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Rock of Ages

Rocks carved by the millennia anchor the northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley. A visit to Stoney Point Park reveals 10 views of a suburban legend.

Nick Le Prohon clings to a boulder at Stoney Point.

Nick Le Prohon clings to a boulder at Stoney Point.

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ONE

Seventy-five million years ago, Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument 132 began its epochal eruption as a cloudy slurry of feldspar, quartz and granitic rock particles drifting 1,000 feet to the ocean floor. On land, dinosaurs flourished. In the water, marine reptiles and sharks plumbed the depths. Fossils of mollusks found in the rock date it to the Late Cretaceous period. 

According to Marilyn Tennyson, a research geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, Stoney Point is likely to be some combination of locally harder or coarser sandstone that resisted erosion better than the surrounding rock. Today, the rocks tagged with spray paint are clearly in the age of urban blight.

TWO

In his book Urban Rock: Stoney Point Bouldering & Top Roping, Chris Owen graphed this city park like a cartographer charting 1,000 routes to the Promised Land. What to the untrained eye is a natural wonder with flat surfaces of sun-parched stone becomes, on the page, a complex skein of measured, analyzed and interpreted geology.

The anonymous rock claimed and identified Crown of Thorns, Mozart’s Wall, Pin Scars, Tower of Pain, Turlock, Ummagumma and Yabo Mantle. The route descriptions ring with the poetic lilt of the exotic: “Left side pull, right sloper; a knee bar enables shorties to grab small crimp. Good holds on the arete to iffy top out.”

THREE

For 80 years, some of the sport’s most respected and revered climbers have puzzled out rock problems at Stoney Point. In the 1930s, Sierra Club climber Glen Dawson trained here before putting up first ascents in the High Sierras. In the 1950s, Royal Robbins and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard hopped Southern Pacific freight trains to The Point to hone their craft and develop techniques, like clean climbing, that would guide the sport toward a low-impact approach.

The next 30 years heralded the arrival of free climbing, with its focus on minimal aid, and free soloing—climbing hundreds if not thousands of feet up a rock face without rope. And all those practitioners spent time at Stoney Point.

“This dusty pile of rocks on the side of the road   has been very influential on some of America’s legendary climbers,” says Cole Gibson, director and co-producer with Matthew Talesfore of the documentary, Stoney Point: Portrait of an American Crag. “These guys went on to affect the culture of climbing throughout the world.”