It's no small wonder that opinions are divided (at least amongst rock climbers) about an area that boasts no route longer than three short pitches, rock that mostly resembles poorly consolidated cat litter except in areas where it is either worn smooth by skittering shoe rubber or covered with a varnished patina formed in the crucible of eons of scouring winds and the brutal punishment of the desert sun.
For those of us that choose to be disciples of this peculiar variety of rock, there is, however, endless joy in unraveling the impossibly intricate sequences on forty-foot rock climbs, the punishingly difficult movements and vertical friction slabs.
Two days ago I dropped a rope over what is certainly one of the most mind-numbingly difficult traditional pitches I've ever seen: Dihedron. Appropriately enough, Dihedron is a dihedral, a v-shaped inward corner in the rock. It is no more than sixty feet long and either vertical or overhung. It boasts the lofty grade of 5.14, making it one of the two most difficult pitches in the park, at least gradewise. Since this is three number grades harder than the hardest dihedral I've tried, I have no idea how to rate it. I know that with Minitraxions on full alert, I was able to complete all of the moves, some even linked in sequence. I also brought my left shoulder muscles close to catastrophic failure, core-shot my rope where it ran over the grainy topout despite my efforts to protect it and walked back through the silent rockpiles of the Wonderland feeling like I'd been beaten severely, which I had by a rather steep, obtuse cleft of large-grained monzonite granite.
I love Joshua Tree. It is idiosyncratic, cryptic, yet warm and oddly welcoming.
Every strange hijinx, either within line-of-sight of my own campsite or deep in the furthest reaches of the wildernesses of stone, cat claw and animal dung brings me newfound joy and a sense of accomplishment, even of exploration despite following, often enough, in the footsteps of others from decades before.
When I leave here my climbing fitness will not be at its zenith. I will not trounce difficult boulder problems with aplomb or gun my way up the steepest, proudest sport routes in good style. However, anywhere where grainy, scary slab climbs and sharp, poorly protected cracks soar forth thirty to sixty feet above the desert floor amongst oddly organic, rounded rock piles that look as though they would harbor naught else but the owls, bats and rodents of the desert, I will be well prepared.