An Homage to the Shawan­gunks’ Clas­sic 5.10s


An homage to the Shawan­gunks’ many clas­sic 5.10s.

The Shawan­gunks form a pre­cip­i­tous ridge­line slic­ing through the farm­land of New Paltz just 85 miles north of New York City. The cliffs top out at around 250 feet—short by Western stan­dards—but the beta-in­ten­sive, pow­er­ful climb­ing on the area’s over­hang­ing quartzite crushes sen­si­tive egos. Heat and hu­mid­ity make sum­mer climb­ing frus­trat­ing, as af­ter­noon storms of­ten hit the cliff; snow blan­kets the rock in win­ter; and show­ers and bugs make spring un­pleas­ant. But in the fall, the air is crisp and clear, and a car­pet of de­cid­u­ous hard­wood fo­liage cov­ers the ap­proaches. It’s then that the 47-mile ridge turns into a bu­colic climb­ing par­adise.

Be­yond the land­scape, the Gunks are renowned for multi-pitch mod­er­ates. There isn’t an­other crag around where you can de­bate the 10 best 5.6s. At the other end of the spec­trum, a new gen­er­a­tion is es­tab­lish­ing heady test­pieces in a flurry of bold­ness un­seen since the early 1980s. New lines like Things That Go Hump in the Night (5.12d X), Over the Moon (5.13c), and Bro­zone (5.14b) prove that the Gunks are far from tapped out. There are a lot of rea­sons why a well-trav­eled IFMGA guide like Si­las Rossi calls this place “the best damn crag in the world” and chooses to call it home.

“Although the Gunks are known for spec­tac­u­lar mod­er­ates,” the lo­cal hard­man and co-au­thor of a forth­com­ing guide­book Andy Salo points out, “the most preva­lent grade is 5.10.” The grade came here in 1960, when Phil Ja­cobus linked a few thin edges on a smooth ramp, then con­tin­ued up 50 feet of largely un­pro­tected ter­rain for a groundup as­cent of Jacob’s Ladder (5.10b). The next year, Jim McCarthy freed the aid lines

Ret­ri­bu­tion (5.10b) and Nose­dive (5.10b). He also bagged Tough Shift (5.10a), a route off which I took a hum­bling 46-foot swan dive while break­ing into the grade a dozen years ago. I had sticky rub­ber and nuts and cams, but in the 1960s McCarthy had only glo­ri­fied hik­ing boots and a ham­mer and pitons.

“5.10 in the Gunks is rel­a­tively se­ri­ous busi­ness,” says lo­cal leg­end Russ Clune. On most Gunks 5.10s, the moves feel au­da­cious be­cause you of­ten place your pro­tec­tion in in­ob­vi­ous hor­i­zon­tal cracks or blindly stuff it in above the lip of a roof. So don’t ex­pect to push your grade—or to eas­ily pull through on gear. The up­side is that even the tini­est pro is re­li­able. This sed­i­men­tary rock was formed over 400 mil­lion years ago when quartz peb­bles got ce­mented to­gether by quartz sand

and buried by a layer of quartz—lo­cals say the unique, ero­sion-re­sis­tant stone is made of “quartz and more quartz.” No­tably, it ranks an 8 on the Mohs scale (gran­ite is around 7, and di­a­mond is a 10), mean­ing a well-placed mi­cro­cam or brassie will hold any­thing.

The rock qual­ity comes in handy when climb­ing the Gunks’ no­to­ri­ous over­hang­ing ter­rain. Gunks climb­ing of­ten means launch­ing into the steeps with a reach of faith and a prayer for a jug up there some­where. And more of­ten than not, that in­cut hold just over the lip is a hor­i­zon­tal that takes per­fect gear—if you can hang out and place it. A route like Falled on Ac­count of Strain (5.10b) is a prime ex­am­ple. Yet some of the best climb­ing also in­volves tiny crimps, del­i­cate foot­work, and small pro on ver­ti­cal ter­rain, like that found on Grave­yard Shift (5.10d) and Never

Never Land (5.10a). Mean­while, if you want to get off the ground with multi-pitch climb­ing and see more vul­tures than peo­ple, find your way up to the Grand Tra­verse Ledge and ex­pe­ri­ence the al­abaster rock of Face to Face (5.10b) or Am­ber Waves of Pain (5.10a). The cliff is known for ex­po­sure, and th­ese routes ex­em­plify “out there.”

Be­ing within just a few hours’ drive of more than 50 mil­lion peo­ple in the Bos­ton-to-DC mega­lopo­lis and less than two hours from New York City means the crags can be crowded, and it’s not un­com­mon to see par­ties lined up five deep for clas­sics like High Ex­po­sure (5.6). Even on the busiest of week­ends, how­ever, you’ll likely en­counter very few peo­ple wait­ing to plow through the roofs of Erect Di­rec­tion (5.10c) or Wel­come to the Gunks (5.10b). 5.10 is a sweet spot here, with tons of clas­sics at the grade, most un­crowded.

Easy ac­cess, com­bined with sheer quan­tity and world-class climb­ing, is why many prom­i­nent first as­cen­tion­ists like Dick Wil­liams have made the Gunks their home. Wil­liams’s guide­books have been the jour­nal of record since the 1970s, and for more than 30 years he was the pri­mary owner of the lo­cal gear shop, Rock and Snow. As one of the na­tion’s orig­i­nal gear stores, it re­mains climber owned and in­de­pen­dently op­er­ated. Nearly ev­ery wall, even in the bath­room, has a photo of some­one climb­ing on, or fall­ing off, a Gunks route. As for Wil­liams, th­ese days you can find him at the cliff just about any Sun­day, lead­ing an al­lvol­un­teer squad mov­ing talus with pul­leys and winches to im­prove the ap­proach trails along Un­der­cliff Road. His lo­cal street ad­dress is 510, a num­ber that he calls “the per­fect grade.”

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