Shawangunk Ridge from Sky Top cliff
|Elevation||2,289 ft (698 m)|
|Length||47 mi (76 km) north–south|
|Period||Silurian (440 to 417 (±10) million years ago)|
|Type of rock||Shawangunk Formation; sedimentary|
The Shawangunk Ridge //, also known as the Shawangunk Mountains or The Gunks, is a ridge of bedrock 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. Shawangunk Ridge is the continuation of the long, easternmost ridge of the Appalachian Mountains, becoming Kittatinny Mountain after it crosses the New York-New Jersey border, and Blue Mountain continuing through Pennsylvania. This ridge constitutes the western border of the Great Appalachian Valley.
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 mining and logging and a boom-era of huckleberry picking, as well as 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. Also known for its biodiversity and scenic character, the ridge has been designated by The Nature Conservancy as a significant area for its conservation programs.
The English name, Shawangunk, derives from the Dutch Scha-wan-gunk, the closest European transcription from the colonial deed record of the Munsee Lenape, Schawankunk (German orthography).
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 the smoky air".
Whritenour has suggested that 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 writes: "It is conceivable that this was...the Indians' own proper name for their village [and fort] and that the name was appropriated for use in subsequent land dealings because of the proximity of the...tracts to the former Indian village....The second possibility is that the name simply came into existence in connection with the Bruyn [purchase of Jan., 1682, the first appearance of the name in documentary record], as a phrase invented by the Indians to describe some feature of the landscape." However, Fried also notes that the name's swift spread in the deed record suggest it was in use as a proper name before the Bruyn purchase. Shawangunk appears nowhere in reference to the fort itself in the extensive, translated Dutch record of the Second Esopus War. Shawangunk became associated with the ridge during the 18th century.
European colonists began to truncate Shawangunk into "Shongum" (// SHAHN-gum). Shongum was mistakenly identified as the Munsee pronunciation by the Reverend Charles Scott writing on Shawangunk's etymology for the Ulster County Historical Society in 1861. The error has been reinforced in ethnographic sources and ridge literature, and by historians, librarians, and ridge educators for more than 140 years.
Both "Shawangunk" and "Shongum" are popular usages among locals native to the region. The "Gunks" is also a widely used endearment which has been in use at least since the mid-19th century. In a letter dated August and postmarked August 8, 1838, Hudson River School painter Thomas Cole corresponding with painter A.B. Durand writes, "Do let me hear from you when you get among the Gunks. I hope you will find every thing there your heart can wish." The Shawangunks, particularly around Lake Mohonk, were the subject for several Hudson River School painters.
The Shawangunk Ridge is 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 New York state line. These mountains mark the western and northern edge of the Great Appalachian Valley.
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 m) near Lake Maratanza on the Shawangunk Ridge. The Ridge rises above a broad, high plain which stretches to the Hudson River to the east. On the west the low foot-hills of the Appalachian Mountains mingle with a low flat made by the Rondout Creek and Sandburgh Creek, the Basha Kill and various small kills as well as 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).
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 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 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 mainly public lands as well as several small residential areas. Most of the northern Ridge is protected and held as the Mohonk Preserve, Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Sam's Point Preserve with more than 100 miles (160 km) of hiking trails and several climbing areas. In 2007 Shawangunk Ridge State Forest and Witches Hole State Forest were added. 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. There are several old carriage trails on the Ridge including; Smiley Road from Ellenville into Minnewaska State Park Preserve; and Old Plank Road and Old Mountain Road in Shawangunk Ridge State Forest. Many of the foot trails are updated and maintained by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.
There are also many waterfalls in the Shawangunk region, such as: VerKeerderkill Falls, Awosting Falls, Buttermilk Falls and VerNooykill Falls. The Shawangunk Ridge is also known for having some of the best views and rock climbing in the Northeast.
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.
The Trust for Public Land and Open Space Institute actually agreed to purchase the land for $17 million. At closing, however, the contract was assigned and title was taken in the name of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, a federally chartered commission, although the funds for the purchase apparently came from the New York state Environmental Protection Fund.
Unit Management Plan
In May 2007 the state Department of Environmental Conservation initiated the development of its Shawangunk Ridge Unit Management Plan to include Shawangunk Multiple Use Area, Witch's Hole State Forest, Shawangunk Ridge State Forest, Roosa Gap State Forest, Wurtsboro Ridge State Forest, Huckleberry Ridge State Forest, and three detached Forest Preserve parcels.
The goal of the project was to develop "management objectives" for the properties, including those concerning permissible forms of public recreation and access.
Following an announcement of the project's launch, no further statements had been issued by the DEC regarding its work as of June 2009.
Rock 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, in the Mohonk Preserve, 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. In the beginning of 2007 it was announced that guided climbing would be possible at Skytop for Mohonk Mountain House guests. Rock climbing is allowed by permit at the Peter’s Kill and Dickie Barre areas in Minnewaska State Park Preserve, minor crags 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 (91 m). The average height is around 150 feet (46 m). Descent is achieved either by walking along a footpath at the top of the cliff, or by rappelling from mostly 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 (a group that included guidebook author Richard "Dick" Williams that opposed the licensing of climbers and engaged in provocative behavior, including climbing nude), 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 before 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 are the single busiest climbing destination in North America, with some 50,000 technical climbers visiting the area each year.
- Eastern: Shawangunk Mountains, The Nature Conservancy
- Spatz, Christopher Spring 2005, "Smoke Signals", Shawangunk Watch
- Fried, Marc B., 2005. Shawangunk Place-Names, pp.5-6
- Spatz, Christopher Fall/Winter 2006, "The Vast Shon-gum Conspiracy," Shawangunk Watch
- Document of the Daniel Smiley Research Center, Mohonk Preserve via New York State Museum
- Swain, Todd (1988) Gunks Guide
- "Significant Habitats and Habitat Complexes of the New York Bight Watershed", US Fish & Wildlife Service
- Waterman, Laura and Guy (1993) Yankee Rock and Ice
- DEC to Initiate Draft Shawangunk Ridge Unit Management Plan, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 2007-05-11
- "Who Were the Notorious Vulgarians?" Traditional Mountaineering, accessed May 8, 2007
- Williams, Richard (2005) Shawangunk Rock Climbs: The Trapps especially History
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Shawangunk Ridge.|
- Friends of the Shawangunks/The Shawangunk Conservancy
- The Uberfall.com
- Climb the Gunks
Preserves within the Shawangunks: