Thursday, 19 November, 1998. Joshua Tree, California.
I think I've watched too much MTV, played too many video games, stared at cool screen savers for too long and watched too many firework displays. As a result I was a little disappointed by the recent metor shower. Sure, I saw some awesome shooting stars, but I expected a constant barrage of shooters.
I also expected to be warm in the desert. Needless to say I was let down a few times. I picked up Brian Balukonis in LA, he was sponging climbing off a business trip. We headed up to Red Rocks, outside of Las Vegas to try some long canyon routes and short hard sport climbs.
On our second day at Red Rocks, we climbed at an area called the Gallery. Among the climbers there were two twelve year olds. They never shut up, but they could climb. Brandon flashed a 5.11d (pretty hard). I attempted the climb and fell off at the last bolt. Chaperoning the upstart youngsters was Dan McQuade, a hard core local climber. Later, that evening we went into the rock gym for showers. Guess who were still climbing?
After two days of clipping bolts we wanted a change of pace. So we hiked into climb a five pitch moderate route, Cat In the Hat. Hiking in, we caught up with two other parties hiking in. The party of three infront of us, kindly let us go ahead of them. Nice gesture, but it would be proved pointless. Arriving at the end of the second pitch, there were a few people on the ledge. The party of two Canadians were waiting for what looked like a party of three to finish the third pitch. The second was having trouble on the 5.6 moves. So we had lunch and settled in for a wait. When the third guy, said he was going to trail a rope for the remainder of his group, we decided to ask, how many are in your group? Eight! Eight of them, the two Canadians, the two of us, the party of three behind us, and another party of two who had just arrived. Gridlock on a climbing route! Argh! We rapped. Hiking out we could see the party of eight bailing out, I guess they realized they wouldn't maked it by dark.
My coldest night so far was in Red Rocks, Nevada. At sundown, I pulled out "bertha" my big red Marmot parka. Even so equiped we were in the tent by 7:30. All night long strong winds shook our tent. In the middle of the night, nature called and I listened. Returning to our tent, it had flipped over without my weight on the upwind side. And we had staked the tent down! The night before we had hoped to do a long route up in the canyons. Those plans were scrubbed in the cold morning.
So we went sport climbing again. I had hoped to climb a route called Stratocaster Direct, thinking I might have a chance on a 5.12b. The route is majorly overhanging and the first three bolts are never more than 10 feet off the ground. Yikes! Without a third person to spot me, I wasn't going to attempt it. So we went looking for another route.
The last route we did was named, One-Eyed Jacks for an oval formation in the rock. We called it the Cactus Route for the two cactuses that were at the base of the climb. I started up, clipped the first bolt and then came down. I nearly stepped into the cactus. Gotta get off the ground! I flashed the 5.11b and lowered off. Brian was pretty apprehensive about the cactus. He had a little trouble with the openning move and nearly landed in the cactus more than once. Objective danger!
After four days of climbing we took a rest day. Good timing, since it rained most of the day. Leaving Red Rocks we could see snow in the canyons. On the way to Joshua Tree, we stopped at the Hoover Dam. We got the dam tour, but thought it was pretty overpriced.
Not surprisingly the two best camping areas at Joshua Tree (Hidden Valley and Ryan) were full, so we ended up at Jumbo Rocks and got a nice spot. The wind howled all night. No tumbling tents this time. Climbing was harry. Topping out on Headstone rock we were nearly blown off the top. This is exciting! We estimated the winds to be 40+ mph.
That morning we'd left a note at Hidden Valley for Julie Haas who was tacking on some climbing after a conference in LA. After climbing for the day, we thought it would be prudent to see if the note hadn't blown away. Perfect timing, Julie had just arrived bringing a fresh load of groceries. Luckily the winds had died by evening, giving us a chance to sleep in peace.
The three of us climbed together for a day. I made Brian lead a crack climb before he left Josh. The next morning, Brian had to return to Boston so it was just the two of us. Julie was less than thrilled by some of the approaches and descents.
From another group of climbers we learned of perfect rest day activity -- soaking in hot springs in Desert Hot Springs. For three bucks you get a shower and access to the hot springs. The springs are more pool like, than natural, but it still felt great. In the town of Joshua Tree we stopped at Jeremy's Cybercafe and Beer Haus. Sounds like a great place, right? Sure if you want to spend the entire afternoon there waiting for a sandwich. Gives a new meaning to slow.
While in Josh, we made a friend. We called him Charlie. Charlie was a coyote who we saw every morning while driving to the climbing areas. Josh was the first place we saw the coyotes we heard at night. Of course the first morning I tried to take a picture of Charlie, my camera batteries died. Dolt! Gotta get more professional can carry a spare set. Luckily we found a set, but they weren't cheap.
On our last day, I had to rescue another climber. Nothing quite so serious as the last time. Mark had soloed up Toe Jam (5.7), but couldn't figure out a way down. Friends of his were about to start up the route with a harness, but since we wanted to do the climb anyway we rescued him. Next time read about the descent!
Normally I'm not a campfire guy, but they were pretty nice in the cold evenings. Otherwise I'd have been in bed by 6:30 or so. But the weather wasn't all that bad. After our big windsorm in Josh, it warmed up and in the middle of the day I'd be climbing without a shirt if we were in the sun. In the shade, that was a different situation.
It was a good thing Julie wasn't staying too much longer since her finger tips were worn and bleeding from the sharp rock. At the end, she was picking crack climbs over face climbs. Very unusual for an east coast climber!