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Wellness Weekend: Rock climbing in the Gunks


Stop climbing the walls, and climb the Shawangunks, world-class rock not even two hours from New York City. Total beginners welcome.
Climbing the Gunks
Ashley McCullough is a writer and a rock climber, just not at the same time

It’s summer and all you want to do is get high. No problem; we understand. Of course, what we’re talking about is a sport that takes you to new heights, pushes your limits, and gives you a whole new perspective on life (literally, a bird’s eye view): rock climbing.

But this is a city, you’re thinking, where would I climb? Good question. Scaling the sides of buildings is both dangerous and illegal, so we wouldn’t suggest it. But did you know there’s a world-class climbing destination not even two hours from New York City? Can you say: Shawangunk Mountains? No? Don’t worry, neither can anyone else, so everyone just calls it “The Gunks.”

If you’re a total beginner, you might want to check out the Learn The Ropes class at Brooklyn Boulders. But climbing indoors is not a prerequisite. You can go straight to the rock and start there if you use one of the premier guide services. Alpine Endeavors offers half and full day trips for total novices. Mountain Skills has numerous programs and excursions, including multi-day courses. All you have to do is call and reserve space. They’ll provide the technical equipment (shoes, harness, ropes, chalk bag, helmet), teach you how to use it safely, and get you out climbing as many routes as time allows. If you want to go with a group of friends, both companies offer private guiding. It’s more expensive than a class but mitigated by the more people you bring. Keep in mind that tipping your guide is customary, so you should have some cash on hand to kick down 10-15%.

women rock climbing
Rock climbing combines strategy, athleticism, and a fist full of chalk

If you already know the difference between a cam and a nut, but you haven’t made it up to The Gunks yet, there are a couple routes you’ll want to make sure not to miss: Madame G’s (5.6) for a great mix of face and roof, High Exposure (5.6+) to get the adrenaline rush of one treacherous, exposed move on the second pitch, and Something Interesting (5.8) because it’s fun (and interesting). All the details and route maps can be found in the Dick Williams Guidebook and another invaluable resource is, of course, Gunks.com.

What To Wear: Loose bottoms, but not too loose. You’ll be happy if you keep your knees covered (rock is sharp and there’s no sense getting all scratched up when your pants can take the brunt of it). And on top, anything that allows free range of arm motion. Tank tops are ideal. Sunscreen a must.

Where To Eat: A long day on the vertical beach can make you feel like you’ve been fasting since 1983. Karma Road, on the main drag in New Paltz, is great for healthy prepared foods, juices, and baked goods (some gluten-free). Or if you want a quiet spot and fine culinary experience, sit in the garden at the The Village Tearoom.

And Don’t Miss: Rock and Snow on Main Street in New Paltz. It’s the perfect place to buy your own gear when you’re ready (and the meeting place for some of the guide services). Owned by and staffed with climbers, this is the kind of shop where you get advice and bonus information that makes you glad you didn’t buy online. —Ashley McCullough

Ashley McCullough climbing the Gunks

Ashley McCullough is a former professional cyclist who has recently channeled her hyperactivity disorder into rock climbing, ice climbing, snowboarding, and cyclocross. A sometimes contributor to Velonews and cyclingnews.com, she makes her real living as a copywriter for the women’s sportswear brand Athleta.

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