Of all the amenities that attract people to live in central Ulster County, the proximity of the Gunks, with their more than 100 miles of trails, is the most compelling for many. But these recent post-global-warming winters can be terribly frustrating for outdoorspeople, with their temperatures ever fluctuating above and below the freezing point, and all too often lacking sufficient snowfall to support cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Icy or slushy trails aren’t welcoming to hikers, skiers or mountain bikers, and the cliff faces aren’t safe for traditional rock climbing when coated with ice.
So what’s to be done, if you want to keep getting outdoor exercise all winter long? Well, you could learn to ice climb; and there’s no better time to undertake such a project than right now. You could even make a New Year’s resolution out of it.
But obviously, ice climbing isn’t the sort of skill that one acquires safely without specialized technical gear – not to mention guidance from someone with considerable experience. Luckily for us, the New Hampshire-based outdoor equipment retail chain Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) operates the oldest climbing school in the East, offering classes since 1968, and has a Climbing School & Technical Climbing Gear Shop branch in Gardiner. It’s located right at the foot of the Gunks, where Route 299 (New Paltz’s main drag) comes to an end at a T-intersection with Route 44/55.
To sign up for an ice climbing lesson, you go online to the central EMS Climbing School website at www.emsoutdoors.com/new-paltz-gunks/ice-climbing and prepay. Reservations are broken down into two types: private and group classes. If you want more personalized attention, the ability to go at your own pace and a lot of climbing, private lessons and guided climbs are the way to go. Private classes are completely customizable and guaranteed to run once your reservation is complete. Call (800) 310-4504 to schedule.
At $150 per person for a basic or intermediate one-day class, $280 for a two-day class and $350 for a family of up to four people, equipment included, group classes are generally less expensive than private classes. But they require a minimum enrollment of two participants and are subject to cancellation if that minimum is not met. If you have a flexible schedule and don’t mind being matched with other climbers, joining a class is a great option. The minimum age to join a group class is 15.
The EMS New Paltz (Gunks) Climbing School offers basic, intermediate and advanced ice climbing classes with several variants. Neophytes can get started with Winter Climbing 101, a full-day course that covers the fundamentals of ice climbing or winter mountaineering. You’ll learn the use of boots, crampons, ice axes, ropes and harnesses to move efficiently, safely and confidently on steep snow and moderate-angled ice. The class runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with sessions this month scheduled for January 11, 19, 21 and 25. There will also be five Winter Climbing 101 classes in Gardiner in February and seven in March.
For women who feel that they might be intimidated by the competitive environment of a mixed class, special Women’s Ice Climbing sessions are also offered on January 18 and on through the winter. These cover the same basic curriculum as the Winter Climbing 101 classes. For those eager to learn more in a short span of time, two-day Ice Climbing Fast Track classes are scheduled for January 18-19, twice in February and three times in March.
For adventurers with some experience, the intermediate Ice Climbing 201 class will help you fine-tune specific techniques for efficient movement on steeper ice and then move on to ice protection and anchors. Ice Climbing 202 introduces advanced techniques for climbing, route selection and anchors on longer or more problematic routes. Visit the website for dates, or to learn about Advanced Ice Climbing, Learn to Lead and Mixed Climbing classes.
Ice climbing classes, various dates, $150-$280+, Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School & Technical Climbing Gear Shop, 3124 Route 44/55, Gardiner; (845) 255-3280, (800) 310-4504, extension 2, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.emsoutdoors.com/new-paltz-gunks/ice-climbing.