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 allure and you can climb there anytime 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.

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

Showing off its bare branches in the fall, the Gunks still radiates warmth and light. 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 so much more. But the Gunks didn’t teach me any of those things. It taught me problem-solving. It showed me the value in the slow process of improvement. It gave me the chance to feel vulnerable by experiencing failure.

But most importantly, I learned a few lessons in love and humility. These lessons happened at the top of those ridges, 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 has a familiar pace to it. When I’m stretching my legs down its gravel, my four-legged 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

Cover photograph by Sam Cervantes.

3 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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