Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Swimming Hole - Tar Creek Tribute Video

Sitting around on a rainy late December weekend inevitably brings back memories of what happened at one of the finest bouldering areas on Earth almost 8 years ago now. The Swimming Hole sported 300+ problems in an unbelievable concentration of perfect stone, superb boulders and an idyllic setting. It was nothing short of a dreamland and if I may paraphrase a quote from my own book, I wrote something like "You could not climb, not get drunk, not get laid and still have the best day of your life out there, it's that good." (also interesting is my priority list of what my best day was considered).

Tar Creek, January 5, 2005. Very high, very muddy water. photo: colm fitzgerald
In late December 2004 a series of storms began to hit the Central Coast in rapid succession with massive amounts of rain and widespread damage. The worst of the storm hit on January 10th, 2005 with pounding monsoon-style rainfall. Official data recorded just shy of 15 inches of rain in Ventura over a 15 day period culminating in the storm of January 10th. This massive rainfall increased creek flows substantially, and Tar Creek, home to The Swimming Hole boulders was flowing like mad. To complicate matters, there had been a forest fire that swept through Tar Creek a little over a year prior, decimating vegetation on the steep hillsides above The Swimming Hole. The lack of significant root systems essentially holding the hillside together as it should resulted in incredible amount of mud flowing into Tar Creek turning it into a very massive, heavy and therefore powerful flow.

In mid-January, 2005 I left for a surf trip to Costa Rica. Three weeks later I returned to the U.S.A. and walked off of a jet at LAX and turned on my telephone. After being gone 3 weeks I had exactly one voice-mail (shows you how popular I am). I'll never forget the message. It was Jeff Johnson and he said, "Bob, The Swimming Hole as we know it no longer exists. It's gone dude, everything's gone. All of it. I was walking around in a daze, I still can't believe it."

Jeff Johnson on XXX with me and Aaron Sandlow spotting and SB strongman Robby Robinson watching in the foreground. A crux hairy mantel awaits at the top and there's only one pad down there kids, cause that's how the Swimming Hole Crew rolls. Every piece of stone that you see in this photo doesn't exist anymore. Pretty sure the late Mike Reardon took this photo probably winter/spring 2002/2003.
On January 10th the storms had peaked in a big way and in doing so swept away virtually every single boulder in the creek. Big ones, small ones, large chunks of the sculpted sandstone canyon walls. All gone. One of the coolest and hardest "water problems", Johnson's brilliant "Aquaman" had been entirely calved off. Boulders bigger than my house were simply not there anymore. One of the only boulders that survived the deluge, the Wave Boulder, had been flipped upside down, turned around and swept downstream where it remains to this day (and home to a few nice problems I might add). The Swimming Hole as it was, was no more.

Our crew went in as a group in March and had a sort of "eulogy" for the place we all spent so much time in and had so much fun. I still agree with what I said in Ocean's 11, you don't have to climb, get drunk or get's a magical place no matter what. But to be honest, since it was swept away I have returned a total of twice. In eight years. It's too weird to see it the way it is now and the rest of the old crew is no different than myself.

To finalize: This post is relevant 8 years later for another reason. Rumor has it that the Tar Creek access is being slated for closure because of overuse and vandalism. This is sad. Back when we were going there all the time there was no trash. People came in, partied, camped, left their shit and we'd take it out. Trash was never there for more than a week. EVERY ONE of our crew carried a trash bag. When a few complete shithead fuckwad cocksmokers tagged a few boulders in the late 90s, Johnson bought supplies and went out and cleaned it off himself. He even contacted Fillmore police to see if they recognized the tags. We fucking loved that place so much and I feel bad that we haven't been there to watch over her in the last 8 years.

But the stewards have to be the current users. Climbers don't frequent The Swimming Hole like in the old days, but they do frequent other areas and something can be learned. Carry a trash bag everywhere you climb. That fingertape in the dirt, pick it up. The cigarette butt your buddy just flicked into the dirt or the bottle cap he popped off into the bushes, make the sorry fucker look for it and put it in his pocket. Take care of these places. Period.

I made this video back in 2005 and compiled all the footage I had of as many boulder problems as I had recorded and made this for The Swimming Hole Crew. I didn't tote a video camera down there much and when I did it was usually on solo missions which explains why there's so much footage of me. I never had a problem putting a camera on a tripod and shooting myself, but rarely was able to stick a camera in someone else's face. Talk about narcissism! But I'm glad I did what I did because there's something of a historical log now. In homage to Jeff and Paul and and the rest of the crew, no ratings are given in the video. Some problems are very easy, some are very, very hard. They were all great, every one.

Every single problem shown in this video no longer exists.

Post-script: The ultimate irony of The Swimming Hole comes from the closing pages of Ocean's 11 when I quoted Jeff Johnson who said, "These boulders are like tombstones, they'll be here long after we're gone." He actually said that and we actually believed it. But in reality, we are the tombstones.

More on The Swimming Hole:


  1. Thanks for posting this. I visited Tar Creek on Sunday for the first time and can only imagine what it was like pre-floods. While there were a few boulders that I thought would be worth returning to play on, I totally understand how, having it not be what is once was in your memory, it would be difficult for you and your friends to return. If I go back, I will certainly bring a large trash bag, I was pretty taken aback by how much crap had just been left behind by people.

  2. Bob, I too mourned the death of Tar Creek as a true boulderer's haven, bad landing and all. Though I never climbed there with the developers, I did manage to scare myself up a number of the good ones. I've been active in Tar since the early 90's and have seen a number of dramatic changes, most were not for the better. Chopping bolts, hauling out webbing, and collecting ridiculous amounts of trash haven't been enough to save the place, but it's what I was able to do so I did it. I've been astounded by the increase in visitation in just the last three years, a situation that is unsustainable. -DS