News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Stewardship at core of Sisters climber’s ethic

Rock climbing in Central Oregon has always been a popular sport because of our unique terrain and stellar climbing areas. However, in the last five to 10 years there’s been an influx of rock-climbing enthusiasts due to social media and the “trend” of the sport, especially in Central Oregon, which has some of the best climbing routes and opportunities in the state. The importance of stewardship also shines through as a hugely important aspect of keeping the areas of Central Oregon for climbing beautiful and enjoyable for generations to come.

The Nugget spoke with Jason Chinchen, a former climbing guide and author of the Central Oregon Bouldering Guide. He also recently took over Tony Cosby’s position at Sisters High School as the woodshop instructor.

“When this opportunity came up, I moved back here. It was great to get this job that combined my life’s-worth of experience in these areas together,” said Chinchen.

He moved to Oregon after traveling as a climbing guide and working odd jobs in different areas and began working freelance graphic design for a publishing company in California.

Chinchen published the first edition of the Central Oregon Bouldering guide in 2017 and it sold out. He is now working on printing and producing his second edition of the bouldering guide. One of the most important aspects of writing the guide was to include the importance of stewardship and conserving the areas of Central Oregon most popular for climbing.

“With more use of the areas, and more popularity of the sport, I wanted to make sure to include the importance of conserving these areas,” he said. “Having them feel wild and natural is part of what makes it great,” said Chinchen.

Not only did Chinchen include this aspect in his bouldering guide, he also started his own nonprofit, focusing on partnering land management and climbers. The High Desert Climbers Alliance is a nonprofit that acts as a voice for the climbing world and partners with local land management agencies to conserve the climbing areas that are inevitably going to be used more and more as the sport becomes more popular.

Chinchen partnered with local climbers and Forest Service workers to run the nonprofit.

“I wanted to create something to offset the increase in popularity of the areas from writing the guide; if we are going to lead groups and people out climbing, we have to be focused on conserving the areas too,” said Chinchen.

Rand Runco, IEE (Interdisciplinary Environmental Expedition) outdoor recreation instructor at Sisters High School also spoke to the emphasis on stewardship that IEE students learn:

“There has been a big change in what we instruct in IEE. We used to do a lot more climbing, but now most students have some sort of climbing experience. We now focus more [on] restoring areas to their natural states and team building,” he said.

The IEE program has a section of bouldering, rappelling, and rock-climbing instruction that happens in the fall and spring mountain and river trips.

“We still do some climbing within the program, but we mainly focus on preserving our beautiful Central Oregon areas, because there is more impact on the trails and areas than ever before,” said Runco. “Once you take on this sport, you have to realize the responsibility that comes with it and understanding the impact of the sport overall.”

Chinchen’s guide emphasizes areas in the Central Oregon area, particularly in Bend, that are popular for the boulder style of climbing. Bouldering is done on small rocks, using a pad for fall safety, and is a more condensed version of climbing. You aren’t using any harnesses or ropes when bouldering.

“You get to know the features of the rock and do the hard moves first, which can prove as a good technique to then approach bigger rocks with more movement,” said Chinchen. “Bouldering is a bit more of a social sport in climbing because you just go out with a group, a pad, and a pair of climbing shoes, sit around and climb some rocks, versus being on ropes in a more pressure situation.”

None of the popular Sisters bouldering spots are included in Chinchen’s guide book this time, but in the future, he hopes to include them.

“Here in particular, I wanted to focus on the community aspect of climbing and the stewardship aspect. If people are going out and leading groups in these areas it is important to know more about the area, to keep it at its most natural,” he said.

The second edition of the climbing guide doesn’t have a set release date yet, but Chinchen will be selling it in local outdoor shops in Bend and Sisters, as well as on Amazon, as soon as late April or early May.

Learn more about High Desert Climbers Alliance at


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