Perched atop a pile of granite rubble like a capsized boat waiting to sink, the Headstone is a characteristic Joshua Tree oddity begging to be climbed. Take your pick from the 5.6 Southwest corner on up to the 5.13b Northeast corner. By any account, the Headstone swells the roots of climbing inspiration. Any little kid walking by would give up their scrumptious Almond Joy chocolate nouget to scamper to the top of such a striking rock.
Fortunately for us, all the kids were copped up in their Majestic® campers playing checkers or whatever the hell it is kids do these days. Thus we had the Headstone to ourselves on a beautiful Saturday and we took advantage.
We stuck to the Headstone moderates and enjoyed the exposure.
Thousands of Joshua Trees strewn across the landscape became planted in my memory as I tried to stop time while the sun took a final bow behind distant granite monuments.
We returned to camp with cracked and flaking skin, aching shoulders and empty bellies. Fortunately we had the three essential ingredients for any successful camping trip: brownies, Budweiser and gummy worms. My recommendation: Wrap a gummy worm around a brownie and throw it in your gullet like a piece of sushi. Rub your throat and wash the majestic concoction down with a slosh of warm Budweiser. Deciphering such complex cravings is a powerful testament to one’s culinary creativity. Though Lenny and David politely declined my offer, sticking instead to full-grained Fig Newtons for proper desert, I could see it in their eyes: curiosity, a hint of envy and careful mental note-taking.
Powerful moonlight and clear skies made headlamps irrelevant as the nighttime shadows circled around their sources. Not a single cloud dared disturb the deep morning blue and as the sun started its shift, Sunday began warm. We packed up camp and split into three groups. Lizz and Sara went in search of bouldering. Kris and I wandered to Hot Rocks, an intense 4-star 5.11, while David and Lenny found The Bong, an excellent 5.5 splitter that tackles a roof and summits The Blob in Hidden Valley.
I started up Hot Rocks instacrux and quickly realized I was in for a battle. Gear was hard to place, forcing strenuous, delicate body positioning. Trying to leave the precious few finger locks and hand holds free of metal added yet another dimension to a difficult onsight attempt. When a .5 BD cam blew and sent me for an unexpected whip at the tough crux, I started asking myself if a bail would be in order. But I recomposed, pulled back on, got a better piece and kept moving. Pressing my foot on the inside of the crack and cranking on a gaston, I stretched to place a good .75, clipped and immediately fell. At this point a few other climbers had gathered around to watch the show. One of them was projecting the line and gave me some quality beta. Above the finger crack, the line opened up to hands and a beautiful 2 inch splitter gained the summit.
Hot Rocks was exactly what I needed. I haven’t been on an intense gear route in months. Having to manage my nerves, the unexpected, harder than anticipated climbing and difficult but sufficient gear reminded me why I love trad climbing. The extra mental elements take the sport to another level. If I return to J-Tree, a return to Hot Rocks will be on the top of my list.
After our morning adventure, Kris and I joined the ladies for some bouldering fun while David and Lenny were busy climbing Hobbit Roof, a unique route including 5.10 slab that leads to a roof and a hand crack. Then they rounded out their day by hiking the amazing loop around the Real Hidden Valley.
Though Sara was making impressive progress on a very difficult V4 slab, we chased the shade to JBMFP (V5), one of the best J-Tree problems at the grade.
JBMFP turned out to be the perfect one hour project and we joined a group of awesome boulderers working the problem, many of whom were friends with Kris and Sara. The perfectly sculpted 15 feet requires precise footwork, cranking on a shallow sidepull, balance, big moves and a major lock-off – a true all-around test of a boulder problem. It was redeeming to send after getting humbled by Hot Rocks and left me even more satisfied with the trip. Not surprisingly, Kris dispatched the problem with a handful of tries and Sara made great progress. She is climbing strong and it’s inspiring to see. I give her a 10 out of 10 for ‘try hard.’
We met back up with David and Lenny, loaded up the Cessna and departed for Livermore with a cruising altitude of 8,500 feet. As the sun set over the majestic mountains we enjoyed the memories of an unforgettable trip.
Into a slight headwind, we cruised along at 130 knots, which by my calculations is 17,421 miles per hour or 73 furlongs per fortnight if that’s your persuasion. David assures me that I’ve made an error, but I’ve had enough of his “math” and “science.”
In the end, we didn’t even scratch the surface of the 8,500+ routes within the Joshua Tree park boundary. The tick list just keeps on growing.
Click here to read part 1 of the Joshua Tree saga.