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a. Beginning of cliff to Gelsa
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YDS: 5.4 French: 4a Ewbanks: 12 UIAA: IV ZA: 10 British: VD 3c

Type:  Trad, 3 pitches, 195'
Consensus:  YDS: 5.4 French: 4a Ewbanks: 12 UIAA: IV ZA: 10 British: VD 3c [details]
FA: Fritz Wiessner, Beckett Howorth, George Temple, 1942
Page Views: 23,054
Submitted By: Ron Olsen on Feb 23, 2006

You & This Route  |  Other Opinions (165)
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Tricia starting up the big Gelsa corner.


Gelsa is THE classic 5.4 route in the Gunks. The third-pitch corner is steep, exposed, and fun! Don't pass this one up, even if you're climbing at a harder grade.

Start by a tree growing out and up from the base of the cliff (see first picture below), about 20' left of Fat City Direct, at a pile of boulders below a blocky crack.

P1: Climb the blocky crack up to an overhang at ~20 ft, and continue no further upwards! Instead, traverse left to a ledge and belay by a tree. 5.3, 45'.

P2: Continue traversing left (var) past an overhang and into an alcove (you'll be just above the bolts for Roseland), then back up right to a crack and a face. Angle up left to a good ledge/alcove at the base of a huge, overhanging, right-facing corner, and make a belay on smaller gear here. 5.4, 60'.

Var: You can also diagonal up and left to the next belay, instead of traversing directly left. You'll end up climbing a slab towards the belay alcove at 5.6 or so.

P3: The money pitch. Climb up right and up (or, up and right - either way works) and follow the steep, exposed corner to the top. 5.4, 90'.

Walk off to climbers' right, and look for an easy scramble back to the cliff base just before you reach the road.


Standard Rack. Pink and red Tricams are useful for the belay anchor at the end of the second pitch. A #3 Camalot is useful on the third pitch.

Photos of Gelsa Slideshow Add Photo
Nearing the top.
Nearing the top.
Unknown climber leading P2
Unknown climber leading P2
Finishing up P2.
Finishing up P2.
Gelsa.  P1 is shorter than it looks, while P2 is l...
BETA PHOTO: Gelsa. P1 is shorter than it looks, while P2 is l...
Here is what the rap station for Gelsa looks like....
BETA PHOTO: Here is what the rap station for Gelsa looks like....
The base of Gelsa, marked by the large tree growin...
The base of Gelsa, marked by the large tree growin...
Are heel hooks really necessary on Gelsa?
Are heel hooks really necessary on Gelsa?
P2 anchor for Gelsa. Take note of the small gear.
P2 anchor for Gelsa. Take note of the small gear.
Looking down the third pitch.
Looking down the third pitch.
Anthony climbing the first pitch of Gelsa. Photo b...
Anthony climbing the first pitch of Gelsa. Photo b...
Damon Farnum on the P1 traverse.
Damon Farnum on the P1 traverse.
Looking back at the P2 belay.
Looking back at the P2 belay.
Climbing P2.
Climbing P2.
Starting up the fun 3rd pitch corner of Gelsa.
Starting up the fun 3rd pitch corner of Gelsa.
Anthony topping out on Gelsa. Photo by Brian Aitke...
Anthony topping out on Gelsa. Photo by Brian Aitke...
Mike Amato stemming up the third pitch.
Mike Amato stemming up the third pitch.
Moving through P3 of Gelsa.  Really steep for 5.4!
Moving through P3 of Gelsa. Really steep for 5.4!
p1 traverse on Gelsa
p1 traverse on Gelsa
Starting Gelsa
Starting Gelsa

Comments on Gelsa Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Oct 13, 2014
By saxfiend
From: Decatur, GA
Mar 27, 2007
rating: 5.5 4b 13 IV+ 11 MS 4a

This is really an outstanding climb, one of my favorite Gunks leads. P3 is hard to beat for great exposure and plentiful pro. Definitely a must-do at the Gunks.
By Matt Amory
From: Boulder CO
May 18, 2007

One of my first leads and favorite memories to this day. It was pouring rain by the time we reached the P2 Crux. I led the 3rd pitch straight up a freakin' waterfall. The sensation of being up on top after such a wild ride was amazing...
By Jeremy
From: Boulder, CO
May 30, 2007

One of the least impressive "classics" at the gunks for me. It was OK, but most of the rock looked loose and spooky.
By adrenalated
From: Denver, CO
Sep 30, 2007

Agree with Jeremy - some of the rock quality on P3 did not excite me.

Also, I have had two friends now get lost on P1 of this route. You don't climb very high (20 feet?) before traversing directly left. There is a crack that continues up above where the traverse starts that can sucker you in, and it will definitely take you well off-route and into harder terrain. The picture in the Swain book is especially inaccurate, showing a left-diagonaling ascent when the climb really goes up, straight left, then up again to the base of the corner.
By James DeRoussel
From: Tucson, AZ
Jun 24, 2008

This is a superb climb, perhaps the best in the grade...anywhere. Where else can you climb an overhanging 5.4?
By GMBurns
Sep 4, 2008
rating: 5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c PG13

An absolute must-do. A real classic with easy but airy and committing moves.
By gblauer
From: Wayne, PA
Sep 6, 2008

Couple of thoughts;
1) Going over the overhang at the start of p2 and angling left to the belay is a harder variation (5.6ish? PG)

2) I think P3 is the money pitch, but, it's sometimes tough to find good gear. That said, it's easy climbing so I just climbed until I could find a bomber placement.
Jun 1, 2009

Take care to extend your clifftop belay back towards the cliff edge - communication back to the 2nd belay can be difficult. Also, be careful of loose rock on top!
By proto
From: Falmouth (MA)
Jun 2, 2009
rating: 5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c

I inadvertently did a 5.10R "variation" going strait to the first good ledge with a tree. Apparently not climbed very often ...
Second pitch is incredibly steep for the grade but is really only 5.4
By George Perkins
From: Los Alamos, NM
May 19, 2010

It seemed like it would make sense to combine p1 & the first part of p2, belaying at the 2-bolt anchor (above Roseland?); then a 2nd pitch to the top from there.
By Larry S
Aug 2, 2010

A great line, the last pitch is great, but easy to get lost on the lower pitches and wander into harder terrain. Make sure you go up to the pitons, then traverse to the ledge (belay), then traverse from the ledge to the corner, then up to the second ledge.

For an alternative second pitch, you can take a fairly direct line towards the next belay. It ups the ante a little bit. It's not strenuous climbing at all, but it is more technical and has some slab climbing in the last 15 or so feet. The gear is all there with a shallow #1tcu to protect the slab. I inadvertently took that line a few years ago when i was a new leader and it scared me then. Climbed it this weekend to see how it felt now. It's a good alternative pitch that is probably around 5.6, but i might be overrating it. A few of the pictures showing P2 show this variation. Definitely easier to traverse and then go up.
By Kevin Heckeler
From: Upstate New York
May 11, 2011
rating: 5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c

The face climbing variation on pitch 1 is stiff and thin for pro. I highly recommend traversing all the way left to the arete/nose/corner (rap anchor for another route visible), then up as previously discussed to the belay for P2. I can only imagine being a 5.4 leader getting off route.
By Barrett Stetson
Jul 31, 2011

Thought the pro on the last pitch was a little sketchy actually, I don't know that I'd put a 5.4 leader on this. Good holds all the way, but also some more mentally challenging moves too. Fun, but not stellar in my opinion.
By micah richard
From: Litchfield, Connecticut
Sep 5, 2011

Third pitch is very exposed and steep for the grade. Might be a little freaky for a new leader. there is gear everywhere but a lot of it is crappy. there are lots of loose blocks. that said , this is a super fun route not to be missed.
By Wei-Ming
From: Atlanta, GA
Oct 8, 2011

Do it in one pitch with doubles!
By kenr
Nov 6, 2011

Nice variety of moves for a 5.4. Perhaps not a good choice for inexperienced (or inattentive) leaders (or rather their followers), because of all the traversing at the beginning -- it's easy to forget to protect the follower. It could be also a bad choice for a leader with lots of indoor but not much outdoor experience -- because of the dependence on footwork just before and after the end of the beginning traversing.

I found the little BD cam #0 very useful on last pitch. For the recommended #3 I was able to substitute a big old hex someone gave me (maybe #11?). I was happy to use a big old #4 Friend higher up on the last pitch.
By kenr
Apr 22, 2012

I led it again and enjoyed it very much again -- but I had a follower fall off again, on the second half of the low traverse (first section of P2), and they ended up hanging down below the route on unclimbable terrain. Fortunately, my second was carrying prusiks and knew how to use them, so they got back up. I was also glad I didn't have to abandon gear retreating from the second belay if I'd just lowered them off to the ground.

My big lesson is that I should have stopped and belayed at the tree -- as described above on this page (but no longer recommended in some guidebooks) instead of linking pitches 1 and 2. I think it's valuable to stop + belay at the tree because:
  • I get to demonstrate the route-selection and moves at start of P2 (soon after the tree).
  • I feel free to place lots of pro _after_ each move on the traverse section (because that's what the follower needs).
  • I feel free to place friends/cams (instead of Tricams or stoppers) in any places with awkward stances -- easier for follower to remove. My follower lost strength + confidence trying to get a Tricam out. I was "saving" my cams/friends in case there was a fiddly placement later on.

Double-ropes helped me a lot -- because just after (or before?) the end of the traverse, there are some moves with small feet and smaller hands, where for my own security I was very glad to place good pro close. With only a single rope, this placement would have resulted in a hard swing if the follower fell before the end of the traverse. But with careful use of double-ropes, the swing was kept soft -- tested in an actual fall.

Funny thing is that I've never had any problem with the navigation or moves on the traverse myself -- but I need to take it much more seriously for my followers.
By Galen Rahmlow
From: Weehawken
May 21, 2012
rating: 5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c

Walkies are helpful at the end of P2, especially if it is windy.
By Andy Weinmann
From: Alexandria, VA
Oct 31, 2012

We ended up doing an alternate P3 because the original was a slimy mess and my friend's leading limit is about 5.6. I wasn't about to put her on that last pitch. Instead, she led up the blocky corner above the P2 belay then moved out left around the corner and onto the face. She climbed straight up this face and then moved back right near the top to join the original route for the last few moves. Still 5.4, but PG on gear and a little dirty. This alternate is in the Williams guide.

She also learned a good lesson in creating rope drag for herself with her gear placements. I ended up short-roping with the rest of the rope in a mountaineer's coil over my shoulder.

Oh and she led P3 in the dark with a headlamp. Couldn't be prouder of her for keeping her cool and getting it done!
By kenr
Sep 7, 2013

I figured out why we were having trouble with the end of the low long traverse. There's one way which is easier for somebody like 5' 6" or taller and another way which is do-able at a wider range of reach/heights. I continued horizontally even farther left, around the outside corner, down a little into a wide L-facing corner - next to the Roseland bolts-and-chains anchor. (I guess that's the lower "alcove" in the description above?) Then up the L-facing corner over a bulge, then back R around the outside corner and up to the belay ledge. This seemed better protected and had more positive holds than my previous way of simply climbing up the outside corner. Double ropes helped us a lot with doing this different ways.
By applewood
From: Tonasket, WA
Oct 31, 2013

Absolutely loved this climb - a real classic! The whole time I was leading the 3rd (final) pitch I had to keep reminding myself, "it's only 5.4, it's only 5.4". Then later looked in the guidebook and saw that pitch is actually rated 5.3!!! Just goes to show great climbing knows no grade...
By kswissto
Oct 13, 2014
rating: 5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c

1. Traverse after the optional belay: do not stop *at* the nose. Take a step left around the nose and the 5.6 slab moves that were daunting will become manageable 5.4 (protected) moves with feet *and* hands! The beta says you'll be "above" the Roseland anchors - but you'll sort of be parallel to them.

2. Double ropes help with rope drag management especially on and after the traverse. Also helps you protect your second if he/she is nervous about "exposed" traverses.

3. Last pitch is very chossy, especially on the left side of the corner. Lots of loose blocks. Be careful about the classic "reach for the jug" Gunks move on this climb. Gear is available - protected totally as G with certain larger gear (large cams/hexes, offset nuts).

4. The gear anchor for P2 (before beginning the last pitch) is pretty much mostly supported by .3 BD C4/X4 sizes or pink tricams. Consider yourself warned - and out of .3s for the last pitch :) Speaking of gear for the last pitch - I used a #11 Hex and a #3 and #4 BD C4. Made the pitch G instead of PG.
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