Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Unsung Heroes of Smoke Hole: Michael Farnsworth

I first met Mike Farnsworth as I meet most people who impact my life; I was out climbing.

My wife Cindy and I had joined some of the other folks spending the afternoon at the little crag of Reed's Creek, just outside Smoke Hole Canyon. A Seneca veteran with hard first ascents scattered across the nearby states, Mike had already bolted 'Harlem', the powerhouse 5.12+/13- cave route and alternate start to my line 'Winterharvest'.

When we arrived, he was strolling up the juggy lines of The Gypsies Wall, after recon of the direct, overhanging alternate finish to the sustained 5.10 'Apophis', an extension that would eventually become the 5.12 'Skywalker'.

After a few comments on the sweet weather and good routes, typical crag chatter, Mike introduced himself and complimented us on both routes and trail work.  We talked about the crag and climbing in the canyon, exchanged phone numbers, and planned to talk again in the near future.

Drilling anchors on the old project Bad Drugs, above the floodwaters of Copperhead Cove

(Mike eventually bolted Skywalker on lead and crushed the first ascent. He later created the short but dynamic Shorty Longback.)

Over the following months, at belays between climbing and over drinks and Mexican food in a restaurant in Elkton where we were both working, we shared our fascination with Smoke Hole, as I came to appreciate Mike’s enthusiasm for the outdoors, something equaled only by his dedication to and undeniable skill in the discipline of hard climbing.

Mike in turn praised the trail work and access efforts we had made in the region, and shared his desire to create good hard lines on the overhanging walls of the canyon.
That conversation led us to the Darkside of Long Branch, where I showed him the overhanging monster face that Troy Johnson had begun climbing and bolting on lead in the mid-90s. The decades-old line had seen little or no activity, even with hard climbers swarming Franklin and Seneca, and Mike’s enthusiasm couldn’t be hidden as he scanned the overlapping roofs leading to the thin vertical finish.

Mike was soon rapping, jugging, cleaning and bolting powerhouse projects, while still enjoying moderates and sweet trad.

When we published the first edition of The Climbers’ Guide to Smoke Hole the following year, Mike was one of the people who worked tirelessly to promote the book and spread the word about our Kickstarter campaign.

Thanks to Mike and friends, we reached our goal well within the 30-day deadline, and were able to publish and distribute the guidebook, generating funds and volunteers to support trail work and anchor replacement throughout the canyon area.

We ran into each other less and less as work and life took me away from the area, but it was always a pleasure to see Mike at the crags.

Big gear and big dude vs monster crack; racking up for the first ascent of 'Overcammedensation'.

The amazing Overcammedensation dihedral and roof.
Mister Farnsworth, locked in combat with the beast.
Mike Farnsworth’s contributions to the hard climbing in the canyon include The Lightness, The Darkness, Gone Sniffin’, the Ron Jeremy Arete, Overcammedensation, and Biggest Grin Wins. His hard ascents throughout the WV region have raised the bar for climbers, and his willingness to help and support those just coming into the game, no matter how little experience they have, makes him unique in the typically narcissistic, exclusive circles of hard technical climbing.

Like most people, I thought of Mike as a nice guy and an exceptional climber. and like most people, I had no clue that this inspiring climber and fun human being suffers from Lupus.

Earlier in life, Mike received a kidney transplant from his mother, a gift that allowed him to live a life less ordinary and to create not only great climbs but great friends among the climbing community, where he has acted as a mentor to so many aspiring students and newcomers, across the country and over the years.

Recently, just as so many things seemed to be going right in his life, the disease took a turn for the worse, and Mike suffered another kidney failure. In a matter of months, he will begin dialysis.

 Life for Mike Farnsworth has returned to a schedule of medicine and treatment, but there is hope; a new kidney would see this hardcore climber and dedicated supporter of climbing back in the game in short order.

To learn more about this adopted son of the Smoke Hole tribe's fight and how you can help, go to