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TR - A Taste of the Gunks

2:48:47 PM
Just got back from a brief trip to upstate New York, where we managed to squeeze in a short trip to the Gunks. With the kids being minded by grandparents (and temperature & humidity in the 90s by mid morning - mid 30s, C) we didn't have long, so decided to jump right on the crag classic - High Exposure*** 5.6+, 2 pitches.

Unfortunately finding your way around the crag isn't that easy, with the cliff barely visible from the carriage road and the guide assuming a certain level of familiarity with the numerous access trails that run up to the base of the cliff every hundred metres or so. The result was that we wasted half an hour trying to figure out where we were and finally arrived to a conga line of bumblies all queued up at the base of the climb. After watching a noob get stuck trying to clean a cam on the first pitch, we called it a bust and jumped on nearby The Last Will be First** 5.6, 2 pitches instead.

The first pitch looked long and clean, and my partner (who doesn't trad climb much) decided he wanted to do it since he didn't want to be surprised if the 2nd pitch turned out to be nasty. Up he went while I fought off battalions of mosquitos in the dank, jungley conditions under the canopy. The pitch itself was great - an easy blocky start led to about 30m of sustained climbing up slabs and through a couple of overlaps (the pitch clocked in at around 45m in total). Gear is spaced but all there - mostly small (aliens) to medium (#2 camalot) cams in horizontal breaks.

I led the second pitch, a shorter, steeper but more featured pitch with poor gear down low (ledge fall potential for the first 10m or so) then bomber cams just as you reach the crux overlap. An easy head wall leads to a double bolt / chain belay / abseil anchor. 3 X 25m abseils and we were down, hot, bothered, mosquito bitten and desperate for a swim.

Although 5.6 traditionally translates to about Ewbank grade 12, it felt to me more like grade 15 or so, due mostly to the conditions (even my sweat was sweating, and the rock is not very frictional).

The next day we took the kids for some top-roping at the small "Peter's Kill" area - a perfect spot for beginners / kids with easily accessible top roping up to about 20m in height (though anchors are a bit of a pain - a 20m static rope would be a big help). The rock was lovely to play around on and in between belaying the kids we took turns trying to come up with the hardest moves up the steeper sections of rock. Here's a photo of my 6yo near the top of one of the walls:

So is the Gunks, as is often claimed, "Arapilesesque"?

From a distance it looks nothing like Arapiles - more like Mt Rosea or perhaps the Mt York cliff line - a long, vertical escarpment perched on top of a long scree slope. It's also surprisingly short - the cliff reaches about 80m high where we were, but most of it is shorter than that.

Up close the rock (quartzite) appears basically identical to the rock at Araps - it's a different colour (white vs orange), but it's remarkably similar. Stepping back a bit the primary difference is obvious - the Gunks has very strong horizontal bedding (unlike Araps), and this defines the style of climbing (lots of reaches and pulls between horizontal breaks, small overlaps, etc.) as well as the protection (cams in breaks, not many wires). As a result it climbs quite differently to Araps and is more like a solid version of Pt Perp, with more breaks, fewer pockets and none of the honeycomb choss.

Where the rock has fractured the rock is particularly fun to climb on - bomber sharp edged crimps and breaks that are glorious to dangle off and that accept the most bomber cams imaginable. Where the rock is more worn & rounded, some of the breaks are lined with small rounded quartz cobbles, which creates some memorably smooth (and slippery in the heat!) jugs.

That said there is one striking similarity between the Gunks and Arapiles - improbably steep, moderate, trad routes with bomber (though sometimes spaced) gear, and just like Araps the rock is simply a joy to climb on. I can't wait to go back when the weather isn't ludicrously hot and humid and get on something harder (some of the direct starts to High Exposure look great, and the steep flaky wall to the right of it is exceptional).

PS. Sorry for the lack of photos of the main Gunks cliffline - I forgot the camera the day we were there.
3:05:51 PM
Famously, someone chopped a rope in a lead fall off the top pitch of High Exposure and fell 70+ m to land between 2 rocks and only broke a leg.

3:11:38 PM
On 10/07/2013 mikllaw wrote:
>Famously, someone chopped a rope in a lead fall off the top pitch of High
>Exposure and fell 70+ m to land between 2 rocks and only broke a leg.

That might explain the litter and emergency box stashed in the trees near the base of the climb... ...though not the 10m aluminium ladder!
3:36:10 PM
Only been there for a weekend trip ages ago and thought it was ok. I had been a grade 19-20 leader but had a 2-3 year break and ended up backing off the second pitch of High E. The gear is there if you know the route but hard to suss from below. I think the rock has much larger grains than Araps and the whole place is very sweaty in summer.

Saw as many snakes there in 10 minutes than I have in a lifetime in Oz....just little copperheads which don't seem to do very much anyway.

6:02:19 PM
I had a fabulous three days there in November last year - no humidity, no queues and Fall leaves everywhere. As an easy trad destination it comes a second to Araps but is still totally world class. I did find the routes got fairly repetitive after awhile though. The guidebook sucks big time. I ended up having to ask other climbers what route they were on all the time to try and get a reference point.
10:26:39 PM
I agree with Neil, it's a gret easy trad place, and very historic. The harder climbs are hard work, and scary too.

I believe that the rock is much stronger than araps, quickly placing (then trusting) gear in pebbly breaks is a necessary skill. The locals use a lot of tricams and C3s, as well as clipping any old piton.
8:14:36 AM
Mikl, the concept that any rock is stronger than Araps sounds a bit foreign...
10:13:16 AM
much stronger I believe. The same band of Tuscaora (?) sandstone runs all down through the Appalachian and all seems much older and better bonded than Araps. It definately passes the zero RP test anywhere. Some of araps has some additional surface bonding which gets it locally to the same strength (white ooze rock in gullies?)
11:56:03 AM
On 11/07/2013 anthonycuskelly wrote:
>Mikl, the concept that any rock is stronger than Araps sounds a bit foreign...

It's in America, so duh by definition it's foreign...

Sorry I couldn't resist.

6:44:13 AM
On 11/07/2013 mikllaw wrote:
>much stronger I believe.

Which is a bit counter-intuitive, given that it's less monolithic than Araps (more breaks / weaknesses). Some sections almost look like the exfoliation flakes you see in road cuttings in the Sierras (though obviously a completely different geological mechanism).

I wonder if the breaks were sedimentary layers of softer rock, which are now preferentially weathering out (like the shale breaks in the Blueys)? I couldn't see much difference in rock composition in the shallower breaks and scoops, though the quartz cobbles clearly come in bands and layers - perhaps the rock is all super-hard, but the cobbles provide an extra level of erosion resistance? As I understand it solid quartz is mostly impervious to water & chemical erosion - about the only thing that'll wear it down is tumbling. I wonder if frost fracturing is a factor? The Gunks certainly gets pretty iced up each winter - the carriage road doubles as a cross country ski trail.

mikl, Neil - did you get on any of these steep, blocky, "inverted staircase" overhangs? They look awesome!
8:01:24 AM
Much harder but also much more shattered. You can also guess the rock strength (via the modulus) by listening to the sound samll pieces make, the higher pitch 'clink' suggests much higher stiffness.
(more correctly it's a function of size, density, and stiffness: the shards in Owens River Gorge sound like glass)
The breaks are softer rock
There is lots of glacial scouring on the top of the cliff also

I got on a lot of the inverted staircases, inspiring. Last trip I, with much to-ing and fro-ing, led some scary 23 with a higjh exposed crux through the top staircase. When I got down Russ said that I'd on-sight soloed it back in the 80s....

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