Climb Like a Local: The Gunks

07/20/2017

Categories: Climb Like a Local

One of the country’s oldest climbing areas, the Gunks is a trad climber’s paradise located in New York state. It’s known for its airy roofs, long traverses, and big exposure, all on quartz conglomerate. Be prepared to be sandbagged.


Photo courtesy of Tomas Donoso

Why We Love It: The old school trad ethic prevails at the Gunks, so don’t expect to find any sport routes. Two of the major crags on the Mohonk Preserve—Lost City and Bonticou—even have a no-guidebook ethic. Feel free to ask locals for beta, but otherwise embrace the adventure climbing: show up, pick a line, and climb it! And although the Gunks is notorious for sandbagging unsuspecting visitors, it also has a huge percentage of moderate and easy routes, making it a great place to learn trad leading.

Local Vibe: Gunks locals are a tight-knit, beta swapping bunch. Local climbers tend to be super-involved in the climbing community, whether they’re helping maintain the trails that criss-cross the area or attending semi-annual movie nights and barbecues sponsored by the Gunks Climbers' Coalition. All this means it’s a friendly, mutually supportive crowd, and you’ll likely hear folks cheering each other on as they project routes.

Access: The Mohonk Preserve has a $20 day-use fee for climbing. The Preserve is privately funded and not taxpayer supported, so they need these fees to continue providing maintenance, rangers, education programs, and conservation programs. The rangers are top-notch and chill, and they will be there super fast to save your ass if you're injured. At Minnewaska State Park (Peter's Kill and Dickie Barre areas) there's a $10 fee per person for a climbing day pass, and you have to fill out a waiver. The rangers are very strict, so be sure to leave before closing time when they lock the gate.

Avoid the Crowds: Head to Millbrook Mountain, known locally as the biggest, baddest cliff in the Gunks. It’s a two-mile approach, but it’s worth the walk. Despite the fact that Millbrook is stacked with classics, you’re virtually guaranteed to be the only party out there. The busiest season at the Gunks is in October, when fall colors are at their peak.

Local Pet Peeve: Rappelling directly off trees. Locals can’t stand seeing the fragile cliffside trees used as anchors, so do your homework before leaving the ground. Check for existing bolts, or, better yet, a walk-off. Locals also appreciate you lowering your rap rope instead of throwing it into the crowded area at the base of the cliff.

Watch Out! Be sure to pick routes a few grades easier than what you’re used to for your first leads—many of the climbs are harder than marked. There are plenty of moderates here, but don’t let your guard down, those iconic horizontal cracks take some getting used to. And just because the Gunks has a long climbing history doesn’t mean there isn’t still loose rock. After plenty of close calls, locals recommend wearing your helmet—whether you’re climbing or belaying—at all times, even at the uber-popular Trapps.

Parking Beta: The Gunks get very crowded on nice weekends, especially in the autumn. Plan to arrive by 9:00am to get a decent parking spot, since you’ll be competing with hikers and other leaf peeping tourists.

Town Life: New Paltz is a funky college town with interesting shops and good restaurants and bars. You’ll typically find climbers hanging out at Bacchus restaurant or Huckleberry. If you’re on a budget, you can get a huge burrito at the Taco Shack, right next door to the discount beer store. It’s also worth checking out the Mountain Brauhaus in Gardiner. They have great beer and excellent food, but the wait can be long and they don’t accept reservations.

Rock and Snow in New Paltz is the place to go for all of your gear, beta, and guidebook needs. Pick up a copy of The Climber’s Guide to the Shawangunks for the most comprehensive beta. Rock and Snow also has an Annex store, which has a huge selection of consignment gear.

Rest Day: Both the Mohonk Preserve and neighboring Minnewaska State Park Preserve are filled with miles and miles of beautiful carriage roads and trails that are great for hiking and mountain biking. There’s a great swimming hole, called Split Rock, at the Coxing Parking lot of the Mohonk Preserve. If it’s raining, head to the Gravity Vault in Poughkeepsie or the Inner Wall in New Paltz to get your indoor climbing fix.

Pro Tip: "The Gunks can be cryptic and wandery, so be sure to bring plenty of slings for pitches that meander. If you're not sure where the route goes, take a quick look at Gunks App, which has plenty of beta and high res photos that give you a good indication of basic route direction without giving away any of the juicy details." ~Whitney Boland, local pro

Who’s Got Your Back? The Gunks Climbers’ Coalition represents climbers in the region.

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