Welcome to the Gunks

Attending college in central New York, I was surrounded by towering walls of choss. And unlike the western variety, this stuff was untamable, no amount of prybaring or glue or what-have-you could turn this stuff into safe climbing. Winter was a different story, but thankfully during the warm months there was a climbing mecca a mere 3 hours away: the Gunks. It was here that I really got into climbing, as I learned to place gear on the funky horizontals and intimidating roofs of this climbing paradise. People always talked about how the routes were sandbagged, but we didn’t know any better, it was really the only place we climbed. And we loved every minute of it.

Ever since moving to Colorado, I’ve wanted to get back for a visit, and things finally lined up this fall. My wife had some work to do in the northeast, which would give us a couple days of climbing at the Gunks. Here are some initial impressions from my first visit back in 10 years.

Maybe the biggest change I’ve noticed are the bolted rap stations everywhere. When I left, a couple had been put in, but now it seems like every popular climb has bolted anchors on the first pitch, allowing for a much more relaxed, cragging type experience. Before, you had to commit to going two pitches up for most of the routes, now you can simply crag to your heart’s content. It changes the feel of the place for sure, but makes for some rather convenient climbing!

For a place with fairly frequent rock fall (thanks to all the loose pebbles on the ledges), a lot of folks aren’t wearing helmets, and we saw more people sitting down while belaying than a busy Saturday at Wall Street. Ok, maybe not quite that many, but people must not fall a lot around here, because almost EVERYONE was belaying on their ass.

I remember climbing my first route here, a 5.4 called Bunny, and the guy I was with said it would be 5.7 out West. Now that I have some perspective, I do feel that most of the routes here are about a letter grade or two harder than the equivalent in Colorado/Utah.  And if it has a “+”, tack on about 3, so 5.7+ could be equivalent to 5.10-. This is a rough scale, but seems to be pretty accurate so far. That being said, the grades feel somewhat inconsistent on the climbs we’ve done so far, so we’ll see how it shapes up by the end of the trip.

I think last time I was here, it was $7/person/day to climb. Pricey, but still within reason. It’s now $15/person/day. So for two of us to climb 4 days is $120! Highway robbery! Now, I don’t have a problem with paying a small fee here and there to climb at a place that offers a lot, but I’m not sure what I get for that at the Gunks. I mean, for what it costs me to visit a National Park for a week, there is a only one bathroom along the entire length of the cliff, the camping is ghetto, and there aren’t any signs designating the various climbing access trails off the carriage road (which would be super helpful, esp for visitors.) Obviously, if you live close by you can get an annual pass, and easily make up the difference, but as a visitor, it’s a bit steep. We ended up buying an annual pass for $145, which is 5 days of climbing for two people. Plus we are covered if we come back next year. Still, it’s probably the biggest obstacle for visiting climbers. In my younger days we used to come up with all kinds of ways to avoid paying, since we were broke college kids, but now I’d just feel funny jumping the fence and playing hide and seek with the rangers.

It’s a lot of fun being back here, as the place holds a lot of dear memories for me, of being a dirt bag college kid eating pop tarts for breakfast and climbing every day until dark. It’s a little unnerving climbing 10 to 15 feet above your gear on an average PG rated pitch, but on the flip side sport climbing is going to feel wonderfully casual when we get back to Colorado!

4 Responses to Welcome to the Gunks

  1. The price for climbing at the Gunks, I couldn’t agree more with you, is too much! How long were you guys up here? Next time your around the Northeast give me a shout we can get in a climb or two.


    climberism September 21, 2010 at 8:15 pm
  2. I went back for a visit this Summer, mostly just to hike around, and had many of the same gripes. It’s an expensive user fee structure, but it is on private property, and I’m glad to it’s still open to those of us not staying at the Mohonk.

    Marc B September 22, 2010 at 7:10 pm
  3. Pingback: The Great Grade Debate : Splitter Choss

  4. Pingback: The Trad Climber’s Guide to Sport Climbing | Splitter Choss

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