Welcome to Climbing in the Gunks – Ethics & Stewardship

Climbing the best 5.6 in the world
Anyssa Lucena of Genuine Climbing on High Exposure in the Mohonk Preserve area of the Gunks

The Gunks are considered one of the most iconic and well preserved trad climbing destinations in the United States. Join us for Part 4 of our series as we discuss the Gunks climbing ethics and land stewardship you should be aware of when planning your next Gunks climbing trip!
This article series is written by pro photographer and climbing athlete as well as a Gunks local – Chris Vultaggio. This series is sponsored and made possible by Minnewaska Lodge, Clemson Bros. Brewery and Rock & Snow.

If you’ve stood atop Moab’s iconic Castleton Tower, you’re familiar with the “Don’t Bust the Crust” warning, rightfully drilled into the heads of visiting climbers to help preserve the living soils in the high desert.

While the Northeast doesn’t have cryptobiotic soils, or rare alpine flowers like lupine or edelweiss, we do have a host of ecological concerns when it comes to climbing.

Climbers have long been a self-policing community, and although for the majority it seems we do a good job, there have been plenty of examples where climbing areas have been shuttered (Roadside Crag at the Red) or heavily-managed (Hueco Tanks) due to climber abuse.

Many seasoned climbers blame the incoming tide of new climbers, but instead of taking an elitist position we should be talking about education. Remember a brand new climber has just as much a right to be climbing as someone who has been climbing for 40 years.

Here in the Gunks we have an organization called the Gunks Climbers Coalition(GCC), an “advocacy group dedicated to creating and maintaining sustainable opportunities for responsible climbing along the Shawangunk Ridge and surrounding areas.” One of the founders, Jannette Pazer, sums up the challenge as being one of origins. “In the old days it was outdoors people who became climbers. Nowadays we see (gym) climbers becoming outdoors people.”

With growing numbers from the country’s 500+ climbing gyms and the lack of mentorship, we see many new climbers who aren’t equipped with that stewardship knowledge. It’s up to the rest of us to take an educator role passing along the below.

Trash
Here’s something that doesn’t need special education – if you pack it in, pack it out. Here in the Gunks that goes for toilet paper as well. Gross yes, but not as gross as coming across someone else’s used toilet paper blossom on the trail. See below for more on bathroom behavior.

Please note orange peels, banana peels, and apple cores should never be tossed into the woods. Not only are they not part of the local ecosystem, but they can take years to biodegrade.

Finally give a good thought to marking your gear with paint instead of tape; these little colorful pieces of microtrash can be seen all over the trails and have no rightful place in our ecosystem.

Gunks climbing - micro trash on the trail

Trails
Thanks to both the Mohonk Preserve and volunteer trail crews we have a great network of marked trails in the Gunks – please stick to the blazes and don’t cut your own path. Guidebook author Dick Williams has been heading a small trail crew for the past 20 years, dedicated to constructing trails to prevent erosion along the base. His team has put in over 13,000 hours of labor. Additionally the Jolly Rovers have brought their brand of expertise to trailwork in the Gunks too. If you see either crew be sure give them a nod and say thank you for their amazing work!

Bolted Anchor Use
As the number of climbers has grown, the Gunks has transitioned to largely using bolted rappel stations to preserve delicate clifftop environments as well as the cliff-side tree population. Wrapping your rope directly around a tree is not only forbidden by the preserve, it damages the tree (and your rope). Please stick to in-situ rap stations.

A note here on the chains as well: bolted stations are intended first and foremost for rappelling. That means those on the way down have the right of way, but rappelers should always be aware of climbers below. Never toss your rope down while descending, rather flake down gently in case there is a climber beneath your rap station.

For those on the way up: you may use the bolts as anchors, but keep the rap (lowest) rings clear. And if using the chains to set up top-rope anchors local practice is to build your own independent anchors off the bolts. Then the last person can lower/rappel off the chains.
Rappel Anchors in the Gunks

Base Behavior
Hammocks are forbidden in the Gunks, as they increase off-trail traffic and lead to soil compaction. Please refrain from bringing hammocks. Additionally please show respect when it comes to music, dogs, and other typical distractions. Keep in mind that children may be present, keep the shouting and expletives to a minimum. Feel free to throw a little verbal try hard in there, but be as respectful of those around you as much as possible.

Remember this is a shared space and a nature preserve, not your gym’s bouldering cave.

Peregrines
Each Spring/Summer, like many areas, we enact cliff closures to protect Peregrine falcons. Efforts like these closures have helped remove the falcons from the list of national endangered species, but Peregrines are still recognized locally as being endangered in New York State.

As a top predator these raptors have much smaller numbers than other birds, and one failed nest can greatly impact the population. The Gunks are one of the few places where these birds nest in their natural cliff-side habitat, and closures are taken very seriously. If you do arrive during a Peregrine closure please seek out alternative areas to climb and boulder.

Remember it’s not just the Gunks that have this conservation strategy in place.
Gunks Falcon closures

Right of Way
For those climbing off busy carriage roads, please be aware that hikers, runners, birders and bikers all share the same right to be here as you. Be courteous and let others pass, please do not block the trail with top-roping, bouldering crash pads, and large groups. Aside from looking like a yard sale, this can inhibit rescue efforts.

Bathroom Etiquette
The Mohonk Preserve has a few bathroom options: the Visitor Center (flush toilets – very lush), the pit toilets in the West Trapps Parking lot, and what locals call the “uber-pooper” along the carriage road (The Trapps, near Ken’s Crack). If you are climbing in the Peterskill area of Minnewaska State Park the only option is the parking lot near the Ranger Station. (Go when you park before you hike out to the cliff.) When possible, please use these facilities.

If nature calls and you’re a long sprint from the comforts of the above, please adhere strictly to the leave no trace guidelines for human waste. Aim for at least 100’ from an established trail and no where near a water source. Find some good mineral soil (black with a lot of leafy matter) and dig yourself a cat hole 8” deep. Bury your waste, and pack out your toilet paper.

If you need to urinate please again seek out good dark soil, and stay away from caves and overhangs. These areas don’t get rain and hold the smell for a long time.

We’re fortunate enough to have a Nature Preserve as a climbing area – with this comes some additional responsibilities. Please heed the above and be sure to tread lightly on the land – our future as climbers here depends on every single one of us doing out part.

An Important Gunks Announcement:

On November 10th 2020, the Gunks Climbers Coalition (GCC) and Access Fund made a significant announcement about the purchase of a new section of cliff line in the Shawangunk Mountains of New York. The newly acquired property includes 1,000 feet of the Millbrook Mountain cliff line, including the historic Antlion Crag. This acquisition adds a new, backcountry climbing area to the Gunks, offering a uniquely remote experience that boasts traditional climbing, top roping, overhangs, vertical faces, and even a little crack climbing—ranging from 5.5 to 5.13. Read the full press release about this significant accomplishment. If you love Gunks climbing, wish to support land conservation efforts in the Gunks and support the 1000+ hours and years of hard work that went into achieving this land conservation effort please make a donation to the Milllbrook Mountain Conservation Initiative.

In response to this significant achievement made by the GCC and Gunks climbing community, Time to Climb has donated all profits from this article series and then some to this historic land conservation project.

Welcome to Climbing in the Gunks Series:
Read Part #1: A Lesson in History
Read Part #2: Gear & Logistics
Read Part #3: Routes


This article series is written by pro photographer, climbing athlete as well as Gunks local – Chris Vultaggio.
Support our Article Sponsors:
Looking for a place to stay at the base of the cliffs? Check out the Minnewaska Lodge.
Looking to toast to that send, grab a pint at Clemson Bros. Brewery.
Need to pick up a cam or area beta on Gunks climbing, stop in at Rock & Snow.

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