Joshua Tree


Followers of this blog may recall that our last climbing trip was determined by a coin flip; heads for Holcomb. The alternative, Joshua Tree, would wait a few weeks, which leads me to tonight’s write-up.


Psyched @ Hidden Valley

This trip was designed to be on the mellower side, since we brought the girls along and Joey is still recovering from his shoulder injury. I had ideas of attempting Bird of Fire, but the thought of climbing a route near my limit, with Jasmine watching, wasn’t very appealing. Joey, on the other hand, decided to man up and he kicked off the day with an onsight of one of the most infamous routes in all of Southern California; Double Cross. It’s rated 5.7+, which really means 5.8 in the modern era, and has gained some notoriety as the scene of a few grisly accidents.  Some say it is the most traveled route in Josh, and others scoff at the difficulty and call it a warmup. It isn’t terribly difficult, but it is a legit and committing climb that requires solid technique and skill. I led the route a couple of years ago and it was my proudest send to date. It’s also the scene of an ongoing bolt war, since some people believe it’s a candidate for a “safety bolt” down low, while others abhor such contrivances and will promptly chop any new bolts as soon as they appear.

Racking up for Double Cross

Racking up for Double Cross, do you see an ATC on this harness?

I doubt this jargon makes any sense to non-climbers. In any case, Double Cross is a classic hand crack and a route that demands bona fide crack skills. Lacking such skills, it’s probably a 5.11+ face climb, and I think that is what gets some people into trouble. Joey has been running laps on the cracks at Mesa Rim for a few months, slowly building confidence jamming thin to wide hands, and he was ready to knock this one off the list. I was eager to belay, because I had such a great time on the route, and I was excited to see him tick it off. It might be a moderate grade, but it feels like a tough, committing climb.  The start, like so many Josh lines, is a little nervy. You’re at least 20 feet off the ground, albeit easy climbing, before you’re able to get your first piece of gear in. The business begins immediately after that, and it’s into the slot you go.  Joey plugged a couple of pieces and headed confidently into the crack. With Elysia looking on and Jasmine behind the camera, he made steady upward progress. I thought I saw him slip at one point, and afterwards he confirmed that he almost came off, which would have resulted in a huge fall. But thankfully, his jams were solid and he arrived at the anchor safely. Unfortunately, Joey was so dialed into sending the route that he forgot a rather important piece of gear. He left his ATC on the ground, which is the device that you use to belay your partner up, and to rappel back to the ground.

into the crack

Into the crack


Elysia paying close attention to Joey

So Joey reaches the anchor and yells down, “Uh, I forgot my ATC.”  There was a distinct twinge of humiliation in his voice, and rightfully so.  We’re in the middle of Hidden Valley (think Main Street at Disneyland) and there are lots of other climbers around.  I winced, thinking to myself, “Oh, we look like total noobs.”  Jasmine shot me a concerned look that said, “Are you going to be ok?”  Or it might have been, “When are we going to eat lunch?”

I yell back up, “Do you remember how to do a Munter hitch?”  A few awkward seconds pass, and then I receive confirmation that yes, that will work.  I start tying into the end of the rope, wondering what I’ve just gotten myself into.  Joey puts me on belay and I climb up a few feet, and then jump backwards to test that the system is actually working.  The rope arrests my fall, and I proceed to climb the route, albeit a bit nervously.  In retrospect, it turned out to be a good opportunity to test a new system out, under relatively safe conditions.

Once I got to the top, I rigged my ATC, which I did not forget, and I lowered Joey back down to the ground using a redirect off the anchor.  Then I rapped, we pulled the rope, and we proceeded back to our campsite for some post-route beers.



Safe at the top

Safe at the top

Next, we decided to get off the beaten path and check out a new area called Stirrup Tank, farther into the Park.  The girls were getting restless and wanted to get on some climbs, and we wanted to avoid the popular walls, which tend to get very crowded, especially on beautiful fall days.

We found a nice slab problem called Arachnids, and I was ready to get on the sharp end.  It looked pretty straightforward and at 5.5, I figured would be a fun walk in the park.  A couple minutes later, I was standing on little dimples in the rock and at least 15 feet off the ground, with the first opportunity for pro a good 10 feet above me.  I shouted down to Joey, “Ahhh.. this really sucks, man!”  I wasn’t too afraid of falling and I felt pretty secure, but the lack of handholds and pure friction startled me, because I had already switched over to casual mode.  I made it to the crack, sunk a big cam, and then looked up at another 25 feet of friction slab protected by a single bolt.  Welcome to Joshua Tree.

Elysia on Arachnids

Elysia on Arachnids.  50 feet tall, one bolt and a cam.

Jasmine and Elysia took turns on the route, and being relatively new to the game, had a bit of difficulty trusting their feet on this sort of climb.  Jasmine is always looking for big “grips” as she calls them, and she wasn’t happy about the lack of holds.  She also refers to the rope as a “string” which always makes me laugh.




Jasmine lowers off

After the slab, we hiked around and took a look at some other interesting routes, and ended up beneath a chossy crack called Crack N’ Up.  There were lots of juggy “grips” so we figured it would be a good one for the girls, and Joey roped up for the lead.  Easy climbing down low led to a short crack exit, and he set up a top-rope for the rest of us.  Another trad lead, which is always nice.  I ended up climbing a harder face variation off the same rope, which was only slightly more fun.

Jasmine takes her lizard nap

Jasmine takes her lizard nap

Evening approaches

Evening approaches

The sun was getting low and the wind starting to pick up, so we decided to call it a day and head back to our campsite at Jumbo Rocks, where beers and tacos were waiting for us.  I really enjoy my role as camp cook and I had braised a pork shoulder in some Fat Tire, along with onions and tomatillos, the night before.  We also had carne asada marinated in chipotle-adobo sauce, grilled asparagus, and “camp potatoes” which consists of pan-fried Russets, chopped-up bacon, onion, and about a pound of cheese.  Along with the growlers of Stone that Joey brought along, it just doesn’t get much better than that, folks.




Jason & Jasmine

Campsite view

Campsite view





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