Trip Log: The Gunks

Some 280 miles southeast of Rochester and 90 miles north of New York City, a stoney ridge rises above the surrounding countryside. The light, sandy colored cliffs stand in contrast to the dense green forests that swallow the rest of the earth below. A window into the geological history of this mysterious rock spine and how it came to be shaped.

A view of the distant Shawangunk Ridge from the road below

Sun cutting though a foggy forest en route to Shawangunk Ridge

The imposing feature is referred to as the Shawangunk Ridge, the larger Shawangunk Mountains, or simply “the Gunks”. The name is derived from a Dutch transliteration of the indigenous Munsee Lenape word “Sha-WAN-gunk”, approximately meaning “in the smoky air” to non-native speakers. What now stands 2,300 feet in the air was initially formed from a conglomerate of sub-marine sediment deposited en route to a shallow sea that once covered much of western New York. Braided rivers carried sand-sized quartz and pebbles that sank to the floor and the mineral rich sediment was continuously buried. Over time, it crystalized and cemented together, resulting in an incredibly hard and resistant rock. Quartz is just about as hard as diamonds, rating 7-8/10 on the hardness scale with diamonds sitting top of the table. So, when everything else eroded, the Gunks remained standing.

Rock & Snow, a historic climbing gear store that's been in downtown New Paltz since 1970

When spending time in nature one can understand the innate sense of mystery and awe attached to the environment. A sense of place and scale. Somewhere your mind and body become a part of the thing. A state of being. For some it may be to find tranquility, stillness, and spirituality. For others, a sense of adventure, discovery, and pushing limits. For many of us, it is through engaging physically with these spaces. To snowboard, surf, skate, and along this ridge, to climb. Many thinkers, writers, and friends far more intelligent on the matter have addressed the subject, but no matter the starting point most every conclusion seems to reach its inevitable end at connection. Ultimately, it’s the same reason why we find ourselves in a gear shop parking lot in New Paltz, NY after a foggy morning’s drive, waiting for our friends to arrive from the city. Giddy and calm all at the same time. I guess that’s what strong coffee and quality rock can do to you.

The quartz rich stone showing through the canopy