Gunks Climbing – Where to Park & Basic Information
Theft at the Gunks is rare, but has been known to occur. Cars rarely but occasionally are broken into. Gear accidentally left lying around can disappear. However, everyone seems comfortable leaving their packs at the base of multipitch climbs, returning later to find everything just as they left it.
There is quite a bit of poison ivy, mostly on the sides of the trails, but not on the climbs. Familiarize yourself with what it looks like and keep away!
The late spring brings the bugs. Bring bug repellent! The black flies will chomp on you, leaving desperately itchy welts with bleeding centers all over you. Then the mosquitoes will eat you alive, especially around dusk. Check yourself for tick bites, especially if you have been walking in tall grassy areas. The larger ones tend to be harmless but the ones you can barely see are the ones which can carry lyme disease. Know the symptoms of lyme and get tested and treated as soon as possible if you suspect it. In the summer, the chiggers quietly burrow into your flesh as you sit on ledges. A day or so later, you find yourself frantically scratching places that are moist or where clothing is tight. Therefore, you have to discreetly tear at your crotch or have the elastic on your underwear cause unbearable itching. Avoid wearing shorts if you can.
You’re likely to see snakes at the Gunks – don’t worry about the harmless black ones, but beware of copperheads – they are common at the Gunks. They’re shy for the most part, but they often blend into the leaves and camouflage well. Their venom is poisonous and you should seek medical attention immediately if you’re bitten. The baby ones are the most dangerous because they cannot control the amount of venom they disperse. Rattlesnakes do exist in the Gunks but they are so rare you’re not likely to ever see one. Once I did see a black bear stroll past us at the Trapps, but sightings of bears are rare as well.
The Mohonk Preserve is a private non-profit nature preserve which allows rock climbing on its lands. The most popular Gunks climbing areas, the Trapps, and the Near Trapps, are on Mohonk Preserve land. There is a strong trad climbing ethic at the Gunks. Pre-existing pitons and bolts can be replaced, but no new fixed hardware is allowed. There are some bolted chain anchors for rappelling on popular routes that were placed by the preserve to protect the trees. Many climbs will have either chains or slung trees for rappelling off each pitch – but be cautious and check the quality of the bolts and nests of slings before you trust your life to them. There are multiple parking lots and trailheads and a nice Visitor’s Center. Dogs must be kept on a leash and not left unattended.
COST: Day fees for climbing or mountain biking are $17 per person and $12 for hikers (as of 2011, check website to be sure). Children 12 and under free with adult. If you come here often, seriously consider buying a year membership or even a life membership. And try not to complain. The Mohonk Preserve relies on day fees, membership dues, grants and endowments. They have a lot of land to manage, miles of trails and carriage roads to maintain and monitor and you’ll find the rangers and staff among the nicest folks you’ll have to deal with. They are far less restrictive than the state parks, and they welcome climbers. Oh, and if you get hurt, they are highly trained in how to rescue your sorry ass. So cough up the fee and realize how much more you’re getting for your money than at the local indoor climbing gym.
PHONE: (845) 255-0919
PARKING: Multiple lots. See my Getting there section, or view their map.
Parking: West Trapps lot for the left side of the cliff, Warwarsing (“Stairmaster”) lot for the right side of the cliff. Not a huge difference, so either lot will do if needed.
Facilities: Large pit toilet building in the West Trapps parking lot, porta-potties below the steel bridge over Rt. 44/55, and another pit toilet building on the carriage road in the “Uberfall” area. Occasional water from a pipe in the Uberfall area, but frequently dry (not reliable).
Approach: Depends on which parking lot you parked in:
1) From the far end of the West Trapps parking lot (at the circle), take the West Trapps Conector trail to the steel bridge, pass the port-a-potties, and up the steps to the carriage road. Turning left at the top of the steps, pass the large “welcome boulder” in the intersection and continue straight towards the view of the valley along the carriage road called “Undercliff Road”. This will bring you to the far (climber’s) left start of the Trapps.
2) If you park in the Warwarsing lot, walk towards the end of the parking lot in the direction you’d be driving to continue uphill and to the hairpin turn. Take the staircase at the end of the parking lot to a trail with steep rock steps (thus called the “stairmaster”) to “Undercliff Road” at the area of the cliffs above the hairpin turn on Rt. 44/55 at the climb “Shockley’s Ceiling”.
The entire length of the cliff is paralleled by a carriage road called Undercliff Road. There are approach trails with yellow blazes at frequent intervals that will bring you to the base of the climbs.
Guidebook: Best one by far is “The Climber’s Guide to the Shawangunks – The Trapps” by Dick Williams, 2004. Also known as the “grey dick”. The most thorough climbing guidebook you’ll ever see. Details of every pitch, length, rating, protection. Second place is “The Gunks Guide” by Todd Swain, but it’s not the most current. Stay away from “The Gunks” by Zach Orenczak & Rachael Lynn. Pretty pictures, but otherwise inconsistent ratings, inaccurate information, inflated grades.
Climbing: All trad climbing, some climbs on the far left end can be top-roped without leading. Huge variety of climbs and grades, most climbs are 2-3 pitches. The best place in the world to trad lead really easy spectacular high quality climbs with exposure. Where else can you get many climbs with 3 pitches of 5.3 climbing with jaw-dropping exposure and overhangs!?!? The cliff has a large ledge that runs across it called the “Grand Traverse Ledge”, mostly known as the “GT ledge”. Most people rap off of chained anchors or slung trees, but there is an unmarked trail along the top to hike back to the left side of the cliff where a short and easy downclimb will take you back to the carriage road. Note that this is the busiest climbing area at the Gunks, and on nice weekends, especially in the fall, it can be a total zoo.
The Uberfall: To the right of the climb “Jacob’s Ladder” is a broken section of cliff that is an easy descent route or ascent to set up top ropes. It is referred to as the Uberfall descent. But since that area of the cliff is so popular the whole general area is often referred to as the Uberfall. You’ll find many people hanging out, often the ranger truck is parked there to sell day passes, there’s an information kiosk and a big pit toilet building there. People will be sitting around or bouldering while waiting for their partners, or just standing around watching others climb some of the classics in the area.
My Favorite Climb: While the crowds flock to the classic “High Exposure”, my favorite is another 5.6 classic, “Madame Grunnebaum’s Wulst”, also known as “Madame G’s”. The upper pitches are a joyous overhanging orange wall of steep jugs with comfortable stances to place lots of gear. So much fun!
The Near Trapps
Parking: West Trapps lot
Approach: from the far end of the parking lot where the circle is, take the West Trapps Connector trail to the base of the steel bridge and Route 44/55. There are porta-potties here. Cross Rt. 44/55 carefully (speeding cars suddenly appear from beyond the road curves) and head left towards the scenic overlook. Just before the scenic overlook parking lot railing is an unmarked trail going right. It parallels the base of the Near Trapps cliff.
Access: The base of the Near Trapps is owned by a mixture of private landowners as well as the Mohonk Preserve. One landowner has closed their land off and marked it as private property, no trespassing. The posted signs start at the area of the climb “Eenie Meenie” and continue to the climb “Nazgul.” Climbers who wish to access climbs south of “Nazgul” will need to take the blue blazed Millbrook Ridge Trail on the top of the Near Trapps and either rappel in south of “Nazgul” or proceed on the Millbrook Ridge Trail south to the intersection with the Bayard’s Path, then travel east through Smede’s cove to the southern end of the climbers trail at the base of the Near Trapps.
Guidebook: Best one by far is “The Climber’s Guide to the Shawangunks – The Near Trapps – Millbrook” by Dick Williams, 2008. The most thorough climbing guidebook you’ll ever see. Details of every pitch, length, rating, protection. Second option is “The Gunks Guide” by Todd Swain, but it’s not the most current and certainly not as thorough.
Climbing: The nature of the Near Trapps, with its many roofs on the top pitches makes it unsuitable for setting up any top ropes without requiring leading. There are excellent routes of all grades here, all require trad leading. Many climbs have bolted chain anchors or nests of slings on trees for rappel. There is also an easy descent trail you can hike down that takes you close to the start of the cliffs. Note that while the first pitches of most of the climbs are fine, most of the upper pitches around the center of the Near Trapps have lots of loose rock and are not recommended. The best quality climbs are at either ends of the cliff band. The “Nears” tend to be a little less crowded than the Trapps, but are still definitely the 2nd most busy cliffs at the Gunks.
My Favorite Climb: The popular classic is “Disneyland” (5.6) but for me, “Birdland” (5.8) is my most favorite. The lower pitch is tricky thin face moves with a very thoughtful crux. The upper pitch is steep overhanging jugs with great gear. A terrific mix of techniques in one excellent climb.
Parking/Approaches: There are multiple options on how to approach Millbrook. One way is to park at the West Trapps parking lot of the Mohonk Preserve, and take the carriage road called Trapps Road to the Coxing Trail (blue blazes). Pass by the first intersection with red blazes (Millbrook Cross Trail) and make a left at the following intersection with red blazes (Millbrook Mountain Trail). This trail takes you to the Westward Ha! rappel tree. The second method is to park at the main lot of Minnewaska Lake State Park Preserve, hike past the lake to the red Millbrook Mountain Trail until it ends at the Millbrook cliff and Westward Ha! rappel tree. The third method, which works well on a mountain bike, is to also park at the main lot of Minnewaska Lake State Park, take the red carriage road on the southwest side of Lake Minnewaska to the Yellow carriageway. Take the left fork onto the Millbrook Mountain Carriageway (you have no choice if you’re on a bike because the right fork onto the Hamilton Point Carriageway doesn’t allow bicycles). The Millbrook Mountain Carriageway ends at a small cul de sac, also near the Westward Ha! rappel tree. Note that this third route is much longer than the other ways, but because it follows carriage roads the entire way, it is the only approach you can make entirely by bicycle.
Guidebook: Best one is “The Climber’s Guide to the Shawangunks – The Near Trapps – Millbrook” by Dick Williams, 2008. Details of every pitch, length, rating, protection. Second option is “The Gunks Guide” by Todd Swain.
Climbing: Millbrook is the most remote of the big cliffs here, requiring a longer approach and seeing less traffic. This also means if you get hurt, it will be much more difficult to get help. About 1/3 of the way up there is a large ledge system referred to as the “Great Traverse Ledge”. The rock below this ledge is loose and poor quality. Therefore, climbers rappel down from the top to the ledge to start their climbs, therefore bypassing the 1st third of the cliff. The most popular descent is to rap off of a large pine tree at the top of “Westward Ha!” (165 feet). Since I have not climbed here myself, I will leave the rest of the details to the guidebooks.
Parking: Spring Farm Road parking lot, off of Upper 27 Knolls Road.
Facilities: Pit toilet building in Spring Farm parking lot.
Approach: Hike the red Bonticou Crag Trail to a 5 way intersection with Bonticou Road and Cedar Drive. Take Bonticou Road sort of straight across (the 2nd left trail). Take the yellow trail straight up the talus boulders to the cliff face. (Note: this is a very popular hike and affords spectacular views). The yellow trail will take you all the way to the top if you want to set top rope anchors.
Guidebook: Routes at Bonticou are not to be documented, thus there are no guidebooks. Please respect this decision.
Climbing: There are a number of easy routes in the vicinity of the yellow trail which you can trad lead or toprope. Enjoy the adventure of picking a climb and seeing how it goes. The rock here is beautiful white and great positive friction and edges. A spectacular spot to climb.
Parking: Coxing parking lot, next to the Split Rock Swimming hole.
Facilities: Pit toilet building in Coxing parking lot.
Approach: From the parking lot kiosk, take the High Peters Kill Trail (blue) to where it splits. You can see the cliffs from here and can go either way.
Guidebook: Routes are not to be documented, therefore, no guidebook. Please respect this decision. Climbers there will be happy to provide route beta.
Climbing: Most routes are hard, in the 5.11 range and up, although some moderate routes do exist there. Trad leading or top roping only. Enjoy the adventure of picking a climb and seeing how it goes. There are lots of talus caves and shady places here which keeps it cool on hot days.
Minnewaska Lake State Park Preserve
Minnewaska Lake was once a resort with two hotels, owned by the brother of the Mohonk Mountain House owner. The hotels burned down, the land was acquired by the state and is now a State Park with “Preserve” designation, which means the nature preserve aspect of the park is a higher priority than the recreation aspect. Therefore, climbing is prohibited everywhere in the park except for the Peter’s Kill area. Note that the Dickie Barre cliff’s flora and fauna are currently being surveyed by the Gunks Climbers’ Coalition and work is being done to prepare for opening it to climbing. Being a New York State Park means that changes have to go through state government bureaucracy, so progress is slow.
COST: For use of the park as a non-climbing visitor, it’s $8 per car, and the Empire Passport is accepted since it’s a New York State Park. However, to climb at Peter’s Kill, instead of the per-car park fee, you will pay a $7 per person fee and be required to sign a waiver. There is a limit to how many climber’s permits they issue per day, but it is unusual for them to run out.
HOURS: The park opens at 9am, and note the closing time that they post. They are VERY strict about making sure everyone is out of the parking lot by closing time. You will get ticketed if you’re still there, possibly yelled at, threatened with arrest, or locked in the parking lot.
DOGS: Dogs must be on a leash not more than 6 feet. Not allowed in buildings, camping, picnic or bathing areas or on walkways.
PHONE: (845) 255-0752
Parking: Peter’s Kill lot on the right (north) side of Rt. 44/55 going west. Part of Minnewaska Lake State Park Preserve.
Facilities: Nice bathrooms with composting toilets and a sink. Pack out your own garbage. Park office located in the same building.
Approach: Very short. Park car, walk either to the right or the left, depending on which climbs you’re doing. There should be a map of the climbing area available next to the bathrooms.
Guidebook: The only guidebook is “Peter’s Kill Climbing Guide” by Robert Wilson, 2002. It’s small, minimal and out of date, but good enough. It may be getting hard to find – try Rock and Snow or the EMS in Gardiner next to the deli (intersection of Rt. 44/55 and Rt. 299).
Climbing: Peter’s Kill is an excellent place for top-roping. There’s easy trail access to the top of the cliff and bolts at the top of some of the climbs. Note that the bolts have no chains so you need to bring your own draws and biners to set up top rope anchors. Also, if you build your own anchor, you are not allowed to use the pine trees at the top of the cliff, the pitch pines are part of a delicate ecosystem and are protected in Minnewaska. All the climbs are 1 pitch. There’s a good mix of very easy climbs and harder climbs up to 5.12. There’s also excellent bouldering here. Peter’s Kill tends to be less crowded than the Trapps and Near Trapps, and is a good alternative on crowded weekends or when you have a group. Also, since the approaches and the base of the cliff are flat for most of the climbs (except on the far (climber’s) right side of the cliff), it’s a better crag if you have to bring young children.
My Favorite Climb: OMG. “Golden Dream” (5.9+). What a FANTASTIC climb! If this were in the Trapps, there’d be a constant line waiting for it. Perfect crack in a corner. Hand jams with delicate stemming on thin faces. Beautiful moves, and the crack eats nuts. (See the picture above for a picture of a climber on Golden Dream).
Mohonk Mountain House Resort
The Mohonk Mountain House is a privately owned commercial resort hotel. It’s historic, it’s magnificent, and it’s REALLY expensive. They own the Skytop cliff which was once open to climbers, then it was totally closed, but now it’s open only to guests with their approved guiding service.
COST: Expensive! First you must be a guest of the resort – either overnight, at the spa, or for a meal. Then you are only allowed to climb if you use their approved guide service, Alpine Endeavors. Now these guides are terrific, but having the privilege to climb at Skytop comes at a steep price. See the website link below for guide rates.
Parking: Well, since you have to be a guest of the hotel to climb at Skytop, you’ll be parking at the hotel parking lots.
Facilities: Saying they have bathrooms is an understatement. This is a world-class luxury resort hotel and restaurant. Every guest room has a balcony and fireplace. The spa has an enormous swimming pool and is very relaxing. Jackets are required at dinner.
Approach: Hike up talus slope to the base of climbs.
Guidebook: Because Skytop was closed for many years, the 1991 “black Dick” collection of guidebooks had the latest Skytop guide by Dick Williams. Todd Swain’s “The Gunks Guide“, published in 1998 (3rd edition), also contains a section on Skytop. Although more recent, it isn’t as detailed. Since you will be guided, you shouldn’t need a guidebook anyway.
Climbing: The climbing community was devastated when the Mohonk Mountain House closed Skytop to climbing. There were so many classics here, including the legendary “Foops”, which were now off limits. Only recently has climbing been permitted again, but only through a guiding service. The cliff is up high above the talus slope and the valley and although not the tallest cliff, it certainly feels like you’re high off the ground! Most climbs are one or two pitches.
My Favorite Climb: I was new to climbing 5.8 when I first followed “Sound and Fury”. Tricky moves on parallel cracks at the bottom led to insane overhanging jugs at the top. It was the first time I ever did a free-swinging ape-man move on overhangs, and it was frightening and wonderfully exciting at the same time. That was a very long time ago and I’ve often wondered how the climb would feel again after an additional 20-25 years of climbing under my belt. I do hope someday I will get to climb it again without having to pay a fortune to experience it.