2.13.2010

The desert. It seems so far away now that we've returned to the gray, sodden Northwest. Pictures create their own tangential experiences, of course, being mere references to the places and events they record. But we did take some pictures of Joshua Tree relevant to our adventures there.

I've always loved the uniqueness of Joshua Tree. It certainly has an amazing aesthetic of its own.One of the more memorable days of the trip for me was an excursion to the area known as the North Wonderland, a remote part of the park that features rugged, beautiful landscapes and amazing climbing features. Pictured above are the Atom Smasher boulders, home to several classic sport(y) routes from the likes of Tony Yaniro, Randy Leavitt and Ron Carson. We climbed a route called Gumshoe, .10+/.11- on the cleft visible on the large central boulder. It involves a wild 15 feet of stemming and bridging to get to the first bolt.

Ionic Strength, .12a, was a highlight; it climbs the striking steep arete on the left side of the picture. It begins with a lean-across mantle from the other slab. The other 'half' of the boulder features some scary looking runout slab climbs.

Although we didn't climb on either of them, the Timbuktu and Ivory towers offer many fine looking routes. The Ivory Tower is the steep leaning tower atop the larger Timbuktu; it features some of Joshua Tree's hardest sport climbs and some of the nicest looking patina stone I've seen at Joshua Tree. One of the routes, La Machine (.13+) saw its first ascent by Randy Leavitt in 1985; it saw its first (and only?) repeat in 1996! Too crimpy for my poor little finger this trip, but something to look forward to in the future.

Another view of the steep, clean faces on Timbuktu Tower.

The impressive face of the Ivory Tower, short but beautiful
A closeup of the route Ocean Of Doubt, .13b/c

A closeup of another Leavitt sport climb that I stumbled across on the descent from the Ivory Tower. Pumping Hate, .13a, appears to climb a series of underclings on a steep wall. Almost every one of these climbs featured leaver biners from failed attempts. The whole area is incredibly inspiring as it sits at a high point before the desert descends down to Twentynine Palms.
The view: incredible!

We spent our rain days productively. Here's Jeanna attempting the classic Slashface, V3, in prime climbing conditions. The fog and rain lifted just long enough to get a look at Equinox as well. What a crack!

Equinox

The classic Aiguille de Joshua Tree. Every time I see this thing I have to stand on top of it. It's not the actual getting up there that's treacherous (it's 5.6), but rather the obvious fact that someday the whole thing will topple like the blocks around it have!
We explored more of the park than I have in the past. This is another Yaniro route near Split Rocks called The Popsicle, .11d. The start seemed quite difficult and the old homemade rusty bent steel hanger 12 feet up did not look inspiring. The line looks pretty cool, however.

A trip to the South Wonderland area brought us to a classic: Black President, .10+. This climb features tricky moves and protection and the approach is an hour of tunneling through a brush filled wash. There was so much water on the ground from weeks of rain (some of which was received while we were there) that all the washed were running with streams. Pretty unique for this area. I think they got more than their year's average rainfall in a period of two or three days in late January!
In the two or three hours it took to get back to the trail from Black President (thanks to my superbly accurate routefinding), rain began in earnest. Later that night it turned to something else and this was the result the next day.
It is february, after all, and an El Nino year certainly increases the odds of waking up to this scene, even in the desert.
Twentynine Palms doesn't have much to offer other than copious booming explosions from the Military Test Range, a Military Base and the accompanying weirdness. It does, however, have plenty of frightening murals of an historical nature, chronicling the vibrant past of this veritable desert oasis.
We had a great time, of course. The more 'photographic moments' I'm subjected to, the less patient I am. Here (above) it seems I still retain at least some of the dignity to which I've become accustomed.

The thing about Joshua Tree is that it sort of feels like home at this point. I always seem to leave too soon; just when I hit my stride and start leaving camp at 7am for morning solo sessions before breakfast, it's time to go back to real life where the endemic sources of risk are as banal and arbitrary as being hit by moving traffic and being shot during a poorly planned robbery. The intense moments of focus experienced during climbing fall prey to the ennui of the degrading fiction of the city and its environs. More than feeling refreshed by a trip away, I feel mournful to return because I have a clearer idea of some of the things that are easily forgotten, obfuscated by one's own misguided sleight of hand. The icing on the cake: taking the highly practical light rail from the airport to downtown Seattle and waiting for a bus at night on 3rd avenue near the Westlake Center with $1000 worth of gear and clothes in six large backpacks, watching all the fucked up happenings and hoping no particularly sordid character takes an interest in the aforementioned stack of belongings. Ah, reality. You so crazy! Time to start planning the next escape.

2.06.2010

Desert Deluge

Joshua Tree is, of course, wonderful as always. Jeanna and I have been here for a few days, all of which have been gorgeous. Today, however, the rain came as promised by satellite imagery and forecaster discussions from the National Weather Service. Rain is always beautiful here, however, and we were still able to get out and look around. We hiked out to Equinox which was shrouded in mist until we were almost right beneath it, but a sun break parted the clouds long enough for Jeanna to get a glimpse of the stunning climb. I've done it once in the past, but I think we'll most likely be making another sojourn out there for her to try it. I almost managed to get our quaint little Kia Rio stuck in loose, wet sand on the Geology Tour Road, but not quite; the thing has some spunk after all!

The climbing has also been excellent. My goal this trip is to do (at least) one new pitch every day; so far, so good. A few favorites have been: Hidden Arch in Real Hidden Valley. Wow! The thing taught me how to rock climb again; a 5.11- slab thing on the Wart Wall (Compound W? Preparation H?); Electric Blue, a cool face climb on the Little Hunk behind Echo Rock; Trespassers Will Be Violated, a 5.10 on which I almost lost my lunch and my cool. Of the latter, the guidebook states: "Formerly a scary climb with 3 bolts, now bolts on Gun Shy can be clipped, reducing the fear factor a little". The verdict: Now a scary climb with 3 1/2 bolts, since one extra bolt can be clipped and since an old, misdrilled, rusty button head original to the route doesn't fully count! A perfect reintroduction to frightening slab climbing and a lot of fun to boot.

Well, that's about it for now. Hopefully some of our meagre photographical efforts will pay off and I'll be able to post some goodies. For now, adieu.

-A