Hiking in a dry dusty desert for a few miles, then rounding a corner and seeing that beautiful green oasis is a unique experience. The air was much cooler and damp under the fan palms. We totally understood how finding the proverbial oasis in the middle of the desert could feel.
After the Thanksgiving crowd came and went, Joshua Tree is back to its normal quiet self, especially during the week, away from the main tourist destinations of the park. We have the crags to ourselves and it feels glorious!
One afternoon, the kids didn't feel like joining us, so JF and I took off just the two of us while they stayed back at camp with their friends and Jennifer and Karl. We were exhilarated to be climbing just by ourselves. I could actually hear the silence of that place, the bling-bling of the quickdraws dangling from JF's harness as he climbed, the swoosh of the rope as I quickly fed him some rope to clip. We each climbed two great routes in less than 2 hours, something impossible when you have to belay 6 kids on every route!
When we came back to the rig, the 6 kids had completely cleaned the bus and had prepared a delicious feast for the both of us! How awesome! We were speechless!
Since we are back at Joshua Tree North BLM, we are only 15 min from Indian Cove (one of the main rock climbing sector in Joshua Tree NP) and we go there every afternoon. Yesterday, after trying to set up a route and deciding against it after the first bolt (yes, we are very careful!), we worked on some bouldering problems. Boudering is hard work, but oh so rewarding!
I left some blood and tears on that wall... and maybe a bit of my ego too.
It is such an empowering feeling to leave, just Jennifer and I in the Westy with all the kids piled up in the back and head to the crag. Joshua Tree routes are not easy to find and you never know what to expect. As I said in my last post, there are often bolts missing, big runouts (long distances without a bolt or protection on the route) and impossible to find anchors on top (which is not a problem for trad climbers who can install their own protections, but it can be a problem for us, sport climbers). So we felt pretty badass leading the kids through a fun scramble in a canyon up to the routes, then assessing the routes with them (trying to spot bolts and anchors), making the decision to climb or not depending on that assesment and finally climbing a different route further down. We came back to the Westy at moon rise (again!) and felt so full from another day at the crag together!
The next day, Jennifer had a fall while leading a route that was supposed to be an easy 5.5 (we renamed it 5.5. My Ass!). And she sprained her ankle pretty bad. Three months ago it was JF that broke an arm in a mountain bike accident, then a month ago, Karl sprained his foot when he fell while lead climbing and his foot got caught... (and no! I am not next!). It is easy to assume that we partake in high-risk sports and that injuries are to be expected. It is in part true and we consciously choose to life an active life doing sports we love even if there are risks involved. Is there anything that is risk-free? Choosing to not be active also comes with a different type of risk (health consequences mainly). Also, a person might be a risk-taker in one sphere of its life and risk-averse in another one (one might bungee jump, but never invest in the stock market, for instance).
Due to media-coverage, many non-climbers are aware of numerous climbing fatalities. When a non-climber looks at a rock face and thinks its crazy for anyone to climb, a competent climber might see an established and well-protected route on immaculate rock and rightly judge it not risky.
Of course rock climbing involves a certain amount of risk. But with risk comes rewards. We all know what it feels like to be afraid of something, but to overcome it, to succeed, that's one of the best feelings in the world (inspired by this short movie).
But still, the question remains (at least in our parents and siblings head!):
“So, why are you taking risks? If you look deeply enough, you’ll realize you take risks to grow and growth gives you experiences that make you feel alive. It’s important to recognize when your ego takes you off that path of growth. Take risks that are appropriate for you, learn what you need to learn, and feel alive and fulfilled in the process.” (from this great article). Read on for more excerpts from this article...
“Many climbers begin climbing in a gym. Mark Twight points out that in the gym, a climber expects to confront a minimal amount of fear and to have anxiety managed by others. We become accustomed to someone else managing these risks, which can lead to a false sense of security when climbing outside. In this way we tend to insulate ourselves from the situations we are engaged in. We’ve expected others to manage the risk while we were focused on having a nice, comfortable experience. The more comfortable and safe we make situations, the more separated we are from them.
Cars, these days, lock the doors, turn on/off the lights, and beep when we haven’t put on our safety belt. Decision-making has been taken away in an attempt to keep us safe. Does safety lie in gadgets making decisions for us or in technology that disengages us from the risk? Henry Barber’s maxim is “do more with less”. His approach puts him in close proximity to the risk with minimal insulation. He states that doing more with less [technology] requires creativity. It allows us to be the leader of our life and decisions, rather than succumbing to the sheep mentality. What we need to keep in mind is why we do what we do.”
Joshua Tree is a mecca for trad climbers! Undeniably one of the best places in the United States. However, when it comes to sport climbing, there isn't that many routes. Or rather, there are routes, but they are scattered here and there, and the only two spots where there are more than 2 or 3 routes require over one hour of approach walk, scrambling up ball bearing scree, washes and canyons.
We spent most of our days at Indian Cove campground where there are sport routes right behind the campsites. It was kind of weird to climb on someone's campsite while they were gone, but it was an ideal spot with no approach at all.
Cryptic is hands down the most popular sport route in Joshua Tree (and in the overall top 10 of the park). Headstone rock stands proud and tall over Ryan Campground and simply begs to be climbed. However, the scramble up is quite sketchy with big drops, especially for short legs. It was a real shame to turn around, especially since there is almost always a line up for this awesome route (and that now, there was only a party of 2), so I stayed down with the kids while JF and Jennifer went up.
The kids found an amazing cave and bouldered in it (then turned it into a two storey house). I chatted with a super nice woman climber from Colorado as the sun was setting and I watched JF make it to the top of that crazy high boulder. The top platform is about 6 feet x 6 feet and you can sit on top to watch the moon rise, then rappel down. What a life we live!
Do you see how different the light is in the desert? The sun feels hot on our skin during the day and it feels glorious to lay on the hard cracked soil and soak up its warmth. The night air is crisp and smells of winter. The sky is wide open and the moon shines so bright we don't needlamps. It creates the best moon shadows I have ever seen! No wonder there has been scenes from Star Wars filmed right here!