Climbing Restrictions at Castle Rock State Park, California
Note: The following opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily represent those of California State Parks, MorComm Press, the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club, Friends of Castle Rock State Park (FoCRSP), South Skyline Association (S.S.A.) or Bay Area Climbers.
The Rock Climber's Guide to Skyline Boulevard (MorComm Press: January 2000) has been criticized for promoting "trouble for climbers" in the "future" by including "routes in climbing areas which are restricted, on private property or in illegal areas." This seems to be an indirect reference to the Valley of Stone/'Lion Caves', Green Monster, and Tower of Pain. However, as the following discussion of climbing restrictions at Castle Rock State Park will show, there are plenty of good reasons - both forensic and historical - for documenting these areas. But first, in order to pierce the Nache und Nebel ('Night and Fog') created by various self-interested third parties, listed below are the many popular CRSP climbing areas that are definitely still open to the general public.
CRSP Areas Open to Climbing
Climbers are currently free to visit the following CRSP climbing areas, provided they abide by the low-impact rules formulated and published several years ago by the now-disbanded Castle Rock Climbing Committee (i.e. no construction of volunteer trails, no wire brushing or creation of new routes without consideration of the appropriateness and possible use of bolts, etc., etc.):
- Main Castle Rock (Graveyard, 'Yabo' Area, Parking Lot Boulder, etc.)
- Western Addition (Chew Tooth, Cal Cliff, Platypus, Shady Rock, etc.)
- Cal Cliff
- Underworld (Underworld Rock, Mud Wall, Henry & Otis Boulders, Ironing Board, Gods)
- Castle Rock Falls (Greebo, Oracle, Clamydia, Putrefaction Roof, etc.)
- Last Temptation Cliff (Live Monkey Brain, Sunset Arête, etc.)
- Goat Rock and adjacent areas (Goat Rock, Billy Goat Rock, Butter Buns, Mount Doom, Skull, Hostess, Voyeur, etc.)
- Klinghoffer Boulders
- Flintstone Caves (undocumented area below and to the west of Goat Rock)
- Summit and Indian Rocks are located across Skyline Boulevard (CA 35) to the east of CRSP in Sanborn Skyline County Park and are both open for recreational climbing. The Aquarian Valley/Skyline Slabs/Devil's Canyon areas, which are administered by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD), are also open for low-impact climbing.
Valley of Stone (aka: 'Lion Caves')
The Valley of Stone (aka: 'Lion Caves') seems to be the only established climbing area in CRSP where access is definitely illegal. After March 22, 1997 anyone who ventures into this 160-acre parcel about ½ mile west of Partridge Farm is in open violation of California State Parks Code of Regulations Section 4326. Of course, the State was within its legal rights to do this. According to Policy No. 1622.11 of the Department Operations Manual, Park Superintendents can legally "designate specific climbing areas, restrict the types of climbing, require mitigation, or close areas pursuant to a posted notice." This is in keeping with the System Wide Resource Management Directive No. 38, which indicates that one objective of the Department is "to control and regulate the climbing of rocks, peaks, coastal bluffs, and other eminences, to prevent deterioration of such features." The possibility of bolt chopping is also darkly hinted at in Directive No. 39, which maintains that another objective is to "eliminate promptly any defacements of geologic features, and to restore the damaged sites to as natural an appearance and condition as is possible." In the case of Cal Cliff such actions were never taken: there have been bolts and bolt scars at the top of this cliff for at least thirty-five years. Goat Rock, Platypus, Shady Rock, and the Klinghoffers also have vintage bolts dating back to the late 1950s. Unfortunately for climbers, the Valley of Stone/'Lion Caves' also contains some of the best routes, both traditional and sport, in the whole Castle Rock region.
You have to wonder though, why did the anonymous authors of the CRSP General Plan name the Valley of Stone climbing area the "Lion Caves"? No one ever called it that before, and Boy Scouts have been hiking through the area for upwards of 30 years. Perhaps their submerged intent was to suggest that the rocks in the Valley of Stone were somehow associated with Mountain Lion habitat? This seems farcical when you stop to consider that an adult Mountain Lion has a hunting range of about a 100 square miles (although no one is sure exactly).
Topographic diagrams of the Valley of Stone/'Lion Caves' appear in a Rock Climber's Guide to Skyline Boulevard - not to encourage climbers to trespass in a closed area - but rather because the CRSP General Plan (http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=21313) states specifically that this area was closed only "temporarily" (CRSPGP, p. 38). According to the closure order, you can in fact climb in the Valley of Stone/'Lion Caves' if you first obtain a permit from State Parks and are accompanied there by an authorized guide. There is also a recreational priority alternative written into the General Plan, which, if implemented, would reopen the "Lion Caves" area "to the public without a natural preserve classification." Then, "climbing would be limited to low impact climbing but not limited to any area." In this case, "new trails and trail camps could be developed to improve visitor access to all areas of the park." (CRSPGP, p. 117). Hence, the Valley of Stone/'Lion Caves' area was included in RCGtSB in anticipation of its eventual reopening if (and when) the State endorses the recreational priority alternative version of the General Plan. According to an amendment to the General Plan dated June 20th, 2000, the State also intends to construct about 20 walk-in campsites in the old orchard at Partridge Farm at the same time a trail system is built through the Valley of Stone/'Lion Caves'. This would allow visiting and out-of-state climbers to enjoy what is undoubtedly the best rock climbing in the State Park, if not the entire Bay Area. Was this the reason that a couple of years ago "person or persons unknown" vandalized the Interpretive Shelter near the proposed Partridge Farm campground site? Was this in fact an act of eco-terrorism?
How do you let the authorities know that you want to have a walk-in campground at Partridge Farm with trail access to the nearby Valley of Stone/'Lion Caves' climbing area? Send letters or email voicing your opinions directly to:
Acquisition & Development Division
One Capitol Mall, Suite 500
Sacramento, CA 95814
Attn.: General Plan Team Leader:
You should also cc: your comments to:
Cynthia J. Paulsen
Assistant to Mr. Mike Chrisman,
Secretary for Resources:
Mr. Chrisman is a recent Schwarzenegger appointee, who, undoubtedly, would like to be informed about ways in which CRSP can achieve financial self-sufficiency while meeting the recreational needs of the people of the State of California. "The Green Monster" & San Lorenzo River Headwaters
When the Rock Climber's Guide to Skyline Boulevard was published back in January 2000, no one in the climbing community had any idea that the Green Monster and adjacent Heliport rocks were not yet part of Castle Rock State Park (or were they?). It now turns out that these massive sandstone bluffs 1400 feet below Cal Cliff were possibly in a legal "no man's land" on San Lorenzo Valley Water District property, which was then being held by the Sempervirens Fund (http://www.sempervirens.org) for eventual transfer to CRSP once the State Legislature appropriated sufficient funds. The Sempervirens Fund paid 12 million dollars for the area, financed by 15,283 private sector donations, and then sold it to the State in October 2004 for the bargain basement price of 5 million dollars. Local residents in Boulder Creek launched a petition drive opposing the sale, but were unable to obtain sufficient valid signatures. In other words, when climbers started visiting the Green Monster, they got in the way of big money, big property and the State budget office.
Apparently, State Parks does not want climbers to visit this remote area because no matter how much CRSP expands in size, there is a State Finance Department policy prohibiting the use of state money to cover the operating costs of newly acquired parkland. This means that no new Rangers can be hired to patrol these areas. The number of Ranger positions at CRSP has in fact shrunk precipitously since 1993. In 1999 Park Superintend Dave Vincent rejected closure of the entire proposed Natural Preserve and disbanded the so-called Citizen's Advisory Committee. Now any volunteer "patrols" must be scheduled subject to advanced approval by the State. This leaves the entire question of access to the Green Monster in limbo (although the list of rules formulated by the now defunct CR Climbing Committee (CRCC) asks climbers to 'avoid' the 'large rock faces damaged by extensive moss and plant removal' in the Kings Creek headwaters). "The Tower of Pain" This rock was included in the Rock Climber's Guide to Skyline Boulevard because it is actually located in Sanborn Skyline County Park, not on private land. On page 31 a warning does appear that "trespassing to access this rock is illegal!" This is because an adjacent suit-happy landowner was engaged in an on-going war with the State and County. One story relates how he even chased away some lost hikers with a shotgun! The landowner used a bulldozer to create a driveway up to his subdivided lots and, in the process, destroyed the forest next to the Tower of Pain, pushing down all of the trees onto the rock faces, so that what was once a "recovering wilderness," filled with ferns and second-growth redwoods, is now a huge bare patch of dirt. It is of course extremely ironic that now that the landowner has been allowed to destroy a pristine area, the climbing access situation may have improved. Perhaps the best choice is to wait another 10 years before visiting this potential battleground. Thanks to the commemorative function of the guidebook, these excellent climbs with their sweeping views of the Silicon Valley may still be there to enjoy. Socio-Political Battleground CRSP General Plan
The CRSP General Plan approved by the Parks and Recreation Commission on March 8, 2000 was supposed to be based on inputs from a ten-member Citizen's Advisory Board that included representatives from the Sempervirens Fund, Volunteers In Portola Cooperating Association, South Skyline Association (http://www.southskyline.org), Santa Cruz Horseman's Association, the Castle Rock Climbing Committee (CRCC), educators and resource planning specialists, and representatives in attendance from the Los Altos Gun Club, Responsible Organized Mountain Pedalers (http://www.romp.org/index.php), and State Parks staff. However, the obvious anti-climbing bias throughout its entire 149 pages bly suggests that the Plan was largely authored by Stuart Langdoc, former chair of the CR Citizens Advisory Committee and secretary of the Castle Rock Climbing Committee (CRCC). It should come as no surprise that Mr. Langdoc is also a member of the South Skyline Association, whose stated purpose is "to protect the rights and represent the interests of the residents and property owners" in the area surrounding Castle Rock State Park. One of their common goals seems to be blocking as much public use of the State Park as possible by climbers, hikers and mountain bikers because they seem to believe such activities lower the value of their real estate.
Climbers should be aware that the General Plan is still described by the State as "under review" and, in its present format, contains a wide range of options, including, as noted above, re-opening Valley of Stone/'Lion Caves' for recreational climbing. In 1999, the Access Fund requested that State Parks consider a better alternative, protesting that the General Plan presented no scientific evidence whatsoever for the proposed closure of up to 50% of CRSP to climbing within a so-called Natural Preserve. As Access Fund attorney Paul Minault pointed out, the Plan, "does not cite a single concrete example from any locations in the park where climbing has had a significant impact on resources" such as "'endangered plant and animal species and their supporting ecosystems'" or "'geological features illustrative of geological processes.'" Perhaps this is the reason why Bruce Bettencourt, founder and sole member of the Friends of Castle Rock State Park (FoCRSP: http://ventana.org/crsp.htm), in conjunction with the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club, sued State Parks in 2001 to set up an independent scientific review panel to objectively set a carrying capacity for the Park? Since this suit was recently settled, at the moment the whole issue of climbing within the Preserve still remains unresolved.
In conclusion, it is the author's opinion that climbing at Castle Rock should be allowed to continue as a valid and historic recreation usage with a minimum of self-regulation determined by the climbing community itself. Opposition to climbing at CRSP seems to be the result of the merger of local environmental and propertied interests that want to use the Park as a private preserve for "them and theirs," while excluding anyone else who is not part of their "Good Old Boy Club."
by Bruce Morris