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The Gunks, New York Climbing Destination Guide

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This story originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of our print edition.

The Gunks (short for Shawangunks) is one of America’s premier climbing areas. It’s just minutes from New Paltz, a funky college town of 13,000, and 85 miles from New York City, making it a popular spot on weekends. The rock is solid quartz conglomerate with horizontal, rather than vertical, cracks. Climbing here is characterized by airy roofs, big jugs, traverses, and sometimes “sporty” pro. It’s famous for stellar one- to three-pitch climbs of all levels of difficulty, including some of the best moderate trad in the country (sorry, no sport climbs). It’s also notorious for stiff ratings. Drop down a few grades for your first lead to get a feel for the rock, the ratings, and to learn how to place pro in the horizontal cracks. September and October are the prime climbing months (cool, low humidity), though it can be good in spring and summer as well. Most of the Gunks is part of the Mohonk Preserve, a land trust dedicated to preserving and protecting the northern Shawangunk Ridge. ($17 entry fee,

The Gunks Rock Climbing Destination Guide
Photo: Andrew BurrAndrew Burr

What to Pack

Standard Gunks rack:

  • Set of micro-nuts (often useful for 5.10 and above)
  • Set of wired nuts (No. 3 to No. 13 Black Diamond Stoppers or equivalent)
  • Pink, red, and brown Tricams (some climbers double up on the red)
  • Blue, green, yellow, gray, and red Aliens (or equivalent)
  • .75, 1, 2, and 3 Camalots (or equivalent)
  • 10 to 12 extendable runners (24” sewn slings)
  • One or two long runners (48” sewn slings)
  • One Yates Screamer

The amount of gear you carry will depend on the climb, as well as your experience, ability, and familiarity with the route and with the Gunks. If you’re new to the Gunks, err on the side of more, especially cams in the .5’’ to 2’’ range.

Bring two-way radios for communicating past the big roofs on many Gunks climbs.

Most routes can be climbed and rappelled with a single 60-meter rope. Double ropes can be handy, however, for the traverses, wandering pro, and roofs. They’re also nice for descending in fewer rappels.

Many popular routes have bolted rap stations, but sometimes trees are used for rap anchors. Bring some webbing in case you need to beef up a sling anchor on a tree.

The Gunks Climbing Destination Map

Where to Stay

The American Alpine Club operates a 50-site campground  a short walk from the Mohonk Visitor Center (close to The Trapps and Near Trapps) replete with a bathhouse and indoor space to wait out rainy days. The former free Multi Use Area campground will be closed as of May 2016. Want a roof? Reserve a room at the New Paltz Hostel.

Where to Eat

Bacchus Restaurant Bar & Billiards has nearly 500 beers on the menu, so it may take you a while to choose. Have the Bacchus Chili while you consider your options. Stay for live music. (845-255-8636)

For sandwiches and small supplies, hit Bistro Mountain Store (845-255-2999). It’s the closest place to get food near The Trapps. For real groceries, drive into New Paltz.

Where to Buy Gear

Dick Williams (who literally wrote the guidebook on Gunks climbing) founded Rock and Snow, one of the premier specialty climbing and outdoor gear shops in the country. Check in when you get to town. (845-255-1311)

Hire a Guide

Take a class (from beginner to expert) or hire a guide from the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School. Bonus: It shares a building with Bistro Mountain Store.

The Gunks Rock Climbing Destination Guide
Brian Kim makes his way up The Winter Direct (5.10+). Photo: Andrew Burr

What to Climb: The 10 Best 4-Star Routes

As ranked by Mountain Project users

High Exposure (5.6)
The Trapps, 2 pitches (250 feet)
“It can be intimidating pulling through the crux from under the roof to the side wall. That’s Gunks 5.6! This climb has bomber hands all the way up the third pitch, great gear, and enough air to keep you talking, smiling, and bragging about it forever.”

Limelight (5.7)
The Trapps, 2 pitches (180 feet)
“One of my favorite leads of all time! The second pitch roof traverse is the highlight.”

Something Interesting (5.7+)
The Trapps, 2 pitches (200 feet)
“This route, a right-leaning finger crack to a bulge with a large reach, was reminiscent of some 5.9+/5.10- routes in other areas. In any case, this climb is incredible. Do this route!”

Son of Easy O (5.8)
The Trapps, 2 pitches (170 feet)
“This is the best 5.8 I have ever climbed. The upper roof is interesting, but never so hard that you can’t pause and look around to admire your surroundings. And what amazing surroundings they are.”

Bonnie’s Roof (5.9)
The Trapps, 2 pitches (250 feet)
“In 1937, Bonnie Prudden shattered her pelvis in a skiing accident. A doctor told her, ‘You will always limp. No more skiing, climbing, or dancing. And no children.’ Fifteen years later, she made the historic first ascent of Bonnie’s Roof, after the legendary Hans Kraus backed down and handed her the sharp end.”

CCK Direct (5.9 PG13)
The Trapps, 2 pitches (240 feet)
“Perhaps the best 5.9 in the Gunks. The first move/traverse off the ledge is the physical and psychological crux. If you blow it, it would be a nasty pendulum. The rest has excellent gear, and it’s easier than it looks.”

Ridicullissima (5.10c PG13)
The Trapps, 1 pitch (180 feet)
“Easily the best non-roof ‘hard’ route. The rock is stellar, the moves are challenging, and the gear is plentiful.”

Fat City Direct (5.10d PG13)
The Near Trapps, 1 pitch (150 feet)
“The crux, while barely earning the grade, is tenuous until you reach the finger-jugs. Then it’s cruiser.”

The Yellow Wall (5.11c PG13)
The Trapps, 2 pitches (125 feet)
“One of the best climbs I have ever done, regardless of grade or area. The pro seemed adequate, and the crux required total commitment. It’s a special feeling to try hard in such an exposed and dramatic position.”

Supper’s Ready (5.12-)
The Trapps, 1 pitch (150 feet)
“I felt like a fat kid chasing the ice cream truck after doing this multitiered roof!”

The Gunks Rock Climbing Destination Guide
Brad Heller feels the exposure on Tripleissima (5.11- R), The Trapps. Photo: Andrew Burr

Gunks Climbing Metrics

300+ routes score 3 stars or higher

The Gunks Rock Climbing Destination Guide

Mostly trad, some toprope

The Gunks Rock Climbing Destination Guide

Variety in the moderate grades

The Gunks Rock Climbing Destination Guide

Get route beta, photos, and topos for the area at Mountain Project.