Joshua Tree & Mt. Woodson


You might be wondering why I chose a picture of myself surfing as the featured image for this post.  Well, I just noticed that the Wilderness Innovations homepage is becoming too climbing-centric and I felt the need to restore some balance to the WI universe.  Plus, I think this is a cool shot (it’s a frame grab from the GoPro camera that Steve got me).  Do not fret – I will find a way to work this image into the trip report below.  The rest of these photos were taken with my lousy iPhone.  I’m starting to wonder why I have all this fancy camera gear, if I can’t even remember to charge the damn battery.

Robbins Crack (5.10a)

The regional classic Robbins Crack (5.10a)

I had planned back-to-back trips to Joshua Tree, but the weather was uncooperative and Ryan and I decided to climb in San Diego, since it was so cold.  It had been a few years since I had last climbed at Woodson, and we headed out in search of some bona fide crack climbs.  I dislike climbing cracks for a number of reasons.  It is exquisitely painful on the hands and feet, and I’m no good at it.  It feels insecure, and the thought of my hands popping out from a crack while my feet remain wedged in place makes me wince.  They say that the only way to get better at this is by logging lots of mileage on cracks.  Well, that’s what I’m trying to do, in my quest to become a well-rounded climber.  In truth, I don’t really care if I’m a well-rounded climber; I’ve just come to the realization that being a sucky crack climber is a liability as I attempt to get on harder trad climbs.

I spent the day at Mt. Woodson with Ryan, and I ended up leading 4 short climbs.  We started on NE Crack (5.7) on the “Sunday Afternoon Boulder” which was more of a boulder problem than a real route.  Just shy of 20 feet, I would guess.  I placed a bunch of gear for practice, and then Ryan top-roped it off two bolts from above.  He shares in my enthusiasm for crack.

Next, we scrambled up to the famous Woodson test piece Robbins Crack (5.10a).  A perfect cleft down the face of a tall boulder, this crack is consistent hands (#1 Camalot) from bottom to top.  There’s a photo of 4 year-old Chris Lindner soloing this climb on the web.  How’s that for inspiring?  Makes me want to vomit and punch myself in the face, actually.  Anyway, I knew that a .10a crack was out of my league but I figured it would protect well, so why not give it a shot?  I racked up and told Ryan that I would just aid up the damn thing, if it came down to it.  As it turns out, I placed my first piece of aid gear with both my feet planted firmly on the ground.  I might have had a shot on top rope, but certainly not on lead.

I think it took me about 30 minutes to aid my way up 20 feet of crack.  What a joke.  I had a general understanding of how it was all supposed to work, but this was my first time putting these techniques to use.  And being 100% dependent on the gear was pretty intense, especially when said gear included a weird nut that shifted as I weighted it, and a tipped out .75 Camalot.  It was slow but fun, and I got better (faster) towards the end.  In fact, I felt pretty comfortable towards the top of the climb, and I decided to finish the last few moves free, and pulled it off.

Ryan led the climb (on aid) after me, and I’m sure we both learned something from the experience.

Poison Oak Crack

Poison Oak Crack (5.7)

After Robbins, we hiked up the path and I decided to give Poison Oak Crack (5.7) a shot.  The awkward off-width portion about halfway up gave me some trouble, and I actually slipped and fell on my #4 Camalot, which came as a total surprise.  I used a few fist jams and wiggled my way up, and the rest of the climb passed without incident.  After Ryan followed and rapped back down, we proceeded up the hill to Elsa’s Crack (5.7), our last climb of the day. A low-angle splitter with perfect finger locks to the top.  I led this comfortably and belayed Ryan from above, and we called it a day.

As I reflect on this day of climbing, and the unexpected fall that I took on Poison Oak Crack, I can’t help but smile.  I suppose it’s important to remember that even when you think you’ve got things under control, the unexpected can happen.

In control

Under control @ Torrey Pines

No longer in control

Out of control @ Torrey Pines

The next weekend, I drove out to Joshua Tree with Cy, Steve, and Nadia.  The weather was close to perfect, but it was pretty chilly in the shade.  We hiked out to Rock Garden Valley on Saturday morning, an area that is supposed to be very popular.  Despite our late start (10 am) we were still the first group to reach the base of the crag.

Steve and Nadia

Steve and Nadia at the base of the “valley”

I had a bunch of routes in mind, but wanted to start with Double Dogleg (5.7).  It didn’t look very intimidating from the ground, and I started up with Steve on belay.  This was a really great route, because it protected well and never felt too easy or hard.  The moves were demanding enough to hold my attention, but I never really felt scared.  I had to improvise a gear anchor at the top, since the bolts were located too far off the line to make a safe top-rope.  I thought about placing a piece as a directional, but this made me uneasy since if that piece were to blow, about 8 feet of slack would suddenly enter the system.  I didn’t want those smiling faces that you see above to turn into looks of terror.


Cy strikes a pose

Everyone followed Double Dogleg on top-rope, and then I climbed it a second time to gain access to the anchor.  We flipped the rope over to a challenging thin seam/face called Rock Candy, which the guide calls a 5.9.  Definitely a sandbag, and I’d say it felt no less than 5.10a.  I was glad as hell that I didn’t try to lead it.  Nadia and Steve made it up (eventually) but Cy got shut down on the thin face moves.  He might be the pull-up champion, but Cy still needs to work on his technique if he’s going to take advantage of his superior strength-to-weight ratio.  I have no doubt he will be climbing harder than any of us, if he sticks with it.

Nadia on Double Dogleg

Nadia on Double Dogleg (5.7)


Steve belays Jason on Rock Candy (5.9)


Rock Garden Valley “Upper Wall”

It got pretty cold in the afternoon, and everyone was feeling pretty beat after spending so much time on such a strenuous face climb.  Cy had already left since he wasn’t camping that night, so we called it quits and started the scramble back to the car.  We stopped in Yucca Valley on the way back to Black Rock Campground, and picked up three enormous ribeyes for some steak sandwiches.  These turned out to be fairly awesome disgusting, but they paired well with the Miller High Life.

Steak sandwich

Steak sandwich, bottle of beer for scale

All in all, a fun trip and I was able to add another gear route to my tick list, which is quickly approaching 50 lead climbs.  There’s no magical significance to that number, but I’m the kind of person that keeps logs of these sorts of things.  For example, I happen to know that I surfed exactly 43 times in 2009.  Nineteen of those sessions took place at Tourmaline.  Weird, I know.

Post-trip Jamba Juice

Post-trip Jamba Juice with Zane

I will close this trip report with a picture of my new niece Kaja (pronounced like “kayak”).  I am a very safety-conscious uncle, as you can see.







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