Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park

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(Did you know it’s the Centennial Celebration of the National Parks? It is! The National Parks Service is officially celebrating their 100th birthday on August 25th. I absolutely love and respect the National Park Service and plan on doing a whole bunch of National Park posts this month. Check out my last posts about Rocky Mountain and Arches. Next up is this one, Joshua Tree National Park….)

Back in January, way at the beginning of the year, my boyfriend and I got the chance to take a two-week vacation and go on a road trip. We chose California, with the main goal to climb Mt. Whitney (because it’s my name, duh). While we did not summit Mt. Whitney (and a whole different story), we got to venture and explore some other places on our way to and from home.

Attempting Mt. Whitney

Attempting Mt. Whitney

On our way back towards Golden, CO we stopped for a few nights to camp and climb in Joshua Tree National Park. All climbers LOVE it here, supposedly. I wrote a little bit about it when I first returned home from that trip here.

Joshua Tree was a really cool place to visit. The scenery, plants and animals is so different from anything I had ever seen. I loved it and wanted to take a million pictures.

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We visited in January which meant it wasn’t that hot in the desert. In fact, it was a bit chilly which made it really hard for me to climb. (If you are a climber and are reading this, please keep in mind I am sorta new to climbing and a bit of a pansy. I don’t like cold hands).

We had a couple of days to get in some climbing but was thwarted with the cold weather, rain, and difficulty of climbing. I cried a lot of tears as we kept reaching different challenges (including a super stressful down climb).

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Climbing in Joshua Tree is old school. All the routes are way more difficult than they are rated in the guide books, the rock is rough and feels like sand paper, there are not a lot of rappel loops to get off the rock (meaning you have down climb the back sides of routes) and there’s mostly crack climbing, which is not fun for a beginner. Picture wedging your toes and hands between two giant rocks and using those appendages to pull yourself up. Yes, it hurts.

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We camped at the south end of the park which meant that we got to drive through the beautiful sights every time we went to a climbing area. Joshua tree is characterized for the giant rocks (sometimes looking like a giant kid piled them up) and for the actual Joshua Tree plants that grow there.  All of these characteristics offer great photographic opportunities (and me wishing I had a better camera).

Some of my favorite things:

-The Cholla Cactus Garden: these cool, super pointy cacti that grew only in one section of the basin in the park.

Cholla cactus

Cholla cactus

-Skull Rock: Literally as it sounds; a rock that is in the shape of a skull.

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-Indian Cove: a ton of climbing!

This is the main views of Indian Cove.

This is the main views of Indian Cove.

Getting there:

  • Enter the park from the south side off of I-10 or the north side off of HW 62
  • Park Website

Tips:

  • A smaller National Park but with a lot of things to see. If you are just a sight-seer, you could totally make a great one day trip out this place.
  • Climbers: you could spend a week (or more) climbing all that Joshua Tree has to offer!
  • Tape your hands, if you’re going to climb. 😉 (A little bit of an inside joke between my boyfriend and I. We’ll see if he catches it).

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First adventure of 2016: COMPLETE.

Back to life, back to reality. I always repeat that song (in my head) when I get back from a vacation. Although, I have been back for two weeks and only now am finding time to finish this post.

We got back home last week, two weeks ago. It was 1am Monday morning, bed at 2am (a shower was a must after 10 days of camping), and back to the grind at 6am.

But what a wonderful adventure we had! Here’s a quick-ish view of our vacation! I would love to go in more detail on a few of our stops in some future posts.

New Years

We weren’t planning on starting our vacation until the first of the year but we decided to take an extra day and go up to Buena Vista, CO to the Mt. Princeton Resort. My friend is in a big swing band, William and the Romantics, and they were playing that night, New Year’s Eve! It was a blast! We rang in the new year by attempting to swing dance, soaking in the hot springs and hanging out with friends. It was lovely.

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Death Valley

Quickly after 2016 arrived, we headed straight to bed to get up the next morning and start the long drive to California. The plan: drive as long as we can before we needed to sleep.

We made it to Death Valley! We decided to camp there since neither of us had been before. Plus, it was free! We arrived way after sun had set and couldn’t see a thing out our car window in the dark park. We found our intended camp ground, set up the tent and went to bed. We woke up the next morning to some fantastic views!

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View from the campground

View from the campground

Since we were already there, we decided to venture around the park and check it out. We visited the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Artist’s Palate, and went for a short, shake out run to Darwin Falls. We even saw some coyotes!

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Mesquite flat sand dunes

 

Artist's Palate

Artist’s Palate

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Coyotes

Darwin Falls

Darwin Falls

Lone Pine/Mt. Whitney

With daylight still around, we decided to set up camp at our next destination in Lone Pine. The plan: to hike the mountaineer’s route of Mt. Whitney the next day.

After eating a fulfilling dinner (spaghetti before a big day, duh!), we went to bed to wake up at 2am to start the long hike.

We didn’t summit the 14er (the tallest one in the lower 58 states), but we got in a great hike and my first attempt at mountaineering. The route/hike was a little harder than I had anticipated (I’m sure Ben could have blazed up and down the thing, twice) and I was already feeling worn out with 2/3 of the hike left. Plus this my first time doing anything like this, wearing mountaineer’s boots and crampons. We turned around at the three-mile mark, Boy Scout Lake, which already had an elevation gain of 2,000 feet! I learned a lot and want to go back and try again…maybe during the summer months!

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Sleep was nice that night but it was another cold night in Lone Pine. They next day we checked out the Alabama Hills, where a ton of movies and commercials were filmed. We learned all about it with a stop at the Film History Museum of Lone Pine. A ton of Westerns, Ganga Din, parts of Django Unchained, a scene from Iron Man, Tremors, parts of Star Wars, and a TON more were all film here!

the Alabama hills..interesting rocks!

The Alabama hills..interesting rocks!

San Diego and the Zoo

After the museum…we got right back in the car and navigated our way to San Diego! Oh the traffic – oh the horrors! Both my boyfriend and I can’t stand traffic and boy was there a lot in that part of the world! But we made it to our campground, the San Diego Metro KOA, took advantage of the shower situation (there was one!), cooked dinner and decided to try a local brewery, Iron First Brewing!

That’s when the rain started….for the next three days.

The following morning, we packed up our tent and straight to the zoo!!! I have always wanted to visit the San Diego Zoo! I heard it’s one of the best, plus they have PANDAS! We spent most of the day wandering the huge zoo, in the rain, and tried to see every animal they had. The rain was sorta BEAR-able (pun intended) for most of the morning into the afternoon, but later it started pouring on us. We stuck it out, determined to make the most of the situation and see the zoo since we’re only there once!

Baby Bonobo!

Baby Bonobo!

 

It's a PANDA!

It’s a PANDA!

 

Bucket list item checked off!

Bucket list item checked off!

Joshua Tree

After drying off in the car, we made the trek to Joshua Tree National Park. We had a nail-biting drive over some mountain pass where the intense, once-a-year, rain washed microwave sized rocks into the road. On the end of our nerves, we set up camp in the short break between rain storms, cooked some quick dinner and fast to sleep.

The plan was to climb in Joshua Tree…while we did eventually accomplish this, there were a few struggles, both personal and environmental.

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Obstacle #1 while climbing Joshua Tree: Cold Weather. What I learned from our vacation is that I don’t like climbing in the cold. It hurts! With the morning free of rain, we attempted to find some climbing, but rain free does not equal cold free. I am now on a mission to make the best climbing glove.

Cholla cactus

Cholla cactus

Obstacle #2: Cracks: Oh geez. To my non-climber friends, it isn’t what it sounds like. If you are a climber you’ll understand: Crack climbing is HARD! At least I think so. I have not really done any of this, so this was a first attempt. It feels like you’re going to break your feet, hands and arms. If you are not a climber, picture this: You wedge your toes and hands in a crack between two rocks and pull, repeatedly, to get to the top. It was very uncomfortable. I was told I would learn to like it. We’ll see…

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Obstacle #3: (Me) Being a scaredy cat! As told to me by the Boyfriend: “Joshua Tree is a very old school type of climbing.” That being said, a lot of the routes felt way harder than they were rated and even getting down from a climb was an obstacle. One down climb in particular left me in tears.

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Triumph #1: On our last day in Joshua Tree, the sun finally came out. We got a few routes in. My ever so wonderful boyfriend sacrificed climbing a lot harder routes to put up a top rope for me so I could (painstakingly) practice. I also discovered that I kinda like slab climbing (where you use less upper body and more leg/feet placement and core). I practiced a little bit more of this crack climbing stuff and still am undecided on if I “like” it.

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The Hoover Dam and Lake Mead

Sadly, we packed up camp at Joshua Tree. I actually did really liked it there. I would love to go back (with more crack climbing practice under my belt) and give it another go, but it was time to make the journey back toward Colorado. The plan to was to see the Hoover Dam on Saturday and wake up Sunday morning and make the 12 mile drive back.

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However, as shown before, the only sure thing about a plan is it will change. We arrived at the Hoover Dam in the afternoon, thinking we could just get right in and take a tour. No, that is not the case. The full tour does, indeed, sell out (much to my dismay after searching the website intensively). Having our hearts set on the full tour, we decided to walk around the top of the dam, take pictures and come back the next morning to be the FIRST people in line to get on the FIRST tour.

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We camped nearby at Lake Mead National Recreation Center which was definitely beautiful despite being noisy (the National Recreation center campground was full of RV’s that liked to run their generators at night).

Lake Mead

Lake Mead

The next morning, with a belly full of pancakes, we packed up the tent, one last time, and arrived at the Hoover Dam, again. We did get on the very FIRST tour and we VERY impressed and glad we decided to come back. After getting our fill of the Hoover Dam, we hopped back in the car and proceeded to spend the next 21 hours driving.

Picture from INSIDE the Dam!

Picture from INSIDE the Dam!

Home

That brings us full circle, arriving back home Monday, 2am.