New member guide

PATC Mountaineering Section New Members Guide

Welcome to the club! We’re glad you want to learn more. 


I’m a beginner, how do I learn all the necessary skills to participate?

We recommend the guide services out at Seneca, WV, as well as the classes offered by REI, Movement Gym, and Sportrock. These organizations provide professional and qualified instruction. The club does run educational events – designed not to be comprehensive, but rather a good intro. We do recommend courses and professional instruction as a follow up to our clinics. Check the Event page for upcoming climbing clinics. 

How do I know when trips and meetings are planned?

Check our events page for the latest information on upcoming trips. 

The mailing list is how the club communicates. Sign up here to subscribe to the mailing list and receive weekly updates email plus a monthly newsletter.

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @PotomacMountainClub 

I want to climb with the club, what do I need to do?

  • Know how to belay a climber. If you don’t know how to belay please sign up for a class at a local gym or with a licensed climbing guide. This is the best way to ensure you learn good technique and are comfortable managing the rope and climber before you come outside to climb. 
  • Sign up for a trip or join us at Carderock. From March through October club members can be found at Carderock on the first Wednesday of every month. All you need is a harness, shoes, and basic belay skills. If you know how to set up a top rope and have the gear, bring it.

Where are the local crags? 

  • The local crags are Great Falls, Carderock, and Sugarloaf Mountain. The club will regularly host top rope trips to these areas, and you can find members who are willing to meet up for a day of climbing at these locations because they are nearby. Read below for more information about local crags or check out our climbing central page for more information about the crags. 

Carderock (Maryland): The ever-popular afterwork spot. The approach is less than five minutes from the parking lot. There is one line of cliffs, about 40 feet high. There are climbs every few feet of the cliff. Everything is top roped.

Great Falls (Virginia): Right across the river from Carderock. The cliffs of Great Falls are much more spread out. Some of them take up to 15 minutes or so to hike to, and you must approach from the top. The variety here is a little greater than at Carderock with a number of good crack climbs mixed in. The climbing is inside Great Falls National Park. Everything can be top roped.

Buzzard’s Rock: Near Elizabeth Furnace, outside of Front Royal, VA. A broken cliff line a few hundred yards long and up to 100 feet high. Mostly slabby friction climbing in the 5.6-5.8 range, with a few harder and easier climbs, some requiring gear to protect mixed in. People mostly lead the routes at Buzzards, but some can be top roped. The approach is a 2.5 mile hike.

Seneca Rocks, WV: The best multi-pitch traditional climbing reasonably near to the DC area. Takes around 3 hours from DC. The approach is the infamous “Stairmaster” trail. Climbs are 1 to 3 pitches, and going to the south summit (the highest class 5 summit east of the Mississippi) is very popular. Many routes are mandatory multiple rappels off. Seneca has a well-deserved reputation for hard grades, steepness, and some loose rock, but also great views (especially in the fall) and a fun climbing community.

Old Rag, VA: A complex set of granite cliffs around Old Rag Mountain. This is very unusual for the area, and one of the few places around to practice on granite. The approach is long (usually two hours) and it is helpful to have somebody along who has been before. Some of the best crack climbs in the area are at Old Rag. A mix of one and two pitch traditional routes.

New River Gorge: More than 1000 routes on multiple cliffs above the New River. Most people stay around Fayetteville, WV and drive and hike to the cliffs. Exceptional, world-famous climbing. The cliffs are mostly one pitch, and most climbs can be top roped, but it is not really an area for beginners. The quality climbs mostly start at 5.9 and go up from there. Quite a few excellent crack climbs.

Little Stony Man, VA: A five-minute walk off Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. Very scenic. The cliff is around 50 feet high. Everything could be top roped, but the Appalachian Trail is right at the top of the cliff and the configuration makes it hard to rig top rope anchors (don’t put ropes over the trail). As a result, the area is more for trad climbing. The routes are mostly 5.4 to 5.7, but because of the rock and the layout it is a poor place to take leader falls.

Sugarloaf (Maryland): Multiple groups of cliffs on a hill. Wide variety of short climbs. Everything can be top roped (if you can find an anchor). Lots of trad climbing opportunities.

Pond Bank (also called White Rocks): In Pennsylvania. Short approach and a variety of climbs including an unusual number of crack climbs.

How about snow, alpine, ice, etc?

Yeah, we do that, too. Locally the pickings are thin, but they do exist. As far as this goes, you’ll find a couple of things.

  • The club sponsors an “Alpine Skills Weekend” at Mount Washington in the winter. This is an instructional trip, but it’s on Mount Washington in deep winter. That means you need to know how to handle the COLD before you try it, because frostbite can happen really fast up there. This trip fills up fast, so if you are interested contact the coordinator as soon as you hear it announced. You’ll need your own set of full winter gear to participate.
  • Some club members go out to various Shenandoah drips all winter in search of local ice climbing. Watch the google group for announcements. In general you’ll need your own gear and at least some basic ice climbing knowledge to participate. Some areas are not suitable for beginners.
  • To really get ice climbing in you need to go to Colorado (Ouray!), North Conway, or one of the other ice meccas. If this is really your thing you should talk to the members who do these personally. There is usually a club group in Ouray sometime in January.
  • A few people use a place called Gibbon’s Roost along the Potomac (south of Great Falls) for dry tooling practice.