An Upstate State of Mind
|FOLIAGE, PERFECTED: Upstate’s Adirondacks region (Joe Sohm/Photodisc/Getty)|
On the Road
Just eight miles west of New Paltz, the decisive cliff band of the Shawangunk Ridge is among the top climbing areas in the United States. The cliffs deserve at least a full day (or an entire lifetime) of climbing, so it's best to get an early start—by noon, the area is crowded with weekend warriors making the short trip from the city. To keep things simple, grab a sandwich for lunch at the Bistro Mountain Store, the deli-cum-rendezvous spot at the intersection of Rt. 299 and Rt. 44/55, before heading to the Gunks.
A Bit of History
The Gunks' climbing scene is ripe with colorful personalities and past feuds. After pioneers Fritz Weissner and Hans Kraus took the first lines in the late 1930s, gear improvements such as nylon ropes and safer harnesses that evolved within the next decade allowed climbers to explore the more overhanging rock that characterizes the ridge. And as the popularity of the site increased, so did the Gunks' climbing lore, most of it centering around the conflicts between the Appalachian Mountain Club, a dominant force in the 1950s and ‘60s, and The Vulgarians, a rowdy group of rock-climbing college kids from New York City. Though climbing ethics and standards were at the core of this feud, the Vulgarians made a name for themselves by drunkenly drag racing late into the night and setting difficult routes the following morning. Dick Williams, a key member of this crew, famously gave tourists on their scenic drive around the Hudson Valley a little more to see when he climbed the highly visible Shockley's Ceiling in the nude. Fittingly, his buddies took off with his clothes and he had to make his descent au natural as well.
Highlight: The Gunks
Known for the abundance of roofs, stellar easy routes, and rock quality, the Gunks are a trad climber's paradise. With more than 1,000 easily accessible routes, including many multi-pitch, this area is a training ground for both the expert climber and those just learning. The four most prominent climbing areas are the Trapps, Near Trapps, Skytop, and Millbrook, though Skytop is currently only open for guided climbing and Millbrook is somewhat remote. Lost City is a less popular crag with a small number of difficult routes (most at 5.11 and up). If it's a first visit, the Trapps and the Near Trapps are the best option, as hundreds of multi-grade climbs are easily accessible from the carriage road or trail. Patience is a virtue as these areas quickly become crowded in high season, but the climbs are worth the wait. Classic climbs not to be missed include Cascading Crystal Kaleidoscope (5.7+), Bonnie's Roof (5.9), and Shockley's Ceiling (5.6). No matter what your level, don't skip the uber-classic High Exposure (5.6) which, true to its name, offers an airy view of the valley.
Highlight: Mohonk Mountain House
This astounding Victorian castle sits on the shores of Mohonk Lake, which poetically translates from a local Native American dialect to "lake in the sky." Built by the twin brothers Albert and Alfred Smiley over a period of 31 years (from 1879 to 1910), the Mountain House has long served as a resort and conference destination (the twins, who were Quaker, hosted well-attended international peace conferences there). The massive property (extending nearly 1/8th of a mile) is an eclectic mix of architecture that consists of nine buildings and 265 rooms. Poke around the grand rooms and dining areas, visit the gardens, and then snag a rocking chair on the deck overlooking the lake. Directly beyond the lake is the Mohonk Preserve, a 6,000-acre protected area that includes the Trapps and more than 100 miles of trails and carriage roads. For a quick jaunt, hike from the back deck up to Skytop, a tower built in memoriam to Albert Smiley. The spot offers panoramic views of the valley, with the Catskills rising to the west.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication