Not long after Doug Ferguson moved to the area eight years ago to become a rock climbing guide for Mountain Skills Climbing Guides of New Paltz — one of four licensed guide services in the Shawangunk mountains, along with Alpine Endeavors, Eastern Mountain Sports, and High Xposure Adventures — he was asked if he could take someone with a disability out as well. He could.
“When I first started to climb, it was a life-changing experience for me in a really good way,” says Ferguson. “It’s been really positive. I wanted to give something back to the sport.” So he’s become one of a small band of people who help those with disabilities get into rock climbing. He volunteers at a big rock climbing gym in NYC, and takes some of his disabled students into the Shawangunks for some real outdoor action as they gain more skill.
Mountain Skills, which he now owns, fully accommodates rock climbers with disabilities, running the gamut from an amputation to autism to blindness.
“If you haven’t worked with people with disabilities before, it’s not that easy to do,” Ferguson says. “There are more nuances to it than taking out regular people.” Nuances like clearer instructions, tighter ropes, and generally a slower pace.
The sport is well-suited to people with disabilities, though, as it places skill before speed and power. “It’s not me against you,” says Ferguson. “It’s you against yourself. Everybody has their own personal summit.”
And there are hardly any places better suited to it, whether you’re disabled or not. “The cool thing about the Gunks,” says Ferguson, “is that there are some very easy routes that are perfect for beginners. Most people think rock climbing is so hard and you have to be in such good physical shape that it’s unattainable. But it’s not. The preserve is quite user-friendly.”
The Gunks have been attracting climbers since 1935, and is now considered the busiest climbing region in the U.S. The Mohonk Preserve, which protects over 6,500 acres of the ridge, and Minnewaska — the only state park in New York that allows climbing — together constitute almost 1,200 easily accessible technical climbing routes. Most are quite doable; some are extremely hard. The High Exposure and Shockley’s Ceiling peaks are of such difficulty that elite climbers from around the world travel to New Paltz to conquer them.
Climbers are equipped with helmets, harnesses, and special shoes and taught the requisite techniques before beginning their climbs — like how to grip their hands, place their feet, and use their legs to elevate. A day trip typically costs around $280 for one person; rates are lower for large groups.
Alpine Endeavors, Rosendale; www.alpineendeavors.com
Eastern Mountain Sports, New Paltz; www.emsclimb.com
High Xposure Adventures, Gardiner; www.high-xposure.com
Mountain Skills, Gardiner; www.mountainskills.biz
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