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There are countless things to love about the outdoors; it’s difficult to choose one over another. There’s the sense of being free when you step outside, along with the feeling of being away from everything, or simply the honest beauty that comes from the nature that surrounds us, it’s honestly impossible to choose just one. But what I can’t deny and feel a strong sense of pride and love for our community. The outdoor community is very much unlike any other; everyone seems to be on the same predicament. We are all out there to enjoy life in its purest form and plainly enjoy never growing up. Aside from all this, part of my excitement for being outside also comes from the uncertainty of whom I’m going to meet on the trail. You just never know what special person you will be crossing paths with out there, and I haven’t been let down just yet. I’ve met plenty of memorable souls within all the wild lands that I’ve explored, and every single one with their own special story to tell.
That was no different on this particular occasion at a small, city owned park in Los Angeles, California. On a warm Sunday afternoon, a close friend and I drove to an iconic bouldering and rock climbing spot in Chatsworth. Even though Chatsworth may be known in some parts of the world for other types of encounters, this place is also known for being one of the birthplaces of rock climbing. Being a local and original Angeleno, I tend to forget about the true magnitude and how really special, places like these truly are. In a sense I tend to easily take these places for granted more than I should. I have distant memories of passing by this place and staring out of the rear passenger window, in complete curiosity and wonder of how people managed to climb so high up on these rocks with minimal equipment at hand. But also amazed at the amount of terribly done graffiti dressing the beautiful oxidized colored sandstone boulders. It is precisely that impression that left me with the thought of this place just being a place where people in their younger years would go, hang out and write graffiti, as well as a place where a select few would test their physical abilities and have a close encounter with adrenaline and danger. I’ve always said that people from Los Angeles are of a special breed; we are some of the most adverse and toughest people around. Not only were these people negotiating with danger as they ascend these rocks, but they were climbing surrounded by a tapestry of broken glass from beer bottles and climbing here while running the risk of having a confrontational encounter with gang members, vagabonds and other unwelcoming people from this city. Being a kid and thinking about this place, I knew that simply being here was a risky adventure all on its own. You never really knew what kind of day you were going to have, or what type of encounter you were going to experience with another person. Although much has changed over the years, some things still remain the same. The emulsion of green, brown and clear glass and the distasteful graffiti still remain, as well as the uncertainty of whom you’re going to meet.
When you first pull up to Stoney Point, you’re quickly reminded that you’re still in LA. Aside from the broken glass that covers most of the drought and moisture-less dirt, the first thing that I noticed was the amount of people with video cameras. As I walked over towards the boulders, to one side of the park there was an attractive young girl in a striking dress, standing in front of a film crew. As I walk passed them, off in the distance I observe as multiple people with arms stretched out in front of them take numerous Selfies. Then as I walked a few more steps, towards the opposing side of the park there was a small, amateur, and camera shy film crew with clear nervous and imprecise looks on their faces. With full movie props in hand, filming what seemed to be some type of hopeful hit film for a personal project. We live and make part of a very interesting and animalistic ecosystem here in LA. Some would say even more uncivilized than other species roaming the wild lands.
At last we come across the true nature for our visit, raw and uncut climbers on belay and in full action, just what we were seeking. Upon our first impressions we noticed that the gentleman in action and making the climb look effortless was much older than the average climbers that I’m used to meeting out the trail, but in much better shape than any other person at the park that day. Almost immediately I was able to tell that he was a tough, take no lip from anyone type of guy. At the foot of the boulder, there was a second gentleman of a more slender build, but equally tough and strong. Taking one look at the way that he moved and interacted with that rope and the rock, you were able to see almost immediately that this man was a man of infinite climbing knowledge and experience. After initially sitting in silence and completely admiring the heart and skill behind these two climbers, we introduced ourselves to Lou and Glenn, two climbers from different sides of the country. Glenn was the older gentleman; originally from New York, he stood much taller, stronger and extremely fit at 74, despite being almost 3 times my age. Glenn definitely humbled and inspired me very quickly. Maybe it was his intimidating physical structure, or maybe it was the confidence that he carried himself with. This was a man that you didn’t want to mess with, but could also learn so much from. Then there was Lou, a true cool tempered and experienced mastermind behind the rock, who had driven down here from Santa Cruz to enjoy some time at Stoney Point. Just by taking one look at Lou, you get the immediate urge to spend all day at his presence, simply listening to the endless number of stories and experiences from this man’s adventure repertoire. He gave us a quick back-story on himself and a very informative and interesting history lesson on Stoney Point. Lou is the type of guy that has a keen eye for detail; you realize that he has so much to teach without having to say even a word. It’s not often that you run into people with such powerful energy radiating from them, a life of adventure is how I would best describe my impression of these two gentlemen. After getting acquainted, and learning a little bit more about each other, we began talking about the outdoors. We mentioned how great it is to be outside and how good it is is for your health and sanity, even though Glenn was quick to ask “Sanity? What’s that?” Well Glenn is right, we’re all a little crazy! But that is the exact fire that drives us to want to explore and push ourselves further into the extremes. It is that need and desire to conquer mountains, walk for weeks surviving and solely relying on the contents in our backpacks, and the fire pushes us to master those vertical frontiers that we call those spectacular granite and sandstone walls. That fire is what keeps us in the spectrum of sanity and insanity. We are a tightly knit community of slightly insane adventurers, and the balance that we seek is always found outside. As Lou and I discussed, simply being in that small Los Angeles city owned park, 50 feet away from speeding vehicles zooming down one of the most popular main streets in the San Fernando Valley, you still manage to feel like you’re away from the city’s domain. By having dirt under your feet and sandstone walls surrounding you, you can’t help but feel relaxed and away from the grasp of the city, fortunately for many of us that’s where we find true happiness and inspiration.
As I walked away from our encounter with Glenn and Lou that day I couldn’t ignore the feeling of nostalgia and curiosity. Nostalgia because of the excitement from the encounter with these two inspiring and very admirable men, but also curiosity because I knew that there was more to Lou than I had discovered that day, and that same curiosity is the magic that comes not only from being outdoors but also from the encounters with other like minded, friendly and genuine people that you will meet out there. Here I was in the presence of two very amazing individuals who within themselves come from different parts of the world, as do I. The four of us along with my good friend, very different and distant aged, all connected by one common thing, the outdoors. This is the magnetism of the magic that comes with venturing out. I am proud to be part of this community and I am happy to be working on this project that we call “Trail Portraits”, a way to showcase the faces behind our beautiful community.