After numerous failed attempts, Carlo and I finally got a chance to visit one of the best climbing areas in the Santa Monica Mountains. Purple Stones, or the "Purps" as they are locally known, lie deep in Topanga Canyon just a few miles inland of the ocean. Situated on the gentle Topanga Creek with its quiet, riparian beauty, the Purps are an ideal destination for climbers of any level who want to get away from the crowds of Stoney Point and Malibu Canyon. But don't be fooled by my description of the area, the climbing at the Purps is bold and committing so bring a friend and some crutches.
During the 60s, the Purps were frequented by hippies and rock n rollers who dubbed the area "Twin Pools", and as far as I can tell, the area is still visited by the party crowd. The climbing history at the Purps dates back to the mid-1970s when Banny Root and Dave Katz began development of the river polished sandstone they found there. Along with friends Bob Gains, Brad and Mark Bowling, Tom Grimes, Dan Scdoris and Robert Carrere, Root and Katz had themselves a nice little "secret" area. Eventually, word got out and during the 80s the likes of Bill Leventhal and John Long made the trek to the Purps and many new test pieces went up.
As fate would have it, some pretty heavy storms hit the area during the early 80s and washed out most of the sand in the creek bed turning the landings of most of problems there into a total horror show. As a result the area decreased in popularity and no new development was seen for nearly 20 years. Recently, the area has seen quite a bit of new development with the inclusion of the Headwaters area and the sending of an old unclimbed Leventhal project called The Purple Prow, which goes at V9 and is currently the areas toughest problem.
For Ventura area climbers, there are two ways to get to Topanga Canyon; the 101 freeway or PCH. Taking the 101, one must drive through the San Fernando Valley and then exit on Topanga Canyon Blvd heading south toward the ocean. From PCH, a drive through Malibu is required before Topanga Canyon is reached. Which ever way you go, you want to end up just south of the small community of Topanga. Finding a place to park can be a challenge as there are No Parking signs for pretty much the entire length of the road between PCH and the town of Topanga.
Carlo and I found a legal spot right across the street from Topanga Lumber. From there, we walked down the road toward the beach for roughly one quarter of a mile. This is the sketchy part of the approach as one must walk along a very busy TC Blvd with not a whole lot of room for the pedestrian. After a few turns, a culvert(storm drain) appears down on the uphill side of the road. You cant miss it, it's covered with graffiti. Follow the drain down, down, down to the creek and you will find your self in a world very different from the busy highway above.
Once in the creek, head down stream and after 5 minutes or so the Headwaters area appears. No purple stone here but there are a handful of quality sandstone/conglomerate boulders featuring a dozen problems in the V0 to V5 range. Another 15 minutes downstream is an area called Purple Stones North. This is where the really interesting stuff is and is also where the areas original development began. If you head downstream another 10 minutes you will find Purple Stones South.
Carlo and I spent some time at each of the areas, just kind of feeling the place out. The highest concentration of boulders is at PS North which features some classics; The Purple Prow, Purple Pyramid, Pungi Sticks, Naked Edge, Zodiac and Atlantis. For some of these routes a top-rope is advisable due to the routes height and poor landings (Naked Edge, Atlantis), though everything at Purps has gone solo. There are some anchors on top of the tallest boulders so be reasonable as it is always better to haul a rope and gear in than to have someone haul YOU out.
Topanga Creek has that dried out dirty, late season look to it. But Ive ran through enough creek beds to know which ones are worth returning to once the water is flowing in the spring time. Topanga Creek is such a place. I also know that the course of such creeks are in a perpetual state of flux. This season the water flows around the backside of such and such a boulder, next year it may flow around the other side, taking all the sand with it and depositing a bunch of sharp, ankle breaking boulders in its place. You just never know how its all gonna look after a heavy rain.
Alot about this place reminds me of Tar Creek pre-2002 El Nino; a quiet stream that changes seasonally in a deep, shady canyon with epic bouldering and X-rated landings on perfect river polished sandstone.
Unfortunately, there is no one single and complete source of information on the Purps. The best map I've seen is in Craig Fry's Southern California Bouldering, though its a bit out dated and doesn't include the Headwaters. West Coast Bouldering has some new route beta as does the blog Obscure Boulders and Mountain Project has a nice listing with pretty good directions but no route beta. Getting High in LA by Dave Katz is a great source too, if you can get one.