The Shawangunks comprise the most popular and extensive rock climbing in the eastern United States. Located 1.5 hours from New York City in the Catskill mountains outside the town of New Paltz. The cliffs of the "gunks" have been reserved for climbing and many other public uses through the generosity of the Smiley family, whose Mohonk Mountain House Retreat Hotel was founded in 1869. Formed as a band of cliffs several miles long, and separate and distinct from the more distant Catskill Mountains, the "'gunks" are a highly visible and prominent feature of the Wallkill River Valley and the greater Mid-Hudson Valley region.
The rich and complex history of the area is beyond the scope of this discussion. What is clear is that since the late 19th century people have sought out this area and its cliffs for a variety of recreational activities. Rock climbers originally from Europe, who moved to the US, first began to explore these cliffs in the mid-1930's. Because of the proximity of the 'Gunks to several major northeast metropolitan centers, climbers from this region found that they did not have to travel to the mountains of the West for high quality rock climbing opportunities. The particular geology of the cliffs and that very ease of access contributed to the development of the 'Gunks as a major climbing center.
In addition to climbing, the area lends itself to several other outdoor activities. Cross-country skiing and mountain biking on an extensive network of "carriage roads" have become very popular. The area is well-known as a major fly-way for migrating hawks and other birds. And, while no overnight camping is allowed, hiking the backcountry of the "Gunks" will often take you to isolated spots where you will not encounter another party. That's fairly unusual less than 100 miles from New York City.
Climbing in the gunks dates back to 1955 and holds deep history and traditions. For beginner climbers the climbing here is unrivaled. For the expert the gunks comprise many classic testpieces and these beautiful cliffs are a great location to learn the art of traditional climbing and gear placements. Mountain Skills Guides can guide you up fun routes and teach you many techniques, tips and tricks along the way.
Call or e-mail to book your next trip to the "Gunks".
*John Maier is a professional photographer/climber. If you would like him to join you, your family, or group to take photos on your rock climbing adventures in the Gunks, please contact him at 201-694-6832.