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An Afternoon Kayaking, Eating, and Wandering in Georgetown

July 6, 2019 Comments (0) Rock Climbing, Uncategorized, West Virginia

Climbing + River Tubing in Smoke Hole, West Virginia

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Camping, river tubing, and climbing in Smoke Hole, West Virginia with a group of fun, fit, adventurous people.

This is what summer weekend dreams are made of, ladies and gentlemen. 

Recently, about 50+ climbers from the DC area traveled to Smoke Hole, West Virginia for a weekend of outdoor enjoyment. Here’s how it went.

Want to get in on the next weekend climbing trip? Check out the Gym to Craggin’ outdoor climbing + training event, happening July 12-13!

About Smoke Hole, West Virginia

Smoke Hole, West Virginia is “a rugged 20 miles long gorge carved by the South Branch Potomac River in the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia.” (Wikipedia.)

If you have yet to explore West Virginia, you are missing out! It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite places in the northeast.

Peep the video below, create by WV Tourism, to see some of the area’s famed beauty.

I was originally confused by the Smoke Hole area, and now I know why. There was once a town called Smoke Hole, back in the 50s, that has since dissolved.

Now, when people say “Smoke Hole” they are referring to about 40 GORGEOUS square miles of mountainous valley within the Monongahela National Forest’s Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area.

Smoke Hole, WV, is a gorgeous mountainous valley about a 3-4 hour drive from the Washington, DC area.

As you might have deducted by my caps lock up there, the area is absolutely magnificent. Lush forests, mountainous backdrop, and the glistening Potomac River carving through. John Denver nailed it — West Virginia is indeed, almost heaven. 

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A 3-4 hour drive from the DC area, Smoke Hole is more of a weekend excursion than a day trip. Which is fine by me. I could have easily stayed another few days to explore, hike, climb and float back down the Potomac. 

Camping in Smoke Hole, West Virginia

There are plenty of accommodations in Smoke Hole, from budget-friendly cabins to luxurious log resorts. We decided to camp, as we’re the kind of group that jumps at the chance to break out a tent.

Plus, camping put us right where the action is. Some of the best climbing in Smoke Hole, West Virginia was within a 15-minute drive from our campsite.

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We camped at the Eagle Rock campground, which is privately owned and free of frills. The sole amenity is a relatively well-maintained outhouse.

The land is first-come, first-serve, with no fixed camping sites. Pay $10/tent (or person) at the entrance by slipping the cash into a small box nailed to a tree.

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The best thing about the site is its privileged position alongside the Potomac. I set my hammock up between two trees directly next to the river. I could hear it babbling through the night– the ideal outdoor lullaby. 

Climbing in Smoke Hole, West Virginia

With so many climbers, our group set out into smaller groups of 3-6 people. There are plenty of climbing sites in Smokehole, with dozens of sport and trad climbs of varying grades and heights. We brought enough ropes to set up top rope routes for the less advanced climbers in the group, myself included. 

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Climbing at Reed’s Creek

My group started at Reeds Creek, which offers dozens of climbs from 5.6 to 5.13+.  Reed’s Creek is in the Smoke Hole area, an easy 10-minute drive from our campsite. From there, we had a moderate ~15-minute hike up to the rocks.

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I am no area expert, so I’ll share the below description from Mike Gray. He’s a local climbing veteran and route placer who penned the Reed’s Creek Rock Climbing Guidebook:

“Set high on a sunny ridge above shady Reed Creek, the wall basks in winter sun and hides under the thick canopy in summer. The crimpers, jugs, edges, and technical pumpfests of the Gypsies Wall, Hard Man Arete, The Reach, Grapevine Massacre, and Boneyard Walls, the wild lines of the RUN-DMC Cave, and the still very wild setting of the Monongahela National Forest are sure to please and challenge climbers young and old; wide-eyed beginners and seasoned experts alike.”

Mike Gray
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Reed’s had some of my favorite climbs I’ve ever done outdoors. As someone who’s still relatively new to climbing and caps out around 11a indoors, there were several routes that I found fun and feasible. At the same time, my more advanced friends had no lack of challenging and gratifying routes. 

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River tubing in Smoke Hole, West Virginia

We climbed up at Reed’s until about 3:30, when it was time to head down and meet the others for tubing. Though our group was scattered around the mountains, we all agreed to meet at the same time and place so we could float down the river together.

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Man, tubing in Smoke Hole West Virginia is one of the best experiences I’ve had yet in the northeast. Imagine floating down a gorgeous, green-reflecting river bordered by towering tree canopies with a group of good friends and a few floating coolers of beer. 

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Photo: Joe Nutting
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Photo: Joe Nutting
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Photo: Joe Nutting

A few members of the group brought kayaks (which apparently come in foldable form these days) and an inflatable stand up paddle (SUP) board.

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Photo: Joe Nutting
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Photo: Joe Nutting

The river was calm for most of the ride, though there were a few really fun patches of wild white water.

We passed a great rope swing, where a few groups had gathered to swing into the water and cheer at the most daring flips. One highlight was some guy in the river wearing a legit 3-piece suit, who did the day’s best flip as the crowd chanted “suit guy.” 

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Photo: Joe Nutting
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Photo: Joe Nutting

I’m not sure how long our route really took, because a) I was drinking and b) we stopped more than a few times. I could have gone back for another round if it weren’t time for a well-deserved dinner.

Dinner and drinks at Swelled Dog Hard Cider 

In an area as beautifully hidden as Smoke Hole, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of evening entertainment. But we ended up at Swilled Dog Hard Cider, an impressive family-owned facility that makes cider on-site. 

Unfortunately, I was too tipsy by this point in the evening to bother taking photos. I’ve grabbed a few from Swilled Dog Cider’s Facebook to help show off the place.

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Photo: Swilled Dog Hard Cider
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Photo: Swilled Dog Hard Cider

I’ve never thought of myself as a cider person, but I really enjoyed thir tasting flight! I ordered a few more of my favorites (not that I needed more alcohol at this point but, you know.) 

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Photo: Swilled Dog Hard Cider
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Photo: Swilled Dog Hard Cider

We had pizza delivered (with their permission) as their facility is more about the cider than food. No entrees, but they do offer a few appetizers. Take a look at that pizza! Few things taste better after a full day outdoors than a big, greasy pie.

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Ninja Wall Climbing in Smoke Hole, West Virginia

On day two, we headed up to Smoke Hole’s Ninja Wall. A smaller area than Reed’s, which was fine as we were only up for a few climbs that day. The routes range from 5.8 – 5.10c, all sport lead.

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We probably would have gotten bored here the day before, but for the last day out it was perfect. In the shade, not a far hike, and had just enough routes for a good half-day climb. 

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Until Next Time

I am already counting the days until it’s time to return to Smoke Hole for another weekend trip. There is a surprising amount to do in this area, and I’d love to check more off my list. Here are some activities I’d like to pursue in future visits:

  • Smoke Hole Caverns: One of the better-known attractions in the area, the Smoke Hole Caverns “magnificent formations are the result of millions of years of intricate processes and trillions of drops of mineral laden water” (WV Tourism).
  • Cabin / Resort stays: I love camping, but you won’t see me turn down a log cabin or rustic resort stay any time soon. There are several great options in the area, such as the Smoke Hole Caverns & Log Cabin Resort, and I consider it my civic duty to go explore them.
  • Hiking: There are more hiking opportunities in the area than I could fit into a paragraph, but Blackwater Falls State Park, in particular, has caught my eye. What can I say, I’m a sucker for waterfalls.
  • More climbing! With over 150+ routes in the area, I could go back here every weekend for months and still have climbs to spare. Looking forward to exploring more climbing in Smoke Hole, West Virginia…. and eventually work my way up to some trad climbs.

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