Our day with the guide was really worthwhile - packed full of learning and great experiences. Our guide Joey was very knowledgable and great at teaching. We learned so much but he didn’t overload us with too much information. We can use what we learned and practice it.
We met at the guide shop at 8 am after a gorgeous breakfast here at the house. Egg with cheese, sausage, toast with the spicy pineapple jam we got at the farmer’s market. Joey quickly had us sign waivers and asked us a bit about what we wanted to get out of the day. We headed into the Park to find that they do not accept cash for park passes. We had only cash and were worried we would need to turn back and get a credit card but the nice lady at the booth told us to go ahead and pay next time.
We hiked a short distance through the desert to get to the pile of rocks we would climb. All the climbing areas here look like huge piles of very large rocks just jumbled together. Good thing they are more solid than they look!
We started with a quick climb. Joey set a top rope for us. He explained that most climbs here can be accessed at the top with a walk or scramble up the back or side. The climbing was fun but very different. It was hard to figure out where to put feet. It is very smeary here with no obvious foot holds.
When I got to the top of the climb, I was very interested to see the top rope anchor. Would there be bolts up there or did Joey have to build an anchor using gear?
At the top, I peered up over the edge of the ledge to see three cams set in a horizontal crack. They were connected with a cordellette which ran to the carabiners which held the rope. A well constructed anchor, but three cams! I knew the theory that three bomber pieces make a safe anchor but I had never top roped on an anchor built out of gear. It seemed so small and flimsy to hold my life. The hair on the back of my neck stood up.
I asked for take and lower and Joey carefully fed the rope out to lower me back to the ground. On the way down, I tried to process how three small pieces could be holding me so solidly. It didn’t quite compute.
After we climbed, we changed back into approach shoes for some work on the ground. Joey explained how to place gear and we practiced. Then he showed us how to build anchors and we practiced. Then he set up another top rope on a route that was easy climbing with lots of places to put gear. We planned a mock lead where Dan would belay me on a lead rope while Joey kept me on top rope. I was to pretend I was not on top rope. Problem was he had noticed a small rattlesnake sitting back in a crack near the ground not far from the start of the route. The snake was not aggressive, it was keeping far away from us but it freaked me out all the same.
When it was time for me to start climbing, a lizard ran out onto the ground near where the snake was hiding and I jumped a mile into the air. My heart was racing and I felt short of breath. The start of the climb was very difficult, I was just moving up to get away from the snake area. I could barely focus on placing the gear. Also the footwork was really strange with no good places for feet. I was still freaking out and hadn’t really calmed down at all.
The climb was difficult. At one point, I wanted to place gear and I moved into a kneeling position. Joey commented that if I stood up, I’d be much more comfortable and I would find good placements at a comfortable height. He was right.
Joey went up when I was done and checked my gear. He said it was good except that some of the rock I placed gear in was a bit sketchy. I had to remember to check the quality of the rock before I chose to use it for gear placement. A loose or flimsy flake could break off if I fell on a piece of gear placed behind it.
Then Dan climbed and I mock lead-belayed him while Joey top rope belayed him. Dan did a good job of climbing and placing gear.
We stopped for lunch and decided to spend the afternoon with more practice and skills that would allow me and Dan to go climb on our own. We did another mock lead, this one went way better for me. It was graded 5.4 and the moves were easier but I found I still had to stop and think in a couple of places. At home, climbing 5.4 would be like climbing a ladder. Here in Joshua Tree, it was more difficult than that. We were to learn that the grades at Joshua Tree are really tough.
I relaxed and focused a bit more on the climbing, which was easier, and placing gear, which was fun. I planned where to place the first piece while I was on the ground. Then after each piece, I’d look up and plan the climbing moves and where I would place the next piece. That worked really well.
When Joey checked my gear placements, they were all placed really well. Only thing I missed was checking rock quality. Again! I’d have to work harder to remember that.
Dan climbed as well and really enjoyed it. His pieces were all placed really well.
Then Joey taught us how to create a top rope anchor when the gear placement is really far back from the edge of the cliff and you need to extend it out.
That took us to 5 pm. Joey gave us one last climb, a classic J Tree 5.9, which we did on top rope. I fell a couple times trying to figure out the crux. Dan pulled right through it.
Boy the grades here sure mean different things than back home. A 5.9 here is like 5.11 at home.
Our plan for tomorrow is to go back to the same place and lead the fun 5.4 with no top rope back up. (Superhero Wall). Should be interesting. There are enough ledges and good relaxed stances to be able to place good gear and be protected. We can do it safely and get good practice on lead.
Then we will go to the Atlantis Wall and set up a top rope. We will climb easy routes and place gear on top rope. If we’re comfortable, we will pull the rope and lead.
A lesson on how to extend the anchor from the cams at the back to the edge of the cliff for top rope climbing. A static line is attached to the cams.
One piece on the left side
Two pieces on the right
The next day, we went back to Superhero Wall. Things did not go as planned. Read about it here: