Discovery of the Gunks: The Old Route

  The story of the discovery of the Shawangunks by technical leads back to a story that has been retold so many times it risks being transformed into a fable. Luckily we have Fritz Weissner's account as recounted in the Appalachia Journal of 1960 to set the record straight. In his own words Fritz relates the tale.
"It was in 1935 that the first rock climbers visited the region. On a late spring day of that year several friends and I were climbing on Breakneck Ridge opposite Storm King on the Hudson River. A thunderstorm had made the air crystal clear, and looking northward toward the Catskills our eyes could distinguish in the distant hills the sharp breaks and steep flanks of sizable cliffs"[1]

The Shawangunk Ridge as seen from Breakneck Ridge

It was obvious to Weissner and company to head directly to Millbrook as it was the most appealing objective being the cleanest and tallest of the cliffs in the ridge. It is quite ironic how the first and most obvious cliff that was climbed has lapsed almost into obscurity for most climbers. Weissner himself points out what would become one of the primary reasons for this lack of attention when he writes, "We soon came under the very impressive great Millbrook cliff… the possibilities for routes which would lead through the many overhangs near the top seemed to be few."[1]

Millbrook from Majestic View Farms in Gardiner

After surveying the cliff from the talus the trio had picked out two possibilities but decided to get a better look and so traversed in from the North onto what has now been dubbed "Death Ledge" and traversed almost the entire length of the cliff until they arrived at the corner system of what would become the first technical rock climb in the Gunks, "Old Route".

A dwarf pine at the top of Millbrook

[1] "Early Rock Climbing in the Shawangunks," Appalachia, June 1960, pp. 18-25.