Trip Reports - 6/97 The Gunks, New York
Henry Gholz, Andy Mitchell, Beth Birmingham, Via Enneking, and
During the week before we left, Henry (as is his habit)
followed the weather at Poughkeepsie on the net and watched all the rain in the
Southeast feeding heavy rainstorms up through New England, praying that the
front moving through the Midwest would penetrate before we hit the area on
Saturday. Luckily, absolutely brilliant conditions of cool breezes and sunshine
took about 2 seconds to clear away all the worries and start the excitement
building. We sped out to friend Bill's hunting cabin in the Catskills beyond the
climbing area for a welcoming party and early bed.
Sunday morning, after filling our water containers at the artesian spring
(the cabin had all the amenities except running water), we hit the crags with a
vengeance. We split up into two teams. Henry and Via's first choice was
Horseman. He writes:
"Horseman (5.5) - An enjoyable shot straight up a short face past
a tree, into a large right-facing corner, then a traverse out left
as the corner closes overtop onto an exposed face to the first belay.
Then up some steeper face and an amble to the top. Having gotten
to the belay and deciding it to be a one-pitcher, I soon discovered
that the route wanders back right then up left to the anchor trees,
making rope drag a problem. My "amble to the top" became a fairly
substantial runout pulling a lot of rope behind (it is easy ladder
climbing at that point, fortunately). Via completed her typically-efficient
second without problem for her first-ever Gunks classic."
Since Andy (the impatient bastard!) didn't want to wait, three of us headed
down a ways to Eyesore (5.6), an attractive jagged finger crack with -
yes, like virtually all Gunks climbs - a roof at the top. This was a nice way to
start since we climb a ot of this sized crack in the South... and we weren't
disappointed! Andy led up a handfull of good moves to a luxuriant ledge on which
to protect (and ponder) the first roof of the trip. Jason cleaned the climb, and
then cantered down to see what Henry had in store on Horseman. When Beth
had finished with Eyesore, four of us decided to hunt down the famous
Shockley's Ceiling as Henry and Jason searched elsewhere for adventure,
and found Strictly from Nowhere (5.7) which starts on the face just left
Andy, for reasons which still remain a mystery today, somehow got psyched
about leading a party of three up a 4-pitch 5.6 with a big roof at the top,
starting at 2:00 PM. Figuring we were warmed up, he, Via and Beth decided to
tackle the famed Shockley's Ceiling. Jason and Henry prepared for
Strictly Nowhere (5.7). He relates what became the epic of the trip:
"Two pitches being the largest number I'd ever led on a climb
in a row, it seemed somehow appropriate to hop on a 4 pitch climb
with no other leaders. "Hey, how tough can it be? It's a 5.6 after
all." Actually, each pitch was pretty tasty, though Beth and Via
had a to wait a long time to savour the first pitch - it must have
taken me an hour to build the first anchor. The second pitch was
a long traverse and third pitch was a pretty straight-forward exercise.
Nonetheless, at the top of the third pitch (about 4hrs into the
climb!) I was getting pretty frazzled. I was finding that it's one
thing to trade leads with a single partner on short climbs, and
quite another to lead two others through 4 pitches on unfamiliar
rock. By the time Beth and Via claimed the third belay, I had already
plotted my escape route, hoping to completely avoid the namesake
"Shockley's Ceiling"... As I set out on the final pitch
I glanced longingly up at the 4 ft roof wishing I had enough courage
and strength to at least make the attempt. And then I noticed, through
the wide crack that splits the roof, that the headwall above the
roof was angled and even more - it looked like there actually were
holds above the roof! I heard myself talking out loud; "This doesn't
look so bad after all. Hey, I think this is ok. Yeah, I'm going
for it." I don't know if Beth and Via could hear, but I think I
was probably trying harder to convince myself than anyone else.
Well, as it turns out, I really was pretty tired and nearly failed
to make an easy mantle to get myself over the roof! Happily, a heel
hook and a second push got me to where I could stand above the roof.
Proudly surveying my surroundings, I looked up to see how the route
finished. Gee, that looks like another ceiling...ARGH!!!! Cursing
loudly, though with a stiff wind now blowing no one could hear me,
I continued on. Pulling the second small roof I was rewarded with
a view of the top. Nothing between me and sweet salvation - nothing
but 20 feet of holdless friction climbing ala' the top of R.J.
Gold (at Sunset Park) that is... Would this climb never
end? It is now 5 hours into the climb. It will be dark soon,
and I have now committed both Via and Beth into following me up
the final pitch. There is no possible voice communication. The wind
is blowing hard and I can hear nothing above it. Testing the rope
every minute for slack, hoping that they will figure out I am ready
when they are. By the time Beth starts climbing, my sweat had dried
and I was noticing that the wind has a bit of a bite to it ... it
was getting cold as the sun went down. I did not relish being Beth's
boyfriend when she found she had to pull a second roof or run the
friction slab. Fortunately, I am still Beth's boyfriend - though
at the time, I feared that title wouldn't be mine for long. I began
to regret my decision and wished that I had some water or extra
clothing. Suddenly, Jason and Henry appear behind me, like a couple
of guardian angels from Heaven Above. Having watched us from the
road below, they'd guessed what was happening and had hiked up the
back with supplies and assistance. I looked at Jason and said, "Man,
I need water, clothing, and after 6 hours, I really have
to, well, unload."
Jason: "Who's your buddy?"
Andy: "Dude - you are! Excellent!"
"Jason: "No problem - Here's a jug of water, and I brought you
a sweatshirt, and well, 2 out of 3 ain't bad!"
Jason took over belay chores and, unsurprisingly, Beth came
over the top beaming -- Beth "I'm not doing multi-pitch" Birmingham
-- four pitches, a big roof at 200+ feet, and she smiles. Wow! After
a short briefing from Beth on rope signals we could use to communicate
"On Belay" and "Climbing" to Via, we waited for a signal from Via...
and waited. As it turned out, we couldn't feel anything like a signal
through the rope. Eventually, Jason figured out that she must be
climbing, and up she came. No problem with the final pitch at all.
I believe her exact quote was, "A roof? Didn't really notice a roof.
There was that sort of little overhang thing. Was that what you
mean?" All kidding aside, we were all happy to have done the climb,
and even happier that it was over. Another one for the diary!"
Meanwhile, five hours earlier, Jason and Henry had to wait a few minutes for
another team to clear the first belay station of Strictly, but were soon
off on their way. Jason writes:
"While there are some good face moves at the bottom, Strictly from Nowhere's
roof made this climb worth the wait. Rated 5.7, the roof had enough
handholds, but tricky foot control kept me thinking. I had to make
several right-hand reaches out and up before I could claim this
challenge. We made this climb in one pitch with Henry's 60 m rope."
While the three alpinists worked on the second pitch of Shockley's,
Henry suggested Classic (5.7) to keep us occupied a little while longer.
This was a fun face climb angling up to a roof and a belay a few feet to the
right of Jackie (5.5). Protection included an old pin that managed to
support the weight of the runner Jason clipped to it. The crux of this climb was
a face move about 2/3 of the way to the roof. Over the next few days, this small
area provided a lot of excitement and satisfaction for us all.
Well, hours after Henry and Jason had rapped off Strictly, ate lunch,
climbed Classic, then packed, unpacked, and repacked their gear again,
the crew on Shockley's was just about ready to tackle the roof. They
decided to hike up to the top of cliff and met the chilly three with trail
shoes, food, and water (of course figuring that they could exact an appropriate
price), as night began to fall... Andy topped out just as the two arrived, and
was ready to sign over his health and happiness (well, that's something!) for
some water, a power bar, and some T.P. Well, 2 out of 3 ain't bad, as he wrote
Monday we hit the Trapps, ready for more. We chose two adjacent
climbs, Sixish, which Henry would lead, and Drunkard's Delight
(5.7+) for Andy. Henry writes:
"Sixish (5.4+) - The guidebook indicated the sandbagged nature of
the grading of this climb - I can say that I'd climbed easier 6's
here. The first 30 ft up the blocks in the corner are a rude awakening!
Then its off to the left onto a face and a finish much like Horseman.
But Beth created the true adventure on this one. As I threw the
rope down for her, it went to the right of a small tree under some
roofs at the upper part of the pitch. So she gamely decided to climb
up around the tree and then back left, and in so doing came very
close to completing pitch 1 of the adjacent climb: "One Blunder
and You're Ten Feet Under"! It was an aptly named climb..."
Next door, Drunkard's Delight begins with some good face-finger crack
moves up to a nice ledge below the well protected roof. Andy writes:
"This was a fun climb. A great roof with bomber protection. This was a really
fun one and highly recommended. But one problem with having such
a comfortable belay ledge right below the roof is that you have
plenty of time to contemplate your next move."
After meeting at the top, we decided to check out the well known High
Exposure Buttress. Henry and Via chose to climb High Exposure while
Jason, Beth, and Andy picked the nearby first pitch of Modern Times.
High E was the high point of the trip for Henry. He writes:
"I ignored all the hype on this climb from the Gunks
web page and decided that if it was a 5.6, I would have no technical
problem with it. However, as I geared up at the bottom amidst all
the chatter, the hype seeped through to me and I opted to start
on the first pitch in the "comfort" of the corner, on a route called
Psychedelic, to a belay in the trees. After Via came up,
I belayed her half-crawl across to the big belay ledge on the butress,
and then had to listen to her ominous whistling as I came across.
I then stepped out to lie on my back at the apex of the triangular
ledge to gaze past the huge roof up the buttress (a "must-do" experience,
2/3 of the way up the most prominent buttress along the entire Trapps).
I couldn't help noticing how far north, south and downward I could
see at the same time - just as a major wind gust came up....
Finally on belay, and having psyched myself sufficiently, I
strode up the angled block under the roof to its far-righthand edge
and contemplated the options - pretty obviously, there was only
one! A thin FCU in a narrow horizontal provided a bomber placement
right at the lip, so I reached around right onto the face and grabbed
the inside edge of a vertical crack. I swung out onto the face using
the one available tiny toe hold, and the exhilaration of the moment
took over completely. The exposure was awesome on the face and the
wind was blowing harder now, but the holds and gear placements were
easy, variable, and obvious; a great combination of circumstances
for pure climbing enjoyment, and a good opportunity for a whoop
and a hollar! If you could only bottle that feeling! I ate up the
face to the top and set a bomber anchor. I grinned as I waited to
see Via's expression as she came up over the edge. I wasn't disappointed!!
I think I said something foolish like "If I never climb again,
it won't matter now..." and she didn't disagree!
Yahoo! There's a reason this climb is so well-known;
a reason why climbers stand in line to take a crack at it. High-E
sets you out there...way out there.
The first pitch of Modern Times, on the other hand, was a little more
relaxing. After 30 feet of off-vertical corner, over one hundred feet of ladder
climbing awaited. With plenty of low-stress moves, we enjoyed a vertical climb
at a decent grade, watching Henry and Via on their way to the ledge, eventually
moving up and out of sight above the striking Directissima arete on the
second pitch of High-E.
Tuesday morning was overcast, but we ambled out anyway, and divided up into
teams for this morning's rounds; Andy, Via, and Beth would tackle Classic
(5.7+), while Jason and Henry found Son of Easy O (5.8). The rain
promised by the grey morning sky eventually came, but not before Jason and Henry
made it through the first pitch of the Son. Jason writes:
"This was my toughest lead at the Gunks so far. There were several delicate
face moves at the bottom, and a really good move up the finger crack
about halfway to the belay ledge. The climb took protection without
a problem, and typically there were good rest spots to place gear.
I belayed Henry up, just in time to tie in and watch the rain come
from across the valley. We looked longingly at the roof just above
our heads, but decided to knock off here and rap down to meet the
We all met, wondering what the weather was up to. The shower turned out to be
short, so we all decided on some more climbing. Classic runs between two
excellent possibilities, Jackie to the left, and Pink Laurel (5.8+)
on the right. Henry, followed by Via and Beth, led Jackie:
"Jackie (5.5) - This had been my first Gunks lead in August of '96, repeated
for the pure enjoyment of it. This climb is all secure and yet interesting
enough, with two small roofs, to be a lot of fun. It eats all kinds
of gear in picture-perfect placements, and follows a highly visible
straight line all the way up, and as a result is quite popular."
Jason (buckling under to peer pressure from Andy, he claims) chose to lead up
Pink Laurel. Listed as a 2 pitch climb, we tied into a 60 m rope, in case
it seemed likely we could do it in 1 pitch. Jason writes:
" Twenty feet off the ground, I was stymied by an awkward pull up from the
cove at the top of the first short corner. After two attempts, I
decided to bypass this by climbing the "ramp" to the left, and join
the climb above. Pretty soon I was at the left edge of a 20-foot
handrail -- cast off! If you intend to climb this route, be prepared
to encounter substantial pigeon guano...the handrail apparently
is a very attractive roost for the boids. Back in the corner, I
made the next move up to join the climb, then hand-railed back left
to the belay ledge, where Henry had been watching my folly with
a mixture of empathy and entertainment. Figuring I was past the
worst of things, I decided to combine the pitches, and with my belayer's
blessing (no surprise there), climbed out the ledge on loose block
to tackle the headwall above. A mixed blessing: there were
few placement possibilities past the last ledge, but since I was
pretty much out of runners anyway, I didn't mind so much. I made
it to the top, and grabbed a few feet of rope to tie into a tree
-- and that was all I got! Andy made it to the top, though I had
no idea how things went since I couldn't hear him. Good thing, too,
since he was reportedly cursing my name the whole way up for taking
him on such a wild and wandering route. It was worth the trouble,
though. While not a pretty climb, Pink Laurel had plenty
Down from this adventure, Jason and Andy watched as Via re-climbed
Classic to work out some kinks which had given her trouble the first time
around. As it was late afternoon, but still plenty light for climbing, we headed
back to Horseman so Andy and Beth could have the pleasure.
While Andy and Beth were working on this classic, Jason and Via were
considering a climb or two as well. Right from Horseman by about 20 feet
is a short and sweet crack climb, Laurel, and over another 15 feet,
Rhododendron (5.6). Jason writes:
"These two cracks were an ideal way to end a crazy day. We'd started out
threatened by rain, then I ran all over the place climbing Pink
Laurel. By contrast, these finger and hand crack climbs were
straight up, straight forward, and pretty mellow. Both took gear
without a second thought, and have easy rap stations."
On Wednesday, Henry "The High Exposure Junkie" Gholz
reluctantly agreed to repeat that climb, this time with Via seconding and Beth
following third. Henry's second time on this climb was no less exciting than the
"This time I angled right away from the corner on Psychedelic's Pitch
1 and headed directly toward the buttress ledge. This was a much
more enjoyable route for Pitch 1. The holds and placements opened
up before me and I was quickly at the top. Via cleaned and Beth
followed third, clean as a whistle. The psychology of this climb
is definitely 9/10s of the challenge for anyone leading 6s here.
Do it once and then go for all the other 3-stars... "
A front stormed through Wednesday, foiling our hopes of climbing for the day,
and we listened with concern to the rain most of the night. However, Thursday
dawned with the front passed, and we set out for our final challenges. We split
up into teams for the last time this trip: Via, Beth and Henry set off to the
Near Trapps south of the lot and a 5.7- called Yellow Ridge, while
Andy and Jason set off for the Modern Times roof (5.8+). Henry
"As I set the first piece and looked up at the off-width we were instructed
to "struggle up," I promptly slipped - my one leader fall of the
trip (all 3 feet of it and only 6 feet off the ground...). By the
time I was through with the struggle I was totally drenched - but
by sweat, not water - and in a light-colored corner which faced
right into the sun above the trees and concentrated the light, and
heat. We headed up and left along a fun, but rather long, traverse
to the second belay ledge. This belay is necessary to avoid significant
rope drag up the short final gully off its far side. We walked off
the top right back to the bridge and beat the others back to the
car by about 5 minutes! In the summer, save this climb for the afternoons
- it would actually be a lot of fun then."
Andy chose Modern Times to be the last climb for the Toxic
Twins. Since they'd both climbed the first pitch earlier in the week, they
decided to work up Psychedelic's corner as an alternative. In position at
the bottom of the second pitch, necks craned upward to the roof....Andy writes:
"Modern Times. What can I say? "Exciting isn't the word" is how the
guide puts it. Indeed. The second pitch of Modern Times is
probably my proudest climb. I've climbed harder routes. I've been
rattled worse. However, in terms of exposure, moves, and just pure
"hangin' it out there" I can't think of anything that compares.
Don't get me wrong - I was scared sh&*!@less, but I stayed calm
and that's what I am proud of. The moves are definitely 8-8+, there's
no sandbagging on this - it's totally do-able. But it *was* on lead,
it *was* 200 feet off the deck, and it is *still* about a 7' roof.
We climbed this instead of High E, and I don't think we lacked
anything in the exposure or excitement departments. Do it if you
get the chance and are up for it. Exciting is the word!"
Several big moves -- Andy cranked like his entire world had boiled down to
that roof, and that roof alone. Jason followed soon after, pausing just for a
few seconds to enjoy an indescribable view that a lucky few can experience. Two
rope lengths to the ground, and they soon met the Yellow Ridge
Three in the parking lot...
Packed up in the rental, we five smelly but smiling climbers from FLORIDA
sped off for the airport, thinking about the last few days. We'd experienced
some historic rock climbs of the East. Each had climbed with everyone else
(we were a pretty free-spirited bunch). Variety? Cracks of all sizes and
attitudes, face moves, height and exposure, a great place to stay (Thanks,
Bill!), a new problem with each roof, ... plus plenty of stories and memories to
last us 'til the next trip.
Henry's Overall notes:
(1) Every route had some type of overhang to surmount.
(2) My new set of FCUs worked splendidly in the horizontal, often
parallel-sided Gunks cracks, except that on harder climbs narrower TCUs and
tri-cams have obvious advantages (up through the 5.7- I led, this was never a
(3) I thought that I had climbed so much, until I started looking through the
guidebook on the way home and discovered all the 3-star climbs in my ability
range that I hadn't even noticed...
The Metropolitan Climbing Resource,
N.Y. - Gunks
Henry Gholz Andy Mitchell Beth Birmingham Via Enneking Jason Hale
The Gunks Guide by Todd Swain, 3rd ed 1995.Chockstone Press (covers
Trapps, Near Trapps, Sky Top and Millbrook)
Shawangunk Rock Climbs: The Trapps by Dick Williams, 3rd ed 1991.
The American Alpine Club: Climber's Guide; AAC Press.
(A series of guides covering the Trapps, Near Trapps, Sky Top and Millbrook)
Mohonk Preserve and area info:
Mohonk Preserve, Inc.
P.O. Box 715
New Paltz, NY 12561-0715
Fax: (845) 255-5646
http://www.gunks.com (Climbing page)
http://www.rocksnow.com (Local climbing
http://www.newpaltz.org (Local area
How to send your
Top of Page