Note: There exists a part one to this post, explaining its origins and outlining the objectives and rules for a bit more clarification. What is below is strictly an account of the events that occurred during GNARfest.
Alan and I delay our three hour drive until the evening before our presence is required. This means we aren’t pulling from the driveway until sometime around ten. About twenty minutes into the drive, after being passed by three fire engines and countless police cars, we realize we could not have chosen a worse time to be traversing hundreds of miles of highways in West Virginia. For starters, it is a Friday night. Not any normal Friday night. One that marks not only the beginning of Labor Day weekend but also the opening season Friday night football game. The 10 PM mark is what terminates these football games. The 10:30 marks the utter flood of traffic that is everyone attempting to exit at the same time, and us trying to forge through the blue light studded madness. We slowly jerk our way to the other side of the traffic, gradually picking up speed and pushing further through the thinning column of vehicles. I struggle to fight the leaden pull of my eyelids in order to keep a slightly nervous Alan company. I am unsuccessful.
We pull into the visitor’s center parking lot next to a familiar vehicle, sometime around midnight. Leaned nonchalantly against the rear corner is Kneil–alias Kurt Smith–a long time friend of Alan and one that we see all too infrequently. He and Alan greet one another and Alan immediately swing around to his trunk and cracks open one, two, three lukewarm beers, handing one to each of us. Halfway into these beers and some friendly conversation including some proclamations of excitement for this now so close event and some comments about the two (or three?) headlamps we see floating up on the rock; a primer gray hubcapless, electronic seatbelt boasting pile of scrap metal comes farting into the spot next to us. Our communication halts and our attention shifts to the shirtless youths, about our age, oozing from this vehicle. They ask us, pointing up towards the rock, downing the rest of their cheap beer, ashing their cigarettes, you guys goin up? They begin relating to us the reason we are now watching people climbing Seneca in the middle of the night. There is an annual festival called GNARfest where the guides all get together and do crazy things, they inform us. Both mine and Alan’s jaws drop, as subtly as possible while shooting one another side glances and sort of chuckling in shock. We patiently listen to their musings about this elusive event we so carefully constructed. As the two boys begin pulling on their headlamps, harnesses, chalkbags (the one for chalk and the one for beer), Alan walks over to confess his involvement in GNAR and to inform them they have now been officially invited and to show up on The Gendarme porch at 8AM the next morning. They are excited about this development and set off to join the other party on the summit, boldly (or drunkenly) leaving their rope behind.
Sometime near sunrise, after bedding down between our car and Kneil’s on the pavement, we are awoken a third time (once each previously by both returning climbing parties) to the gentle patter of cool raindrops on our faces. We quickly sling our things into our respective cars. Alan and I into a tiny Honda Civic, circa nineteen ninety something where we not only cram ourselves but our two dogs as well in another attempt at sleep.
Morning rolls around, rain still steady, to meet Alan, Kniel and myself considering breakfast on The Gendarme porch, awaiting the attendance of the participants. Slowly, the teams begin to show themselves, sleepy eyed and coffee weilding. One begins passing out cans of Budlight while another consumes a triple decker peanut butter and jelly sandwhich with his morning Guinness. Alan gathers the attention of all present, gives a quick speech concerning rules and objectives and opens GNARfest officially. The contestants set off robed in a brightly colored array of rain jackets, leaving in their wake a small mound of crushed beer cans and bottles.
Our two rope teams, meant to be made of four people are now three people and one rope team in light of JOSH’S absence. We continue lightheartedly regardless. Our climb to the summit is uneventful and surprisingly quiet for the activities currently taking place. Once settled, we crack open the rusted army green ammo box that contains the summit register to find a fresh notebook, apparently replaced in the wee hours of the morning. There are two entries, save the introductory note; our drunk, late night, last minute invitees.