The Gunks, April 2018

After many years of saying no I hate crowds, I finally made it to the Gunks. Partly because Chris had already committed to purchasing a yearly Mohonk Preserve pass (it arrived in the mail) and partly because he booked a spot at the Alpine Club Campsite for a few days. Along with his offer to drive and the promise of good weather, how could I resist? A mere eight hours away, the Gunks has proven itself to be another fantastic venue to rock climb. I’m addicted with the place! It’s to be avoided on weekends if you can as climbers from New York, Connecticut and other nearby locations descend on this world class escarpment of out-of-this-world fun rock climbing. Weekdays are also busy, but with a different class of climber (lots of retirees). Regardless of when we climbed, I noticed that everyone was very welcoming and chatty.

Yum Yum Yab Yum, 5.4
Of course once we were actually in the Gunks the weather came in and the temperature dropped. This meant that Saturday night was around zero, Sunday and Monday were wet and we spent many happy hours either hiking the trails, eating amazing breakfasts in town, or in the pub eating dinner. In between we did manage to get some climbing – showing just how accessible the Trapps and Near Trapps are to climbers! This isn’t a wilderness, but it is fun rock in close proximity to great camping and a fantastic town (cheaper than Keene, or Lake Placid too boot)!

On Sunday we managed to climb the four pitch Yum Yum Yab Yum, 5.4 on the Near Trapps. This is a fantastic route (even when wet) that weaves its way up some fun and exposed climbing. Pitch one is a wonderful slap with just a touch of spice up to a belay at a tree. Pitch 2 weaves up right and then left around an arête. The pitch is long with some spicy and committing climbing – which apparently is a regular Gunks thing – but commit and the gear and moves are there. Pitch 3 moves diagonally up through a fifth class talus field to a belay underneath a large open book. Pitch 4 climbs up the open book and underneath the huge roofs, where a 45 foot hand traverse right greets you. And what a pleasure this pitch is! High and exposed it’s pure tenuous joy. Smear and squirm your way rightward, protecting the second with great gear and the odd rusty piton and you pop up an easy groove at the end to a slightly run-out slab and a great belay in a wonderful position. What could be better than this? Freaking awesome fun! Descent is easy with a walk off to the main road.

Belly Roll, 5.4
Sunday night and Monday morning saw close to sub-zero temperatures and high winds. Hunkered down in our tent and warm in our sleeping bags after a couple of pints, I was reminded of how all of our adventures seem to go Andy Kirkpatrick. That is to say that we don’t get normal climbing adventures. When weather forecasts are fair and we go climbing, you’ll know thunder and snow will ensue.  However, we do have great adventures and while the wind whistled around us, I pitied all those who get perfect weather for rock climbing. How sad.

Monday saw a weather window after breakfast, so we streaked to the Trapps to climb Belly Roll, 5.4. This amazing two pitch adventure route allows you to squirm up a diagonal off-width either on your belly (you’ll need to roll at the top) or on your back. Pitch 1 was an absolute blast although I couldn’t figure out why Chris was taking so long to reach the belay at the top of pitch 1. I mean it wasn’t even snowing! Sure, it was raining extremely heavily but I didn’t think slick rock would slow him down. Approaching the belay, Chris told me that it a water fall was running down where he was trying to roll and that the smear foot holds had less friction than the climbing gym. Ok forgiven. In torrential rain we rappelled the route and escaped to the coffee shop for warm drinks… foiled again!

Horseman, 5.5
Tuesday came around! Finally 24 degrees Celsius! Just in time for us to head back to Ontario! Grrr! But we managed to nab one more route. The AMAZING Horseman, 5.5. Hans Kraus and Fritz Wiessner (one of my personal heros) climbed this route in 1941. It climbed like a 5.4. And I told Chris so. And looking into the history of the route, it was first graded as 5.4. Of course now we are in the era of snowflakes and sandbags (it’s not a sandbag, it’s you) the route was re-graded as a 5.5. Probably because (and I quote) the climb is so steep, you can’t believe you are on a 5.5!

We broke this climb into two pitches, following tradition. After a fun crack-and-corner climb and a heroic leap onto a non-existent traverse to the left, a hanging belay greets climbers as the stance leading to the second pitch. The second pitch climbs steeply but easily and veers slightly right to the top. This climb is pure joy! Easy but exposed climbing on sublime rock. Comments from people below were quite funny: one day I’ll sack up and climb that. Looks awesome but it doesn’t look like a 5.5. Gear is great and there is a little spice in the second pitch, but rest-assured we had hearty laughs and giggles at the top. So sublime is this climb. Not to be missed.

Chris and Graeme at the pitch 1 belay of Horseman, 5.5.

Once at the top of Horseman, there is an easy walk off to the climber’s right. We descended, although I made a muffled squeak and almost fell off as I realized my hand had almost grabbed onto a large rat snake as I climbed down. In the Gunks, there are several snakes. Thankfully only two are poisonous – the copperhead and the timber rattler. The rat snake ran up the cliff (amazing solo skill) as I headed down. Filled with grins and bagels, we made the eight hour drive back to Toronto. It wasn’t the best weekend in terms of weather, but the little climbing we did was so so sweet. It’s a great fun memory that I’ll remember for years to come. And now I have a Mohonk Preserve pass myself, you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be there with Chris again very very soon to crush harder routes.

Freaking huge rat snake.