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High Exposure – 5.6 Shawangunks, New York

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Getting to High Exposure is not an easy thing. Sure, the 20-minute stroll along the Gunks’ tree-lined Carriage Road is mellow: perfectly flat with views of the Hudson River Valley to your right, and the delicious Trapps cliffline on your left.

But the true crux is not stopping to climb the slew of incredible lines you’ll pass on the way: CCK, Son of Easy O, Andrew, Coexistence, Arrow … the cliff is stacked with unforgettable, plan-your-trip-around-this, once-in-a-lifetime classic routes. Still, keep on truckin’: These lines pale in comparison to High Exposure, the climb for which the term “classic” was seemingly coined.

High E was first climbed in 1941, with a hemp rope and three soft-iron pitons for pro — a visionary achievement at the time. The route’s first ascentionists, immigrants Hans Kraus and Fritz Wiessner, were two of the great characters in North American climbing history. Wiessner’s fame derived from his incredible climbing prowess — he is credited with FAs of routes in the 5.11 range (in Saxony and the Dolomites) as early as the 1920s. Kraus, an orthopedic surgeon by trade, was the personal back doctor to JFK, and is credited with first making the connection between exercise and health!

Small wonder that it took two such men to crack High E, which begins with a nice 5.5 pitch up a steep corner system to the mile-long Grand Traverse Ledge. Here, you’ll join the crowd (and, trust me, there will be a crowd) queuing up for the main event. It’s not uncommon to wait in line here for an hour or two, but the ledge is spacious, the views breathtaking, and the entertainment constant as climbers wobble up to the giant triangular roof 25 feet above and disappear around its right side via a balancy crux move.

Above this lies the section for which High E is named: a forearm-pumping, slightly overhanging 60-foot headwall that juts out 200 feet above the forest floor and looks more like 5.11 than 5.6. The holds are big, however, and there is just enough pro; if you do whip, it’ll be into fresh air.

Those who’ve climbed High E usually tout it as the best 5.6 on the planet.

No arguments from me.

Five Classics Near High Exposure

Directissima 5.9Start near High Exposure, following a ramp out right to a corner then to the belay at a small ledge. Traverse left toward the nose, then to a small belay ledge. Take the arête to the GT ledge. Finish on High E.

Cascading Crystal Kaleidoscope 5.8Start right of Updraft, climbing the face through some bulges and some crack to the GT ledge. Run through a roof slightly right, veering left toward the belay of Updraft. Traverse right to a face, then into a crack until you can jump out right near the top.

Arrow 5.8Begin right of Limelight and climb a face to the GT ledge. Pass a roof leading to a white face. First ascent by O’Neill and Rezucha in 1984.

Limelight 5.7Climb the face right of Red Pillar into right-facing flakes into the GT ledge. Climb into a shallow scoop through a roof to another scoop to a roof, then traverse left until you get to a crack. The crack will take you to the top.

Doubleissima 5.10Climb vertical cracks to the Directissima belay. Take a small seam straight up, then traverse right into a roof. Climb over the roof to the GT ledge. Follow the crack to the top.

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