My favorite kind of adventure is the one that happens with little to no warning – the kind that starts with a random conversation and then just carries you along the rest of the way. I had just that sort of conversation not too long ago with Desiree, one of my closest friends and climbing partners. She was going to be coming to the States on business, but she’d have a weekend layover in New York City. She’d never been to New York before and wondered if I would want to come hang out with her. She lives in Switzerland, so I jumped at the rare chance to see her. Desi likes to improvise just as much as I do; even as she was headed to the airport, our only real plan was to eventually find something to climb.
I got the road from DC a little after 5 am on Saturday morning to make the first Seastreak ferry out of New Jersey. I was born and raised in NJ, and absolutely refuse to drive in New York City (as any sane person should). The Seastreak is a cheap, convenient way to get to Manhattan while still being able to pay rent, plus you can’t beat free overnight parking on the weekends.
The weather was being a little temperamental and a few of the other passengers were struggling with seasickness, but the rain held off until I had already arrived at Wall Street, where Desi met me. We headed up to her hotel in Tribeca to drop my bags and figure out our next move.
Our original idea was to go straight to Central Park to check out the local bouldering scene, but the wind had kicked up and the rain was expected to start mixing with snow, so we decided to take our chances with the High Line instead. Desi and I made our way down to the subway and managed to navigate a couple of rerouted trains over to Chelsea, where we picked up the High Line at West 16th street.
The High Line was impressive even with the terrible weather. The structure of the park is avant-garde without being obnoxious and I imagine that it’s absolutely breathtaking once the plants are in full bloom. However, the wind, wet, and cold took their toll on us much faster than we expected, so we didn’t get to see as much of it as we would have liked. Desi suggested stopping by Cookshop, a highly-rated restaurant serving locally-sourced food, but it was (unsurprisingly) packed, so we walked a little farther down the block to The Park, which turned out to be a fantastic decision.
By the time we finished eating, the weather had gotten worse, so we decided to stick to indoor activities. We pored over the small map of major landmarks and tourist attractions the hotel had given Desi. After ruling out the American Museum of Natural History and most of the uptown museums since they were sure to be packed, a small star nearby caught our eye. Neither of us had ever heard of the Rubin Museum of Art, but after a few moments of research on my cell phone, we were both intrigued enough to go have a look.
The Rubin Museum is probably one of the most underrated museums in New York City – it’s certainly a new favorite of mine. It’s dedicated to the art and culture of Himalayan Asia, a region both Desi and I are itching to visit, and each floor is a separate exhibition, connected by a huge spiral staircase. My favorite was the third floor, Sacred Spaces, with its huge panoramic photo of the Nepali landscape and a Buddhist shrine room. I found the candle-lit shrine incredibly peaceful, but some of the younger visitors weren’t so sure. I had to suppress a smile when one tiny girl dismissed the Shrine Room as “too creepy” before skipping decisively out.
By the time Desi and I tore ourselves away from the stacks of interesting books in the gift shop, we were both thoroughly wiped out. We made our way back to the hotel to spend a couple hours relaxing and planning our summer visit before our growling stomachs demanded our attention. A short walk into Chinatown led us to delicious dumplings at Shanghai Café Deluxe. If you’ve never had soup dumplings (xiao long bao) and find yourself in New York City, I suggest you visit this place to remedy that situation immediately – they are my absolute favorite pre- and post-climbing food (basically, I’d eat them all the time if I could). Don’t expect to see any Americanized Chinese food on the menu though –one of our tablemates learned about authentic Chinese cuisine the hard way and was very distressed to discover that sweet and sour pork doesn’t actually come with pineapples.
After Desi thoroughly schooled me in the use of chopsticks (she did part of her degree in Hong Kong) and we both finally defrosted, we decided to forgo dessert to wander back to the hotel and pass out.
Desi and I were both reluctant to get out of bed Sunday morning, feeling every one of the multiple miles of walking on pavement we had done the day before, but the weather had cleared and what few rocks there are in NYC were calling. Desi led me to Balthazar, a gorgeous (and expensive) Parisian style café where she had waited for me to arrive on the ferry. We ordered a pastry each, a cinnamon roll and for me and an apple galette for Desi. We also gave in at the last second and tried the homemade donuts – I highly recommend the cinnamon sugar variety.
After le petit dejeuner, we played tourist around Soho before heading off Central Park.
Like the more-than-slightly-obsessed climber chicks we are, we scouted out Rat Rock as soon as we arrive at the park. The holds were still a little damp and cold, so we decided to see what else there was to see and give the sun a chance to do its thing. Desi agreed to make one very special stop to help me cross a childhood dream off my ToGoDo list and we spent the rest of the morning taking in the gorgeous spring weather.
We made a quick walking tour of the Upper West Side and refueled at the Columbus Gourmet Deli on Columbus Avenue after being defeated by the long wait at Alice’s Tea Cup (I’ve put this one on my tick list for next time). Warm and refreshed, we headed back to Rat Rock to break out the climbing shoes and play.
I didn’t bring my crash pad and Desi is still nursing her heel that was shattered in a bad lead fall, so we kept with the theme of our trip and just made up traverses as we went along, chatting with a few locals showed up to climb. There was a constant swarm of curious kids and one of the boldest ones asked if we were bouldering – gold star for the day to you, little dude!
We hung out at Rat Rock for hours and could have stayed a lot longer, but unfortunately there were ferries, planes, and adult responsibilities that couldn’t wait. Tired and filthy, but happy and marveling at the sheer amount of stuff we managed to get up to in less than 48 hours, we headed back to the hotel where we went our separate ways, bummed that the weekend was over, but excited for our quickly-approaching Swiss climbing adventure – 70 days to go!
All photos taken with my Galaxy S5 smartphone.