A quarterly publication of the Gunks Climbers' Coalition

Welcome to the Winter, 2004 issue of Talus, the newsletter of

the Gunks Climbers' Coalition. Published quarterly, Talus is

available to those who support the GCC. And while this newsletter

is still modest in scope, in time we plan to include more short works

of fiction, trivia, climber bios, and other bits of crag arcana.

Stay tuned.

Editors: Dell Bleekman, Christopher Spatz
Contributing Writers: Lizz Bartlett, Dell Bleekman, Christopher Spatz
Design: Logo, Typography & email layout by France Menk
Web Newsletter Development: Jannette Wing Pazer
Illustration: Skink by Gregory Rukavina, with permission by Richard C. Williams

A Winter Welcome Photo by Chris Moratz
The view of the ridge from the now-closed Wallkill Farm is all but monochromatic, stripped of color except grey. We're in the heart of winter here at the Gunks, the time of year when only itinerates and Californians can still get out on the rocks. Our thoughts may wander to warmer locales, or maybe winter is simply the time the rack gets stored and the ice tools come out, or when we exchange stealth rubber for snow shoes. Either way, we should be grateful that up here nature imposes itself on the tiny circles of daily life.

So take a break from winter and check out what we have to offer. You'll find an access update, what's been going on recently with the GCC, a bit of word history on the Gunks, plus the debut of The Members' Corner, where you'll find the work of the best and brightest GCC supporters this side of the cliff.

Enjoy the day.

Letter from the Board
Winter may seem like an odd time for a gardening metaphor, but here goes. Many seeds require a period of cold before they'll germinate. This is called stratification.

It's the same for the GCC. With winter in full swing we're taking the time to look inward, do some housekeeping, and set some goals for the year. We still have some mundane tasks to accomplish—getting the bylaws completed, for example—but we're also pleased with what we were able to do this year. Besides staging multiple clean-up efforts in the Preserve, Shevchenko, and Peter's Kill and orchestrating successful slide show events with renowned presenters, we've also been opening doors and conversing with land managers up and down the ridge. The Shevchenko clean-up, for instance, paired us with the Open Space Institute, one of the largest land preservation organizations in the area.

What do we hope for 2004? To keep these activities—and others like them—in full swing. Opening a new crag is of the highest priority. We also plan to better communicate our long-term goals and strategies with our members. We're all on the same side in the fight to maintain existing and open new climbing areas, and the more we communicate our goals the stronger we'll be.

So maybe it's apt we talk gardening in January; after all, it's in winter that we see the garden's true potential, dormant but prepared to bloom. Spring will be here soon enough, and we'll be hitting the ground running.

Access Update
Many of the Gunks' creatures hunkered down for the winter, hibernating until warmer days. And though it might appear the access subcommittee is also following this seasonal trend, this is not the case.

Over these next few months we plan to continue working on a number of projects begun in our first year. Using our recently gathered inventory of climbing areas, we are in the process of identifying the first crag to target in our efforts to gain access. There are several strong candidates and many factors to consider.

Once the selection is made, we will begin the process of devising a plan, specific to that crag. Our goal is to produce a proposal that resembles the current Use Master Plan documents, with which most of the land managers of the properties along the Ridge are familiar. Part of our strategy will be to tap into the resources available through our membership, local experts, the Access Fund, and others to address the impacts posed by climbers. There is a wealth of expertise in our climbing community and we're going to use as much of it as we can. Stay tuned for further updates and calls for volunteers.

Shawangunk or Shon-gum: A Ridge By Any Other Name….
Spend any time up here, and you’ll hear the use of two names for the Shawangunk Ridge. It’s high time to sort ‘em out.

Shawangunk is one transliteration colonial settlers documented, reflecting the Lenape word for a tract of tableland that rises above a creek with a lovely view of the ridge. That tableland was once the location of a Lenape fort, the sight of the Second Esopus War, where the Dutch massacred the Lenape in an effort to rescue captured settlers in 1663.  (The Lenape, by the way, are some of the area’s first New Yorkers, who were living here as many as 6,500 years ago.)

In 17th-century English deeds, parcels near the massacre appear as Chawangong. In Dutch deeds, the name appears as Schunemunk and also Skonemoghky, Chawangon, Chauwngung, and Chauwanghungh. But two of the earliest parcels between the creek and the ridge are cited with the name Shawangunk—the locative applied afterwards to the creek, the township, and the ridge.

Shawangunk has been translated as “white rock” or, shawan from the Mohegan word for white, and gunk, “a large rock,” which sounds perfect but apparently isn’t. “Southern place,” from the Delaware/Lenape word shawaneu meaning “south,” is one of the accepted sources, though something’s missing there.

In Lenape mythology, Hum Shawaanewaank is the Grandmother spirit associated with the cardinal direction south, and a list of Lenape words containing southern characteristics reveals the shawaneu connection: schawan: smoky air (mists created by warm water moving upstream); schawanammek: shad (fish from the south); schapu: brackish; schwonnak: Europeans (people from the south).

But what of gunk? Lenape sources suggest that unk/unck/onk, frequently preceded by a “g,” means “upland,” or “on the hillside or mountain.” In The Early History of Kingston and Ulster County, N.Y, Marc Fried references E.M. Ruttenber’s History of the Indian Tribes of Hudson’s River regarding those first Shawangunk parcels as meaning “on the hillside, or “at the edge of the mountain.” How about “southern place on the mountain?” Perhaps Shawangunk stuck because both shawan and gunk appeared frequently in Lenape usage.

Now for that other name: Shon-gum. The earliest source for Shon-gum is the subtitle from the 1887 edition of Legends of the Shawangunk. Fried, the New Paltz-raised Woodstock historian Alf Evers, and Mohonk Preserve historians Bob Larsen and Paul Huth all agree on the pronunciation shawn-gum, a vernacular contraction of Shawangunk that became popular among the locals.

There is some debate about whether this was indeed the name used by those with intimate ties to the ridge—the bark-skinners, charcoal makers, millstone workers, berry-pickers—or one impressed upon them by preachers, teachers, and politicians. And unlike Gloucester or Worcester, the phonetic rendering of Shon-gum began making its way into the written record, frequently cited as the original Lenape name. However, Shon + gum appear to have no Lenape equivalents, and none of those early land deeds contain anything resembling Shon-gum.

But spend a day at Minnewaska State Park or the Mohonk Preserve, attend the Shawangunk Biodiversity Partnership’s annual Shawangunks lecture series, or listen to the arguments on both sides for John Bradley’s Awosting Reserve development proposal, and you’ll hear Shon-gum wafting over the discussion. In fact, among academics, rangers, ridge preservationists, and many climbers, this pronunciation seems preferred.

But we must dig deeper, and separate indigenous character from colonial vernacular. Both names reflect the character and history of the place, and both remain active in the daily lexicon of the ridge. Though climbers will probably stick with the affectionately truncated “Gunks,” the full Shawangunk pronunciation may not only be historically accurate but also gives the Lenape their due.

The distinguishing geologic characteristic of the ridge is its radiant bedrock of quartzite conglomerate, a word defined curiously for this discussion “as any mass formed of various sources.” Shawangunk, Chawangong, Chauwanghugh, Shon-gum, Gunks. In sound, they carry the heft of stone. Names with eras, partly distinct but making one, deposited like bedrock in the imagination—they speak the soul of a landscape.

Used with permission from Blue Stone Press.

An Interview with Hank Alicandri
Mohonk Preserve Head Ranger Hank Alicandri. Photo by France Menk For a lucky few, passion and vocation fuse together. These are generally the people who aren’t lying (to us or themselves) when they say they love what they do. Hank Alicandri is one such lucky soul. As Director of Land Stewardship and Head Ranger, Hank is in his element at the Mohonk Preserve. The sole full-time ranger—the other six are 10-month and weekend rangers—he has been working with the Preserve for 16 years.

Alicandri’s responsibilities encompass taking care of visitors and taking care of the land. He and the other rangers orient visitors, sell day passes, and help those who have gotten into trouble. The rangers also manage the 6,500-acre property including its facilities and building maintenance. Additionally, they have a 30-mile network of antique carriage roads to maintain, and about 30 miles of foot paths. It’s a fair amount of work for a handful of people, but luckily they have a few extra hands.

The Importance of Volunteers

“We rely heavily on our volunteers,” says Alicandri. “The Preserve simply wouldn’t be the way it is without the network of people who volunteer their time and efforts.” Indeed, the Preserve works closely with this collection of passionate locals. There’s the back-country patrol, trail-keepers, and bike patrol just to name a few. Volunteers also staff the visitor’s center, working as receptionists, librarians, and research associates. Alicandri estimates there are 400 active volunteers. The Mohonk Preserve Board of Directors, as well as all it’s committee members, are also volunteers. “One thing I’ve learned,” says Alicandri, “is that people really feel a sense of ownership and care about this place that’s unlike anywhere else.”

One climber who feels this way is Dick Williams, who along with his trail crew have been volunteering their time to build stone trails and retaining walls along the Trapps and Near Trapps area. “This is a great example of volunteerism,” says Alicandri. “After all, we’ve had climber access paths ever since there were climbers.” But now these trails have evolved as the understanding of soil erosion and impact has evolved, and now talented volunteers are carefully planning trails, eliminating extraneous trails, and directing them on durable rock to keep erosion at bay. While the Preserve looks to its volunteers to help solve immediate problems, it also looks toward partnerships with other land managers to solve larger challenges.

Partnering to Pool Resources

Quote by Hank Alicandri The Preserve recognizes it must partner with other agencies and organizations to become more effective, and have begun on a few fronts. The most visible is the Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership. “It’s the first time,” says Alicandri, “all the large land managers along the ridge—the Mohonk Preserve, the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Nature Conservancy, the Open Space Institute and the Palisades Interstate Park Commission—have come together in this biodiversity partnership to study threats to the ridge and take action to mitigate them.”

One of the first projects is the Green Assets Program. Given that encroaching development, with attendant problems like poor planning, air and water pollution, threatens the Preserve, the Biodiversity Partnership hired Peter Fairweather, a talented landscape planner, to work with three towns that adjoin the ridge and help them aim for more solid planning. Alicandri states “We’re excited, largely due to the Awosting Reserve threat coming to the forefront, that many towns appear to be interested in applying to have Peter work with their respective planning boards.” (For more information on Awosting Reserve, please click here.)

The GCC and the Preserve

Not surprisingly, rock climbers make up a significant percentage of the Preserve’s membership base. “One third are climbers, and anecdotally, day visitors are probably a third or more climbers,” Alicandri estimates. The percentages are evenly split among climbers, bicyclists, and hikers, though those numbers can be misleading given that many outdoor enthusiasts tend to climb one day and hike or bike the next.

Alicandri notes that Gunks climbers are good land stewards. “Climbers are extremely responsive to anything that affects the environment” he says. Alicandri also notes that climbers are much more responsive when they have more information on a given situation. “We’ve found it’s best to have some indication of why we’re doing a given thing,” he says, “not simply stating ‘You can’t climb here’ but instead saying ‘This route is closed due to Peregrine falcons for this period of time.’”

Quote by Hank Alicandri It’s worth noting the Preserve still has problems with visitors—certainly some are climbers—continuing to braid trails. Rangers have been trying to whittle down the myriad access paths that come up from 44/55 to Undercliff Road, and there’s one trail in particular that simply doesn’t want to disappear. “This is a trail around the Scenic Overlook area that comes out by the Brat,” Alicandri says. “People just want to be able to park at the Scenic Overlook and jet right up to the Carriage Road; they don’t want to spend the extra three minutes it takes to walk across the Trapps Bridge.”

But for the most part people are responding to what the Preserve works to achieve. “Certainly we are always thinking of ways to better interact with all our users, climbers included,” states Alicandri. “That’s neverending.”

So how can the GCC help the Preserve? Hank Alicandri feels that the GCC can fulfill a key purpose, which has been absent at the Gunks for decades. “Traditionally lacking at the Gunks is an organized voice that can speak to all the land managers on the ridge for the interests of climbers,” Alicandri says. It’s true that this unified voice has not previously existed, and could well be because there hasn’t been the pressing need. Pre-Skytop, of course.

Gunks climbers tend to understand the bigger picture of climbing in the United States, and thus have chosen to become more unified and involved. Hank Alicandri started climbing here in the early 1970s and never left. He’s pleased the GCC has formed and thinks the organization will be a benefit to climbers at the Gunks and beyond.

Members’ Corner

Photo by Jannette Wing Pazer   The cliffs are timeless
The color and texture
Of the rock, sublime
Our unspoken love and respect
Of this place
And for each other
Is the treasure
We share

Each generation knows
The beauty of our treasure
And quietly, gently
Embraces it
Holding it closely
Before passing it on

- Ethan Ladof

The Argo's Bounty

From that Grecian field of Mars,
the golden glow of Jason’s quest
came to lie within your hand,
came to light upon your palm.
Purple shadows dart among your moving fingers
wrapped around messages of silent stone.

No move can interrupt its gentle telegraphy.
Its lexicon, boundless and silent,
translates the climber's quest
unanswerable at Delphi.

- France Menk

Photo by France Menk  

Recent Events
The GCC has been cleaning the chalk almost faster than the boulderers can dip their hands in those five-pound Metolius tub buckets. Almost.

For a complete run-down on the GCC’s drive toward a tidier lower Hudson Valley, please click here

Rope Up! Tie In!
The GCC began in 2002 with the goal of maintaining and expanding climbing  opportunities along the Shawangunk Ridge. We as climbers must realize that, although diversified in climbing styles and overall recreational interests, we enjoy a common goal of maintaining the pristine nature of our climbing area. Climbers are some of the most environmentally aware “guests” using the Preserve. Help us keep it that way. Become part of the solution. Make a difference. Join the Gunks Climbers’ Coalition today!

Send It!
Tell us what's going on in your world of climbing. Any upcoming slide shows, lectures, book signings, or fundraising events? We'd like to hear about them. Or, do you anything to share with the GCC community? Our goal with the newsletter is to keep expanding the offerings to poetry, short stories, trip reports; anything innovative and compelling will be considered.

Pop off an email us at newsletter@gunksclimbers.org. We welcome your comments, whether on our newsletter,  the direction of our organization, or the future of climbing.

Mission Statement

The Gunks Climbers’ Coalition, established in the fall of 2002,

is an advocacy group dedicated to creating and maintaining

sustainable opportunities for responsible climbing along the

Shawangunk Ridge and surrounding areas.

(12/2015: Updated links for new website.)