Joshua Tree

December 23-24, 2002

Pictures 1/9 original size.

Climbing friends from the Bay Area Cindy Chiu, Haijun Cao and Stacey Collver drove down to climb with me at Joshua Tree.  We expected sunny warm weather in the Southern California desert, but I was surprised looking at the forecast to find very cold temperatures with the possibility of rain.  We cut down the trip by a day but still decided to do it.  We got sunny skies but very cold temperatures indeed--around 41 degrees with a cold wind that made it feel even colder.  Not exactly ideal climbing conditions, but the trip was still very enjoyable.

December 23

Stacey, who is the rock climbing director at Twister's Gym in Mountain View and the vice-president of sheclimbs, was by far the most experienced of us.  She was the only one who of us who had been to JT before and the only one who knew how to lead trad.  She suggested we go to the Old Woman rock in the Hidden Valley Campground which had several good moderate climbs on it and was close to Stem Gem, a boulder problem she wanted to try.

When we got there we found a few hard core climbers camping and climbing.  A group was doing Toe Jam (5.7) on Old Woman which looked like a good one for us to try, so we tried some easy bouldering nearby to warm up while waiting for them to finish.

Cindy starts us out bouldering.

Stacey bouldering with Old Woman in the background.

After warming up in the car and eating lunch we finally started up Toe Jam.

Stacey leading the climb.  Actually looking back at the guidebook and at other web pages (for example this one) it appears we actually didn't do all of Toe Jam but rather a sort of variation.  It appears you are supposed to go up the vertical crack at the top center of the rock, but Stacey instead followed the crack she is on all the way to the right, where she knew there was an anchor and rappel rings.

Stacey leading and Cindy belaying.

Since the climb (as we did it anyway) traversed so much, we couldn't set up a top rope for the rest of us to climb.  So the plan was for me to climb second, unclip as I went, and then downclimb and reclip so the next person could climb.  Aside from being my first time climbing at JT, this was the first time I'd climbed using trad protection and the first time I'd traversed so much so high in the air, and I found it the most frightening climb I've yet done.  Plus it was cold and the rock at JT is surprisingly sharp, which is great for friction but very painful for hands.

The start of the climb is one of the hardest parts, and it took me a while to figure out how to get going.  I nearly gave up, dreading the rest was going to be just as hard.  Fortunately past the start the climb it gets much easier and is very fun to climb.  It's easy to stop and rest, and it was no problem unclipping and reclipping.

Here I am following the crack.

I reach the crux (just to the right of me) of our variation of the climb, which was a lot harder than 5.7.  Basically you have no handholds and very sketchy feet.  Knowing I was to have to downclimb the same section to reclip, I gave up and didn't finish this last bit.  Downclimbing wasn't as bad as I feared and I made it back fine.  Stacey (visible to the upper right), who wasn't able to see me, did a fantastic job belaying both directions.  She later told me she could see my shadow but from this picture I'm not sure how.

Cindy wasn't feeling well and decided not to climb, so Haijun climbed next and cleaned the gear.

Haijun nearing the crux.  With some help from the rope she did make it past the crux and to the top.

Poor Stacey had to wait up in the cold a long time while Haijun and I climbed, but here she finally gets to rappel down.

While we were climbing Old Woman, some other climbers summit nearby Intersection Rock.

December 24

We just spent a couple hours in the morning in JT this day.  The wind was down so it felt less cold than the previous day.  Cindy and I hiked up the Ryan Mountain Trail (3 mile roundtrip) while Stacey and Haijun bouldered on nearby rocks.

The hike up Ryan Mountain is really nice, going over a saddle before reaching the peak so you get great views of valleys on both sides before reaching the top with its panoramic view.

Although it doesn't look like it, I'm on the top of Ryan Mountain (5461 feet) and behind me you see the Lost Horse Valley 1000 feet below and beyond that San Jacinto Peak (10804 feet).

Cindy in front of the view in the other direction, of Queen Valley.

Together on the rock pile on the top of the mountain, with San Jacinto Peak in the background.  The mountain to the right is probably San Gorgonio (11,502 feet).  Unfortunately my jacket is billowing out here making me look fat.

Taken on the way down.  Rock formations and mountains made of broken rock.

Stacey and Haijun in the area where they bouldered.

Obligatory shot in front of a Joshua Tree.

Farewell to Joshua Tree National Park...for now.

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