If climbing up the side of a mountain while looking down to the ground 200 feet below sounds appealing to you, then this is an absolute MUST in West Virginia. If it sounds somewhat appealing but your dilemma is a fear of falling, then this is STILL for you. If you have zero interest in climbing or heights or anything of the sort... sorry, you’ll need to sit this one out.
First things first, a “Via-What”? A Via Ferrata. By direct translation, Via Ferrata is an Italian term meaning, “iron path”. They are especially common in the European Alps. A Via Ferrata is a particular climbing route that is has metal ladders, rails, and other things that are securely anchored into the mountain, making it easier (and safer) to get around. Harnesses are worn and you will use a carabiner, which secures you to a cable at all times, making the risk factor exponentially low. You will, however, be exposed to a couple hundred foot drops, so I highly suggest listening closely to your guide’s instructions. Of course there’s always a possibility of injury, so do this at your own risk. Think of it as a few steps below legitimate rock climbing.
For me personally, it’s the best of all worlds. Rock climbing with only ropes and my bare hands absolutely terrifies me. The Via Ferrata however, allows us to climb while putting our minds at ease. Win-win, right?
WHERE IT’S LOCATED
Nelson Rocks is located in Circleville within the North Fork Valley of West Virginia, about 10 miles away from the infamous Seneca Rocks. It’s located on private property and is only accessible through a company called NRocks Adventures.
141 Nelson Gap Road
-There isn’t cell service around so unless you’re familiar with the area, I suggest printing directions or pre-loading your Google Maps before leaving town.
-There also weren’t any food options nearby! So pack a lunch for after your adventure.
Travel Time Approximations:
Washington D.C. -3.5 hours
Charleston VA- 3 hours
Pittsburgh PA- 3 hours 40 minutes
Richmond VA- 3 hours 15 minutes
Roanoke VA- 3.5 hours
Maps from nearby cities
THE TOUR COMPANY:
We don’t own any equipment and weren’t particularly educated on how to tackle this alone, so we found a company that offers guided tours. As it turns out, the “Nelson Rock” formations are privately owned by NRocks Outdoor Adventures. I couldn’t recommend them enough! We made a reservation to assure we had a spot. They lead tours on Via Ferratas, zip lines, and regular rock climbing. There is even an option for a full moon tour if dancing, uhhh, climbing, in the moonlight is your jam.
INFO ABOUT THE VIA FERRATA:
-Minimum age is 13 years old
-Must be in decent physical shape
-You will be climbing a couple hundred feet and will need to hike at a steady incline in order to get to the beginning of the route. The hike is fairly short.
-Duration: Expect 4-5 hours
-What if I’m too scared? There are two exit points along the route, in case you decide at any point that a Via Ferrata is not for you. But i have faith in you!
High season: March-October is $125 USD per person.
Low Season: November 15-March 15 is $80 USD
What to wear/bring:
-Closed toe shoes with good traction! I wore my La Sportiva trail runners that worked great. I’ll link them here
-A small backpack with water and snacks. We brought some trailmix, a protein bar, and an apple.
-A lightweight jacket or long sleeved shirt just in case the weather changes.
-Sunscreen, as most of the route is exposed to the sun.
-Your camera if you have one (you will need to secure it with a carabiner to your harness if you have it out of your bag).
-I wore a hat underneath my helmet. I was the only one, but it kept the sun out of my eyes.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE:
-You will need to sign a waiver and information sheet.
-Your tour guide will give you the run down before you start your tour. You will be taught how to put on your harness and they will double check that it fits correctly. They will also make sure your helmet is secure around your chin.
-Once you get to the base of the mountain, you’ll be taught how to use your carabiners properly. Listen up! That part is important.
We had an absolute incredible time. We got there about 20 minutes early just to make sure our paper work was filled out and we got to mingle with our tour guide for a few minutes. Since Kev and I are both photographers, we made sure that we were the last ones in the group to ascend. We had a group of 9 I believe, including our guide. We wanted to make sure that we had plenty of time to get the shots that we wanted and not be rushed and/or hold up the group.
Pretty much if you can climb a ladder, you can do the Via Ferrata. It’s very straightforward and the most important rule to abide by is that you have one of your two carabiners on the cable at all times. There was one pitch that was a little scary for me but I did it with no problem.
About halfway through is an option to opt out and take advantage of one of the exit points. You won’t need that though, because you’re a badass. Here, there is a huge suspension bridge that is pretty intimidating, I’m not going to lie. It’s 150 feet above the ground and a wobbly 200 feet across. It’s made of little wood planks that have a huge space in between them, so you can look straight down (or not). This was the scariest part of the tour but also the most exhilarating. It also made for epic photos!
After this, the climbing continued. There was one part that was optional, as it was basically a 100 foot vertical wall. Everybody in our group opted in. My arms got tired and it was strenuous, but the views were astonishing! I highly recommend doing it. You got this!
After that, we were pretty much just heading back. It was a loop and we were more than halfway through. Don’t let your guard down though because you are still up very high! Once we were finished with the climbing portion, we stopped at this insanely beautiful viewpoint that overlooked all of Nelson Rocks.
Finally, we were back on the gravel road. We did it. I survived my first Via Ferrata. Kevin had done one before so he knew the “ropes”. Pun? Yes. Once we got back to the building, everybody removed their equipment and high- fived, then said our goodbyes. I proceeded to make a PB&J in the van. I cannot recommend this enough (both the PB&J and the Via Ferrata)! If you’re in West Virginia, DO IT!
Special thanks to our friend's over at NRocks Adventures!
Thanks for reading this blog post on the Nelson Rocks Via Ferrata! I hope you enjoyed. As always, we will be posting our travels on YouTube and Instagram. Follow along for more epic adventures!