The Gunks, or Shawangunk Mountains, are the climbing equivalent of skiing Jackson Hole: They’re the ultimate proving ground. The area, a long ridgeline only about a two-hour drive north of New York City, is also living history. Climbers first ascended the cliffs with leather boots and hemp ropes in the 1930s. Pros later set up some of the country’s hardest routes in the 1980s and 90s, which still can seem much harder than their grades. Today, every level of climber can find a challenge. The Gunks’ 2,000-plus climbs range from 5.1 to 5.13 and are renowned for their high-quality holds and hard quartz conglomerate rock, which makes placing protective gear unusually safe and easy.
For newbies, Alpine Endeavors, an American Mountain Guides Association-accredited guide service, runs group clinics and offers private guiding services on single- to four-pitch climbs characterized by roofs, overhangs, and ledges. The adventure quotient rises quickly as climbers poke above the tree canopy to find airy, knee-weakening, highly photogenic exposure. Up there, incredible views of cliffs stretching in both directions and the bucolic farm valleys far, far below can lend a lot of perspective.
Need to Know: Alpine Endeavors (www.alpineendeavors.com) offers full-day private guides from $130 per person, as well as group courses from $100 per person.