Shawangunk Rock Climbs. Dick Williams. The American Alpine Club Press. New York, 1991. Volume One: The Trapps. 346 pages. 55 black-and-white photos. $25.00. Volume Two: The Near Trapps. 218 pages. 28 black-and- white photos. $20.00. Volume Three: Sky Top. 196 pages. 38 black-and- white photos. $20.00. Much has changed in the Gunks since Williams’ last guide appeared in 1980. For one thing, there have been two editions of another guide to the area. For another, the crowds that throng the Trapps on any given weekend dwarf the relatively small population of climbers who used the region twelve years ago. And of course, there are a few more routes; well over a thousand now.
The Gunks lend themselves to verbal description rather than topo format, and because of their detail and explicitness, the guide comes in three volumes: One volume covers the Trapps, another Millbrook and the Near Trapps and the third Sky Top. This feature makes the chosen volume less of a hassle to cart around on climbs, or stuff in the top pocket of your pack, but will empty your wallet a bit more than one condensed book. If you are visiting the area with any frequency or for a prolonged stay, you’ll need all three volumes.
There are a lot of things to like about this guide. First and foremost, it guides. Williams spent much time doing his homework on route descriptions, eliciting details from first ascentionists and avoiding the trap so many guide book authors fall into of relying on just a few people to offer information and opinions. The result is the most complete and detailed guide the region has ever seen. All three volumes give the details on the current rules and regulations of the area, which everyone should read thoroughly to assure future access to sensitive areas. The Trapps volume also gives a lengthy history lesson, beginning with the dark ages of hemp rope and Wiessner/Kraus classics, up to the more recent days of bolt wars and Franklin desperates. There is plenty of fuel for rainy days reading and debate. As Williams has been around for more than half the time climbers have been cragging here, his perspective has merit. Another very useful feature is a topo of the base of the cliffs, which correlates with the photos of the routes. This visual information, along with the written descriptions, will make it an effort to get lost. Well, most of the time.
My criticisms of the guide are few, and mostly personal. The starring system is ultra-conservative and will keep visitors away from many excellent climbs if they use it as a guide, especially in the upper grades. The photos of Millbrook are less than perfect, and for some reason, this cliff always hosts the largest amount of description errors in the various guides. In the guide of this part, there are starting pitches omitted from several routes, but at least the descriptions are accurate for the pitches described. Since Millbrook is so rarely visited, few will worry about missing out on several rope-lengths of climbing. A final personal gripe is the lack of a recommended route list. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown sick of listing the same old routes for hundreds of visitors over the years. In any case, it’s a minor point.
So buy the guide and have fun in the Gunks. Buy your button or day pass, be nice to the rangers and they will be nice to you. Carry a little plastic bag and pick up trash left by others as you wander down the carriage road; if you smoke, quit. If you choose not to quit, please carry your butts out with you. Climbing at the Gunks is a privilege; the rules are few and simple, the pleasures immense.