Anyone who has been to the Shawangunks (i.e., the ‘Gunks) knows what a unique place it is. It’s not often that you get to pull a big roof while placing trad gear. And on a 5.6+, what!? Ok, it probably should be rated 5.8, but who really cares when you’re having a blast on one of America’s best cliffs for exciting traditional climbing. Surely this place was made by the gods as a playground for climbers.
The quartz conglomerate rock of the Gunks tends to form flat horizontal cracks and roofs, which makes for interesting climbing and gear placements. While there are plenty of nut placements to be had in the Gunks, cams tend to work best in the horizontals. Some will say a rack of tri-cams comes in handy here as well, but honestly, who wants to fiddle with placing a tri-cam one-handed when you could just stuff a C4 in and keep moving? Not me. There are also plenty of rusty old (and some newer) pitons around in the Gunks, and a rack of draws including several slings will serve you well on the meandering lines with multiple roofs.
The Gunks gets crowded on the weekends due to the proximity of New York and even Boston, but if you climb 5.9 or higher and aren’t dead set on the uber-classics, you’ll be able to find plenty of open lines. Despite years of high-volume traffic, there is still some loose rock, and quite a few newbies climbing around here, so a helmet is strongly recommended.
Almost all of the climbing at the Gunks is part of the Mohonk Preserve, and you’ll need to either buy a day pass ($20) or an annual pass ($95) to climb here. It’s not recommended to try to sneak in, as they check passes fairly often at the entries and exits, and the money goes toward the impressive upkeep of the place that everyone benefits from.
Dick Williams’ old school guidebooks (one for the Trapps, another for the Near Trapps) are the most informative, but Mountain Project has a pretty comprehensive listing of climbs here.
- High Exposure 5.6
- Son of Easy O 5.8
- Modern Times 5.8
- Bonnie’s Roof 5.9
- Welcome to the Gunks 5.10
- Directississima 5.10b
- Feast of Fools 5.10b
- Erect Direction 5.10c
As most climbing areas in the Northeast US, the Gunks is a three-season destination. Spring and Fall are definitely the best as summer gets a bit hot, but there are some nice swimming holes nearby to cool off at (see Split Rock in the map).
The camping scene is not great at the Gunks, though recently an AMC Campground opened right near the crag. There are several bed and breakfast type places in and around New Paltz if it’s within your budget.
The Mohonk Preserve Visitor Center (see map) provides water and also has nice bathrooms, but is only open from 9-5.
The New Paltz area has some incredible dining options. The Mountain Brauhaus is great but often gets crowded. If you head into town, Mexicali Blue has some of the best burritos anywhere (especially the fish!), and Bacchus is the place to go for beer and pub-style food.
The AMC campground has coin-operated showers.
There is a great swimming hole at Split Rock nearby the climbing. There are also tons of trails in this area that offer scenic hiking and mountain biking options.
By Tyler Wellman