First Upstate Ascent: The Gunks
Sending it at one of New York's most iconic climbing destinations
“Dude, what the fuck have I gotten myself into?” I was 100ft up at the crux of a route named Shockley’s Ceiling, and I was stuck. Nick, an experienced climber w El Cap under his belt, was just above, telling me where to put my hands. His suggestions weren’t working for me, though. I saw a hold a few feet above my head and reached as high as I could, inching one digit at a time until each of my middle two fingers were over the edge. As I moved for a better hold my foot slipped, jolting my body downward, but somehow my fingers held. I scrambled to find footing and just managed to hold on.
I looked up at Nick who stared at me open mouthed. “That was close man,” he said nervously, likely wondering what he was thinking taking me to the Gunks—a spot with notoriously unforgiving ratings—on my first outdoor climb. I scrambled up the last few feet and hooked into the anchor. The 5.7 rated climb was a hell of a lot more difficult than a 5.7 in the gym. Pawel, the third member of the crew, came up shortly thereafter, bringing more gear with him. Together we had a good laugh about my lack of experience before snapping some photographs and heading down in the dark to join a few other pals at a nearby campsite.
Just a couple hours from NYC lies the Gunks, a legendary climbing spot in Upstate New York. Short for Shawangunks, the area consists of a series of solid quartz cliffs jutting several hundred feet into the air, offering some of the most premier trad climbing in the country. The breathtaking views of the surrounding lowlands and fall foliage this time of year make it only more appealing.
Being fairly new to climbing, I’ve been itching to get outside and try to shoot some photos in the “real world”. As it turned out, this was quite the experience to be sure and one that won’t soon be forgotten.
Jonathan Mehring is an award-winning, Brooklyn-based professional photographer and former staff photographer of Skateboarder Magazine. 2015 he released his first book, Skate the World – Photographing One World of Skateboarding, published by National Geographic. Follow Jonathan on Instagram here.