I came back from Joshua Tree National Park on Wednesday, March 6th. I didn’t know it was March 6th, in fact I didn’t even realize it was Wednesday until a few days later. This is the kind of freedom going camping and climbing to a place you know well (and having a flexible schedule) can give you. It was awesome and while luck is often the product of creating the circumstances that favor it, “lucky” is the word that came to mind that first day in Joshua Tree when I felt no pressure at all to jump on any “classics” or “must dos”. I only had one loose plan for the trip: to spend at least 5 days in Joshua Tree National Park and to not have to cook on my birthday.
Right from day one, which was Tuesday, February 26th, I knew the trip was going to be different. One reason was that K and I left early in the morning and arrived early enough to not only get a Hidden Valley Campground campsite, but to also hike around and just wander in nature.
Pretty close to the campground we found a woman bouldering on a rock we discovered was named Pinhead Boulder. We gave her a spot while she did the crack route on it, then we went back for our crash pad since she had moved on. Climbing around on this boulder was enough to get reacquainted with the rough, sharp rock that characterizes Joshua Tree, and the boulder even had a crack route in it, marked with pin scars, to help us get back into crack climbing as well.
I think the spirit of that day continued into the next. Seeking out climbs in the sun we decided to try Mike’s Books, a two pitch climb on Intersection Rock we had never done before. Once we got to the base of the climb I recognized its start as something I had seen done. I recall watching the a leader on it and thinking it probably qualified as one of those “the first 15 feet don’t count” kind of climbs where a bouldery start marks the beginning of the route. The rating I think is easy if you go around the bouldery start but either 5.7+ or 5.8 if you don’t.
It was our first trad climb in Jtree in a long time (first trip for the season) so it was fun to do this climb. The start was as described and I felt was the hardest part of the route, but that may be because I felt alright with the slightly wide cracks which comprised the next parts so the start seemed harder in comparison. Most of the 1st pitch, besides the start, is wide enough to be a bit strenuous, but as K mentioned, I did the top part completely different than he did. I did a bit of chimney technique to get over the hump, K thought I did it less strenuously than he had. But of course he was on lead and I wasn’t.
As we got down from Mike’s Books our friend Cliff joined us, from there it was on to Double Cross. It’s a bit of a how-are-we-feeling-in-Jtree test piece for us. I’ll have to say it didn’t feel as good as it had in the past, but I guess that’s what taking a long time off of crack climbing will do for ya. It was still fun though, well deserving of its Classic status.
By now the sun was setting fast and Cliff’s girlfriend, Vina had joined us, so it was off to camp.
The following days we all kept up a fun flow of climbing and discovering.
On one of the early days we went to an area called Hot Tub. This was new to me. We did a climb there called Dharma Bums and we also got a rope up to the left and right of it. We had the spot to ourselves, though we could occasionally hear other climbers somewhere else in the Hidden Valley campground area.
During the trip we did two routes in which we just walked up and did them, no idea of the name of the route or formation. Unfortunately when I say “we” did one of the routes I only mean two of us did, because when Cliff got to the top, he discovered no anchors. That news, plus the fast setting sun meant only his belayer for the climb, K, went up after him. They ended up finding some webbing and leaving a nut to descend.
My birthday fell on the second Saturday of the trip. We had a leisurely morning and then we climbed the awesome, five star, classic crack climb, Illusion Dweller (aka Kandy Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamlined Baby). Since my one birthday request was that I not have to cook for my birthday, for dinner I had proposed going into town to Pie for the People (a great New York style pizza place K and I had discovered the week it had opened) but was persuaded to try the new Crossroads instead. It turned out to be a good choice. I had a great Reuben sandwich with a small side of spinach salad which was bigger than I had expected it would be. For dessert we all shared a piece of carrot cake (no candle on it, as I was afraid if they told the staff it was my birthday they might do the whole singing thing and I was feeling a bit shy in the as yet uncrowded restaurant).
Cliff and Vina had to leave on Sunday after that but K and I had committed to staying until Monday… which stretched up till Wednesday (which probably led to my confusion of not knowing what day it was when we actually got home).
Monday K and I had a bit of a rest day, both of us feeling a bit worked and I was feeling tired from little sleep due to a windy night. I took a nap in the car when K went searching for his hat which he thought he’d left in one of the two formations we’d gone to in Real Hidden Valley. By the time he came back (empty handed) we both felt up to having a go at Clean and Jerk, a hard climb on Sports Challenge Rock. K set up a top rope but I couldn’t make any progress with the boulder start (yes, another one of those!). K eventually got past that with a little help from cams and gear and then finished the rest of the route normally.
Owning Hemingway Due to a Car Commercial
On Tuesday I felt rejuvenated and wanted to get on multiple long routes so K and I headed out for Hemingway, which we knew would get morning sun (the weather was still cold enough that we wanted to climb in the sun when we could).
Right after the intersection for Real Hidden Valley a police car and cop blocked the way. Turns out there was some filming going on on the road after. We talked a bit to the cop, explaining that we were going to be busy climbing and wouldn’t be in the way of filming. He talked to some people on the radio and we were let through. At the parking lot for Hemingway we saw a lone guy with a walkie talkie. He asked us what we’d be doing. He had a German accent. We pointed at the middle section of Hemingway. “We’ll be up there” I said.
“You’re going to climb that?” he said, “Respect!”
While still putting our things together, a car pulled up in the lot and another man came out of it, and we basically had the same conversation except that he asked us, “You won’t be going on the road right?”
We answered negatively.
“So, what’s this top secret car, you guys are filming?” K asked him.
“It’s not just top secret… it’s top speed!” He said (also in a German accent). “But we would appreciate it if you didn’t take any pictures.”
The guy went off in his car, leaving the other guy behind.
K and I hiked out to Hemingway, we had the whole area to ourselves. It felt rather novel since Hemingway is a very popular wall.
As we set up at the base, we heard a loud rumbling, two sports cars appeared on the road, with another car rigged with a camera following them. It looked like they were Porches, probably just next year’s models, but they were indeed going fast.
K and I ended up having a great time on the long routes on Hemingway. We did White Lightning and then K lead OverSeer for the first time. It’s an awesome route with fun variety to it. We had an audience for some of the time we were climbing because after our lunch break (and it seems the film crew’s too) we saw the police set up a road block right after the Hemingway parking lot, blocking traffic traveling towards Hidden Valley. This created a line of cars which had to wait long enough that I could see folks getting out of their cars. Eventually the road block was removed and the only other climbing party we saw all day arrived. It was a trio of guys from Washington. They started with White Lightning. K and I had decided to do Feltonian Physics, simply because neither of us had tried it before. We had a great time sharing Hemingway with the newcomers who had some interesting stories to tell. They had all been climbing since they were kids, and I didn’t get the ages of all of them but one of them said he was 62. They had no problem with White Lightning.
The last day K and I were there we decided to get on Bird on a Wire, we’d done it before with a party of three and K wanted to try it with just the two of us. Though we had not seen many climbers around since the weekend, we found one party in the parking area, and one party on the rock already in the Lost Horse area. The weather was sunny enough that as I belayed the first pitch, I was glad for a little bit of shade a boulder near me provided. But, once I was on the route, I could feel the chill in the breeze and was glad I had not left my Windstopper jacket at the base. While we were climbing, the party we had seen on the wall already, had moved onto our route so we had to wait a bit to do the second pitch. Turns out they had done a combination of Dappled Mare and Bird on a Wire, unknowingly of course, they were new to the wall.
Bird on a Wire was a great end to the trip. All in all I had gotten on a lot of new to me things and also done three classics. I also pink pointed a 3 star climb called Leap Year Flake and flashed the Pinscar problem on Pinhead Boulder. I don’t have a photo of me on it because given the choice of pics or another spotter, I chose a spotter… what can I say? I’m a scaredy cat boulderer who gets nervous topping out on anything even a little taller than me!. Finding some adventurous, no one around climbs was also great during the trip, even though one tree shaded route had the added bonus of also harboring a lot of ants. Seeing a lot of great wildlife: coyotes, road runners, quail, baby bunny rabbits, etc was also a highlight.
This trip was another great reminder that adventure and the feeling of being “out there” can always be found, even in places you have been to before and especially if you are open to it. You have to love a place that makes you feel lucky to be alive.
A slideshow of photos from the trip is embedded below. Click on any photo to see bigger size options (highly recommended). You can also see the set here).