Destination #2: Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree. Desert oasis. Dry heat. Freezing temperatures. Crumbling granite mounds. Rattlesnakes. Land of never-ending rock and funky-gnarled J Trees…straight out of Dr. Seuss.
This place was beautiful to explore, climb, hike, rest, or simply exist in. There is nothing quite like desert sunsets and sun rises, moon rises and stars, snow storms versus midday heat, and land that seems to extend forever.

The climbing in Joshua Tree was….unique. Think Squamish (kind of) that meets blistering sun, blasting sand storms, and old weathered rock that seems to crumble away under your fingertips. We were at first both negative and cynical about the rock quality, and while a subtle love-hate relationship still persists, the desert eventually won us over. We learned that an almost defensive protectiveness of the rock quality was often the prevailing sentiment of J Tree lovers. For example, the guidebook is littered with statements like the following: 

“Cleaning established problems should be done with extreme discretion, as climbing sometimes loose rock may be part of the problem’s character”

or,

“Unfortunately, holds continues to crumble and the problem may well not be climbable”  (from a THREE out of four star problem…)

One thing we learned quickly was that a trip to Joshua Tree is not a trip where you try to push your grades. Even seeking out the “best quality” problems in the guidebook is not necessarily the best strategy – rather we found that walking the areas to find the problems that LOOK the coolest regardless of how hard or how “starred” they were, was the best way to find things we were psyched on.
Over our three and a half weeks here, we’ve concluded that the overall style of Joshua Tree is super techy on sloping or very sharp holds. For the most part Kim couldn’t climb while we were here due to her finger injury – but on the bright side the friction-y slab and slopers did allow her to do some bouldering without stressing the pulley too much…
 
When we first arrived in the town of Joshua Tree we stopped at one of the local gear stores, Nomad Ventures, to ask about camping. We had heard that camping in the park was $10-$15 a night and difficult to come across, so we were wondering if there were any cheaper options. The staff at the store were great and directed us to “The Pit”, a low-key free camping spot outside the park (ask at Nomad’s and they’ll show you the way!). Shortly after arriving we were greeted enthusiastically by a French couple with Arizona licence plates…lo and behold they were from Quebec! Lennie and Sam were down exploring the area over their winter break, and we had a great time climbing with them over the next several days. When they left they even lent us their guidebook to use for the remainder of our stay! Thanks guys 😀

 

On our first day out we went to an area called “The Outback”, which is near Hidden Valley Campground and has a high concentration of high quality problems. After getting thrashed on the warm-ups we checked out a very technical problem called Relic (V9) which involved a few burly moves to a technical traverse with very small hands and feet. This problem looked to suit my style so I figured I’d give it a shot to start collecting some projects for this leg of the trip. To my surprise I was able to send fourth try. Woo! Off to a great start! The rest of the day we spent wandering the area and checking out other cool-looking problems like Thin Lizzy (V8) and Tidal Wave (10).
 
Christmas came next and we were lucky to be able to spend it with my parents who are also traveling down south on a bird-watching trip. Over three luxurious days with them we stayed in a lovely hotel (daily showers!!), and spent the days hiking, birding, and eating Thai food. They even watched us boulder one day – the first time they’ve ever seen us climb outdoors.

A few days after Christmas our Aussie friends, Ali and Jordan, arrived in J Tree and we met up with them again! The four of us struggled through a few days of bouldering as we continued to wrestle the rock and the increasingly cold temperatures that eventually led to snow on New Years Eve. While the fluffy white stuff did hinder our ability to climb, nothing stands in the way of Joshua Tree’s desert beauty.

Fortunately, the temperatures warmed up and we were back in the blissful desert sun before too long. I eventually started to click with the style and began to send problems that I had my eye on earlier in the trip. After a couple days of projecting I was able to top out Tidal Wave (V10). I was kind of surprised to send this as I usually hate everything to do with arêtes, and the crux moves felt impossible on the first day I tried it. Needless to say, my psych was high when I rolled over the top!
I was happy to tick one other 10 while in J Tree, a climb with NO arêtes, which was super fun and a bit more my style. The Love Machine (V10) is a link up where you climb the very steep slots of Ryan Roof Problem (V5), bust a very big move into a very tensiony move, and then join the top of Gospel According To Niles (V5) to the left. It took a few attempts to figure out the link up moves but I was super stoked to be able to send it second go from the start.  

After Kim, Ali, Jordan and I had been together for about a week, we met Ted and John from “the yoga retreat”. We spent our final week in J Tree as a group of six hanging out at as many different boulders as we could get our hands on (literally). These guys were rad and we had an awesome time! Turned out John shoots photos for a living and had been the photographer at the aforementioned yoga retreat (check out his webpage here). He showed Kim several tricks-of-the-trade, and even let her use some of his fancy equipment. It was pretty crazy to see the difference that using a flash gives in the results…
Graham goes for the big move on Thin Lizzy (V8) – NO FLASH
Graham goes for the big move on Thin Lizzy (V8) – FLASH
Ali squeezes her way up the arete of Scatterbrain (V6) – NO FLASH
Ali squeezes her way up the arete of Scatterbrain (V6) – FLASH
Joshua Tree is mainly known for its route climbing, not its bouldering. With this in mind, we did dabble in a bit of route climbing amidst our bouldering days. It was very fun and would have been nice to do more – something for future trips!

Cryptic (5.8). Photo credit: Ali Roush
We were sad to leave Joshua Tree, but super happy that we did go in the end. We weren’t sure how we’d like it due to mixed reviews we’d heard before arriving. All in all, it is a beautiful place to spend a lot of time, and while the bouldering wouldn’t necessarily make our “top destination list”, we had a really great time. J Tree has made the cut of places that we are stoked to go back to!
Arizona bound now. Off on our next great adventure!

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