The Mother Lode

Standing atop Aguille de Joshua Tree (more of a novelty than a route).
Easy climbing, but don’t fall.  
If I look a little tense it’s because of the 30mph wind gusts!

Last weekend Blake and I spent four days climbing at Joshua Tree National Park (a.k.a. “J-Tree”).  This was my first visit and I was not disappointed.  With a least 7,000 established climbing routes, J-Tree may be the world’s largest climbing destination.  When climbers first visited the park in the 50’s and 60’s they must have thought they’d found the mother lode.

Climbing Double Dogleg.  Don’t let the sunny rock fool you – it was cold!

We sampled 9 different walls and climbed 22 pitches.  Our pitch count wasn’t huge (we usually shoot for 10 pitches a day) but we had short days, non-ideal weather, and we moved around a lot.  Temperatures ranged from the 30’s to low 50’s each day and it was very windy for most of the trip so we spent a lot of time shivering during belays.

The Great Burrito – one of countless stellar climbing walls at J-Tree.
The dark horizontal gash 2/3 of the way up the wall is the crux of Kemosabe and Tonto.

I hadn’t been trad climbing in months, so I felt a little rusty.  That plus some sandbagged ratings resulted in me taking more leader falls than usual.  That’s the thing about rock climbing – just when you think you’re good it finds a way to humble you.

With easy access and an unlimited number of multi-star routes, J-Tree is the perfect place to hone trad climbing skills (I just wish I had the time!).  Here’s our tick list.  We stuck mostly to routes that received at least two stars in the guidebook.

Friday:  Lost Horse Wall and Intersection Rock

  • Dappled Mare *** (5.8, 3p) – One of the longer routes in J-Tree.
  • Bird on a Wire *** (5.10a, 2p)
  • North Overhang *** (5.9, 2p):  The crux move is a burly step around an overhanging, exposed corner.  Not only is this route sandbagged (I.M.H.O.), it’s also especially difficult to onsight because you can’t see the feet until you begin the powerful crux sequence.  Humble pie was served.

Saturday: Conan’s Corridor, Jumbo Rocks Area

  • Gem ** (5.8)
  • Colorado Crack **** (5.9) – Blake and I agreed that this route was the highlight of the trip.  From below it looks much harder than 5.9 but the route reveals itself move by move.
  • Boulder Dice ** (5.10b)
  • Spiderman *** (5.10a) – This was probably my best lead of the trip.  The general consensus online is that this route is harder than 10a.  I had no problem with the overhanging crux but the the sustained offwidth at the top felt desperate (probably because I have poor offwidth technique).

Sunday:  Rock Garden Valley, Freeway Wall, and I.R.S. Wall

  • Double Dogleg ** (5.7)
  • Rock Candy *** (5.9) – Nice route.  Felt Stiff for 5.9.
  • Split Personality ** (5.9)
  • Smithereens ** (5.8)
  • Cakewalk ** (5.8)
  • Tax Man **** (5.10a) – Beautiful crack line.  The crux is the first 15 feet and it felt more like 10b/c to me, maybe because my sausage fingers didn’t fit into the thin crack.  I just missed the onsight.
  • Aiguille de Joshua Tree* (5.5x) – This is a short novelty climb.  It’s an unprotected free-standing pillar in the middle of the desert.  Standing on top with high winds was a little hair-raising.

Monday:  Dairy Queen Wall and The Great Burrito

  • Leap Year Flake ** (5.7) – Fun, Yosemite-like route.
  • Leap Erickson * (5.10b)
  • Stood Up * (5.8)
  • Kemosabe and Tonto * (5.9) – Deserves two stars and a 5.10 rating.   The crux is an overhanging wide hands crack with no feet.  I pulled the strenuous move, then realized I had z-clipped (dumb mistake) and down-climbed.  By this point I was pretty worked so I climbed an easier crack a few feet to the left.

Before this trip, I would have told you that I could onsight pretty much any route up to 5.10a.  After all, I’ve ticked a lot of 10’s in the past year and am starting to push into the 5.12 range in the gym.  This trip was a great reminder of two things:

  • There’s no substitute for training on real rock
  • “Old school” ratings are a b%tch

One thought on “The Mother Lode

  1. Pingback: Splitter « Finding Balance

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