climbing, travel

Getting Gunky

high exposure

Al and Josh on High Exposure

The Kielbasa Festival, a wedding in Milwaukee, then husband away in Germany for a week, my relay race in Kentucky, a 10 mile race in town, a 10k trail race a little bit out of town, then … a big climbing trip! What a crazy six weeks: a period during and after which I couldn’t complain about the small amount of travel in my life, nor about the bathroom not getting its regular cleaning, either (but it is staring at me). I’m living that life, though I am glad, now, to have a few months of staying in town, working, teaching yoga, maybe going to (or having) a party or two. Having a more or less open free-time schedule. And I now have some time to plan the next trips!

carved walnut

Culture in CT: Teeny watching faces

That last one in the circuit, the climbing trip, has the special distinction of being a “bucket list” item for me, though I think that list needs a new name. Yes, this life is short but that’s no reason to dwell on kicking buckets. How about the Do It Now list?

I’ve wanted to climb in the Gunks for about ten years – ever since one of my climbing buddies/mentors Jeremy told me he adored the place, and it was where he learned to lead climb.

It’s taken me this long to finally get there because climbing locales in the west and/or in areas that boast more than one month of decent weather made it into my plans, sooner. This year, its time had come, despite a schedule that started out reasonable but, by August, ended up packed.

In the process, I have hopefully learned something about planning and priorities. This doesn’t change the fact that I climbed in the Shawangunks, finally. Wahoo! That rock was strange and interesting to climb, the scenery was spectacular, and my climbing friends rock. While I’m not feeling the specific satisfaction I expected, after this trip, I am feeling a surprising illumination from it. Perhaps the brilliant kaleidoscope of October leaf colors made an assist; perhaps the fact that I’m just a little bit older and have changed a few ways, since our last crag trip. Let’s explore…

I’m doing this … why?

carriage road

The Uplit Freeway

I decided some time ago to aim for the Gunks as it has a wide range of traditional routes, which is great if you’re still learning how to lead. I qualify: I can count my trad leads on one, or maybe one and a half, hands. Also appealing was its surprising eastern locale, not far outside of New York City. But, really, my original intent for this trip was to gain experience and build my confidence as a traditional lead climber.

And, a little sadly, I just wasn’t ready for it, by the start of the trip. I’d spent more time running races this summer and fall, and hadn’t gotten outside to climb much, to get comfortable again with vertical exposure and to thwack myself a few times with saplings, to toughen up a little. You’d think that my July Grand Canyon hike would have helped me along with both, but alas, it wasn’t enough. It was certainly enough to allow me to enjoy seconding or top-roping on 6 great routes: Shockley’s CeilingCCKHigh Exposure, MF and Birdie Party (just the 1st pitches of both), and Yellow Ridge.

Freaky rock

yellow ridge p2

Al on the sharp end of a 5.7- route.

This place of strange crack directions was roof-tastic! But, almost all the roofs we climbed had a key hand and foot-hold that made them not only feasible but delicious to execute. Pure joy, even for a weekend where this crack-climbing fan did maybe just one hand-jam!

The ratings were surprising (by my math: just add at least two, to get more in line with climbs at many other areas). Early in the trip, Mike suggested I lead a specific 5.3. Had I ever seen a 5.3 before? I have lead some, in City of Rocks or JTree, and they were labeled 5.5 or 6.

Several of our routes had water on them (from Friday’s rain), which made a few moves especially tricky. The quartz pebbles in the sandstone usually helped with hand or foot grip, but that moisture was still a new, sometimes intimidating factor to consider.

I love you guys

I’ve been on climbing trips where I head out to a strange land with a couple friends, and we learn the Mars terrain together, moving around like one happy amoeba, all climbing, eating, jumping into hot springs, snarfing down macaroons in the back seat of the rental car… together.

This trip was a little different. A few people on the trip were familiar with the Gunks, a few people had friends who live in the area, two people have had the fortune to travel as a pair for successive entire summers together, and we all had a climber friend in the area who we knew from his years in Minnesota. Plus, we picked possibly the most popular weekend of the year to visit the premier climbing destination in the northeast, if not the whole country.


Can it get any more east-coast hippie?

On one hand, these factors made for some complicated logistics. But on the other hand, it made this trip a little more like … travel. Travel in the sense that visiting new places is about scenery, experiences and people. Each day wasn’t just wake up, fuel up, head to crag, finish at crag, fuel up, sleep, then repeat for x days. This time, each day offered some spice, as follows.

Friday, we got rained out and had to visit coffee and climb shops all day in New Paltz. Toward the end of that day, we traveled eastwards (and south, and north, perhaps, too) to sup at the home of two wonderful friends, Michael and Rózsa, in the rolling, bucolic hills of Connecticut. Once the weather cleared up and we could put hands and gear to rock, we got to know Al’s nephew Augie, who is in school at Purchase college. We met another local friend, Jean, for dinner in town after climbing. Sunday, we had to get up crazy early to get in line to climb a very popular route (High Exposure).

On Monday, our group had thinned considerably, as had the Gunks crowds, so Josh, Al and I had the Near Trapps area all to ourselves. Briefly, on that latter item, I found myself missing the crowds, at least until we located the trail and climb we had selected. A small amount of bushwacking was in order! We finished up on Yellow Ridge just in time to head back to LaGuardia, for our flights home. The airline delay fairies were good to us, on this trip, and we arrived home safely on the day we had intended to return (Big YAY!).

This was a rare climb trip in the sense that I took more pictures! At the crag, and in other locales, as well. Clearly I had a different head on, this year. Frustrated as I may be on the courage front, I’m glad my focus was a little more relaxed, in this sense. I’ve had trips which I didn’t document much at all. This one didn’t qualify: check out the rest of my photos! I also had some nice chunks of time that allowed me to enjoy a great book: Agent ZigZag.

Other things to love

  • Now and then, you find gear that you love so much that it’s like Linus’ blanket on that trip. So it was, with the green Patagonia Nano Puff jacket that I bought at the end of last winter. Nummy warm, crazy bright, terrifically light.
  • The Bakery in New Paltz: we spent 1.5 of our rained-out Friday hours here, enjoying a healthy, hearty lunch. Which included my first dose of rugelach for the weekend.
  • Peet’s coffee. And Al, for buying some, to supplement our hotel coffee.
  • My Mom’s macaroon recipe. We enjoyed some of these at the end of each day.
  • Just to break up this food thread: the absolutely amazing colors in the Gunks in October. Wowza!! Even in the rain!
  • Jean (not a thing, a beautiful person) and her rugelach Monday breakfast gift from McKinney & Doyle. Yum!
  • Jean (again) and her most excellent directions, back from the Gunks to LaGuardia. Priceless!
  • Friends! Of course.

The next trip? Back to the Methow, for sure. And, the Kentucky Derby. Then, maybe Iceland: I want to ride a pony. Then, perhaps, some work at the crags at home, and, likely, another climb trip. Onward!