Inside Scoop: The Gunks

Dreaming about a trip to the Gunks this fall? If you’re like most climbers, you pore over guidebooks for weeks or even months when planning a climbing trip, educating yourself on routes, descents, gear, and camping. But what about the local ethics, issues, and challenges at your destination crag? Part of being a responsible climber is knowing how to tread lightly—both socially and environmentally. In this Inside Scoop series, we connect you with local climbing access experts at the country’s top climbing destinations for valuable insight into local ethics and issues.

Paul Robinson rock climbing at the Gunks in the Northeast

Destination: THE GUNKS, NEW YORK


What is the biggest challenge that you’re facing right now at the Gunks?
Because of our proximity to New York City and the fact that we’re a weekend destination for many East Coast climbers, overcrowding is a prominent concern. We have been working with local climbing gyms to implement a gym-to-crag transition program that helps transitioning climbers reduce their impacts when they head outside to climb.

What can climbers do to help address the overcrowding issue?

The best way for climbers to help is to follow Leave No Trace practices to reduce their impacts. But we should also think about how our actions affect the climbers on the next route over. Just be considerate of one another’s experiences.

What does the access situation look like in the Gunks?

The access situation is a mixed bag. Much of the climbing in the Gunks is within the Mohonk Preserve, and we have a good relationship with those folks. However a significant number of climbing opportunities are on state park land, and most of that is closed. There is still more climbing on private land—some open and some closed— and none that is 100 percent protected. We recently lost access to part of the privately owned Near Trapps area, which has shown us the importance of working with private landowners to keep things open and conserved.

Are you working on any major access projects at the moment?

With Access Fund’s help, we just finished a letter-writing campaign to encourage New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to end the climbing ban that has closed much of the Shawangunk Ridge to climbing.

How is the relationship between climbers and land managers?

Our relationship with the Mohonk Preserve is excellent. Climbing is very much a part of their culture, and we maintain a collaborative relationship with their officials. Our relationship with New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is much newer, and climbing is not yet a part of their culture. But we are looking forward to working with them in the years to come as we examine climbing opportunities at Minnewaska State Park Preserve.

What’s the best way to dispose of human waste at the Gunks?

There are bathrooms at all of the open climbing areas, and visitors should use them whenever possible—even if they have to walk a ways to get to them. In emergencies, you should use a wag bag to pack out solid waste and toilet paper. We encourage all climbers to carry at least one wag bag in their packs in case they aren’t able to reach a restroom in time.

Any words of wisdom for folks visiting the Gunks for the first time?

Enjoy yourself! There are classic climbs here at every grade. Please remember to use existing trails and rappel anchors, and leave the cliffs the way you found them.

How can folks support Gunks Climbers’ Coalition?

Become a member or get involved in one of our Adopt a Crag events. Participating in these events not only helps mitigate impact, but also sends a strong message to land managers that we are committed to preserving the outdoor experience. Learn more at www.gunksclimbers.org.

Photo: Paul Jung on Westward Ha!, The Gunks, NY | © Tomás Donoso