Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Escape from Winter - Joshua Tree California

It was -27 degrees when as we drove down Highway 2 heading for the USA border at Sweetgrass Montana. This terrible temperature confirmed that we were making the right choice, bailing out of winter for two weeks of rock climbing in the desert. The highway was empty, it was Christmas Day and nobody was on the road. There was a line up at the border crossing however. We waited for almost an hour without moving before turning around and heading west to the next closest crossing, Del Bonita. The internet and phones were down at Sweetgrass and there was no estimate on how long we could have been waiting. Our detour added another 45 minutes, then we crossed into Montana. Soon, the pavement turned to gravel and we were driving down range roads with deep snow drifts. Needless to say, it was not a very efficient detour. Even when we finally reconnected with the I15, the main interstate that we would follow all the way to California, it was slippery and snowy. We drove through the blizzard for hours and into the darkness.
Butte Montana at 7 pm on Christmas Day - not a soul in sight, or an open restaurant!
Traveling on Christmas is great as there is no traffic, until you want something to eat. The only thing open was gas stations (fortunately), so we munched on chips, Christmas chocolates and chicken wraps - the only thing that looked mildly appetizing. We drove straight through the night, stopping for gas and trading off frequently so we could get a bit of sleep. We arrived in Las Vegas at 8 am and collected supplies before the completing final 3 hours of the drive through the Mojave Desert to our destination: Joshua Tree, California.
Made it to Joshua Tree!
It was such a relief to have made it to our destination after 30 hours of travel. Our next challenge was to get our travel weary and sleep deprived brains to make a decision on where to stay, all the campgrounds in the park were full! We drove around aimlessly before leaving the park and camped out on BLM land just outside of the town of Joshua Tree. The next morning, we got up early and went to check out the campgrounds again. Lucky for us, we found a campsite at Jumbo Rocks, right before a line of vehicles arrived also trying to find spots. Most were unsuccessful. We had been hoping to stay at the Hidden Valley Campground, the dirtbag climbers hangout next to many of the popular climbs, but there was no way we were getting a spot there. Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year in Joshua Tree. We just had to accept that Jumbo Rocks was going to be our home for the trip, and that was just fine by us.
Yucca Trees and piles of rocks near the Jumbo Rocks campground
Every day followed the same approximate pattern; get up at 6:30 as the sun was just coming up, have breakfast then drive out to whichever climbing area we had picked from the book the night before. We would climb until mid-afternoon/dusk, then return to camp for a beer and a beautiful desert sunset before making dinner in the dark. It was dark around 5 pm and the temperature would drop rapidly. After checking the guidebook to plan the next day's adventure and a bit of reading we were both happy with an early bedtime of about 8:30 pm.
All smiles tying in on our second day in J-Tree
 Kyle has a book called the "Trad Guide to Joshua Tree," which has 60 select routes 5.5-5.9. We had ticked off a few of the lower grade routes on our last trip in 2014, but there were plenty of routes left to check out. We also had the new Miramontes Joshua Tree book which helped us figure out where everything was. Kyle suggested that we try to complete all 60 of the select routes in the Trad Guide book and I got pretty competitive about it. Every day we would try and climb a few of the classics, which meant that we were often climbing at more than one area each day. It gave us a goal to work towards and was a great way to climb some highly recommended routes at a variety of crags.
Kyle leads "Becks Bet" in the Rock Garden Area
Sunset beers after a good day of climbing
Kyle leading Mr. Misty Kiss, a splitter 5.8 at Dairy Queen Wall
We managed to climb almost everything in the book! By the end of the trip, we only had a few of the 5.8+ and 5.9 routes left. We are much stronger climbers than our last trip to J-Tree and were able to get on some really fun routes in the 5.8/5.9 range. I still find Joshua Tree to be quite sandbagged, but in the 9 days of climbing, I felt my confidence with crack climbing as well as leading improved immensely.
Evening highliner
Joshua Trees and unique rock formations around the Lost Horse Area
Climbers Access trail marker show the way to the crags
Headstone Rock - Southwest Corner
Wonderland of Rocks
Sandy desert approaches
Down-climbing the patina, a typical "walk off" in Joshua Tree
Leading the classic "Double Cross" 
Another amazing desert sunrise at Jumbo Rocks
Joshua Tree
Kyle leads "Pope's Crack" 5.9+ in Echo Rocks
Fun in the sun. Can't complain about 22 degrees in January
Colourful evening skies
Kyle on the crux pitch of "Dappled Mare," a three pitch 5.8
Top of "The Swift" in Lost Horse Valley
Many more areas to explore
Awesome holiday with Kyle
Sunset tourist
Last sunrise of the trip
Jenny's Top 10
1. Mental Physics 5.7 +
2. Funny Bone 5.8
3. The Swift 5.7 (3 pitch)
4. Double Cross 5.7+
5. Frosty Cone 5.7
6. Diagnostics 5.6
7. Life's a Bitch, then you Marry One 5.7
8. Gem 5.8
9. Rainy Day Woman 5.7
10. Granny Goose 5.7

Kyle's Top 10
1. Bambi Meets Godzilla 5.8
2. Pope's Crack 5.9+
3. Touch and Go 5.9
4. Southwest Corner 5.6
5. Feltoneon Physics 5.8
6. Colorado Crack 5.9
7. Dinkey Doinks 5.8
8. White Lightning 5.7 
9. Dappled Mare 5.8 (3 pitch)
10. Sail Away 5.8

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