You know what is so great about the ‘Gunks? All of the people. Oh yeah man, those crowds are so good. My favorite thing is watching people top rope Ants Line and Ents Line at the same time while swinging back and forth to each other passing a nut tool off. That’s the good stuff. Unfortunately, for myself, Morgan, and a group of first time Gunkies, there were no crowds most of our trip this past December. It was bittersweet, late fall and the temps were amazing, but there was no one to share it with. Despite the lack of crowded rappel stations and lines at Horseman, we were able to have one hell of a fun trip.
My friends and I arrived at the DEC multi-use area around 8pm Wednesday night grinning and ready to drink some beers. I woke Morgan and Deeds up from their backseat SUV slumber (they had been sleeping in their car and climbing for a day longer than us) and we slogged on down to the campsites. Luckily for us there weren’t any other people at the campground that evening; which is great because anyone who’s been to the campsite knows it’s a real pain in the ass to hike back up that hill hung over, (RIP camp slime) so we got our pick of the close sites. After a few PBR’s and some catching up, we called it a night.
That first morning I paid my dues to climb for the day, and by that I mean the entire time I would be there. See, to climb at the ‘Gunks it’s seventeen dollars a day; kind of steep for a college kid at the end of his semester. I understand that the Mohonk Preserve uses this money wisely and does a lot of really great things for the user groups there, but I can’t dish that out for four days. The $90 (or something close to that) season passes aren’t a bad deal for those who live close by. That’s a lot less than a gym membership and you can climb at the ‘Gunks almost year ‘round these days (*cough* global warming *cough.*) It would actually be cheaper for me to buy the annual pass than it would be for me to pay daily during my twice-a-year trips, but it’s hard to throw down $90 all at once when it’s half of your bi-weekly paycheck. So, I occasionally just walk in from the bridge after a hitchhike from some kind trucker looking for company through those winding roads. Do what you’ve gotta do.
Anyways, I always pay at least once to keep the guilt from creeping into my brain too much. So I paid that first day and we went climbing. The first route of the trip was Arrow, which is a great climb to do if you’re really sick of climbing in the ‘Gunks. As opposed to all of the juggy roof climbing that the area is so know for, Arrow allows the visitor a chance to test his nerve on some slippery “Gunks glass” slab climbing. To top all of this off there are some beefy bolts at each hard move to calm the nerves a bit. The crowds were so minimal this day that I was actually able to set a top rope on the first pitch for the newcomers. That nice seat at the final belay was a glorious place to be. We sat in T-shirts and looked over the town on a gorgeous December day. After rappelling the route we made it over to Bonnie’s Roof, where Ants Line chilled without any dudes giving their girlfriends top-ropes.
As it got closer to the weekend more people started showing up to the campground and the population of climbers below each classic grew. My friends finishing up their finals had finally made the four hour drive down from the Adirondacks, allowing our merry crew to join the masses and enjoy one of the premier climbing destinations of the country. There was even a day where we only had to wait for two parties before hopping on Madame G’s, where I proudly built the hanging belay in the wrong spot and slowed more groups down behind us.
Our days were a mix of trying some new routes and taking the new climbers up some easy classics. I enjoyed cruising up Jackie, Frogs Head and Betty to set top ropes and get Carter to lead his first few pitches of trad. The ‘Gunks is one of the greatest places for a new leader; there are 5.3’s in this place that are just as high quality as 5.10’s I’ve climbed other places, you can’t beat it. Though as the trip was coming to an end, a lot of my friends left for home. This left the final day on rock to my friend Dylan and I; my first climbing partner ever and an absolute crusher.
Our last day was a Sunday, which meant weekend crowds would still abound the preserve as we tried to test our nerves against the hard classics. Our original plan was to get myself on Mothers Day Party and then get Dylan on 10,000 Restless Virgins, but as we all know plans don’t always work out.
We started the day with a nice warm-up on Something Interesting, but I had never done the route before and linking the pitches took me a little time. Then Dylan came up on the follow only to discover one of the pieces I placed walked into a constriction, impossible to receive. So I gave him an equivalent piece of my own and we rappelled. At this point our time was running short as I still had to make the four hour drive back to my parents house that evening. We skipped my lap on Mothers Day Party and hiked out to Dylan’s route.
10,000 Restless Virgins is a classic by any stretch of the imagination, especially at the ‘Gunks. The reason I say this is because it’s out in the lost world of Sleepy Hollow. This means that there is little, if any, marked trail and the Gunks crowds disappear meter by meter past the High E buttress. At 5.10+ the route is no gimme, but it’s a little soft for ‘Gunks ratings (or so Dylan says) and you can cruise it with no one around to drop a rope on your head. The setting is idyllic; a crowd free wall with no noise, behind a huge boulder, allows for the leader to relax and take his time before setting off.
I belayed as Dylan led, he cruised the layback-fingerlock section with hardly any gear, got to the large crux roof, put a piece in at his feet and cranked. I watched as he hung horizontal (at 5’7” I’m sure the roof was a reach) shook out, and then placed a cam. As calm as can be Dyl’ reached high for the next jug, cut his feet, repositioned them above the roof and got to the vertical section. From here the climb was a cakewalk. His grace and calm demeanor were inspiring to watch; it was as if he had done the climb a hundred times before, but it was only his first. I lowered him and gave a high five. He’s been pushing me to excellence since we first met and flailed on 5.8’s together.
After Dyl’s impressive lead I took a run up the route on follow to clean it. The top of the layback flake was a large horn that I felt could have pulled off at any minute. I pulled out his piece that protected the crux and listened to the hollow knocks it made against the white quartzite. What a ballsy motherfucker. I shook out and went through the roof and got it clean. It felt damn good to just go up without too much of an issue. I felt the instant regret of not leading the route, but sometimes the joy of simply climbing dominates the ego of the send. I cruised on to the anchors and cleaned. The silence of the crag lulled me to relaxation and I lowered to the ground.
After an extended weekend in the ‘Gunks I was ready to go home, drink beer with my Dad and relax for a while before embarking to the southeast for a winter climbing trip. I wasn’t sick of the place, but I had my fill. We climbed some classics, missed some crowds, found some crowds and tested our wit. I was pretty sick of cleaning tri-cams and running it out over shallow placements though. I only wish that there were some more crowds to watch as Dyl and I fucked 10,000 Restless Virgins.