Off the beaten path – climbing in the Gunks

Keyhole, a 5.7 climb. We tried this and failed miserably.

Keyhole, a 5.7 climb. We tried this and failed miserably.

On our way back from our Great Smoky Mountains Photo Safari daughter Akari and I stopped by the Mohonk Trust and the Shawangunk mountains in New York. The Gunks and I go way back – I was a rock climber until I went to college. The Gunks are famous throughout the US climbing community as a mecca for climbers. The cliffs are easily accessible, and range from a scramble (5.0) to insanely difficult (5.14+). The grades refer to the technical difficulty of the climb, as well as the endurance needed to complete the entire climb. A 5.0 is a scramble, only occasionally needing use of hands. A 5.3 needs use of hands and feet and ropes. A 5.7 is pretty much a slick wall. A 5.11 is an inverted slick wall. A 5.14 is something that Spiderman might struggle with. Back in the day my talents ran out at 5.7.

Back when I used to climb, the sport was young and at a crossroads.  The old school climbers would bang pitons into the rock, and at times chisel out holds when nature failed to provide them.

Mental Block, the boulder from hell. This seemingly innocuous and short boulder is devilishly difficult, a 5.11+.

Mental Block, the boulder from hell. This seemingly innocuous and short boulder is devilishly difficult, a 5.11+.

The new school (back then) was preaching respect of the rock, leaving no trace, and technical skills rather than brute force.  Technology helped; new systems of protection, new shoes, new materials have all made the current high-tech climbing possible.

Further, the sport was exploding in popularity, and there was tension between the climbers and the Mohonk Trust, which owns the cliffs.  Today, the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Mohonk Trust have partnered on a campground, and there’s acceptance on both sides.

The Brat, a 5.7+ climb. This is the hardest climb I ever mastered in the Gunks.

The Brat, a 5.7+ climb. This is the hardest climb I ever mastered in the Gunks.

The Trust collects fees, the climbers get to climb, and everyone is happy.  Today, climbing is very respectful of the rock and Leave No Trace principles are taken very seriously. Although the cliffs see up to a thousand climbers a day, I did not see a single scrap of trash or abuse.

Short and Simple, a nice climb of moderate difficulty.

Short and Simple, a nice climb of moderate difficulty.

There have been a lot of improvements since I climbed; no longer are cars strung parked along the road.  There’s now a parking lot with an attendant.

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Akari on the Short and Simple. Pictures were limited as I was belaying and had to pay attention to safety.

The campground is beautiful, built by a coalition of climbing and preservation groups.

The campground is beautiful, built by a coalition of climbing and preservation groups.

Camping is no longer allowed on Trust lands; instead campers are directed to Samuel F. Pryor III Shawangunk Gateway Campground.  Altogether the changes have improved the area, and most importantly, are working to preserve this unique area for future generations.

What's better than a Roadtrek? A VW Microbus, of course. :)

What’s better than a Roadtrek? A VW Microbus, of course. 🙂

We stopped by the Mohonk Trust Visitor Center and checked out all the new stuff.  We bought our day passes and the climbing guidebook.  The visitor center did not exist way back when.  For climbing and bouldering guides get the most excellent Gunks Apps.

The Mohonk Preserve provides hiking trails, biking trails, and climbing.  It’s an absolutely stunning area of nature and I appreciate the Trust’s efforts to preserve the area.

For general information on recreation in the Gunks visit the Gunk Guide.

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And if you’re in the area, make sure you stop by Cohen’s Bakery in Ellenville, and get some of their incredible black raisin pumpernickel bread.  All in all, it’s a jewel well worth the visit.

 




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