Joshua Tree – Take 2

Ryans Campground – Headstone Rock

We fiddled around a bit trying to figure out where Headstone Rock is and how to climb up to the start of Cryptic (we only had a photoless version of Mountain Project on a phone; no guide-book). Mountain project descriptions continuously speak of “a Half-Dome looking like boulder at the top of the formation”. The problem is that the boulder at the of Headstone, to my eyes, fits this description perfectly … so I was confused.

It turns out that Headstone Rock is just 100 meters or so from the East end of Ryans Campground. Look for a formation with a huge single boulder standing vertically at its top. You can get up from the side that faces the campground, but we saw people scrambling from the other side as well.

Cryptic (5.8)

This guys rating: 5/5

Once you’ve scrambled to the base of the boulder, you’ll see a bolted line on the right side and another on the left. Cryptic is the one on the right. It has four bolts bolted which I certainly wouldn’t qualify as close, but are nonetheless perfectly placed and where you want them to be.

The climb is unfortunately short (40 feet or so), but the location and great climbing make up for it. Every move on the climb was a pleasure and felt secure. Some have called the top run-out, which is true, but it’s on 5.2/3 terrain.

The top has a set of chains from where you can belay and abseil back to your pack. A single 60 meter will bring you back to the base of the boulder (but will not get you back to the ground).

SW Corner (5.6)

This guys rating: 5/5

On the left of the formation is another 4 bolt climb. This one seamed a bit more serious than Cryptic, but just as fun. The first bolt can seem a bit far and a fall might land you in the gully so you might want to secure you belayer if you feel this is a possibility.

The climbing is great with a couple of exposed moves on the arête to get to the 3rd bolt. A lot of friction moves makes this one seems less safe and harder (it’s not).

Look Ma, No Bolts (5.7)

This guys rating: 5/5

This climb is on The Sentinel at the Real Hidden Valley and shares a start with Fote Hog. I liked this one a LOT and was surprised to find almost no information about it. I found it to be more fun than Fote Hog and would definitely recommend it to anyone who is a competent Joshua Tree climber; there is a serious runout low on the climb which should turnoff a few.

Some fun runout face climbing, 2 small overhangs and a bit of crack make for a great climb. I stopped to belay 30 feet or so from the top because of rope drag, but with proper runner management it’s definitely something than can be done in a single long pitch.

You can walk off and find the main trail by hiking climbers left from the top.

Toe Jam (5.7)

This guys rating: 5/5

We finished the VERY short climbing trip with Toe Jam found at the Old Woman formation accessed from to the Hidden Valley Campground day use area.

The climb is visible from the parking area. To get to it, you’ll need to plan roughly 30 seconds of hiking followed by 30 seconds of scrambling.

The line if obvious; follow the right leaning arch, step over, climb the vertical finger crack; setup a belay at the top.

Railay – Thailand climbing guide for the weak

In another entry of my “mediocre guides for mediocre climbers” (other entries here and here), I bring to you a quick guide to climbing in Railay Thailand in the event that you are like me, weak.

What you need to know about Railay Climbing

  • Because this guide is geared towards weaker climbers, it may be worth noting that although there are a few easier climbs in Railay, there are definitely not a lot. You’ll stay busy for 2 or 3 days at the most until you have to step up your game into the 6b territory.
  • The guide books in Railay use French grading. I found that anything rated “5” would be anything from 5.6 to 5.9. “6a” was easy 5.10ish.
  • Unless you have a room in Railay, you’ll need to take a “boat-taxi” to get there and back. We were settled in Ao Nang, so we’d have to pay the 200 baht per day for the round trip ticket. The tickets can be bought by the beach (towards the East end of Ao Nang beach). You’ll need to sit around waiting while there are enough people to fill a boat. This sounds worse than it is and shouldn’t detract from the fun.
  • You shouldn’t have to bother with “trad” gear. All climbs are reasonably bolted and have anchors at the top.
  • I use the word “bolted” very loosely throughout this post; there are actually a few variations: glue in bolts, bolts with hangers and ropes tied through holes in the rock.
  • You can rent equipment from one of the many climbing boutiques in Railay. Prices vary wildly from one place to the next, so shop around. We paid 500 baht for a half-day rental of a rope and two harnesses. Most shops will lend you a guide book when you rent stuff from them.
  • Most of the moderates we climbed can be reached within a few minutes of the main beach. All of the places we climbed can also easily be “approached” in flip-flops.
  • It’s hot. Real hot. It’s humid. Spend-the-day-sitting-in-a-puddle-of-human-sweat humid. Bring water. A lot of it. Bring chalk. Some of it.

Wall locations

Diamond Cave – Railay East

A fun wall with many easier climbs. It will likely be filled with guides and their clients, especially when the tide is high and the 1-2-3 wall isn’t available.

The Muay Thai Wall – Railay East

This is a great wall for beginners with a few easy climbs. To get there, target the South end of Railay East. The left end of the wall (which contains 3 or 4 climbs) is only available at low tide. Getting to the right hand side involves a tiny scramble up some red dirt up to a nice shaded spot.

The 1-2-3 Wall – Railay East

This wall is only climbable at low tide with the right most part of the wall being accessible earlier during low tide. The wall will likely be filled with guides and their groups, so don’t expect peace and quite. That being said, it’s a fun ambiance and people are having fun, so don’t let it scare you away. This wall, alongside Diamond Cave, probably has the biggest concentration of easier climbs with some really fun and steep routes.

To reach the wall, simply go South following the water at Railay West. You’ll be on the paved path until you hit Muay Thai wall. Hop onto the beach and walk around the tiny island. Do not turn towards Phra Nang Beach.

I highly recommend “Beginner” and the route directly to its left. As well, take note that King Cobra is polished as f*ck taking away from the pleasure.

Fire Wall – Tonsai Beach

We went to this wall for the sole purpose of climbing Groove Tube and it didn’t disappoint. It’s rated 6a (5.10 easy) in the guide-book but I would not put this one at more than 5.8. The reason the first ascensionist gave it a harder grade is he thought people wouldn’t climb it if it were graded a 5. (he is likely correct).

Find the path towards Tonsai and walk North on the beach until you  hit the end. You’ll find a well trodden path that goes up towards the wall. A short scramble (with help from fixed lines) will quickly bring you to the base of Groove Tube.

The Pics

Gothic Arch (5.6) – Adirondacks

This guys star rating: 1/5

This contrasts with a lot of the other ratings you might see on the information highway. But I just don’t feel like the effort to get to this climb is worth it.

The approach

We left from the St-Huberts parking lot at 6:30. The approach is a mixed bag:

  • Up to the damn at the end of the Lake Road, it’s flat(ish) and easy 7km. We took about 1h15 minutes.
  • Once you start ascending towards Gothics, it’s a relentless and steep 4km up to the top of Pyramid Peak bringing you over 2500 feet. This section took us about 1h25 to climb, but most will likely take a bit more (both Phil and I are pretty strong hikers).
  • The bushwhack that starts in the col between Pyramid and Gothics is … well, a bushwhack and all that it implies. We took about 25 minutes to get to the base of the arch.

A few notes about the bushwhack: It starts at the flat section between Pyramid and Gothics, just before you start going back up towards Gothics. There is (as of June 2015) a small cairn and the trail is obvious for the first few 100 feet. You’ll want to make sure you’re in the drainage early on. You can use the included tracklog to figure out where the bushwhack starts. We didn’t exit the drainage early enough, so we overshot the exit by about one hundred feet, so we had to climb back up to the base of the arch (not a big deal).

The climb

I’d suggest a 70m rope for this one (The third pitch is a 210 foot stretcher). There are no pitons, bolts or hangers. We followed the line spelled out in Adirondack Rock.

P1: Start on the left side of the big obvious arch climbing straight up then shooting for a grassy ledge on the right. Right of the grassy section is a nice big ledge where you can use chockstones to setup a belay. Run-out but easy, I only got one piece in.

P2: Go up the left facing corner, traverse over the two wet black streaks then diagonal your way up to the right end of the big arch. The rock is much more textured and featured than it looks like from the belay. The pitch is almost a full rope length. The belay was setup at a nice set of features where bomber gear was all over the place.

P3: Starts off on a steep section with a cool toilet bowl looking feature (right off the belay). Once over the steep section, keep going straight up over very runout but easy 5.2x terrain until you hit the tree island. P4 starts to the right of the tree island, so try to setup your belay on that side.

P4: A shitty pitch where you follow mossy and wet rock up to the base of the first overlap. Here the gear anchor was VERY marginal … Would suggest trying to stay in the woods to set it up instead of under the overlap.

P5: Here we didn’t follow the guidebook and instead went straight to a small right facing arch about 200 feet up. The pitch goes over a few overlaps and has the nicest climbing of the day. The first overlap is passed by going around left.

P6: A few feet to the top, simply follow the line of least resistance until you can see a few broken bushes where other climbers have setup the last belay. The reason we didn’t link this with P5 is that we ran out of rope.

The bushwhack out is an easy hundred feet or so through dense, but manageable krummholz (assuming you finish the climb where we did).

We took about 4 hours to complete the 6 pitches. As mentioned before, I don’t feel that this is even close to a classic, but it’s definitely a fun alpine outing. The gear is often marginal and the rock crumbly and hollow. You’ll want to be a solid 5.6 climber with some slab experience (i.e.: runout with a good head) before leading this one.

The descent

We opted to hike towards Armstrong instead of heading back towards Pyramid Peak. Either way, getting back to the car will take another couple of hours.

The Tracklog

The photos

Tunnel Vision (5.7) – Red Rock Canyon

This guys rating on a scale from 1 to 5: ***

The Approach

It was my third try on the Angel Food wall. Five years ago I got onto Lean Lady but after a long bungled approach we had to cut the climb short with daylight dwindling. Last year we had walked up to the cliff wanting to do Group Therapy, but once again getting lost on the approach meant we didn’t even start climbing. A good navigator I am not.

This time we hit the nail on the head and hit the cliff exactly where we needed to (you can look at the tracklog below to get full details). Most guidebooks mention this approach to be 20 minutes; I doubt that to be reasonable even for the fittest. You’ll want to count at least 30 minutes.

Park at the White Rock parking lot and go down the dirt road where the White Rock Loop trailhead starts. After about 10 minutes or so (at the first major left turning bend), where you’ll fork onto a climbers trail. The climbers trail can get confusing, so make sure you aim for the large right facing arch (see pictures) while trying as hard as possible to stay on the trail (following footsteps is unfortunately not always the correct way to do this).

Pitch 1 (5.7+)

The hardest moves are right off the deck. A steep start followed by a hand traverse with small hidden feet bring you into a corner which you’ll follow up to a large ledge. I setup the belay below the steep chimney in a good crack system, but that wasn’t ideal since my rope was constantly wedged between two rocks while belaying. Setting up a redirect or belaying closer to the edge might be a better option.

Pitch 2 (5.4)

A steep but easy pitch. With a pack it wasn’t terribly enjoyable. The two bolt belay is part way up the second chimney (on the left side) but because the party ahead of us was still there, I setup shop 20 feet below.

Pitch 3 Variation (5.8)

The 2 chimney pitches didn’t sound fun with a pack, so I chose to climb the left hand side bolted variation. Right off the fixed anchor, step onto the face where you can clip a bolt. From here, you’ll pas another bolt before hitting a fun corner where you can plug some gear. Another 8 o 9 more bolts will up to another fixed anchor.

This was a surprisingly great pitch with some great knob and flake climbing.

Pitch 4 Variation (5.6)

Another semi-bolted pitch, you’ll want to follow a few bolts and cracks while leaning towards the right. The pitch finishes at the mount of a very large cave where you’ll find a few options to setup a belay. This is the start of famous tunnel pitch.

Another nice and easy pitch.

Pitch 5 (5.6)

This is the pitch that gives the route its name. From all the reading I did prior, it never became clear how this pitch is usually climbed. I did NOT climb it the way it was intended … From some further reading and sleuthing it seems like going to the far end of the tunnel and stemming the whole way up is the “correct” way.

For myself? I went straight up the polished rock about midway in which deposited me under the right hand side window (i.e.: The wrong one). I then traversed back towards the far left chockstones which got me to the exit corner. Despite some people saying it’s silly, having a headlamp would have been nice; the single piece of gear I plugged had to be put in without proper inspection (it was in front of my face, but I couldn’t see the lobes) and I had to use my hands to feel out the foot holds … Needless to say that this weak fool was sort of gripped.

A nice and unique pitch, but a serious one. I setup the belay at the top of the exit corner.

Pitch 6 (5.7)

From the belay after the tunnel, I followed the obvious line up to the top of a large boulder on the left. There is a steep 5.7 section towards the end of the pitch. If you want to avoid this, there is apparently an easy way out towards the left before the roof.


Go back down the gully that is the climbers left. There are a few 3rd class sections, but despite what it looks like from the top, it’s a surprisingly easy descent. There are a LOT of cairns, so if you lose them for a while, you may be off track.


I brought: 70m rope, double set of cams up to 1 inch, one of each C4 #2, #3, #4, set of dmm offset nuts, 12 draws (you’ll need them all if you do the bolted variation).

The Pictures

The Tracklog

Note: The descent information is useless; this is because my watch records a point every second, we were slow and GPS is imprecise. 

Cannon Cliff and the Black Dike

This guys star rating: 3.14/3.14

We got up early. Real early. With the time change, our bodies were feeling 4:45. Sleeping in Lancaster meant a longer drive in the morning than we wanted, but there was nothing available close to the Notch. We wanted to be in the parking lot for 7:00 which we did. Alas another group of fellow Quebecers drove in seconds after us and were quicker to gear up. They would get first dibs at the dike which meant a constant rain of ice on our heads for most of the day.

The approach

The familiar bike path usually taken to make it to Cannon Cliff becomes a snowmobile highway in the winter. We signed the climbers register and headed Southbound on the trail. At some point, somewhere around the middle of the cliff, we crossed the climbers trail and started up. From a semi-dense forest, we moved into the boulder field where the snow filled gaps between rocks made hiking delicate and precarious, and finally hit the steep 200 foot snow field which brought us to the bottom of the climb.

There seemed to be a few trails coming up … I’m fairly certain we didn’t take the right one and could have continued down further on the snowmobile path, but it worked. I wanted to avoid overheating so I kept the pace slow and steady. After all, with no one behind us and a group ahead there was no rush.

Pitch 1 (W2)

A nondescript and long pitch that brings you to the foot of the money pitch. We setup the belay to the right of the ice runnel at the foot of a bulge. You’ll want to be sure you have somewhere to take cover when the ice comes raining down.

Pitch 2 (W3-4)

The money pitch. We had it easy; the rock traverse was short (5 feet or so) and I didn’t have to swing my axe or crampons a single time. It was hooking all the way. The pitch is beautiful and unique, and in fat conditions, easy for this week climber. We setup the belay at a set of 3 pitons on the left side of the wall.

Pitch 3 (W3)

Most of the pitch is pretty easy, but not to be underestimated as there is an awkward and steep bulge midway. Once again, hooking was the name of the game. With a group rappeling below us I was tip-toeing making sure I wasn’t dislodging anything. The belay is at the top of the cliff on a tree.


Please, don’t rappel this if you don’t need to … The walk off takes the same amount of time as the rappels so why would you choose to rain down ice on people below you …

From the top of the climb, simply head South (climbers left) and follow the path. We kept our crampons on and walked the whole way down, but the people who had descended just before us had butt slid most of it (I’d say 50% of the descent can be done on your butt).

The Photos


The Tracklog