The Gunks are considered one of the most iconic and well preserved trad climbing destinations in the United States. Join us for Part 2 of our article series as we discuss the necessary Gunks gear, logistics and area beta to make your visit enjoyable and run a bit smoother.
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.
There’s nothing like planning for a climbing trip: late nights spent browsing borrowed guidebooks and earmarking routes, scoping out approach/descent beta, getting stoked to try local food, or even picking up a shiny new piece of specialized gear or two. Like that #5 and a fresh roll of tape for Vedawoo, some kneepads for Rifle, or a new pair of crispy downturned kicks for Rumney. The Gunks you ask? Tricams of course. Well, maybe not – but below find solid recommendations on what gear is embraced locally, and why.
Seems like the La Sportiva TC Pros are dangling from more and more packs in the Uberfall, and for good reason. While it’s harder than Yosemite granite, the quartz conglomerate of the Gunks cliffs tends to lack a granular quality, and this means a smoother surface. With less friction climbers here tend to rely on very specific foot placements, especially on harder routes. Small crystals and extrusions in the rock do better with a solid edging shoe, which is a hallmark of the TCs. Delicate footwork will get you far here, and whatever you choose be sure your heels stay put; if you’ve made it this far into your research you know the Gunks are rooflandia – and heel hooks come in handy. Shoes that fly off when you dig your heels in, well, not so much.
With a selection of face climbs, ceilings, steep jug-hauls, and the occasional crack, a high-performance all-arounder will be the best fit.
Effective use of double ropes is a dying art, but those dialed with doubles will find good use for them here. Aside from linking rappels, managing drag on wandering routes will be easier with doubles. A note on length. A 60m rope will be sufficient to get up and down most pitches, but be sure to use established rap stations. A few 70m rope mandatory rap stations are still out there, so check your guidebooks and always, always, always (!) Tie knots in your ends!
I’m a bit nostalgic and love my print guides – if you’re the same way (see the opening sentence above) then the Dick Williams series is the way to go. His guides feature a rich history section, colorful route descriptions, and enough beta to get you by. Pick one up at Rock and Snow.
Recently GunksApps & a few others have come to the table with their digital apps, which are quite popular. With a GPS function to tell you exactly what route you’re standing below and clear descent options for every route it’s a no-brainer for the visiting climber.
Learning to fidget in tiny brass wires is a right of passage at the Gunks, but really only comes into play starting at the 10 grade. Up to then a standard set of nuts will do you well, the DMM offsets being particularly useful. Unless you’re out to recreate the 70s and 80s you can leave the hexes at home, and tricams seem to get mixed reviews here.
On one hand they do slot well into the Gunks horizontals, but on the other hand tricams make up the majority of stuck gear at the cliff.
If you’re only bringing a single set of cams, a few tricams would be a good addition, but I’d personally skip them if you’ve got doubles.
While you’re not likely to be hauling up bashies and lost arrows, you will find a museum-worthy display of old iron on the cliff. From soft-iron relics to less-relic-but-still-dated chromoly pitons, these still abound but are seldom your only gear option. Some are bomber, some are not – in any case best practice is to back up any fixed gear (including cams and nuts) – as long as you can hang on long enough to get it in.
Ever since Ray Jardine introduced his forged Friends we had a thing for cams here. Most routes, climbers are satisfied with a standard rack of double cams, .3-3. The odd route requires a #4, but certainly not necessary. If you’re planning on some of the harder lines then micros will come in handy. In either case, usually the route descriptions will say if gear is needed beyond the standard Gunks gear rack.
BD Camalots tend to be the gold standard in the larger sizes, with a mixed bag on the fingers and smaller set. Aliens still abound, but are quickly being replaced by more modern Totems, Wild Country, and Metolius pieces.
Most climbers carry 8-12 shoulder length slings to help with rope drag. A few doubles (4’) thrown in the mix for anchors or really long extensions likely won’t go unused.
Whatever you bring, zip up your bag. Snafflehounds abound in the talus and will happily wander off with your artisanal PB&J.
In the early days of the Gunks the goal was the top, and most parties walked off and back to their cars. With increasing damage to the fragile clifftop environments we are seeing more and more bolt anchors (courtesy of the Gunks Climbers Coalition and friends) to ease soil stress and replace anchors on beleaguered trees.
Anchors are first and foremost installed for rappel purposes – so be sure not to junk up the chains (and especially the rap links) with your gear if you’re using the chains as an anchor. And while it is okay here to use the bolted anchors as TR anchors, it is necessary to build your own anchor off the bolts. Slings, a quad, whatever. Just don’t TR through the chains. Please be courteous, these anchors are often shared resources for multiple routes; be prepared to play nice or be prepared to go off and build a solitary gear anchor.
If your route has a tree anchor, it’s handy to have a cordalette or a few longer slings to rig your anchor. When descending from trees do not rap your rope around the trees, and be advised that pitch pines (small pines with clusters of 3 needles) are endangered and it is explicitly prohibited by the Mohonk Preserve to use them as anchors.
While the majority of climbers aim to visit the Trapps and Near Trapps (see below), the Gunks has a wealth of white cliffs peeking through the evergreens. You may hear climbers mention Lost City, Peterskill, Millbrook, the Sunbowl, or any other number of outlying crags. While the Trapps and the Nears hosts the best quality and most easily-navigated terrain, a few other spots are worth mentioning.
Shorter and better-suited for toproping, Peterskill is part of the NY State Park System and tends to be the most approachable. There you’ll find a wealth of easy grades and clifftops that are easily-accessed by hiking to set up top ropes – just remember to bring static rope for your anchors.
If Peterskill had a polar opposite it would be Millbrook; the only thing in common with Peterskill is the need for a static rope, only at Millbrook it’s to fix and rap into what’s fondly known as the Death Ledge. Steep and lording over the Wallkill River Valley below, Millbrook hosts a concentration of steep and serious routes, all an hour’s walk from the nearest parking. The climbing there is sublime, but it is an acquired taste.
There are two main cliffs in the Gunks, the Trapps and Near Trapps, which account for the majority of visitorship. There are also two main parking areas: the Mohonk Preserve Visitor Center (aka The Stairmaster lot) and the West Trapps parking lot.
The West Trapps lot will put you between both the Trapps and the Near Trapps. It’s the preferred parking for the Nears and the only good option for Millbrook. The Visitor Center parking lot is more convenient for much of the Trapps (except the Uberfall area – stick to the West Trapps lot for that).
You can purchase a Preserve day pass at either location. If you’re going to be here a week it’s a better idea to buy an annual membership – expect to net even at about 5 days. Becoming a Mohonk Preserve member helps preserve the local landscape with member dollars going to support a top-shelf crew of rangers, as well as keep the landscape clean and preserved for years to come.
Aside from climbing, being a Mohonk Preserve member gets you access to countless miles of hiking and biking trails, swimming holes, all in some of the most spectacular and protected scenery on the east coast.
It’s the northeast, so expect a few rest days in the mix to cover rain days. Spring and Fall have the best temps, and like most areas Fall is pure magic. No bugs, warm days, beautiful foliage. Summer is totally climbable, but locals either get out before it gets too hot and humid, or wait till midday when the cliffs go into the shade (most are south-facing). Winter is when most climbers either take to the ice in the Catskills or the Adirondacks, or head for the warmer weather of the southwest. December can be quite good, or in the 20s and blustery. January and February tend to be reliably too cold for climbing.
Like many large cliffs the Gunks are lucky to have resident Peregrine Falcons, and as a result we also have cliff closures during nesting season. This is usually spring into summer, and signs will be posted identifying the route and boulder closures.
Don’t even think of poaching a bird closure here – it’ll land you in big trouble, and is really bad form. Check in with either the GCC, Mountain Project, or the Mohonk Preserve closures page – and don’t worry, there will be plenty open classics to check out during your stay. GunksApps will even grey-out the closed routes if you plan to use the app.
The two little nasties to beware of are ticks and copperhead snakes. Those two are just about all that can do lasting damage. For the former be sure to do good checks and shower vigorously after climbing in spring when the nymphs are hungry. The copperheads generally aren’t aggressive, but are venomous. They have been seen on route in deep horizontals, so place gear with care. Additionally they hide out along trails, sunning on the rock steps – so keep a watchful eye on approaches and descents.
We have a few species of snake that can look close to copperheads in certain instances; copperheads are pit vipers – they have diamond-shaped heads and slit-shaped eyes. Anything with a round head and round eyes isn’t venomous here. But in any case, please leave all snakes alone.
Stinging wasps tend to nest along the cliff in summer and into the fall – be sure to carry appropriate medication if you have an envenomation allergy, and for up-to-date nest locations (and snake sightings) check the Gunks Climbers Coalition hazard page.
The rest of the environmental warnings are pretty commonplace for climbers: black flies in spring (a short few weeks), mosquitos, chiggers (stay out of tall grass and refrain from sitting on rocks in mid-summer) and know what poison ivy looks like.
Camping – The AAC campground is where it’s at for sure for the closest camping. New Paltz (approx. 20 min away) has a hostel and a few hotels for those seeking creature comforts. Sleeping in your car is prohibited at all the Gunks parking lots and trailheads.
Primitive camping is available further north in the Catskills – but is a long commute to the crag.
Hotels – For those looking to step-up from the cold-hard ground and treat themselves can find a wonderful opportunity within walking distance to the cliffs at the rustic & cozy Minnewaska Lodge. Enjoy your morning coffee from their panoramic back deck, looking right at Disneyland (5.6) as it glows in the early morning light.
A college town (back when such a thing was permitted in pre-COVID times), New Paltz has plenty of reasonably-priced food options like Thai, Indian, Japanese, Vietnamese, and a few good cafés as well. For lazy/rest day breakfast check out the Main Street Bistro, and for top-shelf coffee with a hipster vibe Commissary can’t be beat or indulge in a beer flight with views of the Shawangunks Ridge at Clemson Bros. Brewery.
If you’ve got some gas in the tank for hiking but need to rest those shredded tips then exploring Sam’s Point in Minnewaska State Park is your bet. Just a few miles from the West Trapps parking lot the park offers a ton of options from short hikes to all-day adventures. Get a map, it’s far bigger than it looks. If you want a little scrambling check out the hike at Bonticou Crag (Spring Farm Trailhead – as a bonus your Mohonk Preserve pass gains you access) or spend some time exploring up at the Mohonk Mountain House.
For those wanting a little less active rest there is a movie theater in New Paltz, the Shawangunks wine trail, and a great swimming spot at the Mohonk Preserve Coxing Trailhead.
Whatever you’re looking for chances are you’ll find it here – except bolts, of course.
Stay tuned for part #3 of this Gunks climbing article series coming out Wednesday October 28th.
This article series is written by pro photographer, climbing athlete as well as Gunks local – Chris Vultaggio.
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