Deep water soloing banned at Summersville Lake

by Tom Markiewicz on May 31, 2007

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (who built many of the man made lakes in this country) has banned cliff jumping and diving on all of its managed recreation property in the Huntington District in West Virginia. This area includes the popular Summersville Lake climbing area. Apparently, at least one climber called the office listed below and confirmed that the ban includes deep water soloing.

The rule that specifically bans deep water soloing is “Entering the lake from a height greater than oneâ??s own is always prohibited.”


Here’s the full press release:

Effective immediately, the Huntington District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is banning cliff jumping/diving on all district managed recreational property.

Cliff jumping/diving is a reckless and potentially very dangerous activity that has always been strongly discouraged on USACE recreational projects. Recent water-related accidents and fatalities have prompted Huntington District to take the lead in prohibiting this activity.

Overall, there have been 69 water-related deaths in the Huntington District since 1993; there were seven deaths in 2006.

Warnings will be posted at district projects alerting users of the dangers associated with cliff jumping/diving and advising them of the ban. Warnings will be issued by park rangers explaining the dangers associated with the activity.

Failure to heed warnings may result in citation under Title 36, which may result in a penalty of up to $5,000 or even federal imprisonment.

District lakes where the ban is now in effect include: Alum Creek, Deer Creek, Delaware, Dillon, North Branch of Kokosing and Paint Creek Lakes in Ohio; Beech Fork, Bluestone, Burnsville, East Lynn, R.D. Bailey, Summersville, and Sutton Lakes in West Virginia; Dewey, Fishtrap, Grayson, Paintsville and Yatesville Lakes in Kentucky; and John W. Flannagan in Virginia.

For more information, please contact the Public Affairs office at (304) 399-5353.

  • http://www.rock-climbing-for-life.com Ryan

    Man that sucks, we were going to be going up there this summer.

    http://www.rock-climbing-for-life.com/climbing-news-blog.html

  • http://www.totels.com/blooteredcerebrations/ ewtotel

    â??Entering the lake from a height greater than oneâ??s own is always prohibited.â?ť

    Soo… as long as I don’t FALL, I’m not breaking the law, right?

  • http://www.allclimbing.com Tom

    @ewtotel true, if you don’t fall I guess you’re not breaking the law. They’d probably still try to nail you with reckless endangerment though just to make a point!

  • Michael Becker

    A bunch of Bureaucrats making up rules about something that they don’t understand. What a Bunch of Bull. Something like 70 people died from ATV accidents but there always around the lake. What about the trash at the lake. Thats Ok! We keep making laws protecting us from ourselves. We need to be responsible for our own actions. I feel for the families of those that died but it was a choice that person made. Oh well. Tough. What’s next banning all climbing because a few people died doing something they love!!

  • http://www.shenandoahmountainguides.com Chad Heddleston

    Here’s a letter I sent to the Corp of Engineers the ones who posted the restriction.

    This Memorial Day weekend 17 friends and I went on a vacation trek from Virginia, and Maryland to visit a place we love. We came to the beautiful, wild and wonderful, Summersville Lake. For the last seven years I have fallen in love with the place while safely falling from many of its cliffs. Over these past years I have spent many of my vacations here rock climbing. This year my friends and I came to do my favorite thing in the world, deep water soloing.

    Deep water soloing is one of the purest, and to me most rewarding, forms of rock climbing where a climber ascends a rock overhanging deep water sans any gear. It is the most complete feeling of freedom I have ever experienced.

    You might imagine my heart break when I received a notice that cliff jumping / diving is now prohibited on all Huntington District Lakes and that I would be risking $5,000 and six months imprisonment to do something I love and have done safely for so long. I felt me freedom had been ripped away.

    I am an adventure sport educator, licensed climbing guide, wilderness EMT, and high angle rescue technician and I would like to tell you about an experience I had several weeks ago while guiding a rock climbing trip in Maryland. While at the rocks a group of high school / college age young adults showed up to free solo all the climbs in the area. The climbers were not climbing above water, but instead the jagged rock and hillside below. Had one of them fallen he or she would have been seriously injured or killed. I had a talk with them and told them what they already knew, that what they were doing was stupid. We talked some about the joys of climbing and I was able to offer a great alternative to the risks they were taking, deep water soloing at Summersville Lake. I explained that falling into water from height hurts, sometimes badly, but the key was that you donâ??t die. Risking it all for a rock climb is not worth it, risking a red backside is. Please donâ??t take this outlet away from us.

    When you are standing on top of a cliff or in route on a deep water solo and you look down, it is very obvious that the choices you make in life have consequences. This is a lesson we must all learn and one that is taught well through reflection during a deep water solo or a cliff jump.

    The beauty of the lake remains, but I hate to see the wild and wonderful slip away.

    Chad Heddleston

    Sperryville, Va.

  • Cam

    Does anyone know if this is being enforced?

  • http://www.myspace.com/joshisghetto Josh

    please sign our petition to get cliff jumping legal again.

    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/summersvillecj/index.html

  • joe

    what is stupid about the whole thang is that if pepole cant jump from well known jumping
    places then there going to go futher out were so they wont get got.but there is no pepole incase somthing did happen which it woulnt
    and if you look at it this way if 60 some pepole really did die (R.I.P for those who did) just think about the millons and millons of jumps that
    pepole havnt died anyway if you have expreinenced a good jump your going do do it agian no matter what you well find a way theres no other way to look at it but ive jumped im alive and IM GOING TO JUMP AGIAN PLAN AND SIMPEL. i was up there today and those umm!@###@$$@#$$#@%$ pepole siad no jumping
    above six feet. i siad ok i wont that !$##^&$**&& went around the corner boom rite back to jumping anyway ive only jumped in copel diffrent spaces in summersvile a it was really fun and i plan to do it agian and agian
    and find bigger and better places. and if i had a cule how to sign that petition i would but ill say yes fom here.

    P.S those park rangers or whatevr there called
    probablay go out when nobodys whatn jump jump and jump because i meen who cant rezist the thrill.

    SDL NAW MEEN

  • Joe

    Its Nature!!!!! If you do this, you know the risk! The ultimate risk being death, and you take this into consideration. So it shouldn’t be banned!

  • Evan

    I was up there this summer and was water bouldering. A ranger saw me jump from 40 feet and came over to have a chat with me. He told me everything I already knew, but I played the dumb card like I had no idea. But I asked him about water bouldering and he said that if we fall and do not jump it is not illegal. A fall is something that just happens, you cant plan for it, but you can plan a jump and so I find this new law a complete joke and dont see it as a long term thing. I would much rather be ready for an impact from 40 feet than having a fall and landing on my back, because I didnt want to get a $5,000 dollar fine or imprisoned. Im working on a survey about all this and am going to distribute them this summer there. This law is plain stupid!

  • http://www.allclimbing.com Tom Markiewicz

    @Evan – Very interesting. I’ll have to keep that in mind for next summer!

  • David

    Evan makes a good point, and also has given me an idea of how to weasel around it:

    From the ranger’s words, it sounds like “falling” (which happens more or less without intention…as opposed to jumping) is legal because it is TECHNICALLY an “accident” since you did not intend to fall.

    Thus, it would seem to me that they technically cannot fine you for deep water soloing as long as you do not purposely jump. For all anybody knows, your well meaning intention is to climb the damn cliff face and you dont want to fall. But if your muscles give out, or you miss a hold….oops the water saved ya.

  • Wes Pomeroy

    I was planning on try to DWS in summersville this summer…has anyone been up there recently and tried to climb? has anyone gotten any static from the rangers, etc?

  • http://www.visitsummersvillewv.com mike

    If you go during the week there is not as much pressure from DNR.The weekends are when they patrol the lake the most.I haven’t seen any tickets issued this year .

  • ts

    I’ve climbed 3 times there since the ban and will always keep climbing there, I never have caught any flak about it, but if I did, I would play the dumb card and mention that I have been doing this for half a decade without incident. If they say it is dangerous I would disagree as the other option to for me is to solo over rock. If they insist I will go free solo apollo reed at the coloseum, and tehy can watch from thier little boat. That to me seems much more dangerous but if that is what they want me to do, than so be it. In fact they are implying the only form of free soloing allowed at summersville is solo over rocks as the water is way too dangerous. The intent of the ban is to stop the drunk idiots from talking a gumby into jumping and getting killed. Once again climbers are getting a bad rep from idiots that happen to be there. Most climbing accidents are in fact hiking/sight seeing accidents at climbing lacations when people try to act brave and get close to the edge of a cliff. (hey those climbers look like they are being brave so I can be brave too!) Then again we live in an age of reverse darwinism. Gotta keep idiots safe, and lawyers make sure idots are well protected from their own idiocy. Lastly I don’t knwo why the USACE is so worried, as a gov’t agency they are free from liability, you can’t sue the gov’t so they need to just shut the f*ck up and stop ruining this once great county by passing laws on issues they know little about.

  • Heather

    Hey all I am a local of the Summersville Lake area and I actually work at one of the campgrounds on the lake. The ban on diving and dws is a something we have been fighting all year. But at any rate I am a climber also and one thing I hate about the lake is that you cant take climbing gear on anything but kayaks sooo….. my question is do you think if I opened up a charter company for the climbers that it would be worth while do you think when you come to this area you would like to be chartered out and treated like well “gold” let me know what you think.
    heather_hamrickwv@yahoo.com

  • jesse edwards

    listen i was on my way back from myrtle beach and i have went to summersville lake a few times now and me and my family decided to go there and i saw that no diving was posted and i was shocked i couldn’t belive it i have never got a greater feel than jumping off those rocks i still went and jumped and you know what it was well worth the risk it is a great feeling and i will keep on doing it as many times as i can because i am not going to let them ruin my fun sometimes getting the greatest feel of your life means taking huge risks its a big gamble with an even bigger payoff

  • Tyler

    Is there any likelihood that the ban will ever be lifted in the future? I know of the ban and was able to DWS the summer before the ban took place. It seems to me that a place that thrives off of tourism, would close off something that brings so many people to that area. We may not be fishermen or water skiers but climbers do bring a lot of cash to that area. Does the town of Fayetteville have any say in the matter? of the closing of the lake? Here is what I am carious about. How many kayakers and rafters died do to the army core of engineers draining the lake so that the rapids at the New can get bigger? It just seems like a weird double standard.
    .I was also wondering does the access fund know about this and if so, what they have heard from the Army. I would like to See if there is a way to reopen the lake to DWS. Maybe open the cliffs to people that purchase a permit and sign a waiver. That way the army core cant be blamed for anything because they now hold a document saying you know the risk. Sorry if I have ranted but im looking for some info so that one day this gem could be reopened.

  • Vince

    People who jump and get hurt bring the wrath of dictators upon the enlightened. That’s the way government works. It is unreasonable and always poorly administered. Name one thoughtful, efficient government program. Not mediocre, or sufficient, but excellent. THAT is why we need freedom to operate and buyer beware. Petitioning a gov bureau is useless. Welcome to 1984. If you give the fed too much power, they run your life.

  • http://promotewrite.com Joel Nielson

    Dang! I just found about this place! The photos look amazing… can anyone recommend other great spots to deep water solo?

    It would be much appreciated!

    - Joel Nielson
    The Ad Critter

  • chris

    So even though this article is old and I didn’t read all of the comments, i must say, thank you, Tom, for doing your research.

    I’ve been deep water soloing at summersville lake for 5 years now. I was there this weekend with the army corps patrol boat watching us climb. A few years ago after we heard about the “climbing ban”, my friend and i went down to summersville anyway and he talked personally to the army corps engineers who confirmed that THERE IS NO BAN on deep water soloing. Even the press release above says nothing about climbing.

    So here’s the catch; when you climb, you have to “fall”. You can actually fall or you can “fall”. All this means is you have to be facing the rock when you “fall”. This means you’re not cliff jumping or diving – and that’s how you get around the cliff jumping ban.

    Not to mention the army corps boats have blue sirens on the top and you can jump all you want as long as you don’t see an army corps boat around.

    Happy Deep Water Soloing, people.

  • Kara

    Guys, I hate to break it to you, but the “FALL” idea will NOT work. I’m a climber and a lawyer and I plan to break the rules, but this law bans entering the water from a certain height regardless of your “mens rea” or your intent. Like traffic violations, it is strict liability so there is no culpability requirement. “I fell” and “He pushed me” isn’t any different from “I didn’t know you couldn’t park there” or “I couldn’t see the stop sign” or “I thought the speed limit was different”

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