About Climbing in the Trapps
Author: Seth Gross
The Trapps is the major cliff of the Gunks. It is nearly three miles long and contains over four hundred documented climbing routes. It is the largest cliff in the area. With two nearby parking lots and a carriage road running beneath its entire length, access is very easy. Climbers flock to the Trapps for excellent climbs at every level.
At The Trapps’ southern end, near the West Trapps parking lot, the cliff begins at a height suitable for single-pitch climbing. As the cliff progresses northward it gradually increases in height, and then for most of its length stands at around two hundred feet tall. Climbs range from one to three pitches.
Apart from Peterskill, the Trapps is the most accessible cliff for new climbers. The cliff has a world-class collection of climbs at the low end of the scale, sprinkled throughout the cliff.
But the Trapps isn’t just (or primarily) for beginners; it has high-quality climbs at every level of difficulty. It’s not at all uncommon to see new climbers doing their first leads on a 5.3, just a stone’s throw away from more experienced teams testing their strength on a 5.10 or 5.12.
Although the cliff can be traversed directly at its base for almost its entire length, visitors tend to find it easiest to travel to the general area of their desired routes along the carriage road that runs beneath the talus field. Climbers can then ascend to the cliff itself using designated trails that are marked with yellow blazes. In recent years the Dick Williams volunteer trail crew has been doing significant work on these approach trails, making many of them into perfect staircases of rock leading directly to the cliff.
The Trapps is located entirely on Mohonk Preserve land. The Mohonk Preserve is a non-profit nature preserve, supported by members, donors and volunteers. Their mission is to protect the Shawangunk Mountains region, so it’s very important for climbers to keep their impact as low as possible and practice good land stewardship. The Mohonk Preserve is open to all users who pay a day fee or purchase an annual membership with climbing privileges. Consider the cost of a day pass to a climbing gym, and how much more you get accessing the beautiful cliffs of the Gunks. Visit https://www.mohonkpreserve.org/hours-and-fees for the latest prices for passes.
Managing the Crowds
With its easy access and high-quality climbing, The Trapps is without a doubt the most crowded destination in the Gunks. It is particularly busy on weekends. (On weekdays you will not find yourself alone, by any means, but you will find a much less crazy vibe, most of the time.) The area of the Trapps closest to the West Trapps parking lot, known as the Uberfall, is always packed with people, but there are numerous other popular areas, like the Mac Wall and the Arrow Wall, that see significant crowding during peak times. Specific destination routes such as High Exposure (5.6+) and CCK (5.7+) often have multiple parties stacked up waiting to do them.
The best way to avoid waiting forever for your desired climb is to have an alternative in mind, or simply to keep walking! Most of the climbs in the Gunks are good, even the ones that haven’t earned three stars from a guidebook or Mountain Project. And in general, the further down the cliff you walk, the less crowded it will be.
There also tends to be a greater number of climbers vying to do the easier routes, no matter where they are located. Moderate multi-pitch classics like Three Pines (5.3), Minty (5.3), and Sixish (5.4) are nearly always busy, while climbs above 5.8 tend to be much less crowded.
There are two parking areas, both of which are located off of Route 44-55 in Gardiner, which is 6 miles outside of New Paltz. The first choice for most climbers is the West Trapps Lot. It is advisable to arrive early (pre-9am) because it fills up quickly on weekends, especially in the fall. The other option is to park at the Mohonk Preserve’s Visitor Center lot, which is larger and fills up later on weekends than the West Trapps lot. The approach from this lot ascends to the cliff up the West Trapps Connector Trail, which is popularly known as “The Stairmaster,” and which deposits the user, panting from the steps, at the Trapps carriage road partway down the cliff.
The Gunks App: A smart-phone guidebook to the Trapps
Available for Android at the Google Play Store
Available for iPhone at the iTunes Store
The Trapps App features high-resolution photographs of the cliff with precise lines drawn for the climbing routes. To help climbers find the routes, there are also blown-up photos of the beginnings of routes and sometimes upper pitches too. Descriptions of the routes are deliberately spare. The App contains virtually all of the routes in the Trapps but individual pitches that have fallen from favor and grown dirty or dangerous are sometimes omitted.
The makers of the Gunks App have released a print version of the app, called Gunks Climbing, which presents all of the information in the App plus a peerless collection of action photographs to accompany the text.
The Climber’s Guide to the Shawangunks: The Trapps, by Dick Williams
Available at Rock & Snow in New Paltz
The most complete guide to the Gunks, this book contains every known route and pitch, though the guide hasn’t been updated since 2004 so a few recent additions and variations found in the App are not present.
Dick’s descriptions are more detailed than what you’ll get in the App, but many people (especially newcomers) find the much higher-quality photographs in the App to be a better bet for actually finding the routes.
For those who know the Gunks reasonably well or who are in it for the long haul, Dick’s book tends to be the guide of choice, though many people own both the book and the App.
The Gunks Guide, by Todd Swain
Todd Swain’s guidebook has the benefit of combining all of the major cliffs into one book. The guide covers The Trapps, The Near Trapps, Millbrook, and Skytop into a single volume that is small enough to carry around. Of course, in order to achieve such compactness, sacrifices had to be made. Swain’s descriptions are far more sparse than Williams,’ and the overview photos only feature some of the routes. In addition, this book was last published in 1998, so it is the most out-of-date of the available guides, although the Gunks hasn’t changed significantly since then.
The Gunks, by Zach Orenczak and Rachael Lynn
Neither accurate nor complete, this misleadingly-titled select guide to the Trapps is best avoided, given the other excellent options that are available. It is a worthwhile purchase for the collection of photographs contained within, many of which were taken by longtime local enthusiasts. But leave it at home when you actually go to the Gunks and need good information.
Trapps – Descriptions by Areas
A cliff as long as The Trapps can be confusing to navigate. While there are no formal dividing lines marking when a climber moves from one area of The Trapps to another, there are popular areas and “walls” that have become widely known and which help climbers make sense of the cliff. What follows is not a guide, nor is it a comprehensive list of areas. It is intended more to give the reader a flavor of the breadth and variety of the climbing in the Trapps.
- The Uberfall
- Jackie Area
- Frog’s Head Area
- Strictly from Nowhere Area
- The Mac Wall
- The Guide’s Wall
- Never Never Land/Middle Earth Area
- Arrow Wall Area
- CCK and Vicinity
- High Exposure Area
- The Yellow Wall
- The Seasons
- The Slime Wall
- Sleepy Hollow
This area encompasses the climbing closest to the West Trapps parking lot, and contains most of the single-pitch climbing in the Trapps. It includes many high-quality climbs, some easy and some hard. Bunny (5.4), a climb that is many a Gunks climber’s first trad lead, sits right next the Retribution (5.10b) and Nosedive (5.10b), both of which are popular choices for first 5.10. The Uberfall is close to the parking lot and the carriage road here runs right next to the cliff, so the area tends to be quite popular with individuals, groups, and guided parties. Some other VERY popular routes in this zone include Horseman (5.5), which ascends a striking corner, leading to an airy traverse, Rhododendron (5.6-), a well-protected line that follows a vertical crack, Laurel (5.7), which has a challenging, slippery start, Ken’s Crack (5.7), a beautiful diagonal crack climb that goes over a bulge, Dirty Gertie (5.8+), an exciting, sandbagged face climb (often top-roped but very leadable), Apoplexy (5.9), an engaging lead with thin face climbing followed by a small roof, P-38 (5.10b), a somewhat awkward diagonal crack/shallow corner with a challenging thin step to the left and up at its end, and Stirrup Trouble (5.10b), a heads-up, multi-cruxed climb containing a little bit of everything.
This sector includes some very popular easy two-pitch climbs, all of which have unusual challenges one might not expect given their approachable grades. In addition to Jackie (5.5), a 5.5 climb with a roof (!), there is the nearby Dennis (5.5), which starts over a challenging bulge, and Belly Roll (5.4), which requires the leader to….. well, you’ll figure it out. Other popular climbs in this zone up the difficulty a bit, such as Classic (5.7) and Pink Laurel (5.9), as well as slippery test-piece Matinee (5.10d).
Frog’s Head Area
The carriage road diverges from the cliff face just before this area. This wall features several outstanding moderate two-pitch face climbs like Easy Overhang (5.2), Frog’s Head (5.6-), which follows an engaging crack over a bulge, Baby (5.6), which is many Gunks leaders’ first encounter with an off-width crack, City Lights (5.8-), with its curiously slippery moves past a triangular pod, Son of Easy O (5.8), one of the Gunks’ best and most varied 5.8’s, and Pas De Deux (5.8), a superb example of Gunks face climbing with spaced gear in the horizontals. The wall is bounded at its right end by Maria (5.6+), a climb with three very different and engaging pitches, the third of which ascends above the Grand Traverse (GT) Ledge right where the cliff suddenly rises to its full height.
Strictly From Nowhere Area
Situated right above the junction of the carriage road and the West Trapps Connector Trail (aka “The Stairmaster”), Strictly From Nowhere (5.7) is a popular face climb with a roof crux, and an easy landmark to spot as you walk down the carriage road.
Nearby are popular easier routes like Arch (5.6) and Ribs (5.4), and just beyond Strictly From Nowhere is the sandbag roof climb now known simply as The Ceiling (5.6), and one of the many dreaded 5.9++ routes in the Gunks, Grim-Ace Face.
The Mac Wall
Not too much further down the carriage road is The Mac Wall, named for pioneering climber Jim McCarthy, who single-handedly raised standards in the Gunks in the 1950s and 60s, and who put up many of the routes on this, his namesake wall.
This wall is celebrated for its incredible collection of 5.10 climbs. All of them are worthwhile, but for many the biggest prizes are Coexistence (5.10d) and Graveyard Shift (5.10d), both of which would be considered 5.11 in many areas. Not as difficult—but not to be underestimated!– is Tough Shift (5.10a), a climb with a runout through the crux traverse that is sure to keep you focused, and The Dangler (5.10a), which provides crazy exposure and a priceless photo opportunity up on the GT Ledge.
In addition to the treasure trove of 5.10 at the Mac Wall, you will also find the ever-popular Three Pines (5.3), the diagonal crack of Something Interesting (5.7+), and MF (5.9), a climb that has set the standard for 5.9 in the Gunks since McCarthy first put it up in 1960.
The Guides’ Wall
The bright orange buttress of rock holding Madame Grunnebaum’s Wulst (5.6, popularly known as “Madame G’s”), marks the left end of this sector, named for its popularity with guided groups. There are many popular easy climbs here, such as Northern Pillar (5.2) and Finger Locks or Cedar Box (5.5), as well as some more difficult climbs on every emergent leader’s list, like Hyjek’s Horror (5.8 R) and Le Teton (5.9).
Never Never Land/Middle Earth Area
This area is not as popular as the Mac Wall but it boasts an almost equally amazing collection of 5.10 climbs. With Balrog (5.10b) at its left boundary, and boasting other great tens like Cheap Thrills (5.10c), Turdland (5.10d), Never Never Land (5.10a) and J’Accuse (5.10b), this wall is a 5.10 leader’s dream come true.
This area also has climbs at other difficulty levels that are among the best in their grades, such as Middle Earth (5.5), Cakewalk (5.7), Absurdland (5.8), and the testpiece Bullfrog (5.12). And just beyond Middle Earth is Sente (5.9-), a rare bolted face climb in the Gunks, and Thin Slabs Direct (5.7+), one of the most thrilling adventures in the Gunks at any grade.
This area contains a great concentration of superb 5.8 face climbing on beautiful white rock. Arrow (5.8), Three Doves (5.8+), Annie Oh! (5.8), and Limelight (5.7++), all have quality first pitches and amazing, beautiful second pitches with differing challenges. In addition, Cold Turkeys (5.8) is another high-quality first pitch that tends to fly under the radar. Just beyond the end of the wall you’ll find two excellent multi-pitch 5.10’s in Feast of Fools (5.10b), and Nurse’s Aid (5.10c), which despite the single letter grade of additional difficulty when compared to Feast of Fools is a much more committing lead. Also in this neighborhood is one of the Gunks’ most popular and steepest 5.12’s, Suppers Ready (5.12a), and to its right is the buttress containing some of the Gunks’ hardest and most outrageous roof climbs in the 5.13 range and beyond, in Twilight Zone and its variations.
CCK and Vicinity
Cascading Crystal Kaleidoscope (5.7+, known as “CCK”), approached from the trail that ascends from the notable Andrew boulder, contains some of the most thrilling 5.7 climbing in the Gunks, with its third-pitch traverse and vertical crack on an extremely exposed, blank face.
In the area immediately preceding CCK is another wall containing excellent climbing above the GT Ledge in the 5.9-5.10 range. No Glow (5.9), Three Vultures (5.9), Keep On Struttin’ (5.9), Amber Waves of Pain (5.10a), Face to Face (5.10b), and Erect Direction (5.10c) give this area one of the greatest concentrations in the Gunks of spectacular climbing at a consistent grade.
Another very popular and adventurous nearby route is Moonlight (5.6), with its committing second-pitch traverse around a blind corner and beautiful climbing up a crack and corner to the top of the cliff.
High Exposure Area
High Exposure (5.6+) may well be the most popular route in the Gunks, and deservedly so. Its exposed move out from an awkward roof and onto an overhanging wall (with great juggy holds!) is one of the Gunks’ great thrills.
The pointed buttress that contains High Exposure also holds some of the Gunks’ best climbs at other grades, such as the beautiful arete climb Directissima (5.9), the steep, pumpy Doubleissima (5.10b) and Ridicullissima (5.10d), and the great overhanging trad testpiece that finishes on the other side of the buttress from High E, Enduro Man’s Longest Hangout (5.11c).
In addition, this area has on the wall preceding High E one of the nicest long face climbs in The Last Will Be First (5.6) and one of the most intimidating and committing roofs in Modern Times (5.8+).
And not far beyond the High Exposure buttress sit Ants’ Line (5.9) and Bonnie’s Roof (5.9), two of the most natural lines in the Gunks. Both climbs follow vertical crack systems, making for excellent gear opportunities throughout their length. They are both frequent candidates for climbers’ first 5.9’s.
The Yellow Wall
This wall has a gigantic series of ceilings of orange rock, cascading to the top of the cliff. It is a striking sight. A superb collection of hard climbs weave their way up this wall. Carbs & Caffeine (5.11a), No Man’s Land (5.11b), The Yellow Wall (5.11c), and Tiers of Fear (5.12a), are all excellent routes with good gear when it counts, as well as runouts in easier territory. For a taste of this wall without the high price of difficulty, try Airy Aria (5.8), a classic, exposed outing.
Yet another popular area, this wall has great climbs at every level of difficulty. Warm up on Shit Creek (5.6), Boldina (5.7), or the arching Bold-ville (5.8), and then test your skills on the devious thin corner of The Winter (5.10d). When you’re done with that you can try The Fall (5.11a) or The Summer (5.11d), two testpiece climbs with little gear, usually tried on top rope.
The Slime Wall
When you get this far down the cliff, you often find a more peaceful atmosphere. Especially on the upper pitches, climbs down at this end of the Trapps have a more adventurous feel, with a greater incidence of lichen and loose rock.
The Slime Wall features a collection of difficult, short 5.11 face climbs like April Showers (5.11b) and Comedy in Three Acts (5.11b). The area also houses a trio of unique 5.10 climbs: Simple Suff (5.10a), with its technical stem corner, Last Frontier (5.10a), a chimney climb which offers some real jamming opportunities, and Falled on Account of Strain (5.10b), which ascends a beautiful face to one of the biggest roofs in the Gunks. On the more moderate end of the spectrum is Wasp (5.9), which starts out technical and awkward but gets easier and more beautiful with each move skyward. And just past the Slime Wall you’ll usually find peace and quiet on the isolated Moondance (5.6) & Sundance (5.6) and Casa Emilio (5.2).
The final section of The Trapps is a region of nooks and crannies. Detached pillars add an interesting variety to the landscape; classic climbs lay hiding behind them. Some of the great climbs in this area include Trigger Point (5.6), a clean, surprisingly steep face climb, Art’s Route (5.9), with its three-dimensional overhanging crux, Wegetables (5.10a), a short climb that packs a punch with it’s tricky opening face and triple-tiered roof finale, and 10,000 Restless Virgins (5.10d), a beautiful corner climb that leads into a difficult and tricky ceiling.