Joshua Tree is a place that stayed on my mind after I left last winter—a place I looked forward to returning and continue to as I prepare to leave. As a climbing destination, besides being one of the few warm winter climbing areas in the lower 48, J Tree shines for its heady and unique style of climbing. Joshua Tree was originally established as a climbing area decades ago when a culture of daring and dangerous climbing dominated the sport, a culture that dovetailed with an proud ethic of leaving minimal impact on the rock in the form of bolts and manmade protection.
Against this backdrop of climbing history, whose difficulty grades and their old school sandbag still prevail (1970’s grades maxed out at 5.10), Joshua Tree’s granite lends extra excitement on account of its geological history and composition. Granite domes that originally formed as magma bubbles rising through earth’s crust cooled slowly, allowing large quartz crystals to form in the granite posing a hostile terrain for carelessly placed body parts in the course of climbing cracks of all shapes and sizes. The domed shape of the formations leaves many climbs with low angle sections (slab) where smooth granite leaves climbers to rely only on friction or small edges climbed with great balance and care, a style of climbing very insecure and intimidating for many climbers especially when coupled with an ethic of minimal bolt placement.
Still, in the face of increasing tourism numbers and park regulation, Joshua Tree remains a welcoming and close-nit community for climbers and campgrounds remain full of itinerant dirtbags teaming up to tackle cracks and slabs of all grades. After plans fell through last year, friends from Washington state managed to make the long drive south for some days of climbing away from rainy Seattle skies and spending holidays bundled around campfires felt downright festive.
Much as it was last year, some winter weeks climbing at Joshua Tree National Park were valuable for many reasons. Scrambling through boulder strewn canyons with packs full of climbing gear, ropes and water works as fine training in addition to the mental training of leading routes far above runout gear and trusting tenuous footholds. This year, however, training for spring climbing takes on new dimensions on account of a plane ticket for New Years Eve to Santiago, Chile, from where I’ll travel south to explore some of the climbing that Patagonia and the Chilean Andes have to offer, with plans to climb with American, Canadian, Iranian and Chilean climbers I’ve met in the course of the last two years as well as hopefully finding plenty of new friends and climbing partners.
It should go without saying, but this is an adventure of the kind I've looked forward to my whole life. Without a doubt, the coming months will have their share of learning, often a difficult and humbling process, but one which I'm looking forward to with giddy excitement, although not without some cautious trepidation. While climbing has come to be the main focus of my time and energy in months past, bringing me to connect intimately with places more beautiful than I previously knew existed, continuing that trajectory overseas, on bigger rocks in more remote locations, feels like just the right next step and one that will keep me learning and growing.
It seems like every hour of the day and night in Joshua Tree are special, and deeply beautiful to take in. Dawn scrambles became a rewarding routine before the company of friends made evening hours social.
Planning climbs at the base of Moosedog Tower and getting excited to rope up, climbing can feel downright social when roll with a crew of friends.
Greg, who famously goes by Hobo Greg, finds secure handjams after pulling out of the crux of Invisibility Lessons (5.9). A fellow East Coaster who fell in love with the desert, Hobo Greg is enjoying his second winter at J Tree and feels right at home.
I met Heather Mosher in the campground and we started talking about climbs we had our eyes on that would push our limits for difficulty. On her last day in the park, we agreed to go for Coarse and Buggy, a thin crack in a corner that, at 5.11b, would be the hardest thing either of us had tried in the park. I was super excited to climb it clean on my first try and afterward I rappelled down to shoot Heather making quick work of the route as well, letting her leave J Tree on a positive note!
Heather setting up to pull the overhanging roof on Coarse and Buggy after stemming through the thin crack section on minimal footholds.
Tulin, a good friend from WA, drove down with friends to enjoy some sunshine (ironically we got alot of rain soon after she arrived) and some classic desert climbing. Here she follows the slab finish of The Flake (5.8), a classic climb right next to the campground.
It was really exciting to see Tulin, a relatively new climber, taking the lead on routes that pushed the grade for her, here on Mental Physics (5.7).
Before she left she made a clean ascent of another classic, Sail Away (5.8), one of her most difficult leads to date and a super fun route.
Vinny, who only learned last year to climb in Joshua Tree, took the lead on some ambitious climbs with supremely admirable but mixed results. Here he gets ready for the business on Bird of Fire (5.10a).
Rafaela, Vinny's and my first J Tree tourguide, made a visit to the park for some holiday climbing, here sampling some of Josh's finest style on top-rope: slab climbing notably lacking hand- and footholds.
Looking north from the top of South Astrodome after climbing Breakfast of Champions (5.9), we enjoyed an impressive view of the area known as the Wonderlands. There's alot of rocks out there...
Joshua Tree really truly otherworldly. This became a joke of ours, that we were no longer on Earth but had moved to 'Planet J Tree' where all our earthly problems dissipated. Much of the fun here, aside from the rope and the climbing with gear, is just scrambling around and exploring, taking in a place so unique.