Disclaimer: I’m weak so I speak from a position of authority.
Last weekend, I spent two days in Joshua Tree to do a bit of climbing and a tiny bit of hiking. Follows is my quick guide for noobs going to J-Tree (as the cool kids like me call it). It’s now my favorite place in the world to climb — and I’ve climb in a crazy amount of places, something like 12 or 13 —.
Question: Why is Joshua Tree so great and how would you compare it to Yosemite and Red Rock:
- No crowds. None. No gift shop, no water, no big-ass camps, no hotels, no traffic (which is the case with both Yosemite and Grand Canyon)
- A mind-boggling amount of climbs; if you come up to a climb and it’s taken, you’ll have tons to do within spitting distance.
- The one downside is that this isn’t the place where you’ll be doing long multi-pitch half-day climbs as I like them. Most climbs are single pitch; but given their quality I’d say it’s not a big deal.
Question: OK, but how was the climbing Michael?
Answer: I got my ass handed to me … Being a Northeast climber, I have no idea how to climb a crack. I tried to get on climbs I wasn’t ready for and paid the price in the form of lost dignity. Once I reset my expectations, it went a lot better.
Camping and amenities
We didn’t manage to reserve a site before leaving (no sites available for 3 nights); arriving on a Thursday evening, there were still sites available (we stayed at Jumbo Rocks). Had we arrived a day later, all sites in all locations would likely have been taken. If you can, make reservations or show up mid-week.
Amenities: You have dry toilets all over the park and nice fire-pit/cooking setups at the tent sites. That’s essentially it and it’s awesome that way.
Here’s how we did it: Every evening we’d drive to Twentynine Palms (15 minutes) for super and a shower. We’d then head to the grocery for the next days supplies (breakfast and lunch) which we put in a styrofoam cooler that we got at Target for 8$.
Our tent setup at Joshua Tree in the Mohave Desert
The big Joshua Tree next to our camp site
A coyote close to us
I used a combination of the Mountain Project mobile application and the Winger “60 Favorite Trad Climbs” guidebook. The Winger book is great for locating the different formations and finding the proper parking spots. We hit our climbs pretty much instantly using the guide. The downside to it is that you’ll have a very limited sampling of the climbs (which is the point of their guide), so you might want to complement it with another guide.
Using the Mountain Project app is hit and miss; some of the locations are well described and easy to find when coupled with the pictures; some other location descriptions are close to useless. Again, that’s the nature of crowd-sourcing, so it’s not a complaint, just an observation.
The park is big and climbing here is akin to climbing in the Adirondacks in the sense that you’ll be moving from one location to another a lot. The approaches are generally short and flat so that’s not a big deal.
Climbs don’t seem to be any more or less sandbagged than in any other area (as some have hinted at on the Internets). 5.6 feels like Adirondack or North Conway 5.6.
As well, be warned: the downclimbs can be pretty dangerous compared to most of what I’ve seen around here. If you see a guidebook telling you it’s a 4th class descent, they aren’t kidding. Be careful if you aren’t used to down climbing and scrambling.
Ain’t Nothing but a J-Tree Thing (5.6)
This guys rating: 2/5
The first climb we did at Real Hidden Valley. The approach is an easy 15 minutes from the parking area. The Thin Wall is easy to spot because, well … it’s a thin wall of rock. “Ain’t Nothing but a J-Tree Thing” is a nice easily protected short 5.6 that will give you a taste for the J-Tree rock. I enjoyed it, but wouldn’t call it mega-classic; it was fun.
Keep some big gear for the top anchor. The walk off is on the climbers right through some 2nd/3rd class scrambling.
Fote Hog (5.6)
This guys rating: 4/5
Our only multi-pitch of the weekend. Two pitches of great climbing; highly recommended. We did this on the walk back to the car from the Thin Wall.
- We belayed from the ground, but saw another group setup the belay at the tree. Some have mentioned that the advantage to starting at the tree is that it avoids rope drag; I didn’t feel any drag at all, but then again, I stopped to belay at the top of the crux. Possibly, if you start at the tree you may be able to climb the whole thing in one long pitch.
- The crux is cruxy for a short quasi-dwarf like me; I wish I had 3 inches more (I’ve heard that all too often). From the end of the traverse you’ll end up under the overhang and make for a big jug; the move can be protected using a #3 camalot over your head, therefore you’re essentially doing the move on top-rope this way.
- The second pitch dihedral was beautiful, but too short.
- Build your own anchor at the top of the climb and walk off to the climbers left.
The Thin Wall from the approach
A closer view of “Ain’t Nothing But A J-Tree Thing”. Starts in the middle and follows the left crack.
The Thin Wall on the side where “Ain’t Nothing But A J-Tree Thing” is
View of the boulder fields from the top of The Thin Wall
About to climb the crux overhang on Fog Hote
At the top of Fog Hote. The Thin Wall is clearly visible below
Coming down from the top of Fog Hote
Walking the Mohave desert back to our car after a few climbs
Keystone Crack (5.6)
This guys rating: 2/5
There is confusion between MP and the Winger guide as to what Keystone Crack really is; we did the Winger version of it. The climb is OK but un-memorable. For this non-crack climbing climber the crux was the obvious hand crack which I failed to use properly.
- Gear anchor
- The descent is on the climbers left and goes down the gully that puts you back at the base of the climb.
The approach to Keystone Crack.
Keystone Crack. Follow the central crack which splits to the left
A view of Keystone Crack.
This guys rating: 4/5
I REALLY enjoyed this because it was my first pure crack climb; the kind you can’t cheat using the face, the kind that instills pain in your feet, the kind that feels bomber the whole way.
- The descent directly off the back is the crux. You are in climbing territory for a few feet and a fall would really, really suck. There are many ways to make it safe which will be obvious once you’re there.
- The crack is hand sized in it’s first section and sort of off-width at the top (even a fist jam didn’t cut it). I used all my big gear and ran out the whole top section (it’s actually low angle there).
- The top anchor can be a bit tough to setup; I would have liked to have my #4 (which I had left in my pack), but had to settle for most of my pieces being setup in the right side cracks which didn’t feel all that bomber (questionable rock)
New Toy (5.6)
This guys rating: 3/5
Despite some bashing on Mountain Project, I enjoyed this climb; well protected, fun rock, fun moves and good location.
- Build your own anchor. I put in a bomber #3 up there.
- Rapel rings are to the climbers left. Walk around/behind the big boulder and it’s right around the corner. Not sure how long the rapel is, but I’d imagine that a 60 meter would easily make it (I have a 70m).
- Bring a #4 camelot to protect the middle section. The rest of the gear was finger sized.
Gargoyle as seen from the parking lot. It’s the obvious crack to the right.
My first tape gloves. Happy to have them on Gargoyle
New Toy is the crack on the right; the rappel is to the left just left of the overhang.
A close look at New Toy
Setting up the rappel at the top of New Toy
+1. Like. Would buy again.
Making our way to the first climb of the weekend. All smiles.
My second hand stand ever. A net improvement in form.
Rappeling as the sun sets
The Colorado desert section of the park where there are no Joshua Trees.