After leaving Zion National Park to escape the impending multi-day rain storm and spending a night in The Sin City, we were more than ready to head back out into the middle of nowhere. As we drove further and further out of the metropolis, the middle of nowhere is exactly what we found. Flat, barren desert and literal tumbleweeds just like the in the movies, blowing across the ribbon of highway that slices through the unfriendly landscape. It was obvious this was the start of the Mojave Desert, we didn't even need a fancy little sign to welcome us.
Soon the road grew exciting with several dips turning our bus ride into a roller coaster ride. Some hooligans took it upon themselves to add to the signs warning of these “Dips” in the road, cleverly adding “Onion” and “Chips and” before the word dip on the signs. After laughing and bouncing our way along the desert roads we found ourselves in awe at a massive pile on sand. We had been to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico early on in our trip which was an amazing place, but the Kelso Sand Dunes of the Mojave were the Mount Everest of sand dunes in comparison. Although lacking the beautiful white gypsum color of White Sands, the Kelso dunes were certainly special in their own way. Tyler took it upon himself to roll down the front of the highest one. You can probably guess from the photos how that went…
Leaving the dunes we headed towards our campsite for the night which was at the Amboy Crater, a cinder cone (think small volcano) that had left behind some interesting dark colored basalt all over the desert around it. We had just enough time to hike to the summit before dark. We got an early start the next morning and headed towards 29 Palms, just outside of the park. We picked up a few little groceries, topped off our water, and headed into Joshua Tree. As climbers, we had been looking forward to this part of the trip for awhile. Upon entrance one can find the park is filled with massive granite boulders and domes broken up with beautiful cracks as far as the eye can see. A lifetime of climbing could be had here and our hands were getting sweaty in anticipation.
The central hub to the climbing in the park is the Hidden Valley Campground. This is one of the smallest campgrounds in the park and there is essentially a permanent sign on the way in saying that the campground is full. Despite the sign, and despite it being peak climbing season in the park we decided to make a go for it. After looping the campground twice we had no success and decided to call off the search until tomorrow. We were lucky enough to find a spot in the Ryan Campground, about 10 minutes away that also had a bit of climbing in it. One feature in this area is known as the Headstone, which is a peculiarly balanced block on top of a large pile of huge granite boulders. We climbed the two classic routes up the Headstone known as Southwest Arete, and Cryptic and were greeted by some beautiful views of the park from the summit. We did a bit more climbing and then settled in to make our plan for the morning.
We decided we would head towards Hidden Valley again and packed up some of our things, to check out the scene. All of the camping in the park is first come first served and being President's' Day weekend Most of it was full, so we were lucky to even have a spot where we were. Driving the campground loop, our outlook of finding a site was grim. Almost ready to admit defeat we saw a group looking like they were just beginning to pack up. We pulled over and sure enough they were. We quickly got a campsite tag and secured the amazing spot, walking distance to the majority of the 3000+ rock climbing routes in the park. We headed back to Ryan, picked up our belongings and got on some great climbs in the area known as The Hall of Horrors. Some of our favorites in the area included The Exorcist, Lazy Day, Nurn’s Romp and First 11. First 11 was located in what is known as the Real Hall of Horrors which was a very cool hallway type feature hidden within the massive granite blobs in the area.
The next day we rose with excitement at our new campsite to explore the area known as Echo Tee, which was about a 15 minute walk from The Hidden Valley Campground. We got on a few very cool routes in the area but our favorites were Fun Stuff and Touch and Go. Touch and go was a unique corner that had a splitter crack on one face, with a second crack like flake on the other. For the non-climbers reading this, the majority of Joshua Tree is known for its traditional climbing, meaning there are very limited permanent bolts in the area. This means that we are protecting ourselves from falling using our own gear that we place in cracks, as we climb up the rock (For more explanation of Traditional Climbing check out this article). There are a few bolted sport routes in the park, but we mostly stuck to the crack climbing.
Our next two days in the park consisted of checking out the area known as the Wonderland of Rocks, as well as the more local climbs within the Campground and the actual Hidden Valley area. The weather started fairly cold for us. Louis had started up a climb called Breakfast of Champions and upon reaching the top and shouting down to Tyler he realized that he had left him in a cold, windy, shady spot for a while. Tyler was having visions of climbing at Seneca Rocks in West Virginia from earlier on in our trip and toughed it out shoving his cold meat feeling hands and sausage fingers into a tricky crack before we smartened up and headed to find some nicer climbs in the sun. To finish off the day we got on the classic “The Eye” through Cyclops Rock.
The next day warmed up a bit and we got on some fun climbs in the morning such as Leaping Leaner and the lovely named Sphincter Quits, a beautiful 5.9 finger crack that we watched someone free solo just before getting on the climb. To finish the day we got on some of the campground classics such as The Bong, Toe Jam, and highly visible to the average Joshua Tree tourist North Overhang on Intersection Rock. On the last moves of North Overhang it felt as if we were being photographed by the paparazzi in LA instead of climbing in the middle of the desert.
Saturday arrived and we were full into the swing of being within the Joshua Tree bubble. Wake up when the sun comes up, drink your coffee and climb. Eat when you are hungry and then climb until the shadows get long. Then find a climb for sunset and finish the day with a beer on the summit before rappelling or scrambling down to the bus for dinner. It definitely was not a bad time.
Our not bad time was about to get even not badder-er as a friend of Louis’s from Camp Birch Hill was set to come visit us for our last few days in the park. We left a note on the bus and headed out to the Comic Book and then the super classic Sidewinder in the area known as The Outback. Sidewinder is a tricky climb that starts up a difficult slab before traversing across a slightly overhanging horizontal crack. You follow the crack a ways and then pull up over the overhang into a vertical crack. At this point the crack dies out and you make an exposed, scary traverse left on a small faint dike (think a really tiny ledge/rail type feature) with no real hands before reaching the top. Tyler killed it (in a good way) on the lead and Louis was very excited to follow up to the top.
Darkness came and somehow the stars aligned and our friend Thomas managed to find us in the bus in the middle of the park at night! He arrived at a great time as we were getting ready to head out to find the mysterious chasm of doom that night. Partway through the walk towards the main part of the hidden valley in the darkness we heard others inside the rock. The tradition is to turn your headlamps off and navigate a maze of chimneys, tunnels and caves to find your way into the great room of the chasm. To our surprise we found a group of 15 or so visitors in the chasm with one or two “guides” (think campground residents/dirt bag climbers).
After the night of excitement in the chasm we set out to get Thomas on some fun climbs including Savwarfare 1st Everywhere, and the amazing Sail Away which is a beautiful hand crack. For having not much climbing experience, let alone never climbing cracks before, Thomas killed it hand and foot jamming his way through several moves on the climb. We got on a few more climbs before finishing on the uber classic Doublecross which is a splitter crack about 100 yards from our campsite. We finished just in time to keep the headlamps off for the short walk back to the bus.
Come morning we had hoped to get on a few more climbs before heading towards LA but we were woken up by rain and fog. After taking a quick hike on the Barker Damn Loop we headed towards Claremont, where Thomas goes to school and were able to do a bit of laundry and shower. Thomas was kind enough to swipe us into his Dining Hall which was a treat and a half for us having unlimited food of any variety you could think of. With bellys so full it was more of a waddle back to the bus where we began to figure out our plan for a final day in the area in Los Angeles. Louis’s friend Mike from high school met us and took us towards Venice Beach, leaving the bus on the outskirts as driving in LA is an actual nightmare. After walking the strip, seeing muscle beach and the skate park, all on the Pacific we were able to meet up with our friend from Lyndon, Jordan, who also lived in the area. It was super fun catching up with everyone and a great way to celebrate being basically the furthest away from home we will be on the trip. It's such a good feeling hanging out just like old times in a place so far from where we originally got to become friends.
The plan now is to start to head North through California before meeting more friends in Oregon and Washington. We will be adding some skiing in now as well to our mix of biking and climbing. Thanks for reading and sorry for the long delay as we had been out of all services while away in Joshua Tree! If you haven’t already feel free to subscribe below and be notified whenever we put up a new blog post.