John Long once emailed me about He said he liked the site and complimented me on some photos of Malibu Creek State Park. Once I got over the shock that a climbing legend and influential climbing author had found my website and bothered to email me, I wrote him back of course, feeling proud that my site had been so noticed. I’ve held that memory as a milestone in Rockgrrl’s history.

A year or so later I found John’s Facebook profile through a mutual friend and was flattered when he accepted my friend request; though, I have been too shy to comment on a lot of his posts.

I figured these brief connections, and maybe a chance word or two at some kind of climber or industry event, would be the closest I’d get to meeting John in person. This is why it was so great that I unexpectedly got to meet him yesterday!

Since I had just gone bouldering on Thursday I was thinking of skipping or postponing my Malibu Creek State Park Saturday climbing plans. Boy am I glad I didn’t!  K, Cliff and I went to the Ghetto area to climb and found it quite busy, taken over by a group. We went across the stream to some other climbs while waiting. Turns out John was at the wall with friends, talking about his daughters (who I knew a bit about because of Facebook posts). I tentatively approached him… why tentatively? Well besides the fact that he’s John Long, I once mistook someone at a party as John and struck up a confusing conversation with the person. I didn’t want that to happen again.

John Long and Me
John Long and Me

I prepared to clearly enunciate this time and asked, “Are you John?”

He said, “Yes” his face searching mine.

“I’m Eileen… Rockgrrl, you emailed me once a long time ago.”

Hi face relaxed, “Oh! Hi!”

“I’m also your friend on Facebook.” I nervously added in a rush, “It’s great to meet you in person!”

“Right, didn’t you get married?”

“Ya, that’s my husband over there in the white t-shirt”.

I followed up with some more nervous babble as we made our way across the small stream over to a climb K had just put up and I did introductions between him, John and Cliff.

Soon John Long was climbing with us. Frankly, I thought this was very surreal and I couldn’t stop grinning. Even now I felt nervous just typing that sentence.

John said he was still recovering from a dislocated shoulder, he’d injured it unicycling (something he’s been into for a while now) and he’d also not climbed in months. Watching him climb, you’d never have guessed any of the above.

My photo of John Long climbing at Malibu Creek. K is belaying
My photo of John Long climbing at Malibu Creek. K is belaying

After awhile, he turned to go back across the stream, I asked if I could get a picture with him.

“No,” he joked as he turned.

“Well I’ll just have to take it from you anyway then!” I grinned back.

My friend Cliff took the shot. I figured I’d ask if it was my last chance I’d see him that day. But it turns out we shared more routes and conversation throughout the day.

Me cleaning Johnny Can't Lead. Dave Katz, FA 1985 on it, is at bottom left
Me cleaning Johnny Can't Lead. Dave Katz, FA 1985 on it, is at bottom left

John was easy going and friendly with everyone, his voice carrying through the small canyon area talking about a variety of topics from Venezuelan politics to mainstream sports. He even solicited advice from me on photo file handling for an upcoming book he was writing. I also heard him telling his arriving friend –who turned out to be Dave Katz (another great climber and the person who developed many of the routes in Malibu Creek) — that “Rockgrrl is over there” which gave me another dose of surrealism.

I don’t know if it was adrenaline, good vibes, or what, but I climbed pretty well that day, despite having woken up feeling sleep deprived and sore in the morning. It was a blast to climb and talk about climbs with John and Dave. John and Dave put up many of our favorite routes in the park and Dave had FAs on some of the routes we were doing that very day!

I had my first try on the extended version of Kathmandu, which was a long overhung route rated 5.11. I did well on it; though, even doing it on top rope, I did have to hang to rest. Both John and Dave said the route was nearly a roof on top. Dave said it was the most overhung route in the whole park.

While we had a lot of fun in the Ghetto area (which was originally, Dave told us, named “Little Europe”) with John, Dave and the brightly colored group of climbing friends we had first seen upon arriving (they all decided to purchase funky running tights to climb in), we left for another climbing area, saying our good byes to all.

K and I were all still smiling from the experience as we scrambled away.

I’ve had the general good fortune to have found that many people whom I have admired from afar have been nice folks when I’ve met them in person. John’s definitely one of them! I am beginning to think though that this may not be the exception in the climbing world but perhaps the rule.

More photos from the day.