This past week I had the pleasure of spending my time with friends in an amazing place, Joshua Tree National Park, climbing, relaxing, joking, and freezing our asses off. At the peak there were nine of us and our last two days there were four. The trip was planned to celebrate Alex’s birthday by escaping (for the most part) the cold and prolonging the end of rock season for the “Sendsday” crew.
The climbing was overwhelming, we barely scratched the surface of what the park had to offer sticking to the more highly concentrated areas. Day one we started on some easier climbs because the rumor was “J-Tree” was “sandbagged” (meaning the climbing route is harder than the stated grade). I would personally argue that the grades felt spot on compared to the North Conway grades. The first major difference I noticed however was the friction, the rock in J-Tree is grippy to say the least. The type of rock there is quartz monzonite which I’m pretty sure is Greek for piranha teeth. I’ve never been bit by a piranha nor do I intend to test my theory but I imagine hand jamming in J-Tree is pretty close to shoving your hand in a piranhas mouth; more than one of us came out of this trip with some pretty rugged battle wounds.
After getting used to the grades and the rock it was on. I noticed everyone pushing themselves on this trip, be it mentally or physically. The culmination of a summers worth of climbing happened on this trip. Fear was challenged, grades were pushed, and friendships grew stronger. A friend of mine gave me a hard time before I left for the trip saying “You better not take a rest day, you’re only there for a week.” I gave it my all, I’ll tell you what, I climbed at least one route every single day. We all went pretty hard the first four days and most of us were feeling it; not willing to take a rest day we pushed.
Saturday was THE day; Alex’s birthday. All nine of us finally together, it was kinda epic. She told us all that it was a costume day and the theme was under the sea. Now rumor has it you see all kinds of weirdos in the desert and for everyone around us that was true, we were the weirdos. We all climbed in or costumes for as long as the temp and the climbing movement allowed. As a group we climbed the number of pitches that Alex turned, with her climbing one extra for good luck. Honestly it was one of the coolest birthday parties I’ve ever been to.
We had the grand idea to knock out two of the classic multi-pitch routes “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Right On” on Monday. We were up and out the door early and on the route the first route by six thirty am. Getting to the first belay on “Walk on the Wild Side” I was frozen. The weather wasn’t that bad, considering most of us were from New England and used to the cold, mid to high thirty ambient temp with fifteen mph sustained wind was nothing right?! HAHA!!! The climbing was great, really balancy, friction slab climbing, with some substantial run out… especially when you skip bolts (whoops). The challenges were also great, partner safety being the biggest. I forgot to mention this was my cousins first multi-pitch climb as she only climbed for the first time three days prior (what a trooper). She pushed herself to her max so much that she lost the pads on four of her fingers (stupid piranha teeth). I lowered her down after the first pitch and Alex and I pushed on. We climbed that last two pitches and waited for Benny, Bianca, and Claude. The wind was whipping so bad that we didn’t hear them yelling that they were bailing. After some time trying to keep us warm we were finally able to hear them and communicate that we were coming down. Three rappels later we were on the ground headed for the sun. By nine thirty am we were back at the car enjoying beverages most people don’t have until after five. For some reason it’s those experiences that I cherish the most, pushing through the cold, the wind, and the challenging climbing to come out with lessons learned and good friends enjoying a cold one reflecting on what we just did….ah Joshua Tree!
The last thing we got on in the park was Headstone Rock. Alex got the last lead of the trip on “Southwest Corner”, it was great to see my friend push through the mental challenge of the runout and exposure of the route. Again the wind was whipping and as Matt and Benny topped out on “Cryptic” Alex brought me up and we all shared a nice Hi-Five at the top. After rappelling we sat and basked in the beauty of that place and the solidarity of the trip.