Learn more about Shawangunk Ridge
The Shawangunk Ridge (also known as the Shawangunk Mountains, or The Gunks; pronounced by some locals as "SHONG-gum," (/ˈʃɑŋgʌm/)) is a ridge of mountains in Ulster County, Sullivan County and Orange County in the state of New York, extending from the northernmost point of New Jersey to the Catskill Mountains.
The ridgetop, which widens considerably at its northern end, has many public and private protected areas and is not heavily populated, boasting only one settlement of consequence (unincorporated Cragsmoor). While in the past it was chiefly noted for huckleberry picking, and the fires set to create favorable conditions for further growth, today it has become known for its outdoor recreation, most notably as one of the major rock climbing areas of North America.
The name is a Dutch transliteration of the indigenous Munsee [Lenape] "Scha-WAN-gunk" (/ʃɑˈwɑŋˌgʌŋk/). The Lenape linguist Raymond Whritenour reports that, "Schawan" is an inanimate intransitive verb meaning "it is smoky air" or "there is smoky air." Its noun-like participle is "schawank," meaning "that which is smoky air." Adding the locative suffix gives us "schawangunk" ("in that which is smoky air" or, more simply, "in the smoky air").
Whritenour suggests the name derives from the burning of a Munsee fort by the Dutch at the eastern base of the ridge in 1663 (a massacre ending the Second Esopus War), where it spread quickly across the basin on land deeds and patents after the war. Historian Marc B. Fried speculates that it was derived from atmospheric conditions (a foggy, smoky morning) during the sale of the first parcel in January, 1682, though he also notes that its swift spread along the basin on subsequent deeds suggests it was in use as a proper name before the first purchase. By the early 18th century, Shawangunk became associated with the ridge. European colonists began to truncate Shawangunk into "SHONG-gum," (/ˈʃɑŋgʌm/) a pronunciation still favored by some locals and frequently misrepresented as the original indigenous name.
It is actually the northern end of a long ridge within the Appalachian Mountains that begins in Virginia, where it is called North Mountain, continues through Pennsylvania as Blue Mountain, becomes known as the Kittatinny Mountains after it crosses the Delaware Water Gap into New Jersey and becomes the Shawangunks at the state line. These mountains mark the western and northern edge of the Great Appalachian Valley.
 Natural environment
There is an unusual diversity of vegetation on the ridge, containing species typically found north of this region alongside species typically found to the south or restricted to the Coastal Plain. This results in an unusual area where many regionally rare plants are found at or near the limits of their ranges. Other rare species found in the area are those adapted to the harsh conditions on the ridge. Upland communities include chestnut oak and mixed-oak forest, pine barrens including dwarf pine ridges, hemlock-northern hardwood forest, and cliff and talus slope and cave communities. Wetlands include small lakes and streams, bogs, pitch pine-blueberry peat swamps, an inland Atlantic white cypress swamp, red maple swamps, acidic seeps, calcareous seeps, and a few emergent marshes.
The ridge is widest (7.5 miles/12 kilometers) near the northern end, narrow in the middle (1.25 miles/under 2 kilometers) with a maximum elevation of 2,289 feet (698 meters) near Lake Maratanza on the Shawangunk Ridge. The ridge rises above the broad Wallkill River valley to the east and the narrow valley to the west that contains Basher Kill and Rondout Creek at the northern end and the Neversink River and Delaware River at the southern end. These adjacent valleys are underlain by relatively weak sedimentary rock (e.g., sandstone, shale, limestone).
The ridge is primarily underlain by Shawangunk Conglomerate, a hard, silica-cemented conglomerate of white quartz pebbles and sandstone that directly overlies the Martinsburg Shale, a thick turbidite sequence of dark gray shale and greywacke sandstone. The Martinsburg Shale was deposited in a deep ocean during the Ordovician (470 million years ago). The Shawangunk Conglomerate was deposited over the Martinsburg Shale in thick braided rivers during the Silurian (about 420 million years ago); both sequences of sedimentary rock were subsequently deformed and uplifted during the Permian (about 270 million years ago). As a result of this deformation, strata within the ridge are involved in a northward plunging series of asymmetric folds (e.g., anticlines and synclines) that dip gently towards the west. These same folds, involving strata that overlie the Shawangunk Conglomerate, are exposed north of Shawangunk Ridge in the Rosendale natural cement region, where they can be directly examined in abandoned cement mines. Strata along the eastern margin of Shawangunk Ridge are truncated by erosion, resulting in the prominent cliffs characteristic of Shawangunk Ridge. The Shawangunk Conglomerate is very hard and resistant to weathering; whereas the underlying shale erodes relatively easily. Thus, the quartz conglomerate forms cliffs and talus slopes, particularly along the eastern margin of the ridge.
The entire ridge was glaciated during the last (Wisconsin) glaciation, which scoured the ridges, left pockets of till, and dumped talus (blocks of rock) off the east side of the ridge. On top of the ridge, the soils are generally thin, highly acidic, low in nutrients, and droughty, but in depressions and other areas where water is trapped by the bedrock or till, there are interspersed lakes and wetland areas. Soils on top of shale are thicker, less acidic, and more fertile. Topography on the top of the northern Shawangunks is irregular due to a series of faults that form secondary plateaus and escarpments.
 Ice caves
Ice caves are deep fissures in the conglomerate bedrock that retain ice through much of the summer, resulting in a cool microenvironment that supports several northern species such as black spruce, hemlock, rowan, and creeping snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula), and bryophytes such as Isopterygium distichaceum. These ice caves are concentrated near Sam's Point in the northern Shawangunks. Larger limestone caverns occur along the lower slopes of the Rondout and Delaware River valleys.
Lakes and wetlands occur mostly on the flat-topped ridges at the northern and southern ends of the area and, to a lesser extent, along the western side of the middle part of the ridge. Lakes and ponds occurring on conglomerate tend to be clear, nutrient-poor, and very acidic, due to limited buffering capacity of the bedrock. The northern Shawangunks have five lakes, the "sky lakes," which are, from north to south: Mohonk Lake, Lake Minnewaska, Lake Awosting, Mud Pond, and Lake Maratanza. The pH in four of the lakes averages about 4 (very acidic); Lake Mohonk, which partially overlays shale bedrock and is therefore partially buffered, is closer to neutral pH (7.0).
 Public lands and preserves
The Shawangunks contain Mohonk Preserve, Minnewaska State Park Preserve and Sam's Point Preserve with more than 100 miles of hiking trails and several climbing areas. The Long Path long-distance hiking trail follows the ridge from Sullivan County to the vicinity of Kerhonkson; south of it the Shawangunk Ridge Trail connects to the Appalachian Trail near High Point.
In 2004, a luxury development plan for buildings has threatened the ridge line, and as a result a grassroots "Save the Ridge" campaign has become extremely popular in the area. In 2006 a court ordered the sale of property by the private owner to settle a case brought on by the developer. The Open Space Institute of NY purchased the land and has signed it over to Minnewaska State Park Preserve.
 Climbing in the Gunks
Climbing in the Shawangunks has historically been centered around four major cliffs: Millbrook, the Near Trapps, The Trapps, and Skytop. Of these four, The Trapps is the longest and the most popular, with the largest number of climbing routes. The Near Trapps is located immediately across Route 44/55 from The Trapps, and is second in popularity. Millbrook mountain, the most southerly cliff, is the most remote, and sees the least climbing activity. Rock climbing is currently banned at Skytop, which is owned by the Mohonk Mountain House. Rock climbing is allowed by permit at the Peter’s Kill area, a minor crag with good bouldering and top roping opportunities. There are numerous other minor crags in the area, but local consensus is to keep them undocumented except by oral tradition.
The height of the cliff varies along the ridgeline, to a maximum of some 300 feet. The average height is around 150 feet. Descent is achieved either by walking along a footpath at the top of the cliff, or by rappelling from fixed anchors. Climbing activity goes on year round, but is most popular (and comfortable) from April through November.
Technical rock climbing has been going on in the Gunks since 1935, when the area was “discovered” by Fritz Wiessner. Hans Kraus, along with Wiessner, dominated the local climbing scene until the 1950s. There is a rich History of Climbing in the Shawangunks, which includes the conservative Appalachian Mountain Club, the drug and alcohol fueled antics of the Vulgarians, and many colorful personalities. The area has historically often been at the leading edge of elite rock climbing; today it is better known for its large number of high quality moderate climbing routes.
There are roughly 1200 documented climbing routes in the Gunks, ranging in difficulty from 5.0 to 5.13. The area is considered a traditional climbing area; since 1988 the Mohonk Preserve has banned the placement of bolts, and pitons (although bolts and pitons that were placed prior to the ban are still used and are allowed to be replaced) as well as formally forbidding the chipping or glueing of holds or cutting trees. The Gunks is probably the most popular single climbing area in the United States, with some 50,000 technical climbers visiting the area each year.
 External links
Preserves within the Shawangunks:
- Mohonk Preserve
- Mohonk Mountain Resort
- Sam's Point Dwarf Pine Ridge Preserve
- Minnewaska State Park Preserve
- "Significant Habitats and Habitat Complexes of the New York Bight Watershed", US Fish & Wildlife Service
- Fried, Marc (2005). Shawangunk Place-Names, pp.3-12
- Spatz, Christopher. Spring 2005, "Smoke Signals", Shawangunk Watch: Friends of the Shawangunks & The Shawangunk Conservancy.
- Swain, Todd (1988) Gunks Guide
- Waterman, Laura and Guy (1993) Yankee Rock and Ice
- Williams, Richard (2005) Shawangunk Rock Climbs: The Trapps esp History