WITH ROCK GYMS CLOSED, CLIMBERS TAKE TO THE PARKS IN SEARCH OF NEW ROUTES TO SCALE.

Jessica Lu finishes the sequence of her climb on Tooth Rock. PHOTO BY: AVERY SCHUYLER NUNN

To the despair of many climbers, New York City’s rock gyms have been one of the most delayed businesses to re-open. This is forcing local climbers to explore other options in area parks, while being conscious not to hurt the environment.

Jessica Lu, a medical student at New York University, never really climbed outdoors until the pandemic hit. But then a friend showed her an app built by a fellow climber.

“It gave all of us gym-climbers such an easy way to continue doing what we love throughout the summer, given that the rocks have no restrictions,” says Lu. ”My favorite part about climbing outdoors, which had not been something I was able to appreciate in the gyms before, is that I’m able to feel like I’m a part of history or something — really connecting with the earth.”

Lu dips into her chalk back to friction up her hands before getting back to the climb. PHOTO BY AVERY SCHUYLER NUNN

Due to the immediate closures in the spring, local climbers were forced to explore other options outside of the rock gyms. But the big jump in public park usage, placed them in a bit of a tricky spot since they did not want to add to the hefty increase in litter, while creating an innovative new way of life. 

Brian Andre, a climber from Brooklyn, decided to take the pandemic as an opportunity in pursuing an idea he has been long contemplating. He wanted to build off a booklet called New York City Bouldering, which most enthusiasts use to find different routes. Andre had thought last year about creating an app to make it easier to find specific locations, but never followed through.

Once the climbing gyms closed, he knew it was time to kick it into gear and create something useful. 

“The pandemic hit at a time just as the weather was starting to warm up,” says Andre, who began climbing a few years ago, and initially had little app-development experience. “I lost my job and was able to devote myself completely to the creation of the app, Climb NYC, which was fully launched, up and running within a month.” 

The app Climb NYC  displays climbing routes along ‘Tooth Rock’in Central Park. PHOTO BY AVERY SCHUYLER NUNN

Andre took high-resolution photographs of all of the rocks depicted on the original climbing map across the city. That way, climbers are able to see important textures within the rock faces. He has also been able to plug direct GPS coordinates into the app’s map so whenever climbers want to go to a specific rock, all they have to do is click it. The app then places the coordinates into Google maps and provides directions from the user’s location. 

Lu leans into a crack. PHOTO BY AVERY SCHUYLER NUNN

While some climbers are concerned they’ll damage the rock, geologist Randy Eric said they should not worry. Although much of Central Park is man-made, the visible portions of ancient bedrock are not. These exposed sections of granite, schist and gneiss, which were shaped by glacial ice, range from 190 million to 1.1 billion years old. 

Lu climbs Tooth Rock. PHOTO BY AVERY SCHUYLER NUNN

“The rocks are uncovered and climb-able due to many years of uplift and erosion,” says Eric, a former geologist at the New York Gemological Institute. “Luckily, these rocks are incredibly strong and no amount of bouldering along them can result in environmental damage.” 

Martin Bodenheimer ascends his first pitch along Tooth Rock’s North Face. PHOTO BY AVERY SCHUYLER NUNN

Many climbers are also conscious of not leaving their mark in the park.

 “I can’t speak for every climber ever, as I have not met every climber ever, but we tend to be pretty environmentally aware people,” says local climber and broadway performer, Martin Bodenheimer. “I mean, we live for playing with rocks. At a time in life where I’m very limited in what I can do, why would want to do anything to jeopardize that?!” 

Bodenheimer spotting Lu, as she conquers a different angle of Tooth Rock. PHOTO BY AVERY SCHUYLER NUNN.
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Avery Schuyler Nunn is a freelance photographer, writer and graduate student at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. Avery is a graduate of Lafayette College and has had her work published in places such as Whalebone Magazine and Ocean City Magazine, covering topics across all things environmental, surfing, and climate.

Instagram + Twitter: @aveschuy

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