Joshua Tree November 10-14
I. Climbing paradise
It was dark when Michael and Eileen picked me up from the airport Wednesday night, so other than a few glimpses of pointy vegetation and looming rock formations in headlights, my first real view of Joshua Tree was when I woke up under the pale dawn early Thursday morning. Nobody else had emerged from their tents yet, so I decided to see how far I could get up the rock formation next to our campsites. The rock was sticky and clean under my feet, rough and featured in my hands. I depended on the kindness of the path of least resistance and soon I was at the top looking down at the small tent city surrounding the pile. Beyond that was nothing but rock — domes, buttresses, cracks, slabs — and a network of roads and trails laid out in the scrubby desert between them.
So this is what climbing paradise looks like.
When I came back down, the sun had started warming the dusty camp, and new friends and old were emerging from tents, starting up stoves, piling things on the picnic table, yawning, making coffee, eating breakfast, flipping through guidebooks.
No, this is what climbing paradise looks like.
II. The first day
I had come open minded (read, unprepared), so Eileen played tour guide for me and the other early arrivals. When I saw the size of the guidebook(s!) I really appreciated her expertise in choosing areas for the group with enough routes of the appropriate difficulty to keep us all busy. We piled into cars to Hidden Valley, where the domes and walls were crowded together with barely enough sand between to allow easy passage.
The first stop was Thin Wall, a grid of cracks, with convenient face holds scattered throughout. Not only that, but the rock is incredibly sticky, solid, and clean. I led a couple easy-ish routes and it seemed that the ratings weren’t as sandbagged as some people claimed. The phrase “climbing paradise” comes to mind again.
- Thin Wall, Count on Your Fingers, 5.9 trad (lead) first climb at JTree! This place is just like Pearly Gates!
- Thin Wall, Butterfingers Make Me Horny, 5.8 trad (lead)
- Thin Wall, Child’s Play / Congratulations 5.10c/d (TR) fun moves, trying it with my trad rack on was… unnecessary
- Sail Away, 5.8- trad (lead)
- Cyclops, Spaghetti and Chili, 5.7 trad (lead) for some reason I really like easy runout
I had correctly pegged David and Bill as troublemakers so the next morning the three of us abandoned breakfast and wandered off to climb Headstone (conveniently within walking distance of the campground). We were without guidebook, but knowing that there was a 5.6 on one corner and a 5.8 on another corner and they were both bolted was beta enough. I got first lead on the 5.8, and made a mockery of the “sport” climb by placing half a set of TCUs in addition to the bolts. I got to enjoy the leader’s prerogative of choosing the line, and instead of beelining to the anchor, followed slightly overhanging jugs along the top edge of the formation as the sun crept up and caught me. We lingered longer than we intended, pulling the ropes and releading. As we were finishing up under another bluebird sky, Peter and Tiffany came to drag us off to Minotaur/Atlantis where the rest of the group was climbing (thanks for not abandoning us!).
- Headstone, Cryptic, 5.8 sport+ (lead) climbing at dawn!
- Headstone, SW Corner, 5.6 sport (lead)
- Minotaur Wall, Fantasy of Light, 5.10a trad (lead) cheater stone is on, right?
- Minotaur Wall, Minotaur, 5.7 trad (lead)
- Minotaur Wall, Wet Pigeon, 5.8 trad (lead) most of my cams seemed to be busy as anchors and directionals, good thing I had Mark’s tricams
- Atlantis Wall, Vorpal Sword, 5.9+ trad (lead) some of these walls are shorter and less steep than they look
IV. My love hate relationship with slab climbing
I have a project at home — actually, project is too strong a word, since instead of climbing it I have every time avoided the short slab crux with some aid to reach the perfect hand crack above — perhaps we should call it an aspiration. Anyway, on said aspiration I was standing there glaring at the crux (to add insult to potential for injury, the crux is a few feet above a ledge) when one of the Index regulars offered some beta, “Have you been to Joshua Tree? It’s a Joshua Tree power slab move.” At that time I had not been to Joshua Tree, and I had no idea what he meant, so I made some sort of attempt at standing on something microscopic, promptly slipped off of it, weighted the toprope, and tripped backwards over the ledge. So my first hazy impression of Joshua Tree slab climbing was that it would involve glaring at crystals and aid climbing.
My first priorities for the day at Echo Cove were Pope’s Crack and Touch and Go, a pair of 5.9 crack climbs that seemed made for me (or the other way around). It would have been easy to spend the whole trip climbing only cracks, but it just so happened that the rappel for Pope’s Crack is draped over British Airways, a 5.11 slab. Well, if you insist, and don’t mind dragging me up to clean the anchor if I can’t actually climb it… I usually prefer leading, so when I do something on toprope sometimes I like to take advantage of the lack of consequences by trying ridiculous things. To my surprise, quite a few of those things worked, I didn’t need (too much) hauling from my belayer and by the end I was actually enjoying myself.
It turned out that the gracious Peter B (thanks for showing me those anchor tricks too) had also led Heart and Sole, a bolted route with a less exalted rating. It was getting late so I would have been holding up the group had I tried to lead it, so I had a good excuse to chicken out and do it on TR. The stickiness of the rock amazed me again, and I somehow got to the top without falling. I may have enjoyed leading it (though judging from the precarious spots I cleaned the draws from, there may have been a lot of sweating and muttering).
- Echo Cove, Touch and Go, 5.9 trad (lead) as aesthetic a line as you would like, with opportunities with some fun trickery
- Echo Cove, Pope’s Crack, 5.9 trad (lead) beautiful crack, but I had more fun on the no-hands slab traverse…
- Echo Cove, British Airways, 5.11 trad (TR) love this sticky rock. I can jam a flare like that? really? I can stem up those barely-there edges? (too bad I can’t actually slab climb and it’s way to runout for me to lead anyway)
- Echo Cove, Heart and Sole, 5.10a trad (TR) I could lead this one, but do I want to..
V. My love hate relationship with bouldering
When I climb, I care too much and I try too hard. When leading trad, I have an excuse. If I don’t get to the top, I lose my gear. If I don’t place gear well, I could hit the ground. If I get myself into something challenging (secretly, fun), I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Sometimes I even get to pretend I’m doing a service by putting up a route that others don’t want to lead. But really, I like caring too much and trying too hard.
With bouldering, there is no pretending. There is no commitment (at least not on a traverse never leaving 5 feet above the ground). There’s really no reason for me to get on the rock, and no reason to not step off at any point. Definitely no reason to get on it again after falling off. So why start? Why keep going? Why do I care? Why do I try? You could really ask these questions about anything I do. Why climb at all? Why go to Joshua Tree? And I know my wouldn’t be able to convince anyone else with any of my rationalizations. But my answer for myself is good enough for me: “same reason I do everything else”.
- Ryan Mountain thanks for inviting me along for another fun early morning, Dave, David, and Bill!
- Gunsmoke, V2 (attempt)
Want the other side of the story? Other trip reports from:
- Eileen (@rockgrrl) photos
- Patrick (@patrickgensel) photos
- Teri (@dubid0) photos
- Aleya (@Blueskeyes207) including an awesome video
- Tiffany (@tiffanymroyal)
- Peter (@pwcarey) photos
- Bill (@billurbanski)
- Katie (@katiebeth)
- Michael (@ride395) photos
- David (@archweaver) photos
(if you blogged or posted your photos and I missed you, please let me know in comments or DM, if only so I can keep track of everyone else’s memories too, thanks!)