Photo: Rock & Snow
Have you ever played King of the Mountain? From playground horse-play to Olympic competition (yes, rock climbing will debut at the Tokyo 2020 Games), pre-modern communities to sophisticated civilizations, there’s something about the sport of rock climbing that simultaneously compels and terrifies.
While most modern rock climbers wouldn’t consider attempting a climb without an array of harnesses, ropes, webbing, and cords at their fingertips, the art and science of rock climbing dates back millennia to pre-modern cultures that couldn’t possibly have conceived of the gear climbers use today to stay safe.
Archeologists have found burial caves in Nepal that could only be reached by climbing vertical cliffs; in the American Southwest, there’s ample evidence of climbing among its mesa cliffs by ancient people.
According to National Geographic, the modern sport of climbing is most often thought to have been initiated during the 19th century in England’s Peak and Lake Districts, Germany’s Elbe Sandstone region, and Italy’s Dolomite Mountains. By the dawn of the 20th century, climbers were deploying steel carabiners and iron ring pitons for safety.
The passion and knowledge then spread to the rest of Europe, across North America and elsewhere. Luckily for New Yorkers, we have some of the best climbing rocks in the world (and a stream of climbing fanatics from every corner of the globe to enjoy it) in the Hudson Valley.
The Shawangunk Mountains (referred to as the “Gunks”) are 85 miles north of New York City, and a boulder jump away from New Paltz, a progressive college town of 13,000.
Photo: Rock & Snow
The terrain is solid quartz with horizontal, instead of the more frequently seen vertical, slices and offers climbs that will suit first-timers and seasoned pros. October is prime climb time because the temperature is cool, but not cold, and the humidity is low.
We spoke with the manager of New Paltz’s Rock & Snow, Emma Blauer, about her story and what climbers typically — and should — look for in the Gunks.
New York Makers: How did you get into climbing and why?
Emma Blauer: I started about six years ago. My mom got me into it, actually. Everyone at Rock & Snow climbs; there are 12 of us, and we’ve been here since 1970. We’re the second-oldest independent climbing store in the country, and everyone who works here is passionate about climbing and weaves it into their everyday lives.
NYM: I’ve never actually climbed. What do you tell first-timers who want to tackle the Gunks?
EB: We tell them they can, but we also advise them to use one of the guide services we recommend for the first few times out. With the right equipment, used properly, climbing is safe, and, when you fall, your gear catches you. But if you’re a beginner, you really should go out with someone. That said, in addition to selling gear, we also sell books, including guides, maps, and narratives about climbing, and hold or sponsor events, including lectures and climbing film festivals.
NYM: Is it typical for climbing stores to have such a broad range of products and services?
EB: (Laughs). Not really. Most shops focus on clothes, but most of our revenue comes from our gear sales. I think that’s rooted in the fact that the shop has only had three owners in its entire history, and everyone who owns the shop and works here is really into climbing. We’re open seven days a week, 363 days a year. We close for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and anyone who comes in here to ask about climbing, whether they’re first-timers or pros, will find a community of people who are happy to tell them anything they want to know.
NYM: What else should would-be Gunks navigators know?
EB: The Gunks are on private land, so using a guide, even for pros who are unfamiliar with the terrain, is smart. The guides have special permits to climb. And on the day you do climb, if you go with a guide, everyone meets here, gets a discount card for gear, and free bagels and cream cheese to load up on before the climb. There’s also so much to do in New Paltz. On our website, we have links to great Bed & Breakfasts, camping sites, and great local restaurants.
Photo: Tai Grosjean / Rock & Snow
Photo: Rock & Snow
NYM: If you could pick one climb in the Gunks that you could do over and over again, what would it be?
EB: Son of Easy O. The name is cheesy, but the hike is incredible.
Whether a new sport or long-time passion for you, we recommend you dare to tackle the Gunks right now! Perfect spot, perfect time!