You know it’s going to be a great day when you can slip out of the office and have a day of adventure in one of West Virginia’s State Parks! For several years now I have dreamed of trying my hand at rock climbing, it was literally the second thing on my Pinterest bucket list that I started over 8 years ago!
Needless to say, I was super pumped when North Bend State Park’s Group Sales Coordinator, Kristi Steed ask me to come on a quest adventure of my own and I could choose between, kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking basics, backcountry camping, or an overnight cycling tour on the North Bend Rail Trail. I looked at our summer intern, Jenna, and at the same time we said “ROCK CLIMBING!”
So we scheduled our quest adventure with the owner of North Bend Climbing Guides, John Starkweather. With excitement in the air Jenna and I drove up Route 50 from Parkersburg, we turned off toward the little, once bustling town of Cairo, WV. The early morning sun danced through the trees as we wound our way up the curvy two-lane getting farther from town and closer to adventure.
We met John promptly at 9 a.m. (Quest adventures normally start at 10 a.m.) at the North Bend State Park Lodge where we went over paperwork, and he gave us an overview of what the Rappelling and Climbing Quest would entail. Then we grabbed our backpacks, climbing gear and headed out to the parking area near cabins.
As we hiked around the mountain to the rock cliffs, John told us about some of his personal climbing adventures in Puerto Rico, Germany, Switzerland, Qatar, and Nepal where he summited Island Peak in the Himalayas which was about 20,000 plus feet high. With all of that experience under his belt, I knew we were in good hands.
John led us to a smaller rock face, approximately 20 feet high, significantly shorter than the one we passed on the trail so that we could learn the ropes and practice before trying our hand on the rocks that were around 70 feet high.
Jenna volunteered to rappel first, so John walked us through the process of connecting our harness to the rope and also securing our harness to the belay rope, which is a safety rope controlled by the guide to ensure the climber’s safety. Jenna backed to the cliff and started to descend like a pro. When she made it to the bottom, she detached the ropes from her harness. Then John pulled the rope back to the top of the rock and it was my turn.
With a few quick maneuvers, my harness was attached to the belay rope and the main rope with shiny carabiners… but then it was time to back toward the cliff and I started to feel a little anxious… the goal was to let enough rope slowly slide through your hands until your body is perpendicular to the rock placing all of your weight in the harness. Then you slowly walk backward down the cliff. At first, I wanted to hold myself with my arms, but John reassured me that I needed to put all of my weight in the harness and just control the speed of my decent by letting the rope slide through my hands.
After that first initial step down the cliff, I found that I really liked rappelling! After practicing on the small rock several times, we decided to head on up the ridge to the large rock. We decided to rappel down and then test our climbing skills. The decent on the large rock was AMAZING! Around 100-150 feet below the Hughes River winds around the base of the mountain sending its soft, babbling music to the climbers above. The view was beautiful as you rappelled down the rock through the treetops and around crags.
We took a break, enjoying nature, telling stories and laughing as John set up the ropes on the portion of the rock that we would be climbing. Donning our climbing shoes and refastening our helmets it was time to learn how to tie a double figure eight knot (I was so proud of myself for learning how to tie that knot!) that securely fastened our harness to the climbing rope.
Because Jenna went first with the rappelling, I volunteered to climb first. John walked me through how to execute the climb… and then I began… placing my foot on the rock and reaching for the crag I began to climb once I was about 20 feet up I decided to descend and let Jenna give it a try. Jenna did an amazing job ascending the rock, even in the difficult areas, John would give her pointers and she made the moves to the next ledge like an expert.
The quest lasted about three and a half hours, we had such a great experience learning to rappel and rock climb right here in Greater Parkersburg, WV. If you like trying new things, I definitely recommend you contact North Bend State Park to schedule your very own guided Quest Adventure. Now I can head to Pinterest and move rock climbing from my “Bucket List” to my “Been There, Done That” board.
Learn more about the Quest Programs Here: Quest Information
Story and Photography by Hannah Duffield, Marketing Coordinator for Visit Greater Parkersburg