The Gendarme: A Climbing Vignette (1973-1987)

SenecaRocks001
The Gendarme

Every few years we, in the Boston climbing group, would go for a week to Seneca Rocks in what was then the town of Mouth of Seneca, West Virginia. We would climb at the ‘Gunks on the way there and again on the way back.

As early as 1973 there was no climber’s shop—only Buck Harper’s general store and an old covered wooden pavilion with a stage at one end and no electricity. Here was where we camped. A wildly swaying suspension bridge over the Potomac’s North Fork gave access to the Rocks.

1987_SarahBill001We went again in 1980—by which time there was a new climbing store called the Gendarme—an eponymous reference to the fifty foot stone sentinel standing guard in Gunsight Notch between the north and south faces of the cliffs. On each visit it was considered obligatory to climb it.

But we climbed it with reservation owing to its precarious aspect, narrower at its base than in its body—more like a Popsicle than an obelisk. Topping out below it on the climb Banana one could actually see “air” through its base—the “stick” of the Popsicle—a slab of rock seemingly not more than three feet by twelve in cross section.  Over beer in the dark at the Pavilion we would speculate about the effects of the weight and motion of climbers or about how much wind it might take to de-stabiliz1987_WireBridge001e it. We marveled over what geologic forces might have produced it and wondered about its age. The cliffs in near their present form have been there for millions of years.

Again in 1987 I was at Seneca for a week in late September with my friend Sarah. The suspension bridge had been carried away by floods in 1985—replaced by two cables, one high and one low, for the hands overhead and the feet below. And, of course before we left, we had climbed the Gendarme.


Four weeks later at the ‘Gunks, at the end of a day of climbing, Sarah ran up to me and said:
“Guess what happened at Seneca?”

Without a moment’s hesitation I replied: “The Gendarme fell.”

And so, on October 22nd—a sunny, windless Thursday afternoon—the sentinel collapsed and, with a roar, dashed itself into thousands of shards below.

In contemplation of this event, in relation to the geologic time-scale, it seems Sarah and I had a pretty close call.


 More climbing vignettes:
Bobo to the Rescue
Serendipity
“Travails” With Charley


 

CLimericks

With apologies to Edward Lear


Marshall’s Madness (Seneca Rocks)

         Cried Sarah, "I'm feeling right gripped!",
         As her toe, from a jam, slowly slipped.
             "This source of rope drag
             Must be a bad zag
         Produced by that zig I last clipped."           Maura Slack

Connecticut Cloudburst (Ragged Mountain)

         On the lead, when deluged from the sky,
         Sarah feared she was destined to die.
             All heard her last shout:
             "Be sure to hang out
         My slings and my Lycra to dry!"                 Paul Nylon

Bonnie’s Roof, 2nd Pitch (‘Gunks)

         As Bill traversed out past the pin
         He announced, with a sickening grin,
             "It's fifty years old
             And I can't reach the hold;
         Please notify my next of kin!"                  A. Rusty Trifle

Cathedral Concentration (New Hampshire)

         Sarah found the protection most thin.
         But, at last, an RP would slip in.
            With her mind thus at ease
            The crux seemed a breeze
         'Til she noticed she'd failed to clip in!       Hannah Solo

On the Demise of the Gendarme (Seneca Rocks, four weeks before it fell)

         Believing that sentry ill-starred,
         They crept so's to mount it un-jarred.
             No aeon knows when...
             But had it failed then
         'T would surely have caught them off guard!     Virginia West

Debonn-Air-e Show

         Went a bold mountain pilot named Walling
         To the Tetons to practice his calling.
             Rolled edgewise in flight,
             Rit shot the Gunsight
         By wielding his stick without stalling.         B. Twain Owen-Grand

Virgin Ascent (Kansas City, MO)

         When she found that the line had a lack
         Of ascent Margaret shouldered her rack,
             Donned her stealth rubber boot,
             And jammed up the route
         Which thenceforth became "Margaret's Crack".    Primo Ascenza

Sleight of Foot

         The friction climber climbs
         Where angels won't.
         Now you see him climbing...
         Now you don't.                                  Dave Bernays

Rock to Ice

         He considered bold climbing his forte,
         Until he tried cragging up norte.
             All routes now blue-icy;
             Protection way dicey.
         Thus learned him the meaning of sporte.         Sarah Waddell

Hard Hat Manque

         As she rapped off the end of her cord,
         Sarah, helmetless, laughed as she soared:
             "As I land upside down,
             Without my Joe Brown"
         They'll say "Proof that she's out of her gourd." Sarah Waddell

Filial Duty

         "On belay!" shouts Dad with a grin.
         "Climbing,", say I with chagrin.
             "This sure ain't no 'Trifle',
             (much more like the Eiffel).
         Why can't I switch with my twin?"               Matt Atkinson

Nature Study

         Some eighty-five feet in the air;
         A snake falls into my hair.
             Each handhold I seek,
             Provokes a new "Eek!"
         In each crevice a millipede's lair.             Meg Atkinson

Fraternal Love

         "Oh twin," says you "we must switch."
         "How's about you, and not I, climb this pitch?"
             "Who, me?" I reply.
             "That pitch is too high!"
         "Let elder to rope become hitched."             Gemini