When the last bolt is drilled and the moves finally linked, first ascentionists are faced with one final finishing touch for their new route. “What should they name it?” There’s a lot of pressure to come up with a good one. For the rest of eternity, their chosen path up the rock before them will be known as what they decide. The name reflects not only on the quality of that path but also on the character of the namers! How to decide…?
Some, especially those that have put up hundreds of new routes, might cop out and pick a favorite song or album like Brian McCray’s Ride the Lightning, Dan Osman’s Through the Never, Eric Horst’s Diamond Life and I Advance Masked, Porter Jarrard’s Freaky Stylee and Nazz, Nazz, Eddie Begoon’s Rock Lobster, or Kenny Parker’s Hot Tuna. Others look to the rock, asking the route to name itself. Toxic Hueco at the Meadow River is a good example with its pronounced hueco dripping with green slime near the first bolt. A few feet to the right is White Trash, linking a path of sloping pockets up a shimmering white face clean enough to eat off. Further examples are The Scoop at Fern Buttress, The Growing Hole at Endless, and the fruit-colored Mango Tango at the Meadow.
Occasionally a play on words is introduced like Euro-nation, Meaty-urologist (a reference to the equippers occupation), De-funked, or Meadowbolic. It could just as easily be a play on the equippers name or a tribute to a friend like Tim Fissure (Tim Fisher), Kirkules (Kirk Bjorling), Geneius (Gene Kistler), I’ll Be-Gooned (Eddie Begoon), Artz vs. Parker (Mike and Kenny), Munson Burner (Lee Munson), Kline the Billy Goat (Kris Kline) Komatose (Koma Shuichi) or the most well-known of all, Apollo Reed (Porter’s tribute to Doug). It’s also common to poke a little fun at a more famous climb like the routes, To Bubba or Not to Be, (a play on America’s first 5.14 To Bolt or Not to Be at Smith Rock, Oregon), Likmé (a play on Eldorado Canyon’s Lakmé), Just Send It and Just Forget It (a play on another Smith Rock test-piece, Just Do It), Dreams of White Hörsts (a reference to the British sea cliff climb Dreams of White Horses), Gram Delusion (Sugarloaf, California’s Grand Illusion), Bullet the New Sky (Penitente Canyon’s Bullet the Blue Sky), Churning in the Butter (Smith Rock’s Churning in the Wake) or Cliff notes of Hate (a miniature version of Yosemite’s Book of Hate).
One of the finest aretes in the country is Penitente Canyon Colorado's Bullet the Blue Sky established by Bob D'Antonio. Bob also had a hand in putting up another brilliant arete just 2000 miles to the east. Karissa Dunbar on Bullet the New Sky.
Sometimes a theme reveals itself like the Tigger theme at the Meadow River’s Other Place, the Cotton theme at Cotton Top, or the literary references to the book “Little Black Sambo” at the crag formerly known as Sambo (now Carnifex Ferry). Perhaps no other area in the country has embraced a theme as much as Bubba City with its 44 Bubba-themed names such as Bubbacide, Bubba does Debbie, Bubba Bath, Axis Bold as Bubba, White Bubbas on Dope, Bubba Black Sheep, Bubba Shitty, and of course 37 more.
I’ve heard that back in the boom days of first ascents at the New that some route developers had little books of potential route names. After they established a route they would look through the jotted down ideas and appoint one to the route. Others would wait until the ascent was completed and name it something that reflected on the day, who was there, and what happened. Doug Reed, in particular, placed a great amount of worth in a route’s name. His good friend and partner in route development, Porter Jarrard, said about Doug:
“Perhaps most frustrating to visiting climbers and guidebook authors was his penchant for not naming routes, or delaying their naming for years or for eternity. To Doug, the line of the route was foremost, not the name. Absence of a name did not mean a route was inferior. The line had to somehow suggest a name, a turn of phrase, some concatenation of vowels, a syllabic flourish, something beautiful, but rarely anything with a literary meaning or which somehow told a story of the climb. This would be crass and vulgar and extemporary. He had no pre-fab list of trite names to pick from. Climbs were usually named like works of art: Titan’s Dice, Harbinger Scarab, Rebel Spade, Loud Noise, Dissonance, and The Racist. His names could be somewhat nonsensical and/or ambiguous, kind of like Stipes’ lyrics in early REM songs, allowing each climber the opportunity to create their own mythology for the route.”
A mental conflict, the properties of a chord, or just a beautiful word? Pat Goodman on Doug Reed's Dissonance.
Regardless of Doug’s intent, a route’s mythology does reside in its name. Doug’s act of intentionally naming routes based on a random “concatenation of vowels” still gives the thoughtful climber insight into his character. There are feelings associated with given routes, especially at the New, that offer hints at who the first ascentionist was and analyzing the name can offer clues.
Throughout the process of compiling the New River Gorge guidebook I invested a good deal of energy into cracking the code behind individual route names. Some will remain mysteries forever. The meaning behind the name will go to the grave with the first ascentionist. Others are obvious, like Toxic Hueco for example. The one’s that really interest me though are the ones that tell a story. The names that somehow reflect on the time period, the day, the people, the route, the moves, the view, and somehow…in two simple words… sum it all up.
Originally called Black Rider by Doug Reed, the notorious two-finger pocket crux characterizes this route in the minds of climbers. These days, everyone just calls it the Pocket Route. Climber: Jessa Goebel.
Proper Soul: In 1995, Steve Cater released his first edition guidebook. It included the prophetic quote, “There is no doubt that a line will go at 5.14, it is just a matter of the proper soul finding the proper line.” In 1997, Brian McCray redpointed his project in the Cirque to establish the New’s first 5.14 rock climb.
The Travisty: An out-of-towner visited the New and bolted this very difficult climb at Beauty Mountain. He also drilled a couple of holds in the rock to make it easier. After his departure, the holds were filled in with epoxy and when Harrison Dekker completed the climb in its natural state, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to exploit the unfortunately-named equipper. The intentionally misspelled Travisty offers adequate hints to the name of the driller. Years later, an inferior, traditionally protected variation to the route was done and dubbed the Tradjedy. Sometimes naming routes is just too easy.
Chunky Monkey: Harrison Dekker’s favorite ice cream.
Magnatude: I’ve heard a few times that there is a typo in the guidebook. “The proper spelling is Magnitude,” they say. But the name comes from an old ad campaign for Magna cigarettes. If you smoked Magna cigarettes you had Magna-tude, a certain bad-ass attitude associated with the brand. In the early 90’s, 5’3”, 5.13+ climber Bobbi Bensman visited the New and got completely shut down on the reachy move of this 5.11. She declared the New a road cut, left, and never returned…as the story goes. The incident was at least partial impetus for the name of a route a few feet to the left called The Tantrum.
Mega Magic: In the late 80’s, La Sportiva released a cutting-edge climbing shoe called the Mega. The board lasted shoe allowed climbers to stand on smaller edges than ever before and opened up a new world of possibilities for difficult face climbing. At the time, it was said that some of Smith Rock’s hardest routes were impossible without La Sportivas. In 1988, Eric Hörst tapped into the potential of his new kicks to establish Mega Magic at the Bridge Buttress.
Caption: Doug Reed equipped the very difficult and tricky face climb that would become Caption. While working for the redpoint he allowed Porter Jarrard to take a turn up it thinking that there was no way Porter would flash the route and claim the first ascent. Remarkably, Porter flashed the route and lowered to the ground to find a visibly peeved Reed standing there speechless. The tension was palpable as Doug stood there, jaw slightly open, unable to utter a single word. Porter pictured a caption bubble above his head filled with expletives and the route name presented itself.
It's a little known fact that Porter Jarrard actually ran for public office in Fayetteville, West Virginia. Though he didn't clinch a win, his efforts will forever be remembered in Long Point's amazing blunt arete, Porter for Recorder.
Butcher Man: This short arête at the far end of Butcher’s Branch could have been named solely based on the crag at which it was located or it could have been named for the butchering of a large tree that used to reside at the base. When Gus Glitch finished the route he sat down on the ground, reached for his pack of cigarettes, and took a Copperhead snake bite right to the hand. His other hand wrapped around a machete and butchered the snake right there. Butcher man is a properly named route.
The Weight: Kenny Parker started this route but before finishing it circumstances in his personal life prevented him from returning. “It ended up taking forever,” he remarked. Somehow, over time, the name of the route evolved from The Wait to The Weight.
Leave it to Jesus: Cal Swoager was one of the strongest and most daring climbers of the very early years of New River route development. He was known for his reckless hard-partying lifestyle as well as his ability on the rock. Cal’s last first ascent, of the New’s finest crack climb, marked his transformation from rock-star lifestyle to born-again Christian.
By the Way, I Did Your Mom: Stop by Waterstone Outdoors and ask Kenny Parker!
Nude Brute: Shortly before the establishment of this route, an article was published in a climbing magazine written by two very well-known climbers documenting one of their first ascents. Reportedly, the article had a very pompous tone. Reed and Jarrard painstakingly rewrote the entire article, replacing individual words with similar sounding diatribes to paint the protagonists as homosexuals that were interested in “Nude Brutes” rather than “New Routes.” Although the intent was to send the article to the climbing magazine, this brilliant piece of literature was cast aside and forever lost.
Picket Fence: My proudest contribution to the already amazing selection of NRG rock climbs took me more than 150 days of effort over a four year period to complete. When I started working on it, I was a single chap with a full head of hair living in a van and traveling the country six months of the year. I had to move to the New and drastically limit my travel time to complete it. When I finally clipped the chains this past fall I was married to my beautiful wife, lived in a house, had a dog, a lawnmower, and a few less hairs. Nothing says domestication like the Picket Fence!
First Strike: In 1983 there were very few routes at the New and even fewer climbers. Pittsburgh climbers Cal Swoager and Phil Wilt drove right over the New River Gorge Bridge on their way to the far inferior crag of Crowder’s Mountain, North Carolina. On the way back they stopped to investigate some rumors they had heard of climbable rock in the gorge. The aptly named First Strike was the first of many they would establish at the New.
Pudd’s Pretty Dress: In the early days, climbers camped out under the bridge in the parking lot for Bridge Buttress. They weren’t the only low-life’s there though. Like the modern day highway rest area, it was a popular meeting place for degenerates to hook up and engage in drug use and explicit sex acts. Pudd was the nickname of a cross-dresser that used to frequent the area. It can be assumed that his dress was quite pretty.
Jason Marshall enveloped in the floral patterns of Pudd's Pretty Dress.
Another time, Gus Glitch was camped down there and happened to run into a Japanese climber that he had met out west named Koma Shuichi. The meeting sparked a long-term partnership that began the next day when they established Chance Meeting at Beauty Mountain. Gus had long dread-locked hair at the time and he tells a tale of another time that he was camped out in this zone. A bunch of local boys drove by and tried to start a fight with him because of his hippie appearance. They eventually drove off, only to drop flaming Molotov cocktails on him from the overlook above. He claims that the fire damaged his car and shortly after, he established a sport route at Ambassador Buttress named Fear of Dreads.
When the weather turned for the worse, the rain would force climbers to camp under the trash compactor roof near Underfling and Chockstone at Bridge Buttress. On one of these occasions, rats raided the climber’s camp in the night and stole someone’s eye glasses. It was Mike Artz (or maybe Eddie Begoon) that uttered the phrase, “Them rats are slicker than olives.” The route Slick Olives is a slippery R-rated journey at Fern Point.
There are 2500 routes in the New River region. Each one has a name that somehow, in its own way, paints a picture of a time before the route was a route. While that crack or blank-looking face was always there, it wasn’t until it was touched by the hand of man that it acquired character. Next time you step up to a climb at the New, take a moment to reflect on the pioneers that crafted the path before you. Imagine bushwhacking in, selecting an objective, and carefully creating a route that will be enjoyed by future generations. The personification of these little chunks of stone offers us the opportunity to view the New River climbing area as not just a cliff, but instead a collection of bygone adventures had by the first party and subsequently, every other party that has ventured upward. It’s a privilege to be able to follow in the footsteps of those that came before us, the ones that gave it a name.