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May 19, 2012

Climbing is one thing, but skydiving?

Daily Star

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Last week, my friend George and I returned to the Gunks for another rock-climbing adventure.

After last week's column, I asked about the rattlesnakes and was told not to worry. Rattlers are usually quite timid and will avoid people as much as possible. It's the copperheads that'll give you trouble. They're aggressive and will stand their ground to defend it. Oh great!!

Anyway, our good friend Jim Diliberto met us at the Gunks near New Paltz last Thursday for a day on the rocks. Jim was going to lead climb for us since we are fairly new to the sport and don't have the knowledge or experience to climb by ourselves.

Our first climb was on a route named Easy Overhang (Easy O for short). Jim went up first and placed temporary anchors called cams about every 10 feet so if he fell, he would go only a short distance and not get hurt.

Once he was on a shelf some 80-or-so feet up, he hooked into some solid bolts that were permanent fixtures in the rock. Jimmy belayed me up to his location, first through a chimney (a wide gap in the rock) and then on to his location. When I was finally secured to the ledge, I realized I wasn't afraid of being that high up. I had no problem climbing up the cliff.

Once George was up with us, Jim went on to the top, making this our first double-pitch climb. We worked our way around the overhangs quite easily. After a short rest at the top, we lowered the ropes and stepped backwards over the cliff with 160 feet of air between us and the ground, repelling down so we could do another climb.

Our second double-pitch climb was on a route called Frog's Head. The first pitch was a little challenging in spots, but I made it. Jimmy decided to modify our second pitch and go straight up instead of traversing off to the right. This change would take us over our first roof.

A roof is a section of rock that sticks out from the cliff face. This overhang extended out about three feet _ over absolutely nothing. The crux of the climb was actually before the roof, with a tough 10 or 12 feet of fairly smooth rock and only quarter-inch grips, but the roof had enough good handholds to make it fun and fairly easy.

Wow, what an adrenaline rush! I'm hooked. Rock climbing was one of those things I'd put on my bucket list, even though I was terrified of heights. Well, I'm not anymore and I can't wait to do it again.

There's another sport I've toyed with trying. Skydiving is also on my list.

We stayed at the Yogi Bear Lazy River Campground, just 4 miles from the Gunks. Not far away was an airport that specialized in skydiving. On Saturday morning, a twin-engine plane came over our camper just above the trees and let eight jumpers out thousands of feet above us. It was great to watch as their colorful chutes opened with a loud thump before they drifted back down to Earth.

Time after time, the plane taxied parachutists above the campground. Suddenly, one of the jumper's chutes only partially opened. He was dropping fairly fast, swirling around with a mass of tangled nylon flopping above him. It wasn't long before he disappeared behind the trees. We didn't hear any sirens and never found out what happened. Hopefully he pulled a reserve chute at the last minute before hitting the ground.

I drew a faint line through the skydiving entry on my list that morning. Skydiving is probably no more dangerous than hanging from a rock a few hundred feet in the air, but I've yet to see anyone fall off a sheer rock cliff.

Hey, want something to do on a warm summer day that's not life threatening? Drive down to New Paltz and turn left until you hit State Route 9W.

At the town of Highland, you can walk across the 1.28-mile restored railroad bridge 288 feet above the Hudson River. The Walk Across the Hudson is great. The scenery is magnificent and it's free!

Just follow the signs. It's only 2½ hours away. You'll love it.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at