher than I remembered, but a bit of looking and thinking got me through all sections. One nice crack for a #4 or #5 BD stopper turned out to be between the wall and a nice, loose, block. I ended up putting a small stopper between the back end of the loose block and the solid block behind it. I felt that at that spot any movement of the loose block would actually narrow the constriction around the stopper. Hmmm – was that just wishful thinking???? Anyway, I eventually got to the top of the pitch and tied in to a stout root for belaying the others.

As they were coming up, I became aware that we were pressing out time limit; we would have to rap out from here and forego the summit. The climb went slower than I had anticipated and by the time the whole team was up, it was already after 3:30. We rapped out, and that was unexpectedly slow. Richard Weller’s team had rapped out from the top of Westpole while we were just getting set to rappel, and two other teams also rapped out from above us, going directly to the rappel station at the base of Westpole while we were rapping down to the bottom of Conn’s West. It turned out that our 150 foot ropes were too short to reach the bottom, so we had to follow the others over to the next rappel statation. Fortunately, Rob from Richmond was nice enough to leave his rope rigged for all of us to use on the descent, so we got to save the time of setting up another rappel.

On each rappel, Pat went first and belayed for Mark and Jeff. Then I came last. I told Mark and Jeff that they should head for the parking lot as soon as they got down. Pat and I would come later.with the gear. They did that and it still was after 5 pm before they reached the parking lot. Pat and I came down a little later. On the way we saw Dan and his team and Adam and Becky who had come up for them and us. We were not the last to get to the parking lot but we were about 1.5 hours past the 3:30 deadline. At least two of the vans were still there, and we got to take some group photos before they took off.

Bob and I enjoyed an easy drive home – we had lots to talk about. Eric Bauernschmidt had climbed with Bob both days and that combination had worked out well. Joe had climbed with them on Saturday and someone else on Sunday. On Saturday they had done Lady Elaine, part of Old Ladies’, then Windy Corner to Summit Ledges. On Sunday they climbed The Burn (5.8) which had been one of Bob’s climbing goals. I was so wrapped up in our conversation that I drove right past the Century III Mall turnoff. Bob knew the area and got us back on route via a pleasant, windy drive through the hills and runs.

We arrived home to the good news that both the Panthers and the Steelers had won – what better ending to an excellent weekend??



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