What are the Perks and Challenges of Climbing Eagle Rock?

Last updated:

Anyone who has spent any significant time on the 134 Freeway has probably seen it: Eagle Rock, that sandstone monolith that marks any journey from Glendale to Pasadena or vice versa. Sharing its name with the surrounding neighborhood of Eagle Rock, it offers a visual change of pace during the freeway commute.

But can you climb it? The answer: Yes!

While not immediately obvious, Eagle Rock (the rock) hides a couple of climbing routes. For the intrepid climber, the rock offers a fun and convenient climb — about 120 feet — in an unconventional location. According to Braden Batsford, a local climbing enthusiast, Eagle Rock is an outlier among SoCal climbing sites.

“It’s in the middle of the city, the freeway is right there, you can barely hear your partner,” Batsford says. “You’re not doing it for the peace and quiet.”

Getting to the climb is pretty straightforward — the start at the base is approximately 50 feet from the road and up a small incline. From there, climbers can find the bolts that mark the routes (although nobody interviewed knows who placed them there initially).

Eagle Rock, the sandstone monolith beckoning climbers over the noise of the 134 Freeway. Photo by Pablo Nukaya-Petralia.

The consensus among climbers is that the rock is an easy, albeit frustrating climb. Tristan Burnham, another climbing enthusiast, described Eagle Rock as “chossy,” meaning the rock is loose and prone to crumbling.

“It’s fairly easy climbing, but it’d suck if you fell,” Burnham says. “The reason you’d fall wouldn’t be from skill, it’d be from the rock.”

Burnham, who now lives in Oregon, says he frequented the spot when he lived in La Crescenta. He played a key role in documenting the spot, starting its Mountain Project entry in 2009 and populating it with information like climb routes. The webpage also features numerous photos of Burnham and others mid-climb.

In addition to the loose rock, climbers also have to contend with the 134 Freeway, which is immediately adjacent to the rock. Both Burnham and Batsford say the sound from passing traffic is enough to drown out communication between climbers and belayers. Burnham says he settles for texting or calling his belayer mid-climb if he needs to get word down.

Despite the rock being situated smack in the middle of the neighborhood, locals do not seem to mind the presence of climbers. Online, reception to climbers has been positive. A Feb. 14 thread in the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Group on Facebook drew curious users, but no outward backlash.

“As long as they don’t make any unsanctioned stops in front of someone’s house, this sounds like a non-issue,” one user wrote.

Burnham and Batsford say they have never encountered pushback while climbing. If anything, people enjoy the sight of them — both say neighbors have waved at them as they made their ascents. While no one has complained yet, Burnham suspects that if the spot were to attract large crowds, then problems may arise.

For Burnham, part of the fun of climbing Eagle Rock stems from the fact that it is a local icon.

A couple of climbers make their way up the local landmark. Photo courtesy of Braden Batsford.

“It’s a city landmark, you know,” Burnham says. “[The neighborhood] is named after it. I never knew if it’s legal — I still don’t know if it’s legal — but I’ve never heard about anyone getting in trouble from it.”

Officially, the rock belongs to the city of Los Angeles after it was purchased in 1996 for approximately 700,000 dollars. When asked, a representative from the Northeast Community Police Station could not say with certainty that climbing the rock is illegal. According to the representative, the Los Angeles Police Department would not advise climbing it, although they would not confront any climbers unless they were to start trespassing on private property.

Issues of legality have not deterred the likes of Burnham and Batsford from climbing Eagle Rock. They say the local police and fire departments have so far left them alone, driving by as they climb. The fire department has even joined in on climbing the rock to some an extent — during an April 7, 2011 operation, firefighters rappelled down the rock to scrub off graffiti and sharpen their own climbing skills.

Bradford makes it clear he prefers other nearby climbs, like Stoney Point, over Eagle Rock, but in terms of convenience, it’s hard to beat.

“Climbing in the middle of the city — as unpeaceful as it is at times — it’s pretty unique,” Bradford says. “And if you go at sunset, it’s a good view.”

Los Angeleno