Most people know the famed Gunks as one of North America’s premier climbing destinations, located just outside of New Paltz, NY. The distinctive white cliffs draw you in with a strange allure and you can climb them any time between April and November (not counting bonus winter days, of course).

With well over a thousand traditional gear routes, the Gunks offers an experience like no other. Its cliffs, made of quartz conglomerate, are special because of the horizontal rather than vertical crack systems, airy traverses, savage roofs and hero jugs. Over the years, it’s become one of the busiest east coast crags, bustling with climbers from the NYC metropolitan area and beyond.

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Showing off its bare branches in the fall, the Gunks still radiates warmth and light. Photograph by Day Acheson

To me, it’s more than a crag. It’s home.

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Following Day up a pitch on a perfect fall morning. Photograph by Day Acheson

I used to climb almost exclusively at the Gunks in my first few years of climbing. I learned the basic things that most climbers will pick up in the beginning—the importance of good anchor building, how to swap leads efficiently, rope management. There, I learned how to lead belay, place gear, take leader falls, and route find. But the Gunks didn’t teach me any of those things.

The Gunks taught me problem-solving with a positive mindset. It taught me not to believe everything I felt, but instead, how to listen to my body and rely on true instinct. It showed me the value of the process of improvement over focusing so much on end results. It gave me the chance to feel truly vulnerable by experiencing failure. And there were a few lessons in love and humility in there, as well.

The infamous High E ledge. Photograph by Dave Scaringe

I learned these things in the West Trapps parking lot, long after dark had settled in while opening beers with nut tools and sitting on hoods of cars. These lessons happened at the very top of those ridges, watching sunsets in the arms of loved ones or picking as many blueberries as we could possibly fit into our dirty, blistered hands; at hanging belays, shivering in the cold, waiting patiently for my turn to climb; beneath infinite star-filled skies as I wearily bedded down for the night.

The carriage road that so many have traveled down had quickly become a familiar friend of mine, too. When I’m stretching my legs down its gravel and dirt, my four legged best friend trotting happily by my side, it’s hard to feel anything but grateful for everything the Gunks has given me: a spiritual home, a teacher and an undeniable lifetime of joy.

Photograph by Jinda Phommavongsa

2 thoughts

  1. This may have been your best essay so far! I just might make my daughter and son in-law take me there this summer when I come to NYC for a visit. Oh and I’ll have to make a trip out to Rat Rock too! ha ha Great essay-keep em comin!!

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