Trip Report: Bouldering in Joshua Tree
“Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.” ~Anatoli Boukreev
There’s something about just being in a new place, meeting new people, going on an adventure into the unknown. It’s why we climb: to explore and to test our limits, to see the world from a different perspective. Climbing is like a global language: whether you’re in your local crag with friends or bivouacking in an alpine camp with strangers, climbing is something that surpasses cultural boundaries.
I recently returned from a road-trip to Joshua Tree National Park, in Southern California. My purpose was to work on projecting Chris Sharma’s test piece Iron Resolution (v13), as well as enjoying the formidable array of classics like White Rastafarian (v3) and Planet X (v6).
We left Los Angeles and began the drive into the desert, towards Joshua Tree. As the urban jungle gave way to desert scrub, Joshua trees and massive piles of boulders began to take over the landscape. We arrived to sunshine, 30 degree temps, and infinite rock. We were finally in Joshua Tree!
Projecting temperatures were good, and we began scouting out classics. Problems like The Chube (v2) and The Fry Problem (v2) proved to be lines worthy of their classic status. The infamous Joshua-Tree style, bad footholds and sharp rock, proved to be accurate.
Walking around Joshua Tree is like taking a stroll on the moon, it’s absolutely unreal. The landscape is covered in surreal Seussian trees and giant stacks of boulders stretch off into the horizon. Even before getting out of the car, it is obvious how much untapped potential there is for futuristic lines in Joshua Tree. There are enough boulders to satisfy a lifetime of hard climbing.
Eventually we found our way to Iron Resolution. The line follows a tall, beautiful 45-degree face of brown granite to the lip, and then continues on a glassy, low-angled slab to a 25-foot finish. It’s a highball for sure, and no easy undertaking. The boulder is super aesthetic, and I was definitely feeling motivated to try the line. It was pretty evident that this was a world-class climb, and the fact that it was a Sharma test-piece was not surprising.
It was pretty cold, but the friction felt good, so we decided to go for it. We unpacked our pads and shoes, and tried to channel our animalistic inner-Sharma. Despite the difficulty of the problem and the sharpness of the rock, it’s always fun to try to flash the problem. You never know when you might be able to hold on and pull through to an epic flash, despite whatever grade the problem might have.
Despite feeling good and super psyched, my flash attempt was feeble and I fell only a few moves into the line. Iron Resolution is roughly twelve moves long, with the difficulty increasing to the lip, and then leveling off on the slab above. The climbing is pretty technical, and you need to be super aggressive right from the start. You have to hit the holds just right in order to move to the next sequence. The lip is the crux: if you can stick that, the slab above is definitely easier.
Starting to red-point, I got the start sequence down and was ready to try the problem to the lip. Physically, the line was hard but not impossible. The conditions were good and the friction felt solid. For me, highballing is a mental game: and with only two pads and one spotter, I had a lot of trouble committing to the crux. I ended up bailing, with sore fingers but a lot of motivation left.
With the pressure to finish the project lifted for the time being, I felt okay walking away with the progress I’d made. If nothing else, Iron Resolution would give me a good reason to come back to this beautiful park. Despite the disappointment, the temperature was perfect and the friction was ideal, so it felt like cheating to stop for the day. Fired up, I hit several classics, like LHMFP (v4) and Gunsmoke (v3). I went to bed with destroyed hands and really grateful to be in such a magical place.
Overall, it was a super memorable and super cool trip. While Iron Resolution was definitely a physical and mental challenge, it felt good to be able to just climb for the love of climbing and not really to go crazy with grades. This trip gave me a welcome reminder of why I love climbing: going out to really beautiful places with really cool people and exploring the mystery of being alive and being in tune with the zen of bouldering.