3 Days In Joshua Tree
*Disclaimer: This post doesn’t involve the Pacific Northwest, but hey, everyone needs to get away from rain once in a while.
Back in February of last year, I had a trip planned to Joshua Tree National Park in California, with some of my climbing friends. Joshua Tree was a place that I had first heard about when I was 20 years old and had always wanted to check out. I was incredibly excited to not only travel with friends to climb, but to get an escape from a very cold and wet long winter. Unfortunately, it decided to rain in the desert that weekend so with the risk of flash floods, we had to cancel our trip.
Luckily, we got a deposit back on our vacation rental and were given vouchers to use within the year on Southwest Airlines. Some of the people from the original trip could no longer go, but a few of us rescheduled our trip, and added one new friend, for October of this year.
The flight from Portland to Ontario, California is just over 2 hours and you can get some pretty amazing airlines deals on Southwest, which includes 2 free bags for all your climbing gear. While there are lots of nice campgrounds in Joshua Tree, right next to big climbing areas, we chose to rent a house in Joshua Tree, just 6 miles from the park. This allowed us to prepare food, hang out by a fire pit, and have showers.
We arrived on Thursday night, and drove the 2 hours east towards Joshua Tree in the dark. We found our vacation rental and were all really pleased with the rooms, décor, and setup. We woke on Friday and headed towards Indian Cove, since we thought it would have some easier graded routes. However, once we started looking up at the few routes that had bolts, it was clear that there were long runouts and high risk of hitting the ground if a climber were to fall.
Our group had done research on climbing in JTree, but none of us had ever been, and I think we were all quite surprised once we arrived at the different level of climbing that Joshua Tree has. We are all spoiled in Oregon with places like Smith Rock, where there are consistent bolts and anchors for sport leads. Joshua Tree is highly regarded as a pristine wilderness, so there are very few bolts and very few anchors. Some bolts have been chopped and other routes are strictly trad routes, but with sometimes limited placements for gear. I am not a trad climber, and only one person in our small group of 4 felt that he was confident in trad, but not at the climbs in Joshua Tree.
We roamed around Indian Cove, then headed into the park, paying our $25 weekly car fee. The park is huge and there are different climbing areas everywhere. We had several climbing guide books, and decided to try out Atlantis Rock, after a recommendation by another climber we had met earlier. Once we got to the parking lot off a dirt road, we met Nate, a solo climber from the L.A. area. He gave us some beta on routes and after we had our lunches, we ended up seeing him over on Atlantis Rock. After he free-soloed a 5.6, he recommended we go up the back side to set up an anchor to do it on top rope. Our group was able to all try out the fun 5.6, “Solar Technology”, and it ended up being sunset by the time we were hiking out.
The desert at sunset with all of the unique Joshua Trees dotting the skyline was an amazing site to see. Even though the day didn’t go as I had expected (with lots and lots of climbing), I felt completely satisfied with the day and so happy to be in such a beautiful place. We drove out of the park and stopped by Nomad Ventures to look at climbing gear and then drove straight into Yucca Valley for some delicious pizza at 2 Guys Pies.
Saturday morning, we headed to the park by 8:30 a.m. and started at Trash Can rock. It was already busy, since it is one of the easier places to setup top ropes and is close to the park entrance. It was a beautiful 70 degree day in the park. We all did the 5.7 “Tiptoe”, which has a cool little rock “ladder” up the route.
We then spent the rest of the day scouting out climbs for our last day. We hoped to do “The Eye” and “Headstone”, and looked at how we could access both of those climbs. “Headstone” is bolted, but did have an interesting scramble approach over some big boulders. We didn’t climb anything else, but just explored. We drove out to the Cholla Gardens to see the “jumping chollas” which was a long drive but neat. This was the only day we ended up back at the house around 5:00 and started a fire in the fire pit and relaxed with a glass of wine before we headed out for dinner.
Sunday morning, we set out by 8:30 for an ambitious climbing day. The park was quiet, the day was to be the warmest yet (low 80’s), and we went straight to Cyclops Rock to set up “The Eye”. The approach is easy from behind and opens to a cool opening in the rock, giving you an eyes view at the park below. Once the top rope was securely anchored around the rock at the top, I climbed the route. It’s an easy 5.4 but really fun with all kinds of great ledges and holds and different types of rock.
It was my favorite climb of the trip. The rest of our group did the climb and then we went to take the anchor down and setup a 5.5 on the other side, called “Penelope’s Walk”. It was a fun route, but it was getting really hot, so we decided to find some shade (after we drove back to the park entrance to check in to our Southwest flight). “The Headstone” would have to wait for another trip.
Instead of trying to investigate a new place, we all agreed that Atlantis Rock was a fun place with shade so we headed back there. We set up a 5.8, “Wet Pigeon”, that had a tricky start but the rest was fairly easy with cracks and ledges. I think our whole group felt fulfilled with our trip. We had planned to cook at the house, but everyone was tired and hot, so we ended up getting some Thai food to go. I spent some time that night by the fire, reflecting on the trip, looking at the desert filled skies, and getting ready to go back home.
Monday was spent traveling back to the airport, to a short layover in Vegas, and back to Portland to then drive back home the 2 hours to Corvallis. Although I would have loved at least 2 more days to explore and climb, it was also nice to have the green and golden leaves great me with late October Oregon sunshine. All trips away, even short ones, give you a new perspective and teach you so much. I’ve definitely learned more about climbing, more about the three friends I traveled with, and more about myself.