A couple weeks ago during my trip to California for the Natural Foods Expo I set aside a day to go climb at Joshua Tree National Park. A friend of mine from Dallas recently moved out there, so we met up with another local for a day on the rocks. If you have ever seen pictures or videos of Joshua Tree, they don’t do it justice. This place is amazingly beautiful; stunning rock features, TONS of beige and green joshua trees, and expansive blue sky’s. It was a shame I only had one day to spend here. One could spend an entire year here and never climb everything the park has to offer.
Since moving to Austin nearly two years ago I have been mostly sport climbing, so to get out and lead some trad climbs felt amazing. The time I have spent sport climbing has actually helped with my confidence level on the rock. I figured since I hadn’t lead trad in a long time I wouldn’t be able to lead well but I found it quite easy. We did stick to easy climbs, but Joshua Tree is well known for stiff, sand bagged grades, meaning climbers rate the climb much easier than it actually is.
The first climb we went up was only rated a 5.1, which technically should be an easy scramble up a pile of boulders, but that was not the case. Even though the climb was easy, I felt it was more in the 5.5 range with one 5.7 move. I forget the name of the particular climb, but it was right off the road with parking just a few feet from the clim. Picnic benches also surrounded the cliff face, which made sorting gear quite easy. The tables also made for a nice resting place while waiting for others in the party to finish a climb. It seemed to be quite a popular area because of the ease of the climbs as well as the access.
The second climb of the day was called The Chief. It’s a classic 5.6 climb about a quarter mile from parking. The short 60 foot climb was one of the most exciting climbs I have ever done. It’s now on my list of top, all-time climbs. The crack starts off angling to the right and then shoots straight up onto a small ledge, which then finishes out on another crack to the left, going straight up. From the small ledge you can go straight into the crack, pulling what I felt was one 5.7 move, requiring you to step on a thin ledge to pull the slight overhang into the crack. You might not even call it an, “overhang” but the angle is odd moving up into the crack from the ledge and requires a high step.
Typically a climb earns its rating based on the hardest move on the route, but that didn’t seem to be the case on this climb. Some online sites rate the route at 5.5, the guide book book we used gives it a 5.6. But despite what rating you want to give the climb, it was a blast to climb. The route took gear very well, too. I plugged in a few cams as well as a couple solid nut placements. There were a couple sections of the climb that were easy to run out as well (meaning you put extra distance between gear placements), which made the climb easy to complete with a fairly light rack of gear.
After both the lead climbers in the group had a chance to climb the route, we all topped out on the climb and enjoyed our lunch while overlooking the expansive desert. It was a beautiful day, and well worth the drive out from LA. It’s small moments like we had on top of Reggie’s Dome that made me thankful I am capable of enjoying such things. And, it made me appreciate creation in a way I don’t necessarily experience living in the city. Sure, Austin has great trails, but every few miles you will be close enough to a highway to see power lines or hear the roaring sounds of cars driven by people with busy schedules going about their hectic lives I wonder if I will ever get enough of the outdoors, it certainly brings a since of peace and clam every time I get out.
There are times I feel like I would love to live in a small mountain town, away from the business of the city. But, I often wonder if I would lose my appreciation for such beautiful things? I think about the first time I ran the Greenbelt trail here in Austin, and thought how awesome it was. Now, it’s just sort of routine. Running in new locations I have never been before renews my love for the outdoors. The same can be said for climbing as well. So, in a since I’m thankful to live in the city where I’m close to people and have good relationships. I think it allows me to appreciate nature all the more.
Anyway, back to the climbing. We finished the day climbing Fender Bender, a slabby 5.8-. We did this climb on top-rope, as we had used the anchor to rappel down from The Chief. The route certainly had a couple of challenging sections and would have made an interesting lead, as the entire 95ft climb only had two bolts. Both the leaders in the group felt we could have lead the climb, as the crux moves are well protected by the bolt. However the long run-outs certainly would have been a mental challenge.
After finishing Fender Bender we hiked back to the car and drove around the park a bit just to take in the views. Even though we probably could have got in another climb, we opted to take it easy and return home early. Joshua Tree is definitely a place I will have to return. Perhaps the next trip I take there will be with my son, or daughter. I hope so – I get excited about being able to share my love for the outdoors with my future children.