Cragging at the Gunks, NY

October 27 - November 17, 2008

We spent three weeks climbing at the Gunks in late fall 2008. Overall, we liked the climbing there, despite the huge crowds, the outrageous fees imposed by the Mohonk "Preserve" ($15/person/day for climbing, and biking costs extra!), the unpleasant camping situation, and the sandbagged ratings.

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The Shawangunks (Gunks for short) cliffs. Owned by the Mohonk "Preserve".
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It's all about money. Access fees are outrageous here.
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Not to mention the Skytop Cliff area open to guided parties only...
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Typical mid-week crowd at the Trapps parking area.
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Eric trying to find his way around on our first day there.

Finding a place to stay was really an issue for us. Climbers have the choice between two free campgrounds, both very aptly named: the Slime at the Preserve near the Trapps parking lot, and the Multi-(ab)use area (on south side of Route 299, 5 miles West of New Paltz), managed by DEC (Department of Conservation). We could not park the bus in either: the Slime is a tent-only area and the DEC campsites are too small to accomodate our bus. We saw people camping in the Trapps parking lot, but when we asked the powers at be at the Preserve, we were told we could not park the bus there - even after paying them the hefty $135 fee (for two) for just a month of climbing! We were hoping to negociate a shorter term membership since we were only visiting for a couple weeks. We even talked to their Communications Director about giving them some publicity. Again, they were rather unfriendly and not opened to any sort of negotiation. In our opinion, they should offer a monthly membership for visiting climbers. We also asked them whether we could park the bus on some of their other empty parking areas. And the answer was a firm "NO", once again.

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At first, we tried to pick well protected crack systems... - Eric on "Something Interesting" (5.7+)
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...to get used to the steep rock. Lucie on "Rhododendron" (5.6).
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Eric on "Laurel" (5.9), getting a first taste of the roofs the Gunks are famous for.
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Views.
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Finding a spot to camp proved to be even harder than in NH. Spending a few days at Wal-Mart in Poughkeepsie... suburban hell.

That did not leave us with a lot of options. We tried a couple of places around New Paltz, but were almost immediately asked to leave, even though there was no indication of the fact you could not park there... Most of the private campgrounds were closing or already closed (and outrageously expensive in any case: as in $45/night and up!). We eventually resolve to drive to Poughkeepsie and park at the closest Wal-Mart.

In the meantime, we did our best to get used to the steep rock and roofs the Gunks are famous for. We started with well protected crack lines such as "Something Interesting" and "Rhododendron", before getting on more typical face climbs.

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Leading "City Lights" (5.8, 2p) on a very cold day.
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It's almost Halloween and the leaves are at their peak.
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On the belay ledge atop "Shockley's Ceiling".
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Eric just below the crux roof. Still rated 5.6 in many guidebooks, it's a good 5.8+.
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Lucie getting a feeling for the steep rock on "Horseman" (5.5).

Our two favorite 5.9's at the Gunks are indubitably "Ant's Line" and "Bonnie's Roof".

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The peanut gallery is in awe!
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Our two favorite 5.9's at the Gunks are right next to each other: "Ant's Line", a corner crack that felt fair at 5.9...
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...and "Bonnie's Roof.
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Be ready for an intimidating and exposed climax if you choose the direct exit (10a) on Bonnie's Roof.
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Back at the car after a good day of climbing.

After a few days in Poughkeepsie's suburbia hell, we were ready to leave if we could not find a better solution. We were asking local farmers (and realters!) whether we could park on their property. Fortunately, one of them gave us the permission to park on his land, on an unused grassy parking area, right by a seasonal pumpkin patch. This made a huge difference to our morals. We were now legally parked on a good spot, conveniently located about halfway between New Palts and the rock.

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After a few days at Wal-Mart, we got the OK from a local farmer to park by his field next to the road.
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Lucie on "Jackie" (5.5, 2p), another well protected line that follows a crack system...
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...and turns a small roof on the second pitch.
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The Uberfall area near is very popular with guided parties. A rare day when we had it to ourselves.
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Eric on "Apoplexy" (5.9+) - just right of "Horseman" - just before getting thoroughly pumped!

Besides "Bonnie's Roof", "CCK" and "Directissima" to "High Exposure" were two of the more exciting climbs we've done at the Gunks.

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Downtown New Paltz. A pleasant college town with all the amenities (climbing shop, several coffee shops and a yoga studio).
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"CCK" (5.8+) is another classic outing. The traverse of the third pitch is really airy, especially for the second.
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"CCK": Eric leading the exposed 3rd pitch.
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Views.
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Following "Directissima" (5.9), a pumpy direct start to "High Exposure".

The leaves at their peak really added another dimension to the climbing.

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A party on "High Exposure". The leader is about to tackle the exposed roof (5.6!).
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Views from the farmer's field near our improvised camp.
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Lucie leading the fun roof on the 3rd pitch of "Maria" (5.6).
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Hey, we can even see the bus from here! Views from up high on the cliff.
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Election night at the Muddy Cup, the most popular coffee shop in New Paltz.

This page features only a few of the climbs we've done. For a complete list of the climbs we enjoyed at the Gunks, see our Climbs page.

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Lucie on the first pitch of "Frog's Head" (5.6, 2p).
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At the belay atop the 2nd pitch.
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The real frog.
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Eric enjoying the cool roof moves of "BB" (5.8+).
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Hawk (?) soaring along the cliff.

By mid-november, the weather started turning for the worst.

Novenber 18: it's been raining almost continuously for three days. The meadow we are parked in with the bus is starting to get very soft and muddy. We still manage to climb a couple of times at the Near Trapps on better days, but it's getting really cold too. There should be ice in New Hampshire real soon. Time to move on!

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Lucie on "Bunny Direct" (5.6).
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The unofficial Near Trapps parking lot. There is officially a two-hour parking limit, but many climbers use it anyway.
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Climbing at the Near Trapps. Eric leading "Alphonse" (5.8).
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On "Birdland" (5.8 PG). A nice face climb, but the most sandbagged 5.8 we've ever been on...
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Hanging out in nearby Saugerties on a rainy day.

Guidebook: If this is your first time visiting the area, "The Gunks" by Zach Orenczak and Rachael Lynn has very useful color pictures to help you find your way around. Locals dismiss this guidebook (this might have something to do with the fact that some of the climbs have been uprated in the topos...) and prefer the book by Dick Williams. We liked Orenczak and Lynn's much better, and found the color pitcures essential to find the climbs. For the Near trapps, we used "The Climber's Guide to the Shawangunks" by Dick Williams, and thoroughly hated it. With that book, we spent most of our time trying to figure out where we were. "Selected Climbs in The Northeast" by Peter Lewis ans Dave Horowitz also has a good selection of the best routes in the area (for both The Trapps and The near Trapps).