The Endless Underworld Hike
By Jay Young
The New River Gorge is a view-rich environment. For those willing to walk a bit, the views are even better, because you can get to places others can't or won't go. When hiking in this area, a sense of adventure is your best friend, and for those willing to climb a few ladders, the views are blow-your-mind incredible.
Let's take, for example, the Endless Wall Loop Trail. Built by rock climbers in the late 1980s so they could more easily access the crown jewel of local cliffs, the EWLT has a trail head that's only a 5 minute drive from Rivermen/Adventures On the Gorge and follows the very rim of the Gorge for a huge percentage of its length. It offers several different views of the river, which is why its 3-mile length (and the shorter, more popular out-and-back variation) is so well trodden.
A little known fact, however, is that the Endless Wall Loop Trail has a secret cousin—let's call it the Endless Underworld Trail. Before I describe it, however, I should add a little disclaimer. This hike entails exceptionally rugged terrain. There exists potential for falls from cliffs in excess of 60 feet. It has ladders, boulders, poison ivy, slippery rocks, sections of off-trail walking, caves you have to hike through and in the summertime, there might be Copperheads. If you go on this hike, you might get very seriously hurt. You might even die. Especially if you're "afraid of heights," pick another stroll to do.
Go ahead and print this blog and all it's photos for directions (or bring a smart phone—you should have bars the whole way), but start by checking out The Best Hike Ever. Follow the directions for that hike through (and including) number 7. Okay? Okay! Let's do this!
1. Once the first half of The Best Hike Ever has deposited you at the bottom of the cliff, turn left going upstream (away from the Bridge), and walk through a tight corridor between the main cliff and an apartment-building-sized boulder. Exit the corridor (watch your step on some innocuous-looking, but rather slippery roots) and continue on.
2. We didn't see anybody out there on the day we took these pictures, but in the warmer months, you'll probably see rock climbers doing their thing on these cliffs. As amazing as the whitewater is here, the rock is even better, so "crown jewel of local cliffs" is really saying something. Endless Wall is known for being one of the taller cliffs in the area, for it's top-to-bottom crack systems, and for the technical, heady nature of its climbing. Many are the traveling gunslingers who journeyed to Endless only to be shut down by the emotional and mental rigors of the harder climbs here. But for those who get used to it, Endless is often a lifelong favorite.
If you're not a climber yourself, you should know it's entirely acceptable to wave, say hi and ask a question or two. Steer clear of the dumb questions, though, like, "How do you get the rope up there?" and "Do you mind if I try?" As you pass, don't step on any of their equipment, and keep your own noise levels down a bit, since climbers' lives sometimes hinge on their ability to communicate with each other.
3. The hike along the bottom of Endless Wall will seem long, but in fact, it isn't. You'll be down there for maybe a 1/4 mile altogether. It will go slowly, though, because there's a lot to see and the terrain is rough in places. At one point, you'll come to a 100-meter wide amphitheater cut into the rock, where you'll have two choices: one, continue to stroll the bottom of the cliff, or two, cut through the talus and cross the hillside. Either way is tough going, but cutting across is definitely the easier way.
4. After your 1/4-mile scramble, you'll come to a system of ladders similar to the ones that got you to the bottom of the cliff. These ladders are longer, though, and the damage resulting from a fall would be greater, so be careful! Climbers call this system the Honeymooners' Ladders.
5. Atop the first ladder, stroll a short but exposed walkway to gain a dark crevice. Up in there, you'll see a second ladder. Have at it. That ladder will take you to the top of the cliff.
6. Once you've gained the cliff-top, you'll see a trail that cuts immediately back in the direction from which you came and one that heads straight back into the woods. Take the second one straight back for around 50 feet until it hits the Endless Wall Loop Trail. Turn left to head back across the top of the cliff.
One of the first places you'll come to is Diamond Point Overlook. If you've ever rafted the New River, you might recall a point where the cliff line above you juts out into the Gorge. (From the river it looks as though the cliff ends.) That's Diamond Point. In the photo, Michelle is looking out over Double Z, Seldom Seen (because the river was at about 16 feet that day), Hook 99, Harmon's and Greyound Bus.
Once you've had your fill of overlooks (does anybody ever really have their fill of overlooks?) continue along the trail until you're back at your car.
If you're interested in a longer version of the Endless Underworld Hike, pass the Honeymooners' Ladders and continue along the bottom of the cliff for maybe 1/2-3/4 mile more. Eventually, you'll hit yet another system, called the Miner's Ladders. Take that to the top and then head back left. Be careful if it's close to dark, though. The extension can potentially add several hours to your walk.