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Insider's guide to over 250 rock climbs, camping, and trails in and around Smoke Hole Canyon, West Virginia's best-kept-secret.
Insider's guide to over 250 rock climbs, camping, and trails in and around Smoke Hole Canyon, West Virginia's best-kept-secret.
172 backers pledged $9,006 to help bring this project to life.

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Take one starry-eyed young dirtbag climber still in love with the myth, add a handful of incredible friends and several inspiring mentors, set these ingredients in a lost garden canyon close to several world class destinations, and allow several decades for fermentation, with occasional influences from the desert southwest, the Rockies and and Sierra.

An early layout map of the canyon and approach.
An early layout map of the canyon and approach.

Welcome to Smoke Hole Canyon, Reed's Creek, and Franklin Gorge.

The Potomac runs silver through Copperhead Cove, Smoke Hole Canyon
The Potomac runs silver through Copperhead Cove, Smoke Hole Canyon
Superman, 5.7, Reed's Creek
Superman, 5.7, Reed's Creek
Macdaddy Mike Stewart places the first bolt on Gray Matter, Franklin
Macdaddy Mike Stewart places the first bolt on Gray Matter, Franklin

Hi, I’m Mike Gray, author and designer of the Smoke Hole Climbing Guide and creator of this project... thanks for taking the time to check it out! 

Been climbing for over thirty-five years, now, and writing about the life and times of a rock climber for most of the last two decades. 

In that time, I have lived, worked and developed new climbs and climbing areas in Virginia, West Virginia, Arizona and Colorado.  I've taught dozens of students to climb and respect the outdoors, and, with the help of a few friends, organized over half a dozen climbing clean up and trail work days (Trail Daze) at popular local crags like Franklin and Reed's Creek. 

Mid-Atlantic Climbers and local volunteers mix it up at  the base of Shipwrecked, Franklin Gorge Trail Dze
Mid-Atlantic Climbers and local volunteers mix it up at the base of Shipwrecked, Franklin Gorge Trail Dze

Over the last six years, I've made it my goal to publish a guidebook to this region.  It has taken a lot of time and work, organizing the information and thousands of photographs I have taken of Smoke Hole, Reed's and Franklin.  Most of this guidebook was written as a rough draft in an aging apartment in Petersburg, West Virginia, before my wife and I abandoned the game to hit the road for two years.

After that, I worked on the manuscript during odd hours between shifts  as a fry cook, security guard, operations assistant and snow removal Bobcat operator in Flagstaff, AZ, an electrician and landscaper in Nederland, Colorado, a recreational area staffer in the Indian Lakes Wilderness, also in Colorado and finally as a site host and maintenance staffer in the Tonto National Forest’s Boulder Creek Recreation Area on the Apache Trail before heading back to the east coast for the birth of our first grand daughter. At the moment, I drive 100 miles twice a week to work; across the mountains to Virginia on Monday morning to spend the week camping on the construction site where I work, then home again tired and happy on Friday to my lovely wife and the mountains of West Virginia.

Life has always been and still is an a journey for the Grays.

Along the way, my wife and a number of my friends encouraged me to pursue my dream, of writing and publishing a simple guide filled not with ads but with information.  A guidebook that celebrates and encourages both hard climbers and the far more numerous beginners and moderate climbers who still just want to have fun.

Smoke Hole is a unique place, and I want to give it a unique guidebook, and one that serves several purposes.

Together, we can do that with the success of this project.

The Potomac Highlands are filled with incredible routes in unique settings. Some of these routes are over twenty years old.  I have replaced a lot of old cold shuts and substandard hangers, but as a part-time carpenter and full-time caregiver, my budget is limited by the realities of the economy.

Proceeds from this guide not used in promotion and distribution will go directly toward establishing PHAR/UP, the Potomac Highland Anchor Replacement/Upgrade Program, the brainchild of Mike Fisher, local route-setter, trail-bulder and resident hard man. Rusted bolts will be replaced with stainless steel, hangers will be painted to blend into the environment, and unwelded cold shuts swapped out for ring anchors and chain set-ups.

Additional proceeds will be used in organizing volunteer days for trash clean up as well as improving and maintaining trails, and whatever is left after that will go to supporting the creation of more great new routes. 

A page to track the used of funds raised will exist  on my blog: www.roninsroad.blogspot.com.

I have been fortunate enough to put up over 155 routes in my life, which means, in practical terms, that I have donated several thousand dollars’ worth of bolts, hangers, anchors, equipment, gas, and time to the safety and enjoyment of people who ae, for the most part, complete strangers; doing my part to contribute to the climbing community across the country over the last twenty-five years. 

Here’s the community’s chance to pay that investment forward, to the future. 

In fact, completion of this project and the printing of the Smoke Hole Guidebook will accomplish a number of goals.

One of the first effects will be supporting the local economy by bringing new visitors to the region, something this part of West Virginia desperately needs. 

Opening Smoke Hole and Reed's Creek will reduce numbers and thus impact at nearby climbing areas by offering easily-reached alternatives, promoting more informed access to a greater range of routes for moderate climbers and beginners, weekend warriors and expert elites. 

And, with any luck, the guide will open the door to further exploration and development by skilled climbers from all over the region, like the handful who already drive up to four hours each way to put up new routes and work on trails, captivated by the potential and the beauty of Smoke Hole. 

The place has that effect on people… look at me. I have lived all over the U.S.A. and I’m back here in West Virginia, climbing, hiking, building trail, going back to find all those “someday” crags of my youth and do all those routes I never got around to developing. 

Make your pledge of $30 or $50 or more, and we'll ship your guidebook as soon as they come off the press.  Help us support the project with a smaller gift, and we'll ship you a small token of thanks and send you emails to inform you of any events in the region.

It really is more than just supporting a project or buying a guidebook- it’s investing in the future of not just climbing, but the places in which we climb, and supporting safe access for climbers old and new. 

Risks and challenges

At this point, with over five years of work on the project, a publisher lined up and all the groundwork laid, the only remaining obstacle and challenge is the human factor. Landowners who have allowed their property to be included in this book always have the option and potential to change their minds regarding public access.

If this should happen, the author would immediately post notice of such closures and restrictions on all major climbing websites (mountainproject, supertopo, and rockclimbing.com), and email updates to all pledges and contacts.

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Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $10 or more About $10

    Receive one year of email updates and a gift from Owlfeather Jewelry, handcrafted by myself and my wife.

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    Pledge $10 or more About $10

    Anyone who can only afford $10-20 will be invited to one of three trail work weekends; July 26-27, the first weekend after we get the guides from the printer (sometime between Thanksgiving and early December), and the first weekend in April. Complete one day of our hands-on trail work seminar, join us for pizza and brews and get a Smoke Hole T-shirt, complete both days and get a copy of the guide with a T-shirt.

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    Pledge $30 or more About $30

    Pledges receive an unsigned copy of the guidebook upon publication.

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    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    Receive a copy of the guidebook signed by the author, notification of future guides and the option of email updates for one year.

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    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    Pledges of $250-499 will receive a signed, numbered copy, as well as receiving email updates on new routes, crags and events in the region.

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    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    Supporters who pledge $500-1,000 will be listed as premium supporters in the front of the guide, will receive a signed, numbered copy and email updates.

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Funding period

- (30 days)