Malibu conjures a certain vision. A specific aesthetic. Old VW buses crested by surfboards; long, winding, sun-soaked coastline; care-free elites hosting bourgeois soirees at their decadent beach houses. Malibu is unequivocally “California.” What you might not know, though, is rock climbing deserves a place among the rest. One of Los Angeles’s premier cragging destinations lies nestled in those very hills. Neighbors to the chateaus and the Topangan hippies are water carved lines of pocketed volcanic stone.
Malibu Creek State Park spent most of the 20th century as a Hollywood studio outpost. Classic films like the Tarzan Trilogy (1936-1939), The Defiant Ones (1958), Doctor Doolittle (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), and notable TV series like M.A.S.H. were all filmed on location in the valley. The M.A.S.H. set can still be visited to this day where abandoned relics lie. The Planet of the Apes trilogy of the 1960s was filmed in this valley, and a prominent cragging wall iconic to the films now bears the name “Planet of the Apes Wall” and is a popular top-roping wall for rock climbers. Nowadays “The Creek” mostly hosts collegiate co-eds and thrill seekers looking to party and flirt at the rock pools. Shrill screams echo through the canyons as teens huck their carcasses off cliffs into the water below. The younger crowd rubs elbows with families out for a hike or with packs of climbers lugging loads of gear into deeper, more secluded parts of the canyon. These climbers come seeking a slightly more refined shot of adrenaline. Whereas the cliff jumpers muster the courage to take the fall, the climbers pit their physicality against nature to escape it.
Rock climbing measured by purpose is inherently absurd. Some could argue that the point is “to get to the top.” But once there, you return to the ground with nothing tangible gained. What possesses people to expend so much exhaustive effort in the pursuit of a goal that is ultimately pointless? The answer is as varied and complex as the zealots who participate. For some, it’s a tactile means of communing with nature. Others covet strength and athleticism—to send a route that once felt impossible. Some say simply that movement is the medicine that brings you in tune with your body. But of any cross section you sample they all have one simple common denominator: fear.
Hanging from your fingertips high on a piece of rock with certain peril below runs counter to every primal fiber in our being. “I shouldn’t be here.” Your mind panics, muscles tighten, hands over-grip from terror. Adrenaline courses through every available artery. Somewhere deep, a choice is offered: continue or bail. Summon your courage and leap into the unknown, or surrender and try again. We make these choices time and time again, and with each path chosen, we learn, we grow, we experience. Being timid will avail you nothing, while brazen ego can get you killed. If you want to learn something about yourself, go climb a rock.