By David Leiberman & Laini Miranda
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
As we discovered, climbing in a gym is very different from climbing a real mountain face. One of the best places in the world to learn how to climb is practically in our own backyard: the Shawgunk Mountains, affectionately nicknamed “The Gunks,” is just six miles from New Paltz and offers some of the best rock climbing in the East.
The Mohonk Preserve, New York State’s largest private, nonprofit nature preserve with over 8,000 acres, owns this section of the Shawgunk Mountains and charges a $20 day-use fee for climbers (a season pass is available, also). Of the 200,000 visitors that the Preserve welcomes in a year, 80,000 are climbers who have more than 1,000 climbing routes – five linear miles of cliff face – to venture out on, with near access to parking and sanitary facilities.
In the early 1950s, there may have been 50 climbers on a busy day in The Gunks. By the 1990s, that number grew to 500-800. Today, The Gunks have become a world-class climbing area, offering some of the best climbing in the eastern United States. What is more, The Gunks offer particularly friendly terrain for people (like us) who have never climbed real rock faces before. The vertical cliffs and their overhangs create a wide variety of high-quality climbs of varying levels of difficulty. The distinctive, stark, white cliffs of the Gunks are as tough as they look – with sharp angles testing your skill and with quartz pebbles and deep fissures providing multiple holds.
It’s also an ideal place to climb safety, with some of the best-trained, vertical rescue teams in the northeastern United States. Indeed, guide companies have to be registered with Mohonk Preserve. In collaboration with climbing guides and groups, the Preserve regularly hosts climbing clinics.
And so, for our first climbing venture, we went out with with Bobby Ferrari of High Xposure Adventures ($350 for two for a full day program, 9 am to 4:30 pm). The conditions were ideal: bright sun and cool temperatures for a summer’s day.
High Xposure was founded in 1974, and has been guiding rock and ice climbing trips in the Gunks and Catskills Mountans for more than 40 years. Its accreditation with American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) dates back to 1986, when the accreditation program was established.
High Xposure works with climbers of all abilities and experience – from total beginners, introducing them to outdoor rock climbing, to avid climbers visiting the Gunks from other regions and interested in climbing the Gunks classic routes. The company also organizes group climbing trips – corporate outings, family retreats, adventure groups. “We have extensive experience working with kids – during school breaks, we guide rock climbing outings for summer camps and boy scout groups.”
High Xposure offers a wide range of climbing programs – rock climbing techniques, rope management and anchors, multi-pitch, and lead climbing.
It was an ideal program for us to make the transition from climbing in a gym to climbing the real thing.
The list of registered guide companies includes:
Alpine Endeavors (845) 658-3094, alpineendeavors.com
Alpine Logic (207) 949-1736, alpine-logic.com
Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) (800) 310-4504, emsclimb.com
High Xposure Adventures (800) 777-CLIMB, high-xposure.com
Mountain Skills (845) 853-5450, mountainskills.biz
Ragged Mountain Guides (203) 228-2311, raggedmountainguides.com
Vertical Gains (845) 926-2502, verticalgains.com
Vitti Mountain Guides (845) 901-3687, vittimtguides.com
Mohonk Preserve is also popular for bouldering, with acres of boulders that offer hundreds of problems – from basic to advanced; climbers come from all over the country to try out the new problems put up almost every day.
This is a year-round destination with ice climbing. The best active time of year, and when the guide companies are most active is from April through November.
Rock Climbing Guidebooks: The Climbers Guide to the Shawangunks: The Trapps (revised 2nd ed. ©2016) by Dick Williams is available for purchase at the Nature Shop in the Visitor Center for $34.99. Ivan Greene and Marc Russo, Bouldering in the Shawangunks, Jefe Publication
Download Gunks Apps Rock Climbing Guide to Your Mobile Device: Bring a digital guidebook with you on any mobile device. Gunks Apps climbing giudebooks are now available for purchase for Trapps Routes, Nears Routes, Trapps Bouldering, and Nears Bouldering
Check out these sources for climbing and bouldering suggestions: www.gunksapps.com
Mohonk Preserve is one of the few private, nonprofit (NGO) climbing areas in the United States and is financially supported by members and visitors. It is open to the public 365 days a year. (You can join online now, or you can buy a day pass or membership at a trailhead or at the Visitor Center.)
Here is more helpful info from the Preserve’s website:
Be aware that you climb at your own risk on the Preserve, which isn’t responsible for the condition of the cliffs, climbing protection, climber behavior, or training or supervising climbs. For your safety, read the Preserve’s Climbing Policy.
Help protect the resource. Prevent damage to the cliffs and to the fragile life found here:
Use only established trails and carriage roads.
Use the yellow-blazed climber approach trails in the Trapps.
Avoid damaging lichen and vegetation growing on the cliff and treat the rock gently: tree cutting, rock trundling, hold chopping, and bolting or gluing of holds are prohibited.
Minimize chalk use and brush off heavily chalked holds.
Leave only rock-colored slings at rappel stations.
Parking is extremely limited on weekends and holidays. During peak seasons, parking lots fill early. Ease traffic congestion by carpooling or coming at off-peak times.
Dogs must be attended and leashed at all times. To avoid having your dog disturb others, don’t leave your dog tied-up at the base of a climb. If you leave your dog unattended, it will be removed by an animal control officer.
Keep the trails at the base clear so others can pass by.
Camping is available at the Samuel F. Pryor III Shawangunk Gateway Campground on Rte. 299. For more information, click here (mohonkpreserve.org/camping).
For other hotel and lodging information, see the Area Guide (mohonkpreserve.org/area-guide).
Becoming a member helps keep the cliffs open to climbers and provides ongoing support for the preserve’s climbing management program – recognized as a model by the UIAA (International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation).
You can also:
- Volunteer for trail maintenance and other projects that ensure climber access.
- Become involved with the Gunks Climbers’ Coalition – a local climbing advocacy group.
- Donate to the Thom Scheuer Memorial Fund for Land Stewardship, which helps build and maintain climber facilities, including trailheads, parking areas, and sanitary facilities. To contribute, contact the Development Department at (845) 255-0919 ext. 1240.
For more information visit www.mohonkpreserve.org/climb, 845-255-0919.
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