Transcending Climbing Experience at Joshua Tree


Sunset captured from the top of Double Cross.
View from Real Hidden Valley

I had heard about the lavish cottage and condo owned by Rick’s family in Palm Springs, CA but it is only in winter 2021 that I got to experience its comfort. After a rigorous fall season of masters and doctorate classes, research, work, and eager sprawls at Smith Rock during late afternoons, we decided to take a vacation at Palm Springs which included saturating our bodies with adrenaline and unintentional deprivation of sufficient vegan protein, with wine for fuel. The following is an ensemble of stories of all the pitches we did at JTree.


Day 1 White Lightning (5.7)

Day 2 Sexy Grandma (5.9), Double Cross (5.7+), Leaping Learner (5.7), Grain Dance (5.10c/d),

Day 3 Rain

Day 4 Pope’s Crack (5.9), Illusion Dweller (5.10b), Double Cross (5.7+),

Day 5 Double Cross (5.7+), Route 499 (5.11b), Rubicon (5.10c), The Flake (5.8)

Day 6 Mike’s Book (5.6), Toe Jam (5.7), Orphan (5.9)

Day 7 Rest Day

Day 8 Lazy Day (5.7), Cactus flower (5.12), Nurn’s Romp (5.8), The Exorcist (5.10a)

Day 9 Dolphin (5.7), Bird of Fire (5.10a), Hobbit Roof (5.10b), Sail Away (5.8-)

Day 10 Catching a falling star (5.8), Coarse and Buggy (5.11a/b), Hobbit Roof (5.10b)

At the climbing shop “Nomad Adventures” we were warned to climb below our grade because grades are sandbagged, and climbing is mentally challenging. So we parked the car in the first climbing area i.e. Hemmingway Buttress as you enter from the Western Entrance and climbed the White Lightning. Slick and awkward at first 7 feet but it eases up above and it felt like a 5.7. Little did we know that the unprotected approach to crack with chopped bolts, finicky gear and heady sections are going to be our new normal at JTree.

Following Sexy Grandma. It’s only a 5.9 slab which is nothing like Smith Rock for the grade.
Up the horn and I thought the crux was over. Little did I know about the steep slab with no hands and a runout to the anchor. It’s only a 5.9 S at JTree :).
Leading double cross. The approach to the crack has a marginal .4 pro. This section isn’t hard but mental. You will get used to it since a lot of routes in JTree have a mentally challenging approach with chopped bolts of course.
Rick led it without placing pro on the approach to crack.
Double Cross from the top.

I chose Leaping Learner as my first lead because it’s only a 5.6 in book and I had not read any mountain project (MP) comments. I realized that the Guide Book totally omitted talking about the first half of the pitch, which has marginal pro in three pods and a chance to deck if you screw up. The approach to the crack is the crux. MP discusses various options for the start and mentions the right approaches bumps up the grade to 5.8+. Ha! so much for a 5.6. Double Cross is definitely a better intro. Rick TRed the Grain Dance which shares the same anchor and loved it.

On day 4 we were welcomed by frozen water puddles and light dusting of snow with wind and cold.
Pope’s Crack. After Leaping Learner, I had a high guard and I definitely tormented Rick’s psyche for this lead. Turns out I liked this route and felt like I could redpoint this to bump my grade in JTree. The crux is after the third piece where the crack temporarily disappears.
Last chance to put pro before the unprotected traverse to the left.
Rick at the belay anchor of Pope’s crack.
Rick onsighting Illusion Dweller. His favorite route until he got on Coarse and Buggy.
Rick did another TR lap on it and found it less engaging on TR.
Resting before the roof crux.

Rick TRed Route 499 which shares the same anchor as double cross and was humbled by the steep 5.11 slab moves. If the angle is 80 degrees and above but below 90 degrees, should we accept it as a slab?

Start of Rubicon. Guide book says start the vertical crack about 8 feet tall and don’t place pro until you get to the next vertical part. Oh! If you fall the local climbing community will ofcourse consider it as a user error (aka the recent comments written from a hospital bed about Left Ski Track). Have you considered lowering your grade?
Rick extended his piece with a single runner and escaped the drag.
Finger crack part of Rubicon.
View of the whole Rubicon with Rick rejoicing at the top.
Sandy leading The Flake. For me the crux was to get out the chimney and the 5.8 slab at the top. So thankful that they left two bolts alone on the slab section.
Rick leading The Flake as one pitch.
Sandy leading the first pitch of Mike’s Books. Fun off-width.
Second pitch of Mike’s Books. At the top of this off-width, there is a 5.6 slab section with thankfully one bolt left alone. The pro in off-width crack is down low and I didn’t have any pro as I exited the crack. Just smile at the chopped bolt right at the start of slab and walk confidently.
Toe Jam was packed with fun with one heady move as you enter the vertical crack.
On the vertical crack of Toe Jam. Ofcourse there is a short, unprotected slab as the crack ends.
Back bending on the airy rappel.
Sandy leading Lazy Day which didn’t feel so lazy and straightforward.
Rick leading the stemming section of the Orphan. The Orphan provides a lot of variety from crazy vertical stemming, lie backing and an invigorating squeeze chimney with a #2 crack at the back. 5.9 for this route felt like a heinous joke.
Rick at the start of the squeeze chimney of the Orphan.
Sandy leading the Nurn’s Romp. I think getting off the ramp is the only crux. I kept my back on the left wall and chimneyed up it. I thought this route was easier than standard JTree 5.8s.
Roof section of Nurn’s romp.
We TRed The Exorcist which shares the same anchor with Nurn’s Romp. Felt it was quite sustained to place gear. Stout 5.10a.
My most proud lead so far, The Dolphin. I am developing a passion for wide and off width crack at least at moderate grades. Something about full body climbing makes it more exciting for me. The hand crack at the start to about half of the route is so comfortable that I didn’t want to place anything. Finally placed a #2 after the first horn. Then bumped the #4 for a few feet with a left knee jam. Said goodbye to #4 and bumped #5 for a few feet with the left knee jam. After the second horn, I hesitantly waived goodbye to my last pro and started using my shoulder and chest as cams. Rested for a bit and heard my heart pounding but couldn’t find a safe and elegant way to move up except thrutching. Any other movement was spitting me out of the crack. Left thigh jam, pushing down on hands, right knee bar, chicken wings and an intention to get deeper into the crack because despite all my efforts, there was nothing to pull on even as you get close to the lip. Chimney moves work only when you are at the lip. I went to the far end of the lip, found an edge, and leapt towards the water pod on the left wall. Then walked to the bolted anchor while feeling the burn on my right knee due to skin sacrifice that this pitch demands. Overall, the proudest lead in my 4 years of climbing career. I felt even more exhilarated than after my 5.10d sport leads at Smith Rock. As one of the comments mentions, the thought of asking my partner to scramble from the back and drop the rope, did cross my mind but I looked up and thought it’s only a few more feet and I cant give up now. The few feet felt a lot longer than it looks but this whole ordeal was worth it because of the unparalleled mental gains. Salute to John Long who soloed it as a FA on a whim to take pictures of his friends on Bird of Fire.
Wide section of the Dolphin.
After watching so many soloists on Intersection Rock and three test rounds on Hobbit Roof, it was time to test out the confidence in approach shoes. No hands double kneebar rest on the Hobbit Roof.
Dynamically throwing his left hand in the hand crack.
Alpine knee?
Mere mortals like me place pro and take the rope up on Sail Away.
Brilliant, manufactured rest at the strenuous start of Coarse and Buggy. A TR can be set up by scrambling from the back.
At the start of invigorating stem box.
Hand crack that lets you breathe for a minute.
As if this route lacked a crux, it welcomes you with an overhanging lie back before a vertical hand crack. Okay that’s just brutal.
Gotta give some love to blood thirsty cactus.
View during sunset from Real Hidden Valley.
On our penultimate day we did a short 5 mile hike on one of the peaks behind the condos. It felt like a cruiser after our rigorous training 200,000 feet of elevation gain in 2021.
Mandatory hot tub retreats every evening for sore muscles with wine, cheese, and crackers.

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