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Alpha Guide: Climbing Little Finger on Lake George

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With three moderate pitches of splitter granite hanging high above Lake George, Little Finger is one of the Northeast’s most enjoyable climbs.

How many climbs in the Northeast have a paddle approach? One of the most unique climbs in the Northeast, the approach to Little Finger begins with a short paddle approach across the clear, blue water of Lake George. Once situated at the base of the route, climbers are treated to three moderately rated, easy-to-protect pitches of splitter granite climbing 500+ feet above the lake. Be sure to style the climbing—you’re likely to have an audience of captivated boaters below.

Quick Facts

Length: 3 Pitches
Time to Complete: Half-day
Difficulty: ★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May through November
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/24493.html

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Turn-By-Turn

Climbing Little Finger begins with a paddle approach from Rogers Rock Campground in Hague, New York. Located right off 9N, the campground is just six miles from Ticonderoga.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Canoe Approach

From the boat launch, paddle left away from the swimming area (43.792904, -73.480690). Almost immediately, there’s a large cliff along the shore to your left. That’s not the climb, but it’s a good clue you’re headed in the right direction. Continue hugging the lakeside as you head for a shallow break between the shore and Juniper Island. Round the bend. After a few more minutes of paddling, the face is visible on your left. Aim for the low spot dead ahead (43.797157, -73.466560). Overall, it’s about 25 minutes of paddling.

Pro Tip: The water is deep, it’s often windy, and the waves can be big. Wear a PFD. Also, pack your gear in dry bags and secure them to your canoe, kayak, or SUP.

 

The Scramble

Once you’ve lugged your boat out of the water, scramble up to a sort-of-flat spot just above. This is a great place to transition from paddling to climbing. Empty the dry bags, don your climbing gear, and get ready to scramble along the base of the ledge to the start of the climb.

The scramble across is about 30 yards. It goes across, then down to the water, then up a short blocky section that you’ll want to watch less experienced climbers on. From there, it’s an easy stroll to the base of the climb, which starts at a good platform by a boulder right at the base of a vertical crack running up the entire face (43.797398, -73.466385). On the platform, there’s plenty of room to flake your ropes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The First Pitch

The first pitch follows the obvious vertical crack for about 200 feet to a depression by a small overlap. Anchor there using, among other things, two new-ish pitons. Although the pitons are awkwardly spaced, there are opportunities to use small and mid-sized gear to build a solid three-piece anchor.

The climbing to this point is fantastic. Right off the deck is a short blocky section leading into an awesome crack that pierces the slab. The crux of the pitch is early on, in the bottom half of the crack, but it is never very hard, maxing out at 5.5.

After the initial difficulties, the pitch is a low-angle calf burner. There’s protection everywhere, with the crack eating everything from nuts to mid-sized cams. Since the pitch is long, be sure to bring a lot of gear in that range to ensure you have enough to zip it up.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Second Pitch 

Leaving the first pitch’s belay (43.797676, -73.466774), step up and right into the crack, then charge up it to the bottom of a large roof and build a traditional anchor there. Although it doesn’t look it, the pitch is a long one, running almost 200 feet.

Again, the climbing is moderate and well protected, all in the 5.4-5.5 range. The crack eats mid-sized gear, so protecting it shouldn’t be a problem. Throughout this pitch, there’s also lots of feet, meaning there’s plenty of comfortable stances from which to place gear.

The trickiest part of the second pitch is building the anchor. Just below the roof are several hollow flakes that don’t inspire confidence and aren’t the spot to place a cam. Slightly above the flakes there’s a small slot in the crack for a mid-sized cam and a medium nut. Below the roof, at about 11 o’clock, there’s also room for another mid-sized cam and, with some finagling, a bigger nut. If all this doesn’t sound appealing, there’s a small depression just below the hollow flakes (15 feet before the roof) with lots of options in the crack for a gear anchor.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Third Pitch

From the anchor under the overlap (43.797886, -73.467148), step up so that you can reach above the roof, then traverse right for about 10 feet to rejoin the crack. From here, the climb follows a runnel for about 175 feet toward bolted anchors, one at the top of the crack and another, with rap rings, about 25 feet off to the right.

The third pitch is well protected except for the traverse, where there’s little gear. To protect your second from a big swing, make sure to set a solid piece at the first good spot at the roof’s right end.

If you’re looking for something slightly harder than 5.5, consider the 5.7 variation that follows a thin vertical crack straight up from the belay. After a couple of difficulties, you’ll end up at the anchor just above the runnel that pitch 3 finishes on.

Once you’re atop the third pitch (43.798054, -73.467148), take some time—if you haven’t already—to admire the view. The climb drops away in the foreground, replaced by the deep blue of Lake George and the dark green of the mountains in the distance. It’s a fantastic setting, one you’ll be reluctant to leave.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Raps

Whenever you can break away from the view, it’s three double-rope rappels with 60m ropes back down to the ground. Each of the anchors is bolted and very easy to spot while on rappel. With true 70m ropes, you can do it in 2 rappels, but the last rap to the ground is a rope stretcher.

The last rap will leave you on a ledge a little to climbers’ right of the climb. On the ledge, coil your ropes, then scramble back to your boat. Just before the base of Little Finger, there’s an open slab that drops down into the base of the water. It’s easy to traverse, but watch less experienced folks closely as they cross; any fall would be a long (and wet) one.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Paddle Back

Once you reach your boat, dump your gear in your dry bags, put your PFD back on, get the boat in the water, and retrace the paddle you did earlier in the day. The paddle back will likely be challenging, as it’s usually into the wind and waves. Wakes from passing motorboats can add a little spice as well.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Between the waves and deep water, it’s great to have dry bags to store your ropes, rack, and climbing shoes. A couple of 65L bags from Sea to Summit will hold everything with room to spare.
  • The boat landing at Little Finger is rocky and slippery. Send it in style with a water shoe from NRS such as the Kicker Remix (men’s/women’s) or a river sandal like the Teva Terra Fi 4 (men’s/women’s).
  • On summer days, the sun beats down on Rogers Rock until mid afternoon. Wear a sunshirt like the Black Diamond Alpenglow Hoodie (men’s/women’s) to avoid baking in the sun.
  • Multi-pitch climbers on low-angle routes such as Little Finger are at risk of something either falling or getting knocked down on them. With this in mind, pack a climbing helmet like the Black Diamond Vapor.
  • Two 70-meter ropes, like the Sterling Fusion Nano Dry 9.0 70m allow you to cut out a rappel.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Motorboat traffic can sometimes make communication between climbers difficult. Before you leave the belay, have a plan so that your second will know what to do even if he/she can’t hear you.
  • You might think that climbing above the water is a great choice for sweltering summer days; However, Little Finger has a well-deserved reputation for scorching unsuspecting climbers thanks to the exposed slab and reflective water. Consequently, it’s best avoided on the sunniest summer days.
  • Climb in a bathing suit because there are lots of places to swim on the way back (including the Rogers Rock Campground swimming area).
  • A great way to cool off and replace the calories you burned is with soft-serve ice cream from the Wind-Chill Factory.
  • If you prefer craft beer to ice cream cones, take the 30-minute drive to Battle Hill Brewing in Fort Ann, New York.
  • If you loved Little Finger and are anxious for more climbing, Rogers Rock is home to a lot more routes. Get the beta for the rest of the climbs in Adirondack Rock, the routes around Lake George are found in Volume 2.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Current Conditions

Have you climbed Little Finger recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


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Guy's Slide: Adirondack-Style Slide Climbing in New Hampshire

Ascending Mount Lincoln in Franconia Notch, Guy’s Slide is an Adirondack-style slide climb located in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Best climbed in the fall when the water in the approach brook is low and the foliage is prime, Guy’s Slide should be on every slide aficionado’s list this season.

What is Slide Climbing?

Combining aspects of hiking and rock climbing, slide climbing has long been a popular activity in the Adirondacks and has only gained steam since Hurricane Irene created new slides while also lengthening, widening, and steepening existing ones. Drew Haas’s book, The Adirondack Slide Guide, encompasses a staggering 91 slides—but with the exception of a few well-traveled slides (Owl’s Head and Mt. Tripyramid’s North Slide), there is little enthusiasm for slide climbing in the Whites.

What is Guy’s Slide?

Guy’s Slide is named after Guy Waterman—a famous northeast author of books such as Forest and Crag and Yankee Rock and Ice and the first person to hike all the New Hampshire 4,000-footers in winter from all four compass points—who popularized climbing the slide in the mid-to-late 70s. Since Hurricane Irene in 2011, Guy’s Slide has opened up a bit and is now a wide slab that offers a fantastic adventure climb up Mount Lincoln.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

How Do I Get to Guy’s Slide?

The most challenging part of Guy’s Slide is getting there. From the Falling Waters Trailhead in Franconia Notch, hop on the Falling Waters Trail as it ascends next to Dry Brook. Along the trail, you’ll criss-cross the brook several times, passing multiple beautiful cascades. At the final cross-over, where the Falling Waters Trail begins a series of long switchbacks up Mount Haystack, leave the trail and begin rock-hopping up the brook.

Although there are usually some downed trees that hinder progress, the going along the brook is mellow, at least as far as off-trail hiking goes. After about 30 minutes, the Brook opens into a secluded alpine bowl bookended by Mount Lincoln on the left and Mount Haystack on the right, with Franconia Ridge connecting the two. While a new, wide slide ascending toward Mount Haystack is on hikers’ right, you’ll want to look straight ahead to pick out Guy’s Slide in the distance.

Near the back of the bowl, Dry Brook continues up Mount Lincoln. Find the brook, then thrash up it for about another 30 minutes. This section is steep and overgrown and likely to be the low point of your day. However, things will greatly improve as the brook transforms into an open slab and you pop out at the bottom of Guy’s Slide.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

What’s the Climbing Like?

Guy’s Slide begins on a slab atop the approach gully, ascending up Mount Lincoln for 1,000+ feet. There is a nice natural bench at the base of the slab—making it an ideal place to grab a snack, dry off after the approach, and get your climbing gear together. The slab broadens as it rises toward the ridge, offering mostly fourth-class climbing with the occasional easy fifth-class move sprinkled in. You’ll need to negotiate numerous small grass patches to link the large slabs together; Since this is a drainage, the grass is routinely wet which can lead to wet shoes and add a little spice to the slab climbing.

About two-thirds of the way to the ridge, the route doglegs left for a few rope lengths below a short section through some trees. Here you’re likely to hear the voices of hikers above. You’ll also become pretty easy to spot for hikers enjoying the view of the Kinsmans and Cannon, so plan on having an audience on the top third of the route. Just below the ridge, you’ll encounter a scree field that’s about a rope-length long. Use caution on this part of the climb; it’s pretty loose. If inspired, consider climbing one of the short pinnacles guarding the ridge instead.

Guy’s Slide is all adventure climbing, with no fixed route up the slab and no bolted anchors. In fact, you’re unlikely to see any evidence of other climbers and hikers. Just follow your nose for route finding and gear.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

What Do You Do When You Get to the Top?

Upon topping out, hikers have two main options. One is to head south on Franconia Ridge toward Mount Haystack and then descend via the Falling Waters Trail. A longer option is to head north on Franconia Ridge, ascending Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette on the way, then descend via the Greenleaf and Bridle Path trails. On nice days, the latter option is the way to go, allowing climbers to bag two 4,000-footers along the way and scope the foliage from atop Franconia Ridge.

What Do I Need to Climb Guy’s Slide?

Approach shoes, a light alpine rack, and a 30-40 meter light rope like the Beal Zenith 9.5mm are ideal for parties planning on moving while roped together. Since the route wanders up the slab, some slings to extend gear are useful to prevent rope drag. Finally, a helmet is a must given one section of loose rock near the top as well as the hundreds of hikers traversing Franconia Ridge above you.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

When’s the Best Time to Go?

Fall is definitely the best time to climb Guy’s Slide. The bugs are gone, the foliage is prime, and the friction is perfect. Pick a day after a dry spell and the ascent up the approach brook should be manageable, too. Then, once you’re on the slab, enjoy a unique perspective of Mount Lincoln in solitude.


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5 Mountains in the Northeast that Almost Anyone Can Enjoy

The most talked-about hikes in the Northeast share some common characteristics, namely big mileage, lots of elevation, and rough terrain. While mountains such as Washington, Mansfield, and Marcy get most of the glory, the Northeast is home to numerous hikes that might not match the classics in difficulty, but are their equals in history, views, and fun. If you’re looking for a five-star hike everyone in your party will like, look no further. Here are five mountains in the Northeast that anyone can enjoy.

Courtesy: Studio Sarah Lou
Courtesy: Studio Sarah Lou

Monument Mountain, Massachusetts

Packing fantastic views of the Housatonic River Valley, Mount Greylock, the Catskills, and Vermont into a roughly three-mile hike should be enough to put Monument Mountain in Great Barrington on any New England hiker’s tick list before even factoring in its fascinating history—it drew literary icons such as Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, as well as William Cullen Bryant who wrote the famous poem, Monument Mountain. Bryant’s poem is based on the legend of a Mohican woman who chose to leap from the cliffs rather than marry a husband selected for her. A large pile of stones is piled on the mountain’s southern slope as a monument to her final resting place.

In spite of the grim story of the Mohican maiden, Monument Mountain is a fantastic trip for hikers of all abilities. Covering about three miles, hikers ascend the at-times-steep Hickey Trail, climbing a little over 700 feet through hemlock forests, past boulders, and gaining pale quartzite cliffs. For the best views, connect with the Squaw Peak Trail and follow it over steep cliffs and ledges to the 1,642-foot summit of Squaw Peak, then make the short five-minute walk to take in the view of Devil’s Pulpit, a unique rock formation. From the summit of Squaw Peak, hikers can take the Indian Monument Trail which follows an old carriage road for a mild descent, or continue on the Squaw Peak Trail to its connection further down with the Indian Monument Trail.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff, New Hampshire

Don’t let the relatively slight 2,340-foot elevation of Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff dissuade you from this must-do hike—the views are huge. Situated at the northern end of Franconia Notch, a hike to the summit of Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff treats hikers with two of the White’s best viewpoints, both offering incredible perspectives of Franconia Ridge and the towering Mount Lafayette, Eagle Cliff, Cannon Mountain Ski Area, and Echo Lake.

At just under three-miles roundtrip, Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff is a popular trip for hikers of all abilities. However, don’t let the moderate mileage lull you into thinking this hike is easy; like many classic White Mountain hikes, sections of the trail are direct and rocky. Leaving from the parking lot adjacent to Cannon Mountain’s base lodge, take Artists Bluff Trail for about a quarter-of-a-mile, follow a short spur trail to the summit of Bald Mountain. After soaking in Bald Mountain’s impressive views, backtrack to the Artists Bluff Trail, continuing along on it to an open ledge and more best-in-the-White’s views. Once you’ve had your fill of the spectacular scenery, continue hiking on the Artists Bluff Trail. As you near the road, look for the Loop Trail which will bring you back to your car.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Philo, Vermont

Standing at just 968 feet tall, Mount Philo is diminutive when compared to Green Mountain giants like Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump, but towers over the Champlain Valley. Like its bigger brethren, Mount Philo has been a popular recreational destination for over a century (Mount Philo State Park was Vermont’s first state park), and at one point, a carriage road wove its way to the top. Look closely and you’ll see traces of the old carriage road from today’s paved road to the summit. In fact, the paved road makes Mount Philo the perfect destination for groups of mixed ability; ambitious hikers can take the trail to the summit while non-hikers meet them on top by taking the road.

Hikers heading to the summit of Mount Philo should follow the blue blazes of the Mount Philo Trail. The twoish-mile round-trip hike gains approximately 600 feet in elevation as it winds through quintessential Vermont forest and exposed rocks. From the summit, hikers are treated to splendid views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks—including Mount Marcy—to the west while the peaks of the Mad River region (Mounts Abe and Ellen) dominate the view to the southeast. Fall is a favorite time to take a trip to Mount Philo, not only because it’s resplendent during foliage, but also to watch migrating raptors. Mount Philo holds the record for the most hawks seen in one day in Vermont (3,688).

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Hadley Mountain, New York

Take in the magnificent views of Sacandaga Lake, the Green Mountains, the Catskills, and the Adirondacks from the 2,675-foot summit of Hadley Mountain while ticking a tower off of your ADK Fire Tower Challenge. The 40-foot fire tower gracing Hadley Mountain’s summit was originally erected in 1917, but was closed in 1990 by the Department of Environmental Conservation. Shortly after the closure, the Hadley Mountain Fire Tower Committee was formed and began working on restoring the tower, as well as the observer’s cabin. Thanks to their efforts, hikers today can climb to the top of the fire tower and take in a view not all that different from the one had by the early observers 100 years ago.

Climbing roughly 1,500 feet while covering 3.6 miles, the trip to the summit of Hadley Mountain and back is short, but packs a punch. As straightforward as a trip gets, summit-bound hikers need only follow the red trail markers of the Hadley Mountain Trail to the summit and then return the way you came. The trail remains fairly steep for almost the entirety of the climb, but be sure to save some energy for climbing the stairs to the top of the tower—it’s worth it. If hiking Hadley Mountain in the summer, you’ll likely run into the summit steward who’s there to answer any questions you might have about the mountain and its history.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Mount Agamenticus, Maine 

The confluence of mountains and ocean has led generations of adventurers to explore the rugged Maine coastline. Used as a landmark by mariners to aid in navigation for centuries, Mount Agamenticus’ earliest explorers were indigenous people—the name Agamenticus is derived from the Abenaki name for the York River. Legend has it that Saint Aspinquid, a local Indian chief, either a MicMak or Penobscot leader, converted to Christianity and spent his life spreading Christianity to different tribes. A cairn on the top of Mount Agamenticus was constructed as a tribute to Saint Aspinquid—it’s said that anyone adding a stone to the cairn is blessed with good luck.

Unlike most mountains, the best trail on Mount Agamenticus doesn’t lead to its summit, rather it runs around the mountain. The Turtle Loop is a twoish-mile loop circling the base of the remnants of the 220 million-year-old volcano that is Mount Agamenticus. Featuring 15 interpretive stations, hikers are able to educate themselves on the area’s natural, geologic, and cultural history. If you simply must tag the top of Mount Agamenticus, the approximately quarter-mile-long Blueberry Bluff Trail leads from the Turtle Loop to the summit where you’ll enjoy views of Cape Elizabeth, the Isles of Shoals, and the White Mountains—including Mount Washington.

 

Do you have a favorite hike that is ideal for hikers of all abilities? If so, let us know in the comments below so we can check it out.


Beat the Heat: Top 5 Cooler Weather Summer Climbing Spots in the Northeast

Here in the Northeast we relish the prospect of summer after the long winter months, until we’re all salty and cursing the heatwave that just won’t dissipate. For climbers, heat is a minor nuisance, but sweat makes slick sending. Luckily, the Northeast is endowed with alpine terrain, miles of coastline and countless lakes and ponds, all of which offer cooler micro-climates. Read on for our recommendations of the best climbing areas to beat the heat this sun-drenched season.

Courtesy: Andrew Messick
Courtesy: Andrew Messick

Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont

Roadside Bouldering

The Notch, at a cool 2,165 feet above sea level, sits between Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak in the Green Mountain state. This hobbit hole haven offers over 500 boulder problems as well as “alpine light” trad and sport routes. Trade winds blow through, dropping the ambient temperature to 10 to 20 degrees lower than the tourist town of Stowe, 1,200 feet below. “Bouldering inside the notch has this rather enchanting appeal to it. The cold air floats out from the ice deep within the granite & schist caverns creating these cool air pockets as you walk through,” says Nick Hernandez of Time to Climb.

Cruise up the scenic 108 for drive-in bouldering. Wind around hairpin turns and roadside rocks, park at one of the many pull outs and start climbing in mere seconds. When you’re ready to unwind, head back into town to enjoy a Heady Topper at the world renowned Alchemist brewery.

Courtesy: Michael Martineau
Courtesy: Michael Martineau

Lake Champlain Palisades, New York

Deep Water Soloing

Perhaps the tallest Deep Water Solo (DWS) routes in the Northeast, The Palisades feature 100+ feet of cliff jutting out from Lake Champlain. DWS means free solo climbing (without a rope) but over water; think Alex Honnold, except if one were to fall here they would land in a lake instead of on land.

The approach won’t be easy, nor will the climbing. Located at the easternmost edge of the Adirondacks, boat or paddle from the Westport Marina roughly 4.5 miles south. You will not have to worry about touching bottom (the lake has a depth of 140 feet), however a fall from up high can cause serious harm. Make sure you know how to properly hit the water (you want to enter in a pencil-like position). A gentle breeze will help dry some of your perspiration while climbing, though it won’t do anything for your Elvis leg.

Courtesy: Tim Peck
Courtesy: Tim Peck

White Mountains, New Hampshire

Easier Access Alpine Climbing

The White Mountains are among the highest peaks in the Northeast, which means cooler temperatures and some of the fastest recorded wind speeds on earth. The climbing options are diverse, from long multi-pitch on Cannon Cliff to daring high elevation (for the East Coast) trad on Huntington Ravine on Mount Washington to moderate notch climbing at places like Franconia and Crawford. Be highly vigilant of fast-changing and ornery weather, though the Whites can be a bit more forgiving than backcountry brethren out West due to quicker access to roads and huts.

Courtesy: Kevin MacKenzie
Courtesy: Kevin MacKenzie

Panther Gorge, Adirondacks, New York

Serious Backcountry Climbing

For a backcountry alpine adventure, Panther Gorge is a lesser visited remote locale with a strenuous approach. “It may be one of the most remote places in the Northeast,” suggests local legend, Kevin ‘MudRat’ MacKenzie, who has put up many FAs in the area.

The gorge, at 4,000 feet above sea level, lies between Mount Marcy and Mount Haystack, the tallest and third tallest mountains in New York, respectively. Just to get here requires an eight mile hike with 3,300 feet of elevation, followed by bushwhacking about to find the climbs. You will be rewarded with over 35 trad routes that range from 5.3 to 5.10a, with a mix of single and multi-pitch lines. These not-often-trafficked climbs can be chossy, mossy, and wet, and you’ll want to make sure you are well-equipped with backcountry skills from route-finding and wilderness first aid in order to be safe. You can find detailed descriptions of climbing routes in MacKenzie’s upcoming book, Panther Gorge, on his site adirondackmountaineering.com.

Courtesy: National Park Service
Courtesy: National Park Service

Acadia National Park, Maine

Coastal Climbing

Cooling sea breeze awaits climbers at Acadia. The ocean battered granite features some of the most classic climbs in the Northeast, from the salt-sprayed Adair by the Sea (5.10b/c) to the 3-pitch Story of O (5.6), among many others. America’s most easterly national park, Acadia is the first place the sun touches in the U.S. from October to March. In the summer, you will still want to arise early to capitalize on the daily changing low tide (otherwise your rope and belayer are liable to get caught in the waves at seaside areas like Otter Cliffs). Check out The Precipice for inland multi-pitch routes or Canada Cliff for some forested bouldering.


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How to Send at the Gunks, According to EMS Guides

Roofs, old-school grades, and steep routes are just a few signature characteristics of climbing in the Gunks. Another staple of climbing in the Gunks is the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School, the oldest climbing school in the East, teaching technical climbing since 1968. We spoke to two of the Climbing School’s current guides in the Gunks—Patty Lankhorst and Marcia Stephens—to learn what makes the Gunks so special, get a few tips for climbing at the iconic area, and better understand the challenges and advantages of being a female guide and climber.

Courtesy: Patty Lankhorst
Courtesy: Patty Lankhorst

Why the Gunks Rock

The closest climbing destination to New York City, the Shawangunks proximity to a major metropolis is just one of many reasons for the area’s popularity. Another reason is the diversity of climbing found at the Gunks, which offers both single-pitch and multi-pitch traditional climbing, top roping, and awesome bouldering (with problems established by climbing luminaries such as John Gill, Lynn Hill, and Russ Clune). While you won’t find any sport climbing in the Gunks, you will find climbing rivaling the steepness of the Northeast’s sport crags along with huge roofs and tremendous exposure.

Patty, an AMGA Rock Instructor and one of the handful of female guides in Northeast with the certification who’s working as a full-time climbing guide, has been living and climbing in the Gunks for over 22 years, helping clients up the area’s classic routes for the last 16. A local fixture, she “knows the cliffs like the back of her hand” and recommends that every climber make at least one trip to this rock climbing mecca.

Marcia does, too. As a longtime climber and guide, one thing Marcia loves about the Gunks is that there’s “something for everyone, from ages 6 to 60+!” Visitors to the area will discover everything from cracks to jugs to routes ranging from 5.0 to 5.14, and slabs to complement the steeps. Some of Patty’s favorite routes at the Gunks are High Exposure (5.6), Cascading Crystal Kaleidoscope (CCK) (5.8), Bonnie’s Roof (5.9), and pretty much everything on the Arrow Wall.

Once you get tired from all the climbing at the Gunks, there’s fantastic rest-day activities such as hiking, biking, trail running, and swimming. And if you’re checking out the Gunks this summer, Marcia recommends ending every climbing session with a dip in the refreshingly cool water at Split Rock—a great way to beat the heat!

Courtesy: Thatcher Clay
Courtesy: Thatcher Clay

Tips for Sending at the Gunks

You might think sending classic routes at the Gunks is a great chance to flex your “tee-shirt muscles,” but Patty and Marcia—who are both petite female climbers—stress that size, strength, and ape index won’t get you through every crux. Instead, they emphasize that no matter your size, footwork, technique, and flexibility are keys to overcoming the area’s most notorious obstacles.

One of Marcia’s favorite techniques is the high step—where climbers use hip flexibility to hike a foot up on a hold. She regularly busts it out for tackling the crux of Gunks classics such as No Picnic (5.5) and Black Fly (5.5), routes she commonly guides.

Patty wholeheartedly agrees with Marcia’s emphasis on footwork. She stresses that “climbing is all about the feet, especially at the Gunks.” If your feet are not positioned correctly, she advises, it puts added weight on your arms and fingers, making the route seem more challenging because your arms get pumped out so quickly. For routes with big roofs—like Shockley’s Ceiling (5.6)—Patty recommends high feet, as “getting those feet up and putting your weight on them as soon as possible keeps you from peeling off.”

While Patty is quick to acknowledge that taller people tend to have an easier time reaching through some cruxy roofs, she also recognizes the advantage that her size provides on more “crunched” up moves and smaller handholds. Because every climber’s body type is different, when guiding she tries to help clients “recognize their strengths and weaknesses and maximize what they do have.”

Courtesy: Thatcher Clay
Courtesy: Thatcher Clay

Protecting Yourself On the Way Up…

Climbing at the Gunks is different, with moves and exposure unlike many crags in the Northeast. For those new to the area, Marcia suggests familiarizing yourself with the routes and approaches, initially choosing climbs with grades below your normal sending level. This is especially important because there’s a long history of sandbagging at the Gunks, resulting in climbs feeling harder here than similarly rated routes elsewhere.

Since many anchors at the Gunks aren’t bolted, Marcia and Patty recommend that visiting leaders carry sufficient gear to protect the pitch and build a gear anchor. For many climbers, especially those unfamiliar with the route they’re climbing, this often means doubling up on critical cams.

The Gunks are also riddled with horizontal cracks and finding the best way to protect them can often befuddle first-time visitors. Tricams work wonders here—so much so that the Pink Tricam, better known as the CAMP 0.5 Tri-Cam Evo, has become synonymous with the area. According to Patty, they’re also the most commonly stuck pieces found on the cliffs, so practice placing, and removing, them before visiting the Gunks. Marcia encourages carrying “Big Blue” (a Black Diamond #3 Cam), citing the cam’s knack for protecting the crux of many Gunks classics. Worried about the weight of the big blue cam on the steep stuff? Check out the ultralight version of the classic cam, the Black Diamond Ultralight Camelot #3.

There’s a lot more to staying safe at the Gunks than just having the right gear. In particular, don’t forget the typical safety checks before you start up a climb. Among the questions Patty recommends asking before leaving the deck are: is the climber’s figure eight tied correctly? and is the belayer’s device threaded properly?

…and on the Way Down

Because many routes at the Gunks are between two and four pitches, spending a day (or more) climbing there means that most climbers will spend a good amount of time transitioning from climbing to rappelling. Before heading down, climbers should double check whether the rappel rope is properly threaded through the rap rings, the rappeller’s device is properly connected to the rap ropes, the rap ropes are properly tied together (if using two ropes), and the rappeller has a “third hand” backup. Patty also reminds us, whether at the Gunks or at our home crag, rappeling with stopper knots tied into the ends of the rope is critical, especially if you are unfamiliar with the rap route.

Courtesy: Patty Lankhorst
Courtesy: Patty Lankhorst

Go with a Guide

Despite recent efforts by the AMGA and others to promote diversity in the profession (including a new women’s-only Rock Guide Course), guiding remains a male-dominated profession. But whether it’s breaking guiding’s glass ceiling or sending Shockley’s Ceiling, Patty and Marcia are some of EMS’s go-to guides in the Gunks. Both are passionate about showing friends and guests how amazing, beautiful, and adventurous the area is and are excited to share with others what drew them each to the area and has kept them there. Learn more about climbing in the Gunks or tick a few classic routes by visiting the Eastern Mountain Climbing School’s website and booking a day of climbing with Patty or Marcia.