The Gunks – first stop on the RockAroundTheWorld NE America roadtrip

After a hassling day of picking up our motorhome (RV) and battling the New York City traffic, we bade farewell to the Big Apple… and headed north to arguably the best climbing east of The Rockies – The Gunks.More accurately, the Shawangunks is one of the oldest climbing areas in The States, with a proud history dating back to 1935 and now with a few thousand routes – typically one to three pitches and up to 200ft on an unusual quartz conglomerate. Horizontal bands are the predominant feature, with a mix of crack and face climbing, and a strong trad ethic. The spacing of the breaks can make many routes somewhat height-dependent and determine the proximity of gear placements. Here’s our home for the next couple of months, parked beneath the crags.The most popular area is The Trapps, which offers high-convenience climbing, with short approaches above the “Undercliff Road” which runs along the base of the crag and is also enjoyed by walkers, runners and cyclists.The handiest routes are on the Uberfall, just a few minutes walk away from the car and starting directly from the road.We’d been warned of sandbag grades and started on a suitably modest 5.6, Bunny Direct, which felt about Hard Severe in UK grading.Heading right into the main Trapps area, the buttresses are accessed via carefully constructed stone stairways up through a scree / tree band. A few minutes walk brings you to a couple of uber-classics: Schockley’s Ceiling, 5.6, and Strictly from Nowhere, 5.7. They were both occupied, but the team on the latter was at least moving, which was more than could be said for the Schockley’s team. We ran both pitches together for 200ft of fun, with a really quite stiff pull through the half-height roof. Here’s Helen after the roof… and rapping back downFurther right again, Something Interesting is another super-classic outing, which gets 5.7+ (and is probably worth 5.7+++!) A fabulous leaning crack with a couple of genuinely head-scratching sections in its 200ft (done in a oner again) which would certainly merit HVS at home.Having sampled a couple of the best “moderates” (not really sure what range of grades this Americanism applies to and it seems to embrace some immoderates!) I thought I’d have a go at something a bit trickier to calibrate the local grading further up the scale. We’d watched someone lead (taking a bit of a whipper off the crux) Nosedive, a 5.10b, whilst we were at the Uberfall,… so I picked that. Here I am making the best of a decent rest just below the final crux moves. A couple of stiff sections, but with good gear – maybe worth top end E2?All that exertion called for a beer and we swung by the Clemson Bros microbrewery at the Gilded Otter in New Palz to catch the last of the rays.Day 2 in The Gunks and we explored a bit further along The Trapps. We’d intended to do High Exposure but ended up taking an earlier “staircase” up to the crag and accidentally found ourselves at the very appealing looking Arrow Wall. Described as one of the Gunks’ “Destination Climbs” we couldn’t resist the eponymous Arrow, 5.8. Here’s Helen on the commodious mid-height stanceand approaching the final crux moves (thankfully protected by a bolt which controversially marked one of the earliest instances of rap-bolting)and here’s another team tackling the easier first pitch as Helen raps down.That was so much fun that we decided to do the adjacent Annie O, 5.8+, which also merits the 4* accolade. Another easier introductory pitch followed by really enjoyable face climbing through slightly bulging territory on good crimps with adequate gear. Quality!Here’s the view from the top with the Arrow team catching the sun (as the vultures circle above)We called it a day there, to allow time for the drive north to the Adirondacks and the next stage of our exploration.A couple of notes on logistics:- The Gunks crags are situated in a number of protected areas, the main one being the Mohonk Preserve (which covers The Trapps amongst other crags). On the plus side, this enables access to these terrific crags, and maintains the surrounding land to a high standard. This comes at a cost (and quite a steep one!) as climbers need to buy a $20 daily wristband pass (or $100 annually) – a dear do if you are visiting for a week.– It’s by far the premier climbing area in New York state and within a couple of hours drive of NY City (and its 8 million population) so it gets pretty busy. We found many of the popular routes occupied on our mid-week visit (not a problem as there are plenty more) but the general advice seems to be to avoid weekends.- Camping options are limited. There’s an American Alpine Club site just a couple of miles away but strictly speaking it doesn’t allow RVs. We stayed at SoHi campground about half an hour away (okay rather than awesome, and ridiculously expensive at $50 per night). We’ve got a couple of options to investigate on our return trip so will update if those prove favourable…

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