Deep-water soloing 101 in West Virginia


The towering sandstone cliffs surrounding the crystal waters of Summersville Lake seem to beckon climbing of all kinds, from top-roping, which relies on a belayer and anchor system, to deep-water soloing, in which daredevil climbers scale rocks over a body of water without the use of ropes, harnesses or other protective gear.

Deep-water soloing is not normally sanctioned at Summersville Lake but, inspired by Bridge Day — the one day of the year BASE jumpers are permitted to parachute from the New River Gorge Bridge — the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the lake to PsicoRoc, the first outdoor deep-water soloing competition in U.S. history.

Held in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Summersville Dam, the August 2016 event brought climbers from all over the country eager to tackle the adrenaline-charged sport before a cheering audience lined up across the lake in pontoons, kayaks and inner tubes. Money raised from the event was to be used to help build a parking area at Whippoorwill, one of the lake’s most popular climbing spots.

Deep-water soloing is only possible during the summer months when the lake is at full capacity. Unlike regular soloing, climbers over deep water have the added security of a water landing should they lose their grip on one of the many crimps, slopers or pockets that mark the gnarly verticals and overhangs above Summersville Lake. (But safe water landing requires a certain skill set as well!)

Summersville climbing opportunities

If you weren’t able to make it to PsicoRoc, there are still plenty of other climbing opportunities at Summersville Lake. After the lake is drawn down in the fall and winter, additional climbing routes emerge, including Whippoorwill, Long Point, The Rat’s Hole and Pirates Cove.

The lake has about 150 bolted and traditional routes that can be climbed with a rope. Sport climbs range from 5.7 to 5.14 in difficulty while ascensions range from 30 to 100 feet. While rock climbing may sound daunting, you don’t have to be an expert to tackle this adventure. Several local outfitters offer guide service and will set you up with safety gear and coach you through the process.

The largest lake in West Virginia, the 2,700-acre Summersville Lake is a popular destination for numerous outdoor sports including fishing, boating and scuba diving, while hiking trails and campgrounds provide plenty of recreation along the 65-mile shoreline. Summersville Lake also is home to West Virginia’s only lighthouse.

This post was last updated on July 30, 2020