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Sonoma County Gazette
Bouldering Climber at Sunset Rocks
Bouldering is the purest form of gymnastic movement, requiring no gear. © Jerry Dodrill

Rock Climbing with Respect at Sunset Rocks

Aug 3, 2019


By Jerry Dodrill

The 1950’s and 1960’s are considered to be the “Golden Age” of California rock climbing. Back then, climbers like Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard learned blacksmithing skills to forge hardened steel pitons that could be used and re-used on the faces of El Capitan and Half Dome.

As climbing became popular it became obvious that continually driving “pins” into the rock was not sustainable. By the early 1970s, new technologies were developed that made the hammer obsolete.

These days, climbers often learn basic skills at an indoor climbing gym or through the mentorship process as experienced climbers train their friends at the crag. Most of the tens of thousands of climbers in North America today will never even own a rock hammer, and that’s a good thing. We have learned to be forward-thinking in our actions, relationships with land managers, and other user groups.

Climbing at Sunset Rocks is primarily practiced in one of two ways:

Climber using a “crash pad” to protect from a hard landing © Jerry DodrillBouldering is the purest form of gymnastic movement, requiring no gear except a pair of sticky rubber shoes and a bag of gym chalk to dry sweat from your fingers. Often you will see climbers using a “crash pad” to protect from a hard landing on the pad. Friends will “spot” the boulderer to be sure that if they fall, they land safely on the pad.

Top Rope climbing is for the taller rocks where a fall would lead to injury. To set the rope, one must either lead or scramble to the top, set an anchor of slings and carabiners, then double the safety rope. Once the rope is established, a climber can tie in with a harness while a partner “belays” them, taking up the slack as they climb.

In both of these methods, there is NO IMPACT to the stone!

The challenge is to climb the rock in its natural state. If a route it is too difficult, you practice, train and become a better climber so that one day you can hold on long enough to reach the top by fair means.

Top Rope climbing - a climber can tie in with a harness while a partner “belays” them  © Jerry Dodrill

Chipping or drilling the rock to make it easier is unethical, illegal, and not tolerated by the climbing community.

Because climbers probably spend more time hanging out at the Sunset Rocks than most other users, a large share of the burden of stewardship is upon us to be the eyes and ears of the stone, protecting it from those who might damage it for selfish reasons.

If you are there and see anybody hammering or trying to break the stone, it is up to you to ask them to stop.

If it seems like there is any chance of a conflict it is important to contact park rangers or staff.

Large groups and commercially guided groups are required to have a permit from the State Park. With so many people who are passionate about experiencing and preserving this magical location, it is critical that we are even more diligent to be respectful of each other, and the resource.

If you see illegal activity along the coast, please call California State Parks office in Bodega Bay at (707) 875-3483 to report.

PHOTOS © Jerry Dodrill Photography


Aug 15, 2019
I was recently (August 2, 2019)at Sunset Rocks while walking on the Kortum trail. I met a father and son at the rocks and they pointed out easily two easily visible rings that we decided were pitons. After walking around the rocks and looking up I saw a least three other ring types at the very top. Maybe they are not pitons, but they still look suspicious. If they are pitons I tend to think this will damage the rock. Just curious about what's going on here.
- mark huebner

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