a beautiful alpine adventure you'll fall in love with
Reach after reach, step after step, I climbed up “The Gunks”, or Shawangunk mountains, a cliff face ranging from 30’ to 250’ feet high. Looking up, I saw beautiful ridges of solid quartz conglomerate taunting me to climb higher. A look behind told a different story; Technicolor trees stretching for miles in all directions hugging a lake that was tucked into the beautiful autumn foliage. It was a powerful way to experience nature.
A short 1.5-hour train from NYC brought us to New Paltz, a funky college town with a population of 13,000. We met Marty, owner and expert guide of Alpine Endeavors for a half-day climbing experience. Little did we know that he would change our perspective on climbing forever.
After a brief stop at Rock & Snow, one of the premiere specialty climbing and outdoor gear shops in the country, we hopped in the car and drove to Mohonk Preserve. The area is a land trust dedicated to preserving and protecting the northern Shawangunk Ridge. The absolute best time of year to visit is autumn when the trees are changing colors. We walked through enchanting forests of yellow, orange and red to get to our climbing spot.
The enthusiasm we witnessed upon arrival was unparalleled. Everyone from beginner climbers to expert guides welcomed us like family. The feel of community between climbers immediately made us feel safe. Marty has also been climbing for over 20 years, so we knew we were in good hands.
First step was to go over how to use the equipment. The Gunks have been a climbing destination since the 1930’s, when pioneers Fritz Wiessner & Hans Kraus ascended the cliffs with leather boots and hemp ropes. Today the equipment is much more advanced. In climbing gyms, you have a rope attached to an anchor in the ceiling. Outdoor climbing is different because you have to secure your own path using climbing tools called nuts and cams. These tools are inserted into cracks in the rock then connected to ropes ensuring that if climbers fall they will be safely secured. Marty showed us how to insert these tools and how to securely attach climbing gear to them.
The Gunks is famous for one-to-three pitch climbs at all levels of difficulty. To get to the highest point, a 200’ foot climb at an altitude of 1000’ feet, we had to do a three pitch climb, which means throughout the climb all four of us met at 2 checkpoints. The pattern for each of the three pitches would be as follows: Marty would begin the climb with us belaying him where the pitch began, then he would build an anchor with the nuts and cams. He would then climb about 100 feet up, then secure the equipment for us to climb to him. The last person to climb would collect the hardware that was deposited along the way while still being connected to a safety point Marty had created at the top of the pitch. Once all four of us would get to the top of the pitch, we would begin the process again. Marty would climb, set up the safety points, we would belay him until he reached the end of the next pitch, and then we would follow.
As we ascended to the top of the cliffs, the view was increasingly stunning. Soon we had peaked above the tree canopy to an endless view of the hills, mountains and lakes surrounding the area. The climb was challenging, however, still possible for anyone in decent shape. Since we were a group of beginners, Marty brought us on a path that was achievable for us. Roofs, overhangs and ledges characterize the climb; however, you’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish. I reached the top of the cliff feeling that I had done something incredible.
To end the climb, we had to rappel from the 250’ foot cliff. As someone who doesn’t like heights, this was scary for me but only for a moment. Throughout the climb, I learned to trust in the equipment and felt comfortable with it.
Once we reached the ground, we were incredibly proud of what we accomplished and felt it was only right to go have drinks in town to celebrate. We headed to a couple of places, however, our favorite was Bacchus, the local climbers bar & restaurant. They have nearly 500 beers on the menu and world-class craft cocktails.
Alpine Endeavors offers rock, ice and alpine climbing, and mountaineering year round at several locations around the country. It is an accredited program by the American Mountain Guides Association and all of their guides are AMGA exam-certified. I cannot emphasis enough how great of a time we had on this trip! It is an experience that will make you feel accomplished and expose you to things you may not have considered doing, all while giving you a great workout and a breathtaking view.