The Tunnels are in the middle of the Malibu Creek watershed, surrounded by a usually docile creek that is mitigated by a dam north of the boulders. The landings are in washed out sand, smaller boulders or the creek itself which creates challenges when trying to spot and set up crash pads. Because of its location, when sitting down in the creek, you can barely tell you're 100 feet from a major road. The sound of the creek drowns out the sound of any cars. The biggest benefit to the creek is the polished sandstone. The Santa Monica Mountains are not known for their sandstone, but with the help of the water that flows through the mountains, the Tunnels are mostly solid.
The first time I went to the Tunnels, I was confused by the approach. At that point, I had a very limited understanding of approaches and climbing in general. I thought most areas were like the stone master classic, Stoney Point—an incredibly easy approach into a Los Angeles County park, which takes two minutes to get to the first boulder. I got out of the car at a dirt lot on the corner of a random intersection in the middle of the Santa Monica Mountains. I asked my friends where they were taking me, were they sure this was the right way, and if they were sure that any boulders were actually down in the creek. After the 20-minute approach on the side of a two-lane road that cuts through the mountains, we made it to what looked like a steep dirt hill. At that time, there was a rope helping you down into the creek. Once down in the creek, it was a quick hike to the main area of the Tunnels. I felt like I knew a secret, despite how close we were to Los Angeles and to a major road. We were there by ourselves and that’s where I truly found an appreciation for climbing. That was 10 years ago.
Now, I continually go back to the Tunnels. The creek and boulders have become a place where I go to push myself both creatively and physically. The Malibu Layback was the first highball boulder I ever climbed. It’s about 25 feet tall with a 5.7 lay back up the face. The problem represented the physical act of overcoming and coping with the fear of falling. Because of my history with the climb, I always go back to climb every time I go to the Tunnels to freshen up on my head game.
As a photographer and videographer, I use the Tunnels as a playground for my creative ambitions. My camera comes with me every time I go, whether or not I have any intentions of shooting that particular day. The setting, regardless of the climbing, has been a huge contributing factor to the overall feel of the area. Alongside a close friend of mine, I produced a 15-minute climbing video of the area, highlighting what we found to be the beauty and sounds of the creek. We focused on really trying to capture the feel of the place, to capture how we felt being there. We specifically chose to not create a narrative-based film because we were allowing for the landscape and climbing to speak for itself.
The Tunnels was the first place which felt like my home crag. Despite its close proximity to Los Angeles and being published in guide books, it has barely changed. I am still amazed when I take the same trek I did all those years ago on my first approach to the boulders, to happily find no one there at all. We are left to ourselves to enjoy the nature which is encapsulated within the creeks and mountains. Our group still goes there whenever ever we can: climbing the classics put up 20 years before we ever knew the boulders existed, as well as constantly trying to find new boulders and lines to climb. It was our form of expression, and our escape from suburban living outside of Los Angeles.
Joshua Roth is a professional photographer and videographer who specializes in archaeology and outdoor sports.