The Gunks Gets an App: the Future of Gunks Climbing Is Just A Click Away


“The whole industry has changed,” says local climber Christian Fracchia, “and we took an opportunity.”


In an age when much of our communications are digital, it was only a matter of time before an outside company came in and transformed a ‘Gunks guidebook into a digital format.


But rather than letting a coding company with no local knowledge or climbing experience come and capitalize on a needs, Fracchia, along with another local climber Tom Chervenak, stepped in with their forthcoming Trapps guide app set to launch sometime this fall.


Photo: The digital and the real. Photo provided by Christian Fracchia.




The first ‘Gunks guide came out in 1964 written by area legend Art Gran. A few years later Dick Williams — perpetual documenter, area hardman and one of the founders of Rock and Snow — wrote a second guide in 1972 to build upon Gran’s book with the plethora of new routes that had gone in after the first guide’s publication. The Williams guide was updated a few more times with the most recent version in 2004. Since there’s been relatively little development since then, updates have slowed.


The Dick Williams guide has long been the definitive guide to the area, with the most detailed information about routes in the Trapps and Nears and a well-written trip back in time with his meticulously recounted history section. While there have been a few more guides out there (like Todd Swain’s comprehensive guide that combines the Trapps and the Nears in one book), there has yet to be a mobile app.


“It was just a matter of time before it happened,” says Fracchia.


 Photo: Christian Fracchia in his guidebook work element. Photo provided by Christian Fracchia.


Christian Fracchia and Tom Chervenak have been working on the guide for the last year and a half and are now finally entering the final months.


Fracchia, originally from upstate, has been climbing at the ‘Gunks for nearly 30 years. Working in the area as a teacher and self-taught photographer, Fracchia permanently moved to the area in 2001.  After spending time on the endless classics of the Trapps and the Nears, he felt the gravitational pull of the sleeping giant, Millbrook. After meeting and climbing with Rich Romano — who almost single handedly developed Millbrook and gained the nickname “Manager of the Bank” (“The Bank” being nickname for Millbrook along with “The White Cliff”)  — Fracchia took it upon himself to preserve some of the information and rich history about Millbrook.


“At first it started as my own personal notes,” says Fracchia. Then he added it on a timeline. Then he thought to himself, ‘hey, perhaps other people will want to see this’ and published everything on the White Cliff web site. The site has, by far, the most comprehensive information on Millbrook, and Fracchia had the idea to do a mobile guide to Millbrook in the back of his head. He took it as far as learning how to code, but that app didn’t materialize. Simply put: he didn’t think that enough people were going out there.


“He had the Millbrook site already worked on and I think he already had the prototype for the app worked out,” says Chervenak, “which never happened because we started this.”


Chervenak, a local climber, social studies teacher and guide has been climbing in the area for 15 years. He had the idea to do another Trapps guide, and had written a handful of descriptions. “I was super interested in doing the guide for the Trapps. Christian wasn’t really thinking about the Trapps, but he had the means to do it because of Millbrook,” says Chervenak.


“Basically, the two visions came together,” says Chervenak.


 Photo: The splashpage of the new app. Photo provided by Christian Fracchia.


The idea came about while climbing one day.


“We were hanging out at the cliff one day talking about it,” says Chervenak. “I went home and drew up a big mock-up of what the app might look like, super bare bones. We saw each other at the party later that night. I showed Christian and he was super into it.”


Fracchia, who taught himself programming, went to work on the coding part of the app.


“He’s just incredibly motivated,” says Chervenak. “He’s almost like a mad genius, in a way. There’s nothing he can’t do that he puts his mind to…his motivation is contagious.”


“It was an interesting process,” says Fracchia, “we had to make the design of the app coincide with learning of the coding. What most people do is take the design of a guide and outsource it to a coding company. We did the opposite,” says Fracchia. “We’re doing the coding to figure out the design.”


Since the Trapps is one long cliff line (rather than pockets of crags) the app is set up left to right in an ongoing list.  


Photos, which are all high resolution, depict landmarks along the carriage road.


 Photo: Carriage road landmark photo. Photo provided by Christian Fracchia.


They also mark each trail that cuts up to the base of the cliff (even walking distance from the West Trapps Parking and then, further down the list, from the Stairmaster, also known as the East-West Connector Trail, are described).


Photo: Example of trail photos. Photo provided by Christian Fracchia. 


In addition to these photos, each climb has a base photo (to help identify where a given route starts) and a photo of the route with a line depicting the path it takes.


Photo: Example of a base shot for a route. Photo provided by Christian Fracchia.


Photo: Example of route lines. Photo provided by Christian Fracchia.


While many will argue that this spoon feeds too much beta to the climber, the duo took this into account, giving little or no beta for routes — move, gear or otherwise — to keep the adventure of trad climbing alive.


What’s perhaps the most understated is how much work the duo put into the guide. “There are almost 300 routes and we re-climbed 99 percent of them,” says Chervenak, “with the exception of the routes on the Twilight Zone buttress.”


Sometimes, they climbed together and sometimes alone. “We top-rope soloed stuff…but many of these are climbs we’ve done before,” notes Chervenak. This wasn’t just for the descriptions but also getting the lines drawn in on the photos with complete accuracy.


“The difference between the Dick [Williams] book and our app is that our guide had such high resolution pictures that it created this issue of having to have the lines pretty spot on,” says Chervenak. “Even a climb that I’ve done 50 times, when we went to the aerial shot I was like…I don’t know exactly where this line goes. There was a lot of throwing a rope off the cliff and, with a topo, pen and a GriGri, mapping exactly where the route goes.”


 Photo: Chervenak on rope-solo getting the beta to draw precise route lines on the maps.  Photo provided by Christian Fracchia.


Fracchia also adds that they ditched the G and PG gear ratings for simplicity. 


“I don’t really notice a difference between a G and PG half the time,” say Chervenak, “even on a G-rated climb there’s still usually a big runout. We thought we’d just get rid of it, unless it’s a dangerous route and then we’re giving it an R rating.


Most of the grades will be the same, despite that fact that they toyed with the idea of changing many. Most people are proud of the fact that it’s sandbagged. More than anything, the two believe it’s better to keep the consistency.


While not much has changed in the Trapps since the last Williams guide came out, Fracchia and Chervenak have unearthed some little-done variations and link-ups giving them their own credit in the app.


“We were trying to find hidden gems,” says Fracchia.


Some examples are a link-up of Three Vultures and Amber Waves of Pain, an old John Stannard variation; a new link-up of the bottom part of Tough Shift and the second pitch of No Existence, which they called Tough Existence; and a link-up of Psychedelic and Modern Times, aptly named Modern Psychedelic.


 Photo: The stellar second pitch of No Existance seeing a rebirth in the new link-up Tough Existance.   Photo provided by Christian Fracchia.


For those interested in buying the guide, it will be available for download and the projected launch date is sometime this fall. We will update you this fall when it finally hits the public.