This past weekend this trio set out for some early season climbing in the Gunks. See what Dave has to say about their weekend out on the rock.
Early Season Gunks Trip. By: Dave Russo
We begin to discuss the local crags but realize that we need to head south in search of dry rock to climb. Vermont is home to a lot of great climbing but unless we get a really good thaw climbing here in March doesn’t happen very often. Fortunately for us there are many options within a reasonable drive; The Gunks being one of them.The Shawangunk Ridge or Shawangunk Mountains are located in the Catskills in New York and are home to one of the Northeast’s most well known climbing areas “The Gunks.” The Gunks are a traditional climbing paradise that is broken up into four sections: Millbrook, The Near Trapps, The Trapps, and Skytop. Our trip had us heading to The Trapps.
The drive down from Burlington is around five hours which, for some, seems like a bit of a haul but if the psych for climbing is high the drive is well worth it. Our journey got off to a late start with Dylan and Matt working in the OGE untill 8:30pm. Dylan drove discussing his previous trips to the Gunks and Matt chimed in with his own experiences there. I was the only one who hadn’t been to the Gunks, but had spent time pouring over the guide book compiling an ideal tick-list. We only had one stop in a Price Chopper parking lot to pick up Dylan’s trusty climbing partner Jared, our other “rope-gun”, who drove down from his New York home to meet us.
Approaching New Paltz at night you only catch minimal glimpses of the cliffs but their looming shadow is enough to excite you for the climbing to come. As we wove our way up the mountaintop road we stopped in at the first campground, a multi-use area lower down on the road with only a few campsite and strict guidelines. If you want to find a spot there get there early and be comfortable sharing sites.
At 2 am it was safe to say we were bit late and the first campground was full, onto camp slime the second campground close to the cliffs. Camp Slime is nestled right down the path from the entrance to the Trapps. There is no parking at the campground, but it has a small lot for handicap parking that you can unload your stuff at and walk the two hundred feet to the camp sites. We were quick to find room at Camp Slime as it appeared no one else wanted to sleep on the eight inches of snow left on the ground at the camp. We quietly and efficiently set up our tents and found ourselves sleeping in thirty degree temps at around 3 am.
We woke to sunny conditions in the 40’s and quickly packed up camp, shoveled breakfast and made our way down to the car. After racking up we headed down the short trail to the cliffs. The entire area of the Trapps is extremely well maintained and well marked and I would be willing to say its nearly impossible to get lost in day light. I would recommend acquiring a guide book if you are planning a trip where everyone in the party lacks experience there. The gray guide book for the Trapps written by Dick Williams is great. It has all of the information you need, including beta, gear suggestions ,camp sites, and restaurants in New Paltz.
If you have never been to an area as popular and as vast as the Gunks you will be blown away by the available number of climbs and the overwhelming amount of other people you will be climbing in close proximity to.
If you have never led in the Gunks make sure to climb some moderate grades to get adjusted to the grading culture at the Gunks. Compared to the grades in Vermont I found the grades in the Gunks to be about two grades more difficult than they were Ex: 5.4 Gunks route climbs like 5.6 route else where.
The first climb we got on was Horseman. This is a very popular route, rated 3 stars in the guide book, that is straight forward and just fun to climb. The style of climbing in the Gunks is unique and thoughtful, look for horizontal cracks and ledges full of positive jug style holds. The view from the top of Horseman was great and the whole day we shared top-outs with large ravens, vultures and hawks that call the cliffs their home.
The next climb Matt and I split left and climbed Easy O. Another great climb that is a really good climb to practice leading on; great stances, G rated gear placements and clear route finding make this climb really enjoyable. While Matt and I cruised Easy O, Dylan and Jared climbed Son of Easy O trading leads and making easy work of a great looking route that features some difficult opening moves and tricky gear placements. We all met at the top of Son of Easy O and shared a long rappel back down to the carriage road.
The third and final climb we got on was High Exposure which is a Gunks Classic and my suggestion for a can’t miss route. Matt led the first pitch which is long and wandering that had him wishing he had brought more draws and protection. After overcoming some wet corners and run-outs Matt was safe at a good belay ledge and I cleaned behind him. Dylan and Jared went for Directissima a 5.9 climb up the High Exposure buttress that features a scary opening traverse hiding you from your belayer. After some good laughs and some great clipping by Dylan we found ourselves all sharing the ledge looking up at the second pitch of High Exposure with its famous roof. We made quick work of this famous pitch and efficiently cleaned and prepped our rappel to avoid standing in the cold wind for any longer.
Walking back on the carriage road the sun had fully set and we had timed our descent perfectly as to not even need the aid of our headlamps to see. All of us were tired, hungry, but at the same time satisfied with our day of climbing. We stopped in New Paltz for a burrito at Mexicali Blue, a super small place that boasts great food with fresh ingredients, don’t believe me ask food critic Anthony Bourdain. I’d love to tell you about the drive home but I slept the entire way and only woke up to bid Jared farewell and to climb into bed when we returned home at 1 am Monday morning.