"Not all those who wander are lost"

Joshua Tree

Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.

-Jack Kerouac


After three weeks at Maine for the holidays and a week in L.A. to fix my car, I was ready to get back on the road again.  It had been a year without climbing trad so I decided it was time to head to Joshua tree and see how my gains in sport climbing would translate to gear.

I knew I had a couple friends already there, but I was surprised to find even more friends than I had expected.  Those I didn’t already know quickly became friends as well as we packed into vans to avoid the frigid wind.  Temperatures hovered around 20 during the day and dipped into the single digits at night with winds strong enough to sent tents flying, even with gear inside.  This made the climbing difficult for the first week.

Never having been to J-tree before, I quickly made a list of nearly 50 routes to try.  Compiled of classics, recommendations, and one’s added because I thought they might “build character” (aka fist crack or off-width) the list was more than I could possibly finish, but it gave me some direction.  Once the weather warmed up and it was possible to climb without losing feeling in my fingers, I got cracking trying as many routes as possible.

I spent some time trying a range of routes, but mostly just had a blast playing with widgets again.  Topping my list of favorites were some of my proudest sends even if some were over two number grades lower than sport climbs I’ve done.  For routes like Coarse and Buggy (5.11b) the grade doesn’t matter; it’s hard, it’s awesome, the end.  Rubicon (5.10c), Hot Rocks (5.11c), and Scary Poodles (5.11b) were a few of my other favorites.  Hot Rocks was an especially proud one for me because it became my hardest trad send and it was on difficult placements and had a huge run-out at the top.

Joshua Tree is a complicated place.  Blistering sun, frigid nights, and howling winds all frequent the small piles of kitty litter choss that people like to call Joshua tree rocks.  There’s a reason the classic boulder problem ‘Stem Gem’ has three grooves worn away were you have to smear the right foot to start.  But some of the rock is pretty good.  And the community that finds shelter in J-tree for the winter is amazing.  More than the routes, I’ll remember the mornings at Climbers Coffee, rest day Bocce, and Chasm of Doom exploits in the dark.

February came and temperatures started warming sending climbers scattering in different directions.  Soon I found that my list was only half ticked and it was time to move on.  J-tree is certainly an interesting destination, climbing on kitty litter granite, but is definitely a fun hang.  I don’t know when it will be, but I’m sure I’ll make it back to continue working on the ever-expanding list of routes to do.


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