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TR - A Taste of the Gunks 10-Jul-2013 At 2:48:47 PM pmonks
Just got back from a brief trip to upstate New York, where we managed to squeeze in a short trip to the Gunks. With the kids being minded by grandparents (and temperature & humidity in the 90s by mid morning - mid 30s, C) we didn't have long, so decided to jump right on the crag classic - High Exposure*** 5.6+, 2 pitches.

Unfortunately finding your way around the crag isn't that easy, with the cliff barely visible from the carriage road and the guide assuming a certain level of familiarity with the numerous access trails that run up to the base of the cliff every hundred metres or so. The result was that we wasted half an hour trying to figure out where we were and finally arrived to a conga line of bumblies all queued up at the base of the climb. After watching a noob get stuck trying to clean a cam on the first pitch, we called it a bust and jumped on nearby The Last Will be First** 5.6, 2 pitches instead.

The first pitch looked long and clean, and my partner (who doesn't trad climb much) decided he wanted to do it since he didn't want to be surprised if the 2nd pitch turned out to be nasty. Up he went while I fought off battalions of mosquitos in the dank, jungley conditions under the canopy. The pitch itself was great - an easy blocky start led to about 30m of sustained climbing up slabs and through a couple of overlaps (the pitch clocked in at around 45m in total). Gear is spaced but all there - mostly small (aliens) to medium (#2 camalot) cams in horizontal breaks.

I led the second pitch, a shorter, steeper but more featured pitch with poor gear down low (ledge fall potential for the first 10m or so) then bomber cams just as you reach the crux overlap. An easy head wall leads to a double bolt / chain belay / abseil anchor. 3 X 25m abseils and we were down, hot, bothered, mosquito bitten and desperate for a swim.

Although 5.6 traditionally translates to about Ewbank grade 12, it felt to me more like grade 15 or so, due mostly to the conditions (even my sweat was sweating, and the rock is not very frictional).

The next day we took the kids for some top-roping at the small "Peter's Kill" area - a perfect spot for beginners / kids with easily accessible top roping up to about 20m in height (though anchors are a bit of a pain - a 20m static rope would be a big help). The rock was lovely to play around on and in between belaying the kids we took turns trying to come up with the hardest moves up the steeper sections of rock. Here's a photo of my 6yo near the top of one of the walls:

So is the Gunks, as is often claimed, "Arapilesesque"?

From a distance it looks nothing like Arapiles - more like Mt Rosea or perhaps the Mt York cliff line - a long, vertical escarpment perched on top of a long scree slope. It's also surprisingly short - the cliff reaches about 80m high where we were, but most of it is shorter than that.

Up close the rock (quartzite) appears basically identical to the rock at Araps - it's a different colour (white vs orange), but it's remarkably similar. Stepping back a bit the primary difference is obvious - the Gunks has very strong horizontal bedding (unlike Araps), and this defines the style of climbing (lots of reaches and pulls between horizontal breaks, small overlaps, etc.) as well as the protection (cams in breaks, not many wires). As a result it climbs quite differently to Araps and is more like a solid version of Pt Perp, with more breaks, fewer pockets and none of the honeycomb choss.

Where the rock has fractured the rock is particularly fun to climb on - bomber sharp edged crimps and breaks that are glorious to dangle off and that accept the most bomber cams imaginable. Where the rock is more worn & rounded, some of the breaks are lined with small rounded quartz cobbles, which creates some memorably smooth (and slippery in the heat!) jugs.

That said there is one striking similarity between the Gunks and Arapiles - improbably steep, moderate, trad routes with bomber (though sometimes spaced) gear, and just like Araps the rock is simply a joy to climb on. I can't wait to go back when the weather isn't ludicrously hot and humid and get on something harder (some of the direct starts to High Exposure look great, and the steep flaky wall to the right of it is exceptional).

PS. Sorry for the lack of photos of the main Gunks cliffline - I forgot the camera the day we were there.

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