By Antoine Abou-Diwan
For a group of valley residents with lots of imagination and a love of adventure, Stoney Point is their passion. That’s where they take control of their lives. That’s where the adrenaline rushes. They are rock climbers.
Located off Topanga Canyon Boulevard just south of the 118 Freeway, Stoney Point is easy to get to.
Parking is convenient (just pull over on the side of the road), but not necessarily easy. You may have to parallel park as traffic flashes past. And there doesn’t seem much to the place once you walk in, just some scrub, sand, a rocky trail and some trash.
Yet, “This is my second home,” said Manny Delbarco, 21. “If I’m not at work or at school, I’m here,” he said.
Delbarco has been climbing for about two years. “I used to jog here,” he explained. “Older climbers encouraged me to give climbing a try.”
Delbarco fell in love with the sport’s mix of strategy and technique.
“None of it is strength,” he explained. “It’s all strategy. You try it over and over until you build muscle memory.”
Stoney Point’s reputation as climbers’ hangout developed in the late ‘50s and early '60s by pioneers like Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia and Royal Robbins. As with many other places frequented by regulars, Stoney Point has developed its own lore, lingo and rhythms.
On a recent, sweltering Tuesday afternoon, “Nabisco Canyon"—a narrow canyon flanked by boulders and rock faces of varying heights and levels of difficulty—was full of climbers. Temperatures in Chatsworth were above 100 degrees Fahrenheit but Nabisco Canyon felt 10 to 15 degrees cooler. Several of the guys brought coolers of beer and conversation was about who had climbed what.
Guy Keesee, 57, has been climbing at Stoney Point since he was 20. He is friendly and keen to share. He recalls rock climbers from France stopping to climb at Stoney Point before continuing north to climb at Yosemite.
Keesee is at a stage where his climbing experience exceeds the damage that his body has sustained over the years.
"I’m bummed that I can’t climb like I used to,” he said. Years of clinging precariously to vertical rock faces have damaged his rotator cuff, reducing his arm’s range of motion.
Jan McCollum, 59, spends every Tuesday and Thursday at Stoney Point.
The computer programmer has been climbing at Stoney Point for so long that he seemingly has the place memorized. Others tease him about the time he traversed a section of Nabisco Canyon blindfolded.
Ryan Mattock, 36, exemplifies the social side of the sport. He had a cooler of beer and offered a friendly greeting and a bottle of beer to everyone who walked by. Mattock became interested in climbing after seeing the movie, K2. He hangs out at Nabisco Canyon with his fellow climbers every Tuesday and Thursday, and goes climbing with his girlfriend on the weekends.
As friendly as the regulars are, some climbers prefer to climb alone at Stoney Point.
Jason Milford, 26, has been climbing for more than five years, and his life seems to revolve around the sport. He teaches indoor rock-climbing classes at the Santa Monica YMCA.
Milford’s laid-back lifestyle belies his need for adventure and meaning.
“I can’t handle routines,” he said. “I need excitement and I need it to matter.”
Milford plans to go back to school to become a trauma nurse.
As devoted as these climbers are to having fun, they are well aware of the risks that come with the sport. Keesee listed a number of climbers he knew who fell to their deaths while climbing elsewhere.
Delbarco’s family wishes that he would devote himself to a less dangerous passion.
“What we’re doing is not safe. My family says, 'Don’t do it, it’s too dangerous,’” he said. “We live in California, man. Lots of idiot drivers can kill us. Why not take responsibility for our own lives?”
Delbarco has climbed at more famous locales such as Joshua Tree National Park, but he maintains a special love for Stoney Point.
“I feel lucky to have this 10 minutes away,” he said while gesturing around him. “It’s the perfect training ground.”
This story first appeared in Northridge Patch, Sept. 29, 2010.