Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Joshua Tree

OK, you are in for a long one. Here is the TL;DR in case you are just in it for the photos. We spent 4 amazing days climbing in Joshua Tree. Some of the highlights were the climbs (Overhang Bypass, Right On, Minotaur, Robo Ranger, Fothog, Toe Jam and The Eye), the sunsets and the amazing scenery. If you are heading out there, be warned that there is no water available in the park, so bring lots. Also, the climber campgrounds fill up fast, but we stayed at Jumbo Rocks and it was pretty quiet and still really beautiful. Climber coffee is at 8 am at Hidden Valley on weekends and is a good way to get some beta and meet other climbers. Apparently it gets really windy in J-Tree (our tent almost blew away when we tried to take it down), and it gets cold at night! Finally, the ratings are all over the place so be prepared to get spanked by a 5.5 right after you run up a 5.7. Alright, if you are ready to find out about the trip in more detail, read on and enjoy.

Instead of dreaming of a white Christmas this year, I have been looking forward to heading south for a climbing trip to Joshua Tree. We flew to Phoenix first then drove 450 km to the National Park, arriving in the dark on Friday night. The two campgrounds near the climbing areas (Hidden Valley and Ryan Campground) were both full when we got there so we backtracked to Jumbo Rocks Campground and were able to find a site. We awoke early Saturday morning to an amazing view. Since we had arrived in the dark, we hadn't realized what the landscape was like. The park was full of granite formations and unusual looking plants called Joshua Trees that apparently aren't found many other places. 
Sunrise at Jumbo Rocks Campground
We started our trip at the Real Hidden Valley climbing area but took our time scoping out the climbs first while we waited for it to warm up. We had heard that the routes in J. Tree were pretty sandbagged so were looking to start out on something pretty easy. We chose Blistering, a 2 pitch 5.5 on Turtle Rock which was definitely tough for the grade but do-able. We had the advantage of chatting with a guide before going up and getting some beta about a rappel off the top, as most of the climbs in the area have pretty sketchy down climbs instead. Luckily the rock is super grippy!
Staying warm and trying to figure out where to start
All tapped up and ready to go
Trying to match the picture to the rock. One of the guide books looked very little like what was actually there
Success for our first climb of the trip!
Looking off of Turtle Rock to Intersection Rock and the Hidden Valley Campground
Relaxing at the top
Climbing in Joshua Tree was very different than anywhere else I have been. It was pretty full of climbers, probably because of the weather and since it was the start of the Christmas holidays, but everyone was very friendly and willing to share info about where to climb. One thing I loved was the approaches to the climb. Often you could just park and walk over to the formation. On the longer approaches, there was a well defined trail and it was a dead flat walk through the desert. The longest approach we had was about 25 minutes of easy walking, it was glorious. Another amazing things was the concentration of climbs. Everywhere you looked there were routes and boulder problems galore! Some of the climbs required some scrambling to get to the start which was occasionally interesting and could involve some tricky route-finding through the boulders before you could find a decent way up the rock. One thing that I didn't really enjoy was that most climbs had walk off descents. This wouldn't have been a problem except that some were 3rd or 4th class scrambling, often with a pack and rope, and could be pretty exposed and sketchy. That took some getting used too!
The approach to this 5.5 climb was almost as tricky as the climb itself
Navigating through the boulders at the bottom of the route could be challenging - I hope this goes somewhere useful...
Sketchy down-climb that we ended up deciding against, opting to go back up and over to the other side of the formation
So many climbs everywhere you look
The rest of our first day was spend on Intersection Rock where Kyle lead a very cool 2 pitch 5.7 (Overhang Bypass) with an airy series of moves out of a cave. It was pretty exciting as a second too! We ended off the day on a cool 2 pitch 5.6 (Mike's Books) that had some good chimney climbing to the top. 
Another climber on the 2nd pitch of Overhang Bypass that we had just climbed (lookers left beside the cave)
Loving life in Joshua Tree
Pitch 2 of Mike's Books. Stemming is the name of the game
Sunday morning was warmer and we were able to climb in t-shirts when we were in the sun. While we waited for the air to warm up, we stopped in at the Hidden Valley Campground for climber coffee which is hosted by the rangers. They had free coffee for climbers as well as info about the area. I was very impressed with the friendliness and helpfulness of the rangers, they really take care of tourists well. We started off on a 5.5 crack (The Bong) that I lead. It was really fun but way more challenging than any other 5.5's I've lead before! It was a good intro to crack climbing and I had to work on actually using hand jams instead of hunting for face holds. The next climb was a really hard 5.7 (5.8- depending on the guide book) called Buissonier that Kyle lead. 
Kyle putting in his first piece on Buissonier
Moving through the crux
Kyle pointing towards the Hidden Valley and Campground
That afternoon we made our way over to the Saddle Dome to climb Right On, a 3 pitch 5.5 that makes its way up the largest formation in the park. Right On is the one of the longest climbs too, 350 feet. Kyle got off route on the first pitch and onto a 5.11b (yikes!) but managed to get back to where he needed to be. We ended up climbing this route in 4 pitches, using the first set of bolts that we got to in a small cave. This ended up working well because the next pitch was a steep hand crack and it was nice to not have any rope drag through there. This was one of my favourite climbs of the trip, but I am really happy that I didn't have to lead any of it! The hand crack on the second pitch really pushed me to use hand jams and the chimney on the third had very little protection but tons of friction so it felt great.
Right On follows the large obvious crack that is on the edge of the shade and makes its way up to the very top of the dome
View from the first belay station
Pitch 1, no worries
By the time we were topping out on Right On, the sun was setting. Luckily there were 2 rap stations that were easy to find and Kyle had a headlamp for the walk down. The sunsets each night were amazing. The rock formations and the Joshua Trees made fantastic silhouettes and made the park seem even more magical than it already was.
Sunset at Jumbo Rocks
Star-light, firelight and headlamps
As the trip went on, it got warmer and windier. Each night we got to test out the tent's capability to withstand wind. Luckily it would die down during the day. Monday was hot and sunny. We went to check out a new area, Lost Horse Valley, which was only about 5 minutes down the road from Hidden Valley. We started the day at Atlantis Wall and quickly ticked off 3 climbs - Men with Cows Heads (5.5), Solar Technology (5.6) and Minotaur (5.7). Minotaur was a fantastic route. It had great holds and protection all the way up.
Solar Technology (5.6)
Atlantis Wall
Kyle with his horns out on Minotaur, another one of our favourite climbs. 
Looking down from Atlantis Wall into the Lost Horse Valley
Loving the weather, rock and company!
As we continued down the valley we came upon the Aiguille de Joshua Tree, a needle-like boulder problem perched above a pile of rocks. Kyle had to climb it!
Scaling the needle
Aiguille de Joshua Tree with a Joshua Tree
Once that problem was ticked off, we made our way to Mt. Grossvogel where we met a volunteer search and rescue team looking for a lost hiker. Apparently that is a fairly common problem down here. We hadn't seen him but kept a look out for the rest of the day. We climbed two more routes on Grossvogel, Dr. Seuss Vogel (5.5) and Robo Ranger (2 pitch 5.6). Robo Ranger was really fun, it had a big roof right at the start, followed by a hand crack all the way to the top. After climbing, we went for a drive into the Town of Joshua Tree to stock up on ice, beer and water (as there is no water available in the park). This was our only real touristy thing that we did, the rest of the trip ended up being climbing, which was totally awesome.
Robo Ranger roof
Tuesday was our last day sadly. We returned to the Real Hidden Valley to get a few more climbs in. We started with the 2 pitch 5.6 (Fothog) which was another favourite. The start was tricky off a tree, followed by a traverse then a large move over a bulge to a ledge and the first belay station. The second pitch had a steep finger crack with no feet. It really pushed me to get good finger jams and took a few attempts before I actually got one that would stick. I was so stoked when I got a good one though, it feels amazing! Another awesome part about this route was the fact that it was right above the hiking trail so we had a good audience the whole time.
Starting Fothog off the tree
Kyle taking a breather after making it over the roof
Celebrating at the top with Jenny's favourite pose
So much excitement
Jenny attempts to plank
Next up was the thin wall where we finally got to climb Ain't Nothing but a J Tree Thing (5.6) which we had been talking about all trip, mostly because of the name. Because we were in the area, we also hopped on Almost Vertical (5.7) which turned out to be really fun! We met a family from Portland who took some photos and let us rap off their rope too. Everyone in J Tree was just so friendly!
Kyle leading almost vertical
Cleaning Almost Vertical
Getting vertical on Almost Vertical
After only leading one climb the entire trip, I finally worked up the courage to try another lead after lunch on Tuesday. I thought that it was a 5.6 (turns out it was a 5.7, which makes it even better) and it had really good gear so I felt really comfortable on it. This climb (Toe Jam) had lots of hand jams, but after 4 days climbing cracks I had improved my technique a lot! This was definitely my favourite 5.7 climb of the trip.
Bringing Kyle up Toe Jam above the Hidden Valley Campground
The last climb of the trip was on Cyclops Rock. It was a 5.3 called The Eye and went up a large cave-like crack and finished in a hole in the rock (the eye). After finally getting my confidence boost on Toe Jam, I took the lead on this one too. This one was a 5.FUN route!! 
Starting up The Eye
With that, it was time to leave Joshua Tree National Park. The weather was amazing, the climbs superb and it was a great experience to be in a totally new area with a different climbing style then I am used too. Until next time J-Tree!
Kyle being a Joshua Tree
Cyclops rock and farewell to Joshua Tree
Joshua Trees looking magical

Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival

December has been a crazy month filled with exams and rad road trips. It started off with a trip to Bozeman Montana for the Ice Climbing Festival after Kyle won a facebook contest for a 3 night stay in Bozeman and 2 days of ice climbing clinics for two. I guess people actually do win those things! Despite being up to my ears in school work, I wasn't going to let Kyle take anyone but me. A few emails later, I had switched my schedule around and we were able to leave Friday morning to drive down for the weekend. I wasn't a fun road trip partner as I had to study most of the way, but it meant that we were able to enjoy the festivities together once we arrived. We pulled into the Lewis and Clark Motel (a bit of a crazy place full of strange antique furniture) around 7 and were able to get over to Emerson Lawn to watch the women's and men's World Cup speed climbing finals. It had been really warm that week and into the double digits that day so the event was held on a plywood wall which was interesting, but it didn't seem to phase the athletes who were able to scale it in mere seconds.

We got up early Saturday morning to drive out to Hyalite Canyon, the local ice climbing epicentre. Here we met our guide for the day and the rest of the people in our clinic. There was a big turn-out and groups dispersed all over the valley for the day. We had a bit of a hike to get to the Mummy-Scepter area where we spent the whole day.
Our first look at the Mummy/Scepter climbing area
Since this was my first day out ice climbing this season, I started out on an easier climb but Kyle went straight for the Scepter and practically ran straight up it! After dusting off the cobwebs and remembering what the heck I was supposed to do up there, I got a chance to try the Scepter too. It was a super cool climb, and probably the most difficult one I have done to date.
Jenny's first round up the Scepter
All smiles on and off the ice this weekend
The clinic was pretty loosely organized, allowing us to get instruction as we desired from the numerous volunteers at the crag. We sat in on an ice screw and anchor building talk and watched a lead demo, but spent most of our day rotating through the many top ropes that were set up for our use. I was able to get on the Scepter twice, and each of the three routes up the Mummy. By the end of the day, our guide had us practicing climbing with one or no tools to work on footwork which was really helpful!
Kyle on the Mummy
Kyle makes his way up the Mummy
More climbing on the Scepter
Kyle getting ready for the big move over the bulge on the Scepter
Scoping out his line
Upon our return to the parking lot, we were greeted with more volunteers serving spiked hot chocolate and apple cider and others handing out some beers. What a great way to end a very fun day! We socialized with people from the other clinics for a while before heading back to town for a hot tub. Many had traveled from all over the states for this event, most were from neighbouring states but we even met a girl who had flown all the way from Texas! 

I had to put in a few hours of studying that evening, so Kyle went to meet Theresa, the contest organizer, for dinner and to watch the last World Cup event, the Lead Difficulty. I was able to meet up with them just as the men's final was starting. The route they had set seemed to be too difficult because many people fell at the same place and nobody made it to the final hold, which apparently made the event very difficult to judge. It was really exciting watching the athletes make their way up the route and it was fun to hear the crowd gasp and cheer when something happened.
Spectating the Ice Climbing World Cup
We woke up Sunday morning to a foot of fresh snow, which made the drive out to Hyalite for our second clinic much slower than the day before but definitely way more wintery!
Early Sunday morning on the Hyalite Road
Hyalite Canyon parking area, ready for round 2
We went out to the G1 area for the day with a different group. There were far more top ropes set up here than there ad been at Mummy-Scepter, and a wide variety of climbs to choose from. Kyle and I had to leave early in the afternoon to make the 8 hour drive back to Calgary reasonable so we just went crazy when we got there, jumping on any available rope. We were able to do 8 climbs each in about 5 hours and by the time we were packing up to leave, my arms were pretty much done in.
G1 climbing area with a large climbing clinic and lots of top ropes!
Kyle getting 'er done at G1
Trying our hand at mixed climbing
Working on technique in a blizzard
Route 7 for the day
Kyle taking the hard way up
It was a whirlwind of a trip, and definitely not something we had been expecting to do. I am really happy that it all worked out and we were able to check out a brand new place, meet some really fun people and watch some of the best climbers in the world compete in the World Cup and North American Championship. Thanks so much to Theresa for putting everything together for us, and to Kyle for entering the contest and bringing me along for the ride!