Rock Climbing in Sonoma County

Blind Beach and Goat Rock Beach

One of Sonoma County’s lesser-known but highly rated outdoor adventures is rock climbing. “There aren’t a lot of climbing rocks in Sonoma County,” long-time climber Gorden Cooley said. 

“But what we lack here in quantity we make up for in quality. One of our main crags is Sunset Boulders at Goat Rock Beach – two house-sized boulders and some smaller ones that offer great climbing, right on the continent’s edge. Sometimes you can see whales migrating while you’re climbing.”

Cooley knows what he’s talking about. The owner of Santa Rosa’s Vertex Climbing Center, he’s trained some of the best climbers around, and he’s passionate about the challenges, benefits, and all-around fitness inherent in the art of climbing.

A former high school and college athlete, Cooley played traditional ball sports, along with track and field, until graduating from college. But “after that there just wasn’t an avenue to pursue athletics. It was hard to find a team or the construct of a game to play.”

In 2005, a friend brought him to Vertex (then owned by founders Janet Wells and Mark Ripperda), and Cooley discovered a compelling new athletic direction.

“What’s great about climbing and all outdoor sports,” he said, “is that you don’t need the constructs or large organizations. You do it for the love of doing it. The fitter you get as a climber, the harder you climb. There’s no end point. You keep gaining the ability to climb higher walls and bigger mountains.”

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Jenner Beach looking south along the coast in Sonoma County
Jenner Beach looking south to Goat Rock

Cooley, who holds a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from Sonoma State University and worked as a personal trainer after graduation, soon established a training department at Vertex, and in 2012 became the climbing center’s owner.

Vertex has a huge ‘climbing wall’ – an indoor artificial wall fitted with color grips for hands and feet; it simulates a rock face and is used for climbing practice. The center also offers a lengthy calendar of comprehensive climbing classes and private instruction geared to everyone from absolute beginners to experts.

If you’re a beginner, you’d probably want to take the Beginning Rock Class to learn basic skills (and try wall climbing with the assistance of a staff member). Classes are also given in disciplines that enhance climbing focus, such as Yoga, Pilates, or breath work.

The climbing age range is vast. Programs for kids start at age 4, while Vertex’s oldest members, most of whom have been climbing for decades, are in their mid- to late-seventies.

“We take folks who’d never climbed before,” Cooley says, “and teach them skill sets and protocols so they can climb by themselves on the climbing wall here in the gym. If they want to take climbing to the great outdoors, we offer classes and clinics to teach them everything from tying proper knots to tackling El Capitan.’

More Information

  • Vertex Climbing Center, 3358A Coffey Lane, Santa Rosa, 707-573-1608, [email protected]
  • The Rock Ice & Mountain Club serves the climbing and outdoor community of the North San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. Monthly meetings offer a multimedia presentation and an opportunity to mix with local climbers, and are free to the general public.
  • The Bouldering Betty’s is a community of female climbers dedicated to making climbing accessible and fun for all women at all skill levels. They meet weekly for a two-hour coached session and often organize outdoor rock climbing trips.
  • The B-Rad Foundation honors the memory of beloved local climber Brad Parker, who died in a fall at Yosemite in 2014. 

Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez. 

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