The Gunks' are a rock climber's dream of a cliffscape paradise

The Shawangunks, a ridge in New York State, is a mecca for climbing enthusiasts who defy gravity using rope, "protection" and bravado

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Once a sport for misfits, climbing is now seen as a glamorous pastime. There are some 300,000 climbers in the United States, and on a busy weekend, the Gunks' steep cliffs play host to at least 800 of them; more Americans have learned to dangle above the abyss here than anywhere else in the country.

Thirty years after his first climbing foray into the area, writer David Roberts returns to take us on a nostalgic romp through some of the highlights of Gunks' climbing history, and to answer the question, "How do you get the rope up there in the first place?"

The Gunks were discovered for climbers by world renowned mountaineer, Fritz Wiessner. Later, he and Hans Kraus pioneered many of the finest routes, and the two are considered heroes to this day.

The year 1959 saw the Shawangunks' first climbing death, and the beginning of an epic battle between the stodgy Appalachian Mountain Club and the renegade "Vulgarians." In the end the Vulgarians won and became legends known for their rude antics and their inspired climbing.

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