The Climbing Trio at Mugu Rock

For a long time now, I’ve had a love for photography. It’s something that I kind of fell into at work, and before long, I found myself fairly comfortable with it. But despite that, I was never sure exactly why I liked it so much. To be honest, even now, some five or six years later, I still don’t quite know what drew me to it. But if there was one moment where I absolutely KNEW that I wanted to pursue it as a passion, it was last winter- while exploring a highway closure.

Before I start with this story, I need to go back a bit. Ramiro, a friend of mine, has recently discovered his own passion for photography. And for about a year now, I’ve been showing him the basics of the trade. He often sends me questions about lenses and accessories, and even on techniques needed to mimic photos that he likes. Occasionally, we go out and shoot. And it was on one of these shoots, that this story begins.

During December of 2014, southern California was hit with a rather strong series of rainstorms. The rain was so intense, that the Pacific Coast Highway between Oxnard and Malibu had to be closed. In hindsight, this scenario is rather appealing from an exploration perspective. But truthfully, we never had any intention of going there; it was more of an accident.

One day in January, Ramiro asked me to go shooting with him after work. As usual, I happily obliged. However, having already been to most of the popular locations in the area, we drove around aimlessly looking for somewhere new to photograph. We started to look for routes that we hadn’t considered prior, in search for a good location. Before long, we found ourselves heading down HWY 01, and eventually, reaching the closure.

The on-ramp here was very well lit, which combined with the loneliness of the place to produce a really eerie scene…

We walked around and took a few photos. We didn’t have any real objective there, but it was new, and honestly, that was enough. The place was devoid of any activity, traffic included. There were maybe three or four cars that drove by in the half-hour that we spent there. They mostly came out of the Point Mugu military base just down the road.

This was the view just past the road closure.

While this was new and cool, it was a tad uncomfortable. Like I mentioned, there was little activity, and the combination of closures and the nearby base gave a sense of “forbidden” that permeated the atmosphere there. Bottom line- we took a few photos and promptly left.

Needless to say, that wasn’t the end of the story. We kept thinking about what might be beyond the closure. How dark was it? Was there construction equipment? Would the emptiness resemble some kind of strange alien world? My imagination ran wild, but I was still too chicken to seriously consider crossing the boundary. Finally, in February, Ramiro convinced me to head out there with him. We didn’t have to go very far before we hit a good spot- Mugu Rock.

The lack of artificial light required that I take long-exposures in order to photograph Mugu Rock.

When we came up to Mugu Rock, we immediately knew that this would be a good location. It’s a well-known, local favorite after all. But as we pulled around large monolith, we noticed that we weren’t the only people there. Just passed it, were a couple of vehicles belonging to some practicing mountain climbers.

There was little light out, so the climbers resorted to their vehicle headlights for illumination.

Initially, we ignored them. We didn’t know who they were after all, and we were also kind of disappointed to find that someone else had already crossed the road closure. Here we were thinking that we were doing something ground-breaking, only to find out that it was rather ordinary. Regardless, we got out and started looking for subjects- and we found our share.

With a long enough exposure, you can turn night into day. Just look at those clouds!

I took this long exposure to see if I could illuminate the coast. As it turned out, I could- but with results that completely shattered my expectations.

We experimented with long-exposures, flashes, and even some light painting. But as with the Rabbit man some three months later, I found myself distracted by the nearby people. Finally, I approached them and asked if I could get a few photos.

Now the fact is, I know nothing about rock climbing. Perhaps that’s was drew me to them. Under normal circumstances, I would never have approached them. But everything about the scene was new. Maybe even a little exciting. Before I knew it, I found myself walking over there. And that is the big breakthrough here. It’s the moment when I discovered that photography could help me explore new and interesting worlds. Luckily for me, they agreed to let me snap away…

With the proper exposure, the scene resembles a stage play. An analogy that perfectly fits the separation I felt between myself and the subjects.

While it’s much smaller than Mugu Rock, the structure they climbed was still quite formidable.

It’s not a terribly long distance, but climbing took some time for them. A testament to the difficulty of their task.

The significance of this experience is still something I’m trying to process. My current long-term aspiration is to someday be a travel photographer. Whether or not I can accomplish this is still pretty uncertain. But at the very least, I’m sure that the passion behind it is very real. And it’s thanks to this night that I know it.

This is a long exposure of Mugu Rock and me, playing with my cell-phone flash.