Vandals, Shawangunks

by Russ Clune
Spring 2009 - Classic Climbs

In the early fall of 1983, my friend and climbing partner Jeff Gruenberg had started working on a line at Sky Top, in the Shawangunks of upstate New York. “Working” indeed is the proper description. He had cleared the deck of various-sized blocks in preparation for the falls the unprotected initial boulder problem on this climb would produce. I joined in, and soon also would Lynn Hill, who was then living in the ’Gunks. Lynn, the smallest and easiest to spot, bouldered though the starting moves getting us to the heart of this proposed route: a thin diagonal crack feature through a 15-foot overhang.

Vandals occupied us, along with fellow pioneer Hugh Herr, for the next several weeks. We had been looking for a climb to eclipse Supercrack as the pre-eminent hard route in the ’Gunks, and we had finally found it. It was ugly, difficult and mentally taxing – all the ingredients of a modernuber-classic, circa the early ’80s. We followed the dictum of the era, which was lowering to the ground after each fall and painstakingly placing each fiddly nut on lead. This resulted in some fantastic falls – one which sprained my ankle and another that had me plummet from over the lip of the roof, beyond the most difficult section, with a large flake clasped in my hand while shouting, “Nooooooo!” There were just enough holds and just enough protection for us to flail about until we finally managed to pull up over the lip of the roof to success.

We all eventually led Vandals, producing the East’s first 5.13 and creating the new ’Gunks testpiece. It remains one of the hardest trad climbs in the area. When I walk beneath it these days I’m reminded of good friends and an era of teamwork.

About the Author

A protagonist among the standards-setting ’Gunks crew of the 1980s, Russ Clune has led countless hard, ground-up, traditionally (and often sparsely) protected rock climbs. He’s climbed in more than 35 countries and has led in protecting climbs via his service on the Board of Directors for the Access Fund and for the Mohonk Preserve, home of the Shawangunks, where he first tied-in and where he still climbs today.