How to climb outdoors when you live in NYC

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to climb outdoors and this past spring, I finally did it! Actually, I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve climbed outdoors now.

There are plenty of people who are just gym climbers and never ever go outdoors. After spending 3x-4x a week indoors climbing all winter, I needed to go out.  Once I did, I was completely addicted!

The issue when you live in NYC and don’t have a car is that it’s incredibly hard to get outside. Here’s my rundown of ways to get outdoors when you live in NYC:

Bouldering in Central Park

PROS: All you need is a crash pad and some friends to spot you (some good videos on spotting here).  I love bouldering outdoors way more than bouldering indoors.  Typically at the gym you can’t just walk off the top but you can outdoors.

CONS:  Crash pads are pricey ($150+). Also, climbing outdoors is so weather dependent. No one wants to climb wet rocks.

If committing to a crash pad is too much of a financial investment, you can rent them from some local climbing gyms like  The Cliffs for the day or a weekend. Finally, guidebooks are helpful but Mountain Project is free if you’re trying to figure where all the good bouldering problems are.

Finally, REI also hosts intro to bouldering classes through spring to the fall. I’ve never done it but I’ve climbed near them when they hosted classes.  Almost made me wish I learned outdoor bouldering from them.

Eastern Mountain Sports classes

Ah my first introduction to outdoor climbing was EMS.  I googled outdoor classes in the Gunks and this is what popped up.

PROS: They are based right in the Gunks. The meeting spot/store is right before the Mohonk Preserve visitor center. All gear included. They sometimes have free outdoor top roping climbing classes (see below).  They have classes every weekend for different abilities (from beginner to advanced) and private lessons as well.

The Gunks in the springtime

CONS: They are expensive at least in comparison to many of the other guide services. For example, REI and Discover Outdoors, are essentially the same price but include transportation from NYC. If the class minimum isn’t met, they will cancel class two days before.

The weekend I signed up to go was a two-day introduction to rock climbing. Because the minimum wasn’t met, it was cancelled so I ended up signing up for a one day class. Luckily, that same weekend they were hosting a free one day class which was a rock climbing 101 class.  It was held to help soon to be rocking climbing instructors pass the teaching portion of their certifications. Also, I only found out about it because of Instagram.

REI

I’ve done two one-day classes with REI. One in the Gunks (intro class) and one in Kent, Connecticut (for intermediate climbers).

PROS: REI knows how to do trips. Instructors are knowledgeable. The gear is in good condition and ropes get replaced every other year. Again, all gear is included. If you live in NYC, taking Metro North to CT or a $22 bus to the Gunks and getting picked up in the really cool REI mini bus makes life much easier. If you are an REI member, the discounted price makes it significantly cheaper. The classes are catered to your ability. Based on class size, there are plenty of guides to learn from (seems to be it’s a 1:4 ratio of instructor to student). With a lot more students, you get to make some new friends. Instructors were friendly and very knowledgeable.

CONS: It’s pricey. They don’t have many classes for people past the beginner level. (They rarely hold the Rock Climbing 2.0 class for intermediates). As one of the guides said to me, this is to help prepare you to go out on your own. Actually a few of the guides had encouraged me to go buy my own rope and take their anchor building classes.

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Discover Outdoors

I ended up doing this since it’s $15 off your first Discover Outdoors trip.  Transportation from the Upper West Side was included from NYC to the Gunks but I ended up driving from my parents’ home nearby.

Unlike REI or EMS, they don’t employ climbing guides. They work in partnership with Mountain Skills Climbing Guides, who set up the ropes, belayed people and taught newbies how to belay. There isn’t any specific skill level required for this class so it’s good for climbers new to outside to the most experienced climber (ran into a climber friend on this trip who has all his own gear and ropes. He said he just liked when ropes were set up for him).

PROS: All gear included. Roundtrip transportation NYC directly to the Gunks. I loved how all the ropes were set up when we got there and if you knew how to belay, you just had to show a guide you knew how to do it and just climb.  Also, because a few of us were exhausted/climbed all the routes, one of the guides took us on a little hike to the top to show us the anchors and the view.

CONS: I never took the van but I heard it wasn’t the most comfortable of trips. If you’re new, maybe a class that was slower with instruction would be better.  The new people (never had been outdoor climbing ever) in the group seemed exhausted and overwhelmed.

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Going out with friends/buying your own rope

PROS: The investment pays off basically immediately ($200 a day in a class versus $250 in gear). You get to control your schedule, who you go with, etc. It’s definitely the cheapest way to go if you want to climb almost every weekend.

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Gunks on the 4th of July – look at that great spotting!

CONS: It was slightly painful for me to pull the trigger and drop $250 on ropes and things to build anchors with.  I also found myself nervous being in charge of building anchors and making sure everything runs smoothly…but also in a weird way being in charge of everyone being safe. Plus I don’t have a car so I’m still a slave to my car-owning friends’ schedules. I don’t own trad gear which makes climbing in New York (which seems to be anti-bolting in most places except Peter’s Kill) hard. Lastly, climbing with friends of friends also causes some drama (i.e. you despise someone’s S.O/side chick/new friend or your best friend never pays attention while belaying you).

In Conclusion

I feel like I’ve tried everything in the NYC area. However, there’s also Brooklyn Boulders “Wild” trips.  They look really cool but I have yet to do one of them.  There seems to be day trips to full weekend adventures all over the Northeast plus out West.

Overall, climbing outdoors is amazing if you the have the resources to do it.  Highly recommend doing it at least once since it’s such a different but fun experience to have.

P.S. if you use a guide service, remember to tip your guide!


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