Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Climbing with kids at the Gunks (Peters Kill): 04/28 & 04/29/2012

Climbing at Peters Kill, in the Gunks.

 The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.

Although I call myself a climber, the truth is I logged just a single day at the cliff last year. Once a climber, always a climber I suppose. Beth’s climbing roots run deeper than mine: she started climbing more than 20 years ago and is a bona fide Gunkie. Finding any time to climb at all in recent years has been a challenge with our two young kids. But kids are natural climbers, and when we saw how much fun our kids had scrambling on the rocks when we hiked Owls Head last fall, we figured they were ready to try some roped climbing.

This past weekend, we headed down to New Paltz with the kids and flexible plans to either hike or climb. Peters Kill had been recommended to us as a good place to climb with kids, and turned out to be a good choice. Peters Kill features the same high quality quartz conglomerate rock found just down the road at the Trapps, but is uncrowded and features easy access to the cliffs.

Exploring around the base of the cliffs

The view down from the top

After a bit of exploration (neither Beth nor I had climbed at Peters Kill previously), we set up a top rope using the bolted anchors on Bunk Arete, a relatively easy section of the cliff (5.0 through 5.6). Daniel climbed in his sneakers, with Beth’s helmet and harness (women’s xs) cinched down, trying out various lines on the easier, lower part of the cliff. Sylvie did her own unroped scrambling on various boulders and ledges. Beth and I even got to climb a pitch or two.

Climbing at the Breakfast Wall Sunday morning

Daniel learning how to be lowered back to the ground

Between exploring and actual climbing, we spent 4+ hours at Peters Kill Saturday afternoon, which seemed to be about the right amount of time for the kids. We considered the afternoon enough of a success that we stopped in New Paltz at Rock & Snow afterwards to buy climbing shoes and a child's harness for the kids. After spending the night in New Paltz with friends, we went back to the cliff Sunday morning and spent another 4+ hours climbing. We climbed at Bunk Arete again as well as the Breakfast Wall, another relatively easy part of the cliff. The climbing shoes of course gave Daniel a real advantage over the sneakers he had used on Saturday, and he climbed even better and higher.

Real climbing shoes and practice gave Daniel the confidence to get pretty high up on the Bunk Arete

Some fun un-roped bouldering

We found that climbing, like skiing and hiking, can be a great way to spend time outdoors as a family. Next time we go however, we'll try to climb with other families. Two kids can be a lot for two parents to handle while climbing, even top-roping, and having a larger group actually makes it easier to keep an eye on the kids and to keep the kids occupied while they're on the ground. Here's some more of what we learned this weekend about Peters Kill and about climbing with kids in general.

Tips for climbing with kids:
  • Top roping works best, versus multi-pitch lead climbs.
  • Kid-specific gear (shoes, harness) is very helpful. It goes without saying that helmets are mandatory.
  • Be confident in your own abilities. This is not the time to be struggling with a climb that is a grade or two above your ability. Know how to construct bomb-proof anchors and how to protect the climber.
  • Climb with other families or bring a friend or two along.
  • Don't expect a 10-hour day at the cliff. 4-5 hours felt about right for us each day this weekend.
  • Incorporate other fun activities like swimming, exploring, bouldering.
  • Follow all safe climbing guidelines, doubly so with kids.
  • All the usual guidelines for hiking and other outdoor activities with kids apply: snacks, water, bug repellant, weather-appropriate clothing, first aid kit and know-how, etc. REI and The Wilderness Society have some good tips.
  • Consider taking a basic rock climbing course as a family at a local climbing gym. There are also courses and camps specifically for kids, such as Alpine Endeavors’ summer climbing camp.

Besides having fun, the kids learned a lot about climbing this weekend

The children's harness and climbing shoes we bought at Rock & Snow

Some Peters Kill beta:
  • The climbing here is all single pitch.
  • There are a limited number of bolted anchors. Trees can not be slung, so be prepared to construct a gear anchor. A static rope will come in handy.
  • Peters Kill is part of Minnewaska State Park. There is a $7 per person climbing fee, regardless of age. We paid for Sylvie on Saturday, but not on Sunday, so it cost our family less than $50 to climb for the weekend. I consider that an excellent value.
  • Peters Kill limits access to 70 climbers + 30 boulderers per day. By contrast, there can be 800-1000 climbers on a weekend day at the Trapps, just a mile and a half away.
  • Access to the climbs and to the top of the cliffs is phenomenally easy. All climbs are within a 10 minute level ground walk from the parking area.
  • Clean restrooms are located at the parking area.
  • There is a Peters Kill climbing guide. You can get it from Rock & Snow for less than $15. It could stand to be updated. Additional information can be found at Mountainproject.com and at Rockclimbing.com.

One final note. The Peters Kill area (and much of the Gunks) is an environmentally sensitive area, characterized by beautiful but rare ridge-top Dwarf Pitch Pine forest communities. There are also sensitive ferns, lichens and mosses. Climbing has only recently been allowed at Peterskill, so do your part in making sure that access will continue by climbing responsibly. In particular, do not use any trees for anchors; use only bolts, slung bolders, or gear.

Ridge-top Dwarf Pitch Pines


  1. If I'd known you were coming to my neck of the woods, I'd have gone up to the Gunx for a day. Although I don't climb any more. Nice story, nice pictures.

  2. Greg report! I gotta get down there ASAP!

  3. Thanks for reading! The Adirondacks may be my first love, but the Gunks sure are an amazing, beautiful place.