Rock Climbing California: Joshua Tree National Park Climbing Trip Report, aka the First Annual #jtreetweetup

I've been sitting on several drafts of this post, and even skipped over it to write about my climbing this weekend. I found it near impossible to encapsulate such an emotional roller coaster of a trip with any degree of success when words simply wouldn't suffice. At least, no words I could come up with. After deciding perfect prose might allude me forever at the rate I was going, I decided that it's now or never.

20+ climbers. 4 days. Innumerable lasting memories. I can't believe it actually happened.

The first I'd heard about plans to have a #jtreetweetup, I was almost certain I wouldn't be attending. After all, it was a really long way to go for a tweetup. The furthest I'd ever gone for a planned twitter event was Irish Pub in Philadelphia! I remember thinking, "So, I'm going to get on a plane and travel over 2,000 miles to meet a bunch of strangers in the middle of the desert and sleep in a campsite with them for four days?" But it wasn't just a tweetup. It was a climbing trip. And they weren't strangers. They were friends, and a really incredible group of human beings.

Day 1: Making Our Way to Joshua Tree National Park

Nina and I goofing around in the dark in the campground.
Dan, Nina, and I flew in to Los Angeles, then drove to Joshua Tree. It was an entire day of traveling, and the sun was setting as we entered the park. Eileen, with her incredible organizing skills, had told us all to meet at the Hidden Valley campground where she and Nina S had offered to get enough sites for all of us. But when there weren't enough sites, they secured a bunch at the Ryan Campground instead and left a note for us at Hidden Valley. 

I couldn't believe we got there, the airline didn't lose our baggage, and we were able to find a little note pinned to the back of a bulletin board in the desert in the dark! The planets had aligned, and that set the stage for the rest of the trip. After fireside introductions and chit chat, we went to bed.

Day 2: Hemingway and Gunsmoke

Dan and I were the first ones out of the tents, likely as a result of being on east coast time, the howling coyotes, and the yippy dog a few sites over who seemed to have his heart set on being a coyote too. The best part about that morning, without a doubt, was finally meeting Katie in person and getting one of the long-awaited hugs we'd been talking about! Without any previous knowledge of the park, we eagerly listened as plans to climb at Hemingway materialized. Thinking about trying to decide where to climb without everyone's help was really overwhelming!
Tiffany standing on top of the world! Joshua Tree looks almost other worldly, no?

I pulled out the bouldering book I'd brought and started flipping through it to pick out problems while we drove. I spent a good part of the morning bouldering with Tiffany, Randy and Katie. We made up our own problems, topped out several times, and created one that was hard enough that only Randy was able to send it. When he did, cheers erupted from our little group and echoed around the desert walls. Soon, the entire group of climbers on Hemingway was cheering!

I was excited to belay Dan while he sent his first 5.10c ever on Hemingway, and to watch George fearlessly lead on gear for the first (or second?) time. Watching such an incredibly talented group of people climb was inspiring.

The best non-hugging-Katie part of the day was a stop at Gunsmoke (V3), one of the late John Bachar's problems. It's the first of his I've seen that's within my ability, and it felt like I was touching an important piece of climbing history. Of course, I didn't finish it and heard stories about Bachar completing laps on it, but just trying it and being there made my heart smile. Watching Lizzy send it after so much hard work was fantastic, too. Luke's video of it is here.

Day 3: Echo Rocks and a Little Reflection

Good thing you can't see my face in this shot, I'm terrified!
We spent the second day climbing at Echo Rocks or in the near vicinity. My biggest accomplishment of the day was following Tiffany's mock lead of Double Dip, a 5.6 slab climb. I've never climbed a slab before, and it was pretty intimidating. I learned to stick my butt out while climbing to keep as much of my shoes in contact with the rock as possible, to shift my weight carefully, and to trust my feet. Tiffany belayed from above, shouting encouragement the whole way up while Dan shouted encouragement from the bottom.

Despite the fact that the climb was only a 5.6, it was a huge accomplishment for me. Accepting the fact that, despite the grade, I accomplished something important by doing it took me until last night to understand. 

I spent the whole weekend beating myself up for not sending any 5.10's, which are mostly within my ability indoors, when I should've been congratulating myself for facing my fears. I have a bad habit of putting way too much pressure on myself, setting high expectations, and comparing myself to others. (See?) I was scared. Really scared. But I climbed it anyway.

Confronting that fear, fear of falling, fear of whatever it is, is something I've realized I need t
o do gradually. Every climber, ever person is different. I don't handle fear, stress, or climbing itself the same way others do, and deciding I'm inadequate as a result of my fear is not the best way to overcome it. What I needed to conquer that long (for me), exposed (for me) slab climb was trust in myself and support from my climbing buddies. I got both on Double Dip, and now I understand why each was important.

Meanwhile, a good portion of the group tried and sent Heart and Sole (5.10a) along with a handful of other really difficult, really interesting climbs. Read Eileen and Katie's blogs for more info.

Day 4: The Lost City and Hot Showers!

Dan, Nina M and I were the only ones with plans to stay the entire day, and would be the only two tents in the campsite that night. Most of the group opted to head to Gunsmoke for a final bouldering sessions, then head off to their respective homes while we teamed up with Teri, Teri and Liz for a trip to Atlantis. We said our goodbyes relatively quickly, and I was really bummed we didn't head to Gunsmoke. The quick goodbyes were almost welcomed, though. They delayed the sadness I'd associate with bidding farewell to so many wonderful new friends for a little while, akin to ripping off a band-aid, I suppose.

Atlantis Wall seemed as difficult to find as the lost city itself might have been, and by the time the three of us met up with Teri, Teri and Liz, they'd already found another group of climbers with ropes up. They were friendly and nice enough to let us climb on their ropes and anchors. Liz belayed Nina and I up a 5.7, not sure of the name, that was a mix of crack and face climbing. I loved it. Dan and Chad went off to work a 5.10 while Nina and I moved on to bouldering. Sunburned and tired, we headed into town mid-afternoon for a much needed shower at Coyote Corner and dinner at the Crossroads Cafe. We ran into Eileen there, and it gave us a chance to catch up with her a bit before heading back to the campground for our last, chilly night in the desert.

Monday involved an easy drive to the airport, a completely flawless flight, no lost baggage, and a ride home from Nina's great friend Emily.

* * * * * * *

I delayed this post for several reasons. First and foremost, I was afraid of all the emotions I'd have to face that I'd conveniently placed on the back burner during my whirlwind work week. I'd have to confront the fear I'd felt, what it prevented me from trying, how it affected my mood throughout the trip, and what it meant for my climbing. Second, and similarly, I'd have to miss everyone terribly. Finally, I knew whatever I'd write wouldn't be enough to describe how the trip came together, went off without a hitch, and will be one of my most memorable experiences.

But I confronted the fear, talked through the weekend with family and friends, and understood the positive things I learned and experiences I can take to my next great outdoor climbing adventures. And I confronted The Sad. Not knowing when I'll get to see everyone again, all 20+ of them from across the country and Canada, is hard, but I know it'll happen soon. And I tried to write as best I could what the trip meant to me. I wish I could write something little about every single person I met that weekend and explain what a profound effect meeting each one of them personally had on me, but I'm not sure that would be enough either. I'll just have to sit back, bask in the photos and memories, and bide my time until we all get to climb together again!

Note: the post-tweetup wiki with other blog posts and photo sets can be found here. All of my photos are here.


Tawcan said…
So jealous, sounds like you all had a great time in JTree. Climbed there for couple days about 2 years ago, would love to go back there one of these days.
Tawcan said…
So jealous, sounds like you all had a great time in JTree. Climbed there for couple days about 2 years ago, would love to go back there one of these days.