Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Joshua Tree Years

During the 1990's I spent most of my time rock climbing, and the majority of that was done in Joshua Tree. I have climbed over 600 routes there that I know of, and many of them I repeated because of their obvious quality. I even bought my first house in the town of Joshua Tree adjacent to the park. I could just drive up and boulder most evenings. I know most of that park better than I know my own neighborhood.

One might ask what is so great about climbing in JTree that I would spend so much time there. The obvious answers are in the environment. A temperate climate and incredibly scenic expanse of desert spreads in all directions, full of weird wildlife and Dr. Seuss-like trees, is punctuated by epic blobs of mishappen granite sticking up at the most unusual angles. Nothing beats walking the desert on a full-moon night in Josh. Also, the place just has a positive vibe, a good energy.

Of course, it's the quality and quantity of stellar climbs that really makes the place special. JTree has climbs of every difficulty for every range of climber. I found that the best quality climbs in the park were in the 5.10-5.11 range. I mostly stuck to crack climbing and plugging in my own gear, but I climbed almost an equal number of dicey face-climbs. The cracks in JTree have a well deserved reputation for being man-eaters on account of the crystal nature of the rock. These same crystals form the friction slabs and micro-edges that make the face-climbs in JTree climbable.

Having spent a majority of my climbing experience in Joshua Tree wasn't very good for furthering my development as a climber of really difficult routes. That's where I became hard-wired with an unreasonable fear of falling. I say "unreasonable" because one can't really progress as a climber without taking some big falls. To fall while lead climbing in JTree is to almost certainly get injured in some way. This is because ofthe low angle of many climbs (the falling climber hits and/or skids down the slab below him), features that protrude from the climbs (humps, horns, lips, and rope-shearing edges that the falling climber smashes into on the way down), or, more rarely, ground-falls (the falling climber craters into the ground, mostly due to poor technique but exacerbated by the short length of most JTree climbs). I personally experienced all these types of falls and I became a "Falling is not an option." climber, which undoubtedly hindered my advancement in friendlier climbing locales.

This "no fall" ethic was reinforced by numerous epic falls I witnessed or responded to in JTree. I saw a fatal ground-fall, several serious head injuries, guys with no skin on their limbs from skipping off of slabs, and many, many fractures. If you are thinking of lead climbing in JTree, do not be disuaded by me, just understand your risk/reward tolerance.

I don't rock climb much anymore and I haven't gone to Joshua Tree in years but I have a trip to JTree coming up. I look foreward to it, and am already planning my climbing tick-list. Needless to say, the climbs I do will be a walk on the mild side in light of my advanced age and delicate condition. As Clint Eastwood said in Magnum Force, "A man's got to know his limitations.".

All pictures were taken, of me, back in the day.

1 comment:

  1. i will have to scan in and send to you the shots i have of josh and you climbing there. I wish i could go to josh again sooner than later. It has been way too long and the trip with you there was one of my favorite vacation memories.