Climbing also took place at nearby Nelson Rocks and Champe Rocks, and at Blackwater Canyon near Davis in Tucker County.
The Seneca Rocks climbing school was operated as part of the West Virginia Maneuver Area, directed by the 13th Army Corps. More than 100,000 soldiers were trained in five West Virginia counties. It got about 16,000 fresh troops every eight weeks.
West Virginia was chosen because the terrain was similar to Italy's Apennine Mountains, where the soldiers were headed.
The soldiers lived in a camp along the river north of Seneca Rocks. Each climbing instructor was assigned 10 men. At the end of the first week, the four weakest climbers were dropped. The remaining six got an additional week of advanced climbing training.
More than 75,000 pitons were reportedly installed on Seneca Rocks by the soldier climbers in 1943-44. One area at Seneca Rocks has been dubbed the Face of Thousand Pitons. The military training ended July 1, 1944.
Seneca Rocks features nearly 400 routes that range in difficulty from an easy 5.0 to a very hard 5.13. The rock is 440 million years old and erosion-resistant.
There is the North Peak and the South Peak with a central notch in between. It was filled by a rocky feature known as the Gendarme until 1987, when it toppled.
The cliffs provide top-quality climbing. It is a traditional climbing area with few pre-positioned anchors or bolts. You do it on your own. Yes, climbers have died on Seneca Rocks.
The first recorded ascent of Seneca Rocks was in 1935, but in 1939, three climbers found an inscription dating back to 1905.
There is an online history of Seneca Rocks available at www.senecarocksmuseum.org.
Seneca Rocks Climbing School and Seneca Rocks Mountain Guides typically handle up to 600 climbers a year from April to late October.
The three-day classes cover basic knots, equipment, belaying and rappelling techniques, base anchors and setting up top-rope situations. Students progress from short to multi-pitch climbs.
There are typically three students and one instructor. Instruction costs $225 and up.
There is another climbing area nearby, Nelson Rocks Outdoor Center at Circleville.
The privately owned area of 145 acres includes two imposing rocky fins about 1,200 feet long with 300-foot-high sheer cliffs. It offers rock climbing, Via Ferrata (a fixed rock-climbing route with cables and stainless steel rungs), canopy tours and hiking.
For more information, contact Nelson Rocks at 877-435-4842, www.nelsonrocks.org.
The town of Seneca Rocks is not big, with a few motels and campgrounds. It can fill up on weekends with climbers.