We got a late start, so we didn’t arrive at Goat Rock until around 2:00. God, what a glorious day. Clear blue skies, temps in the high 50s, and calm waters. The hills were that brightest green of grass in a drought-busting rainy season, and so much silt had flushed through the mouth of the Russian River that there was a field of brown murky water extending beyond all the offshore rocks and then some. At the edge where the dirty, brackish water mixed with the clear blue seawater, a white foamy line marked the junction.
The trail was a sloppy mess, with a few side paths trying to avoid the worst of the mud. But the flat area in front of Sunset Boulders was just a bog – no way around, no clean way through. You wanna climb, you’re gonna get muddy.
This fine Sunday afternoon seemed to draw all of western Sonoma’s climbers to the crag. The place was pretty much at capacity, with nearly every anchor and landing area in use. We seldom do anything on weekends, when the rest of the world floods out to recreate, shop, travel, whatever. We have the privilege to be able to do these things during the week, so we might as well spare ourselves the crowds and spare the crowds our presence by staying in on the weekends. But we were in town on our way to a retreat, so it made sense to come check out this spot.
“Orange hat! Hey, orange hat!” A voice rang out from atop The Ram. The voice came from a very outgoing, helmet-wearing climber, who invited Glenn to use his rope to climb up for setting our anchors, thus sparing him soloing the 5.5 R/X that’s the easiest way to the top. He offered to give him a tour once he got up.
“Oh, I don’t mind soloing it, but if I use your rope it’ll make her feel better,” Glenn replied.
“That’s all that matters! If she’s happy, everyone’s happy!” Wise man.
At the top, Glenn asked him if he was a local steward. I missed the rest of their chatter, but there was a lot of it. Later on, when this gent and his group were packing up to leave, he seemed to narrate much of their preparations. He was there with lots of friends, and turns out he’s from Fort Ross, just up the road from Goat Rock. There were some other pairs of climbers there, and some small groups of boulderers. They all left within about 45 minutes of our arrival, and we had the whole place to ourselves until we were doffing our helmets and coiling our rope, when a group of five or six young puffy-clad dudes from Vallejo rolled up as the sun was getting low in the sky.
This is honestly the first time I’ve ever written about a climbing session. What is there to say? The spot is tough to beat on a good weather day. You’re super close to the beach, so you get plenty of spectacular coastal scenery, but high enough up on a grassy perch to feel safe from the sea, unlike climbing at an actual beach crag. The clump of boulders was once a popular spot for wooly mammoths to rub their backs, so you can see some polished surfaces on the overhanging parts of the boulders. There are safe belays, short, easy climbs (with soft grades compared to other spots in the Bay Area), and everything’s at least three stars. It’s a pretty perfect little playground for a half-day outing. There are a couple of 5.8s up crack systems that would make for great early trad leads. One word of caution: there was a fair bit of poison oak among the rocks between the boulders. I don’t think I’m allergic, but Glenn is, so we were both careful to avoid it, and washed the mud off our shoes when we got back to the van. Outdoor shower for the win!
This outing was a small victory for me. I need to climb at a few more crags like this with high-quality rock, highly-rated climbs, and short walls. Here’s the thing, friends: I get scared. It’s hard to call it a fear of heights, but it’s definitely a fear of falling. Or maybe it’s actually just a fear of failure. Whatever it is, it plagues me. Sometimes I find myself thinking, “Why do I even do this? I don’t like this feeling! I just want to get down and go do crossword puzzles.” And then I have to remind myself, “You say this is your favorite thing in the world to do.” And I repeat it like a mantra. I have other self-talk, too. “You climb routes seven grades harder than this in the gym.” “Your legs are stronger than you think.” “So what if there’s no hand when you get there? He’ll catch you.”
On this day, I needed no mantras, no self-talk at all. I felt fine. Maybe it’s because the routes were all three stars. Routes that flow well just…flow better. The holds present themselves; the moves aren’t any easier, they’re just easier to find. That was fun. And if I’m going to be psyched to climb all summer, I need to know that it’s going to be fun. Fun first! Safety third! I don’t know what’s second, but it’s probably food related.* I may have only gotten in four short climbs, but it was just what I needed. Short climbs give you a sense of accomplishment, and if you can finish a tougher grade than you’re used to, who cares that it was only 30’ tall? For me, that’s enough of a confidence booster to matter. So Goat Rock, my hat’s off to you! Thanks for being just what I needed.
*For the record, safety is always first. Saying “safety third” is a great way to remind people that they suck if they’re not being safe. It’s also apparently a Burning Man meme, and I’m pretty sure it was printed on the tee-shirt worn by some miracle-he’s-lived-this-long climber in Valley Uprising or some Reel Rock film.