Trip Report: Bagels to Burritos
Part 1, Gunks Edition
By Maxine Speier
The Shawangunk ridge, or the “Gunks,” rises 200 feet above the tree line. The exposed cliffs stretch across the horizon, a swath of white-grey rock. When we are there in early September, most of the trees are still a lush and vibrant green, but within a few weeks, as temperatures drop, the leaves will change to golden yellows and reds and the Hudson Valley will be transformed.
Fall is the best time to climb in the Gunks, while the days are growing shorter, before the first snow comes. Summer’s humidity has lifted and a dry coolness sets in. Leaves crunch underfoot, but the rock is not numbingly cold yet.
Jeff and I drive into New Paltz in the late afternoon. It is the first stop on our road trip, a trip that took shape back in San Francisco, where the two of us (both native New Yorkers) wandered up and down steep hills, eating tightly rolled food truck burritos, talking about the correct way to cook a bagel, and waxing nostalgic for the vibrant change of seasons—the humid summer heat-waves and the winters where the snow is too deep to shovel.
Jeff is a full time route-setter for Touchstone who moved to California from a small town in upstate New York over three years ago. I moved from Brooklyn exactly a year ago. The trip was initially intended as a chance to visit home and see our families, but the more we talk and plan, the more it becomes clear that if we’re going to take any time off from work, it’s going to be to go climbing.
New Paltz, a bustling college town filled with students, climbers, and retired hippies, was founded in the 1600s and lies just east of the Gunks. The prominent cliff line is visible from the main street of town.
“There it is! There it is!” I’m giddy with proximity as I look out at it. Both Jeff and I have been to the Gunks before; it’s where he learned to trad climb when he was an engineering student years before, and it’s where I led groups on hiking trips for my college Outing Club (before I’d ever considered trying to climb).
The familiarity of the ridgeline is a relief. Any trip home is filled with so many little inconsistencies: new businesses that have sprung up, neighbors who have moved away, old-hangouts that have lost their luster, even the faces of close friends and family reflect the time that has passed. But the view of the Gunks is the same as I remember it.
We pop into the local gear shop, Rock and Snow, to pick up some last minute slings and rent a helmet for Jeff, who left his back in California. At the entrance to the shop is a row of cabinets filled with climbing relics. Arranged chronologically, the gear in the cabinets shows the evolution of climbing: pitons, chocks, hexes, cams, different styles of shoes, and rappel devices. The older gear is both impressive and terrifying; it serves as a reminder of how far the sport of climbing has come, and how much creativity and thought have gone into preserving the spaces and the knowledge of a crag.
That first afternoon, with just enough daylight for one climb, we drive from New Paltz to the Trapps parking lot. The Gunks is located in the Mohonk Preserve, a 6500-acre network of fields, hiking trails, and old carriage roads. The Preserve is a non-profit organization founded in 1963 to protect the land and to enter you must either pay a day fee ($17 for climbers) or get an annual pass ($55).
The Trapps is the most popular climbing area on the ridge, and the parking lot gets extremely crowded on weekends. Climbers drive up from New York City (just two hours away) and will sleep in their cars just to be the first on the cliffs. Luckily, we’re there in the middle of the week, and though we see plenty of other climbers, we don’t have to compete for parking. From the parking lot, it is just a quick walk up to the carriage road that runs along the base of the cliff.
Following the flat, gravelly carriage road, you can access roughly 500 routes, as well as some truly excellent bouldering. It is easy to hike to the top of the ridge and set up topropes for some of the climbs, but the Gunks is most famous for its multi-pitch trad routes. Formed of hard quartz conglomerate, the rock features long horizontal striations and cracks. As we walk down the road, Jeff keeps his eyes on the cliffs, looking out for the famous High Exposure (5.6) arête.
High E is a 250-foot, two-pitch climb that has consistently been called the greatest 5.6 in the world since it was first climbed in 1941: a Classic (with a capital C) in an area jam-packed with classics. Having left the guidebook behind, Jeff relies on his memory to find the start. “I think this is the line,” he says and with that he’s off. The first pitch is a straightforward climb up the left of the arête, to a spacious belay ledge. As I follow him, I spot plenty of opportunities to place gear, which is what makes this region so exceptional for people learning to lead trad. Heading up, you can high-step from one horizontal crack to another, finding secure footing and holds as you go, and placing as much protection as you want.
The second pitch of the climb is what everyone raves about. You breathe, step up to the corner of the ledge, and reach for a jug just out of sight to pull yourself up over a roof. As you find your way on the arête, there is air all around you, and the name of the climb clicks in your mind: this is definitely high exposure.
Climbing in the Gunks is beautiful. It is simple, and straightforward, and stunning. The rock is beautiful. The turkey buzzards and hawks that whoosh their wings overhead are beautiful. The trees beneath you are beautiful. And the view that opens up, of forests and fields that stretch out into the distance, is beautiful. Standing up on the expansive belay ledge after the first pitch of High E, you find the kind of beauty you want to soak in and store for later, to draw on when you are stuck in traffic, or having a bad day at work. You want to hold onto the memory of the landscape, and of the rock beneath your fingers.
Over the next two days, as we walk up and down the carriage road, picking out climbs and taking our time on them, as I follow and then finally lead my first trad pitch, and as we hike out with our headlamps each night, I continue to find an exhilarating serenity in the Gunks. This seems like it should be an oxymoron, but is the truth. There is a dizzying, breathless rush to these climbs, even the 5.5s and 5.6s. But there is also a peaceful quietude in the Gunks. The rock looks and feels timeless, and for a few moments, you are a part of that.
Mission Cliffs, which is about to celebrate it's 20th anniversary, has been undergoing a massive expansion project for the past two years. The gyms has added 9,000 ft of roped climbing terrain, gained a stretching and viewing mezzanine, moved the front desk, and is currently finishing construction on two brand new programming rooms. "It's been a crazy year," said General Manager Donna Hawkins. "But it's so cool to be able to grow with our membership base. The Mission Cliffs expansion has transformed the gym from what was the best 20 years ago, to what will be the best for years to come."
We knew that with such a dramatic change to the physical gym, the logo could use a little makeover as well. So of course, we turned to our friends Mark Fox and Angie Wang of Design is Play.
Mark has been climbing at Touchstone Gym's since 1993 and the two of them joined Mission Cliffs in 2009. Not only are they regular crushers around the gym, they are talented designers as well. They have worked with us to design the identities for our past four gyms; MetalMark 2010, The Studio Climbing in 2011, Dogpatch in 2012, LA. Boulders in 2013, and now Mission Cliffs in 2014. The MetalMark, The Studio, and the LA. Boulders identities all include original typeface.
We're also proud to find out that their trademark for Dogpatch Boulders is included in the Graphis Design Annual 2015!
"Out of all nine Touchstone Gym logos, you can definitely tell which ones Mark and Angie designed," said Sr. Manager Markham Connolly. "They are clean, bold, and easily identifiable. You can really see that that each unique logo is a part of the same company."
The two are highly renowned designers in the Bay Area. Mark was President of the San Francisco chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) from 1995–1996, and served on the board of the Architecture + Design Forum of SFMOMA from 1998–2000. In 1995 Fox chaired the Design Lecture Series: “5ive Iconoclasts” featured Tibor Kalman, Vaughan Oliver, the Guerrilla Girls, Jenny Holzer, and Diller + Scofidio. In 2004 Fox was designated a Fellow of the San Francisco AIGA for personal and professional contributions to the San Francisco design community.
Fox is a Professor of Graphic Design at California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco where he has taught since 1993. He served as Chair of Graphic Design at CCA on two occasions, from 2003 to 2007, and most recently from 2013 to 2014. He earned a B.A. in Fine Arts from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1985, graduating magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.
Angie's work for March Pantry, Anson Mills, One Catering, and others has won numerous awards from the Type Directors Club, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, and Print magazine. In 2013, Design is Play was one of forty-four design firms interviewed for Steven Heller and Lita Talarico’s book Design Firms Open for Business (Allworth Press).
More recently, Angie is quoted in Design School Wisdom, an anthology of tips from veterans in the industry (Chronicle Books). Her work is also featured in New Modernist Type (Thames & Hudson); Typography Essentials: 100 Design Principles for Working with Type (Rockport); and Typography Sketchbooks (Princeton Architectural Press.) In 2014, Angie served as one of five jurors for Communication Arts’ Design Annual, an international competition of the best design created over the last year.
Angie is a Senior Adjunct Professor at California College of the Arts in San Francisco where she has been teaching in the Graphic Design Program since 2005. She has taught “Typography 3: The Book,” created the curriculum for the foundational course “Typography 1: Form,” and co-taught the Summer study abroad class “Amsterdam: Dutch Utopia” with Mark Fox. She graduated magna cum laude from UC Berkeley, and with distinction from the California College of Arts and Crafts (CCAC). She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
"We climb at Mission Cliffs, as do our children Elias, Cate, and Lukas," said Angie. "MC is a bit of a second home for us, so to design an identity for a place and a community of people that we have an affinity for is an honor"
We asked the pair to give us a bit of insight to how they tackle the task of creating our gym logos. "Our process is fairly simple: we sketch at a small size. If a sketch works at half an inch, it typically works well as a finished symbol. Extraneous details are eliminated, and the essential structure of the symbol is clearly established," said Mark. "Once a sketch shows promise, we refine it further and then ink the refinement at a size of 3.5 inches with a Rapidograph pen. We then build the symbol in Illustrator for presentation; if the client selects it, we typically hone the design further, reinking the symbol at a size of 7 inches, and rebuilding it in Illustrator. Our process is laborious, but we believe it yields superior results."
"One final note: we can’t do great work without great partners. We have to thank and acknowledge Mark Melvin, in particular, for entrusting us with this assignment," said Angie.
Several of the original concepts were presented to a team at Touchstone, who then decided on the winning design. "Working with Mark and Angie to select the final identity for Mission Cliffs was such an honor, said Touchstone Graphic Designer Heather Campbell. "Their experience and professionalism really shone through. I can't WAIT to use this new logo!"
The new logo, which will be unveiled in the coming months, has an urban, industrial feel: concrete floors, steel Ibeams, and that massive crane hook—20 tons of capacity! "We thought the identity should feel empathetic and so we relied on simple, constructed forms," said Angie. "The design is the kind of nononsense trademark that could be stamped out of metal, or stenciled on a machine."
We owe a HUGE thank you to Mark and Angie for not only working with us on our previous gym identities, but for taking on the challenge of re-creating an existing logo. We're SO happy with the final product and we can't wait to see it in use.
...So do you want to see the new logo?!
Patience young padawans. It's coming soon!
Monday is YOUR day, dear members. After a long weekend of hosting SCS Youth Divisional Championships, we are gonna be SO psyched to see all your bright and shining faces again. Let's celebrate!
We will have BRAND NEW COMP ROUTES for you to project and crush, along with score cards so you can see how you rank next to a 12 year old girl who crushed over the weekend. And since we know you're into this kind of thing, we shall have a SPANDEX Contest. That's right. Don your tights, step into our photo booth, and let the good times roll. Prizes go to the best, the worst, and even some lucky winners in between.
So come one, come all, to the greatest rope gym in the greatest city in all the land.
We know what you're thinking... 'gee wiz Pah! Brand new comp routes, a spandex costume contest, AND a photo booth? It's doesn't get any better than that!'
WRONG! IT DOES GET BETTER!
Monday Funday will also be a double your pleasure - double your fun membership night! Our good friends at the Access Fund will be at the gym to sign you up for a membership with an awesome deal that also gets you an Access Fund t-shirt! Normally $50 and above memberships get a free Access Fund t-shirt.....but since we love you so much, it will be $35 tonight!
Being an Access Fund member is like raising your hand and saying, 'Yes. I love climbing' and then putting yo' money where yo' mouth is. It also happens to be a great way to join a Touchstone gym. #winwin
Access Fund Members can join any Touchstone Gym for only $25 initiation. Any day. Any gym. 'Cause that's how we roll.
So let's recap. Come to the Monday Funday event at Mission Cliffs for the fun and frivolity, and walk away with an Access Fund AND a Touchstone Climbing membership for only $60*. That's a savings of $90. And don't even get us STARTED on what you could do with an extra $90 in your pocket.
Spread the word! If you've got friends who are thinking about joining the gym - let them know today is the day to join up for less, and get more.
If you're already a Touchstone Climbing Member but not an Access Fund member - Consider signing up! A membership gets you tons of great discounts and you'll feel all warm and fuzzy by helping support the Access Fund's Mission.
If you've ever visited Mission Cliffs on a busy Thursday night, then you've seen our bike parking.. situation. When the gym was first built in 1995, bike parking wasn't taken into consideration. When we first embarked on the Mission Cliffs Expansion project, we knew that having amazing climbing terrain, killer classes, and a fantastic fitness area wouldn't be enough. We had to provide a designated bike parking area for our members and guest to safely park their rides.
We're happy to announce that after months of working with the city, our plans have been approved! We are excited to be able to move forward with our plans to build the largest outdoor bike barking area in San Francisco! "I'm so excited that we are able to provide our neighborhood with such a large public bike parking area," said Mission Cliffs manager Donna Hawkins. "It's great for our members and great for the city's bike culture."
"Our many trips to city hall have paid off," said facilities manager Russell Olson. "We're excited to begin work on the outdoor structure." The bike parking area will be 108 ft long, and located directly in front of the new entrance to the gym. Not only will visitors be greeted by our bright Walltopia climbing walls, they'll see how our members got to the gym; on their bikes!
Stay tuned for more Mission Cliffs Expansion updates. Once the front desk moves to the north side of the gym, we'll begin construction on our programs room! We owe a huge thank you to our members as we work to build something truly spectacular in San Francisco.
The "Mission Cliffhangers", Mission Cliffs' teen climbing team, has been enjoying a fun-filled, successful run in this year's Northern California Youth Climbing League! The Mission Cliffhangers are a fun-loving group of twenty Touchstone members between the ages of 7 and 17 who all share boundless enthusiasm for climbing--and the YCL competition series provides the perfect venue for them to have a blast and climb their best!
The Youth Climbing League (put together by Andy Puhvel and Lisa Coleman of Yo! Basecamp) is a series of climbing competitions for kids and teens that takes place at rock gyms in and around the Bay Area--the competitions themselves are judged in two separate categories: difficulty and speed. On January 12th, Touchstone's very own Diablo Rock Gym hosted the season-opening competition, and seven excited Mission Cliffhangers traveled out to Concord to represent their home gym, climb some awesome new routes, and have a good time! Team members Nilo Batle, Audrey Duane, Elsie Karlak, Elias Lawson-Fox, Zephir Lorne, Cosmo Maddux, and Elijah Whitlam-Sandler all climbed their hearts out at this event...and they even won some prizes! In their respective age categories: Nilo placed first in both difficulty and speed, Cosmo tied in second for difficulty, Audrey placed fifth in difficulty and fourth in speed, and Elias placed fifth in difficulty! And after all the chalk dust settled, the Cliffhangers, utterly exhausted but proud of their accomplishments, made their way home.
The Mission Cliffhangers' most recent YCL competition took place on January 25th at the Rocknasium rock gym in Davis, outside Sacramento. Team members Nilo Batle, Audrey Duane, Oscar Herrera-Sobal, Elias Lawson-Fox, Lucas Lawson-Fox, Cosmo Maddux, Cate Tam, and Elijah Whitlam-Sandler all attended and made the long hour-and-a-half trek from San Francisco. The Rocknasium competition proved to be quite significantly more difficult than the previous event, with the gym's shorter walls demanding more compact, strength-based climbing from the competitors. However, the Mission Cliffhangers stuck to their guns, climbed as hard as they possibly could, and gave it their all--by the competition's end, bouldering a V0 seemed just as hard as freeing The Nose! In the end Nilo placed first in both difficulty and speed, Audrey placed second in speed, Elias placed fifth in difficulty, and Lucas placed fifth in both difficulty and speed--an all-around good showing in what was most likely the hardest YCL event in the series.
February 8th marks the Mission Cliffhangers' next YCL competition, and this time the venue will be Vertex Climbing Center in Santa Rosa. The Cliffhangers are especially looking forward to this event, as they will be cheering for their head coach, Malcolm McMahon, in the adult climbing contest immediately following the main YCL event! After this third competition, the Mission Cliffhangers have two more stops: the penultimate competition Planet Granite in Belmont on February 23rd and the series championship Pacific Edge in Santa Cruz on March 1st.
The Northern California Youth Climbing League is an awesome competition series that affords Mission Cliffs' teen team a great opportunity to climb with their teammates, explore new rock gyms and meet other climbing teams, and just have a huge amount of fun! The Mission Cliffhangers themselves are an awesome group of kids who really put a ton of effort into their climbing and seem to have endless enthusiasm and passion for the sport--and by participating in these competitions they show their desire to push their climbing to the next level, to put their skills to the test and do their best!
The Touchstone Climbing gyms proudly support programs that help young people experience the benefits of rock climbing. Climb Up, a program founded last year in the San Francisco area, takes 11- 18 year old students with special needs, socioeconomic disadvantages, mental health needs, and/or learning disabilities from John O’Connell High School, Balboa High School Oake’s Children Center, City Arts and Tech High School, and other Bay Area schools to Mission Cliffs. The trips provide a concrete outlet for students that face serious obstacles in life.
Recently, Climb Up took a number of students to Mission Cliffs to discuss problem solving and diligence in an athletic environment. The program found great success at the gym, partly due to the staff. “The leaders and volunteers were flexible, fun, and patient as they coached our students into fearlessly conquering walls at Mission Cliffs. Students felt special with extra attention and personalized challenges (and cool gear!) said Katie a Special Education Teacher.” The staff helped the climbers have a great time.
“It was so nice! It was hard, but when you try it, it is enjoyable,” said one student. “It was very challenging, but when I made it to the top I felt so good! When I first started, it seemed impossible, but once you are in the middle, you want to keep going. When you finish the climb, you really feel like you’ve done something!” The students made significant progress at Mission Cliffs.
“The students who have come climbing are all students who struggle with their academics and those that often give up on themselves or are not confident in their skills. The climbing experience provides each of them with a unique opportunity to be presented with a challenge that they are able to overcome,” said Gorman a Special Education Teacher. “They are emotionally and physically supported by their belay partner, but they are also climbing independently. This builds confidence in their abilities, which translates back to the classroom. Each student that we have brought to Mission Cliffs has had a positive experience.”
“Mission Cliffs has been an ideal place to engage students in what climbing has to offer: physical fitness and well-being, a sense of progress and opportunity, and a supportive community,” said Climb Up founder Mark Martin. Climb Up returns to Mission Cliffs this coming week and will continue to make bi-monthly trips with six students per session.