It was Christmas time in Nebraska and I was home helping my Dad brew his first batch of beer, a golden pale ale that would later be discovered as elegant yet bold with a whispy effervescence commingling with complex character only a true blue brewmaster can conjure from cascade hops. I loaded the car in freezing Nebraska style as a week’s worth of goodbyes beckoned in Boulder before beginning anew in California. Climbing was far from the forefront of my thoughts and Joshua Tree was more of a vague concept than a concrete place. So when I opened my email to find an invitation to join David and Lenny on a trip to Vedauoo’s big brother – by Cessna – I had to think for just over a nanosecond before sending a simple reply, “Hell yes.”
Much has passed since that time in Nebraska, but through all the changes and stress of moving, I could look forward to visiting one of America’s landmark climbing destinations for the first time. Neither did traveling there in a 4-seat car with wings escape my anticipation.
David is the president of The Flying Particles, a Bay Area pilots club. His father worked in the airline industry and for years David wanted to become a pilot. After completing his post-doc, he finally got the chance and has been flying ever since. What is undoubtedly routine for him was exciting for the rest of us and we piled in ready for a new experience.
After a textbook takeoff, we were cruising at 11,500 feet. Lenny fed some Dire Straits into our voice-activated headphones and we sailed over the central valley taking in the sights. Unlike a commercial flight in which cruising altitude can be 30,000 feet or more, our lower altitude and clear conditions allowed us to see the California landscape in beautiful detail.
I learned one very important lesson. Don’t drink a healthy cup of tea immediately before a 3-hoour Cessna flight. We landed in Palm Springs and I sauntered past the private jets to the swank airport restroom for some long relief. Then it was off to our desert destination and some J-Tree climbing.
We arrived on Friday in time to grab an awesome campsite shielded from the breeze and complete a few routes before sunset. To get our feet wet, Lizz and I hopped on a 5.3 that I would definitely not solo. Meanwhile, Lenny and David found a quality, easy hand crack to break in the trip. After that we met back up for a short sport line and then time ran out. The cold evening wind pushed us back to camp and we kept warm by our fire until retiring for the night.
Saturday was our full-value day and we started it off with two perfect splitters – Sail Away (5.8) and Wild Wind (5.9). Getting used to J-Tree climbing and gear while sinking our mitts into some satisfying jams couldn’t have been better.
Then, while hiking to the Tumbling Rainbow formation, unbeknownst to us, we were being followed by a couple quiet friends, Kris and Sara. We had planned on meeting in the park, but with no cell phone reception, we assumed that camp would be the only opportunity. Instead, we got to spend the rest of a fantastic Saturday climbing with them.
The two characteristic lines on Tumbling Rainbow are sister sport routes up a 100 foot blank face. Both have spicy runouts on slabby sections. But both were excellent lines and highlights of the trip. Mixing in some dicey sport lines with the solid traditional routes made for a unique day on the rock.
Our weekend felt like it was just getting started. We packed up shop and wandered to one of Joshua Tree’s true oddities, The Headstone.