Normally I write a “year in places” post, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent much of this year at home, in Colorado and other states of the American West (WY, UT, CA). A look back on the year thus involves a bit less horizontal distance, and a lot more vertical!
Most of these climbs involve 5-10 miles of hiking in addition to the technical climbing. This isn’t Europe, and you can’t ride the telepherique to your objective. Here, you gotta walk.
This turned out to be a pretty good decision, as the cold of the California high desert killed my phone battery. So, while my climbing partner Jose had a high-end DSLR to take as many photos as he wanted (and they are great), I was limited to shooting on film.
I had only 24 exposures for more than three weeks on the road. That meant I didn’t take a lot of them, but every photo I do have is sincere. In addition to the prints, they gave me digital copies of all my photos, too.
It was the final day of our climbing trip. Three weeks of
uninterrupted time together: me y mi hermano
I had introduced Jose to bigger, more complex forms of climbing, while he had mentored me in Spanish, my second language. We had shared a soggy tent, shivered through a few cold January nights, spent half our budget on alcohol, eaten like dirtbags. Laughing, learning. We had made a strong memory.
I had pushed for Vegas. I wanted Jose to get a taste of real multipitch climbing. I wanted to get high — something you can’t really do in Joshua Tree.
In the end, I’d won. We drove to Vegas for a few days.
Our final day, we slept late and headed in to climb Birdland around noon. We stopped at the First Pullout in the Red Rock Loop Road, to look at some of the beautiful rock formations, and see if we could glimpse some of the sport climbing crags — shorter, bolted cliffs.
The rock at the Calico Hills in Red Rock Canyon is filled with swerving lines: undulating waves of red, white, and shades in between. Without hurry, Jose and I walked the trails off the pullout, breathing in cool, fresh air. Despite being so close to Las Vegas, a major city with plenty of pollution, Red Rock feels crisp.
Walking back to la camioneta (our truck), three people around a small folding table waved us over. “Free food?!” they yelled. Dead broke after three weeks of too many cervezas, we swerved right over.
Two of the group were ambassadors for Climbstuff.com. The third, a guy in his late twenties or early thirties, was looking for people to climb with. We chatted for a bit while we ate bananas and tortillas.
“Well,” I say, “we were going to go climb Birdland, if you want to tag along. Multipitch.”
His face lights up, he thinks about it for a sec, and he says: “Yeah, that would be great! You guys got wheels? Just let me grab my stuff.”
No lo permitiremos para quedar, I tell my climbing partner, Jose. We’re not going to let him stay.
He nods, voices his assent in Spanish as we pull up to our site in Hidden Valley Campground, in Joshua Tree National Park. Hidden Valley Campground is the center of the Joshua Tree climbing scene, and on a Friday night, the place is swamped with after-work weekend warriors heading out from Los Angeles and San Diego.
Twenty-four million people live in Southern California. The 42 camping sites in Hidden Valley aren’t nearly enough to handle the demand. Luckily, Jose and I had arrived early and staked our claim.
Still, when we returned from town, we found a minivan parked in our campsite. The campsite could accommodate two vehicles, and we had only one. Graciously, the interloper had left space for us to park. Still, I wasn’t in the mood for company. We’re not going to let him stay, I told Jose.
Immediately after we’d parked, a young man walked up to the driver’s side window, and started to plead his case. Before he had time to get two sentences out, Jose interrupted him: “Yeah man, you can stay.”
Awesome! he said. Thanks guys. I’m gonna run off and try this boulder!
Hey all, I just got back from a pair of trips: a climbing trip to Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California; and a long-weekend of ice climbing in Ouray, Colorado.
Words are forthcoming about both ventures, but for now, I just wanted to share some photos my climbing partner Jose took while we were in J-Tree.
I brought all the climbing toys, and Jose brought his photography toys. Let me tell you — it pays to adventure with a professional photographer! It makes a biiiiig difference to have someone who knows what they’re doing along! (and someone who has all the expensive lenses, hehe).
Check out some of his best shots of Hidden Valley Campground, below.