Written by Katie Jo Myers
Photos by Bobby Sorich, Katie Jo Myers,
As a new climber, I had the opportunity to visit Joshua Tree for the first time with Stonemaster John Long! After befriending each other at our climbing gym in Los Angeles, John invited me and a few others to shoot photos in Joshua Tree for one of his new books. He took us on a grand tour of the park that weekend, regaled us with stories about climbing and history, put us on classic trad routes and highball boulder problems, and even gave me my first crack climbing lessons.
I remember being in awe of everything - the expansive desert, unique rock formations, and incredibly stunning sunsets. But, I also remember the climbing. Boulders so tall that I down climbed everything instead of topping out; friction slabs and run-outs that scared me so much I had to climb everything on top rope; and cracks, that even with a hefty power spot, I could not for the life of me figure out how to climb. Joshua Tree challenged me in a way that I had never experienced before as a climber, and like John himself, the park would soon take on the character of a friend and mentor in my life, as well as becoming one of my absolute favorite places!
More than just a climbing destination for me, Joshua Tree is a place that constantly teaches me and pushes me to grow, yet still provides so much fun and adventure along the way. Though climbing here can be hard and demands respect, I am always excited to visit because I know it will be another opportunity to challenge myself and have fun with the creative movement.
Luckily, I get to visit Joshua Tree quite often, as it is only a 2.5-hour drive from my home in Los Angeles, and it has become my go-to climbing spot for weekends and free days. With world-class bouldering, sport, and trad climbing, it is the perfect destination even for short trips, while the array of mental and physical test pieces and safe and accessible options for newer climbers provide options for all abilities.
Joshua Tree is well documented, and even after all of these years, I have yet to explore it all. So, instead of a comprehensive guide, I want to share some of my personal favorites and tips to have an enjoyable weekend out climbing! Enjoy Joshua Tree, my friends, and I hope to see you in the desert soon!
Leave No Trace
Before I jump into climbing, I want to remind everyone that this is a fragile desert environment! Please always follow Leave No Trace principles when visiting; pack it in and pack it out, stay on established trails as much as possible, and make sure to park and camp only in designated areas. Please do not trample the cryptobiotic soil and delicate vegetation. Also, keep in mind that dogs are not allowed beyond roads, parking lots, and campgrounds, so it’s best to leave them at home.
Real Hidden Valley is a good first stop for beginners and newcomers, with an accessible circuit introducing the different climbing styles in the park.
• The Wedge and Wave Boulders (VEasy-V4) are great for introducing slab and highballing with Juggy top outs and flat landings.
• The Discount Dyno Boulder: With four V0 problems at only 10-feet tall and with flat landings, this is an excellent introduction to dynamic moves and sloping top outs.
• Unnamed V1 Mantle Problem: At about 8-feet off the ground, this one move wonder offers great practice for the infamous JTree mantle.
• There is also a fun Unnamed V6 that shares the same finish.
JOSHUA TREE – AN OLD FRIEND
by Katie Jo Myers
5.0 minute read
Must See Sectors
• In The Outback, the Chuckawalla, Dino’s Egg, and Tidal Wave boulders. These boulders are clustered together, offering a good selection of V0-V10.
• The Chocolate Boulders are perfect for a quick drive, short approach, and a mix of problems, V0-V5.
• The Manx Boulder Circuit offers a selection, V0-V11, including all the great lines on the super classic Pig Pen Boulder!
Hobbit Hole (V0), There Will be Blood (V5), Big Bob’s Big Wedge (V5), The Inquisition (V6), Pig Pen (V4), and Yogi Variation (V9)
Betty Jo Yablanski (V0 R), The Chube (V2), White Rastafarian (V2), Slashface (V3), Gunsmoke (V3), Lynn Hill Memorial Face Problem (V4), JBMFP (V5), High Noon (V5), All Washed Up (V6), Nicole Overhang (V6), Strawberry Contraceptives (V7), Pumping Monzonite (V7), Relic (V9), Blood Diamond (V10).
My Sentimental Favorite
Street Car Named Desire (V6) This Bachar classic will test your creativity, flexibility, ability to trust your feet and do tricky mantles. Though I’ve sent several V10s in the park, this remains my proudest send!
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Trad and Sport Climbing
There are quite a few good climbs for beginners in Joshua Tree. Many require building an anchor, so you should be proficient at anchor building or double-check that climbs have bolted anchors before heading up. Here are some suggestions and some of my first leads.
• The Eye (5.4), The Bong (5.4), and Upper Right Ski Track (5.3) have very moderate terrain and nice, flat areas for building anchors.
• The Tarantula (5.2) and Arachnids (5.5) share a bolted anchor, have one or two gear placements, and offer some experience with slightly run-out slab.
• Gargoyle (5.6) is nearby, offering great practice for jamming. This more remote area of the park is likely to be less crowded as well.
• Southwest Corner (5.6) on the Headstone is so much fun! And a good introduction to more run-out bolting, offering a bit of spice for both leader and follower.
Top Moderate - Hard Routes
• Jane’s Addiction (5.11a) and Smashing Pumpkins (5.12b) are south facing and great for sun on a cold day.
• Bebop Tango (11a) climbs like a gym route, with a fun, airy top out. It’s neighbor Latin Swing (5.11b/c) is a fun, cruxy trad line to check out a well!
• Satanic Mechanic (12b) and Desert Shield (5.13b) are two of my favorite hard, endurance sport routes!
• Sail Away (5.8) and Colorado Crack (5.9) are two of my favorite moderate trad lines.
• Super Roof (5.9), Head over Heels (5.10a) Bird on a Wire (5.10a), Hobbit Roof (5.10d), Clean and Jerk (5.10c), Heart of Darkness (5.11a) and Coarse and Buggy (5.11a/b) are all not to miss routes!
Joshua Tree is a large park with thousands of climbs, so you will most likely want to purchase a guidebook. There are comprehensive guides for bouldering, sport, and trad available at the local gear shop, Nomad Ventures. Below are my guidebook recommendations:
• Joshua Tree Bouldering, by Robert Miramontes
• Joshua Tree Rock Climbs, by Robert Miramontes
• Joshua Tree Sport Climbing, by Todd Gordon
There are countless intimidating climbs in Joshua Tree, so it’s also a good idea to look at routes on Mountain Project, where you can often find helpful gear and route beta from other climbers. Popular climbs are often busy, so come prepared with some alternate routes and problems in mind.
When to Visit
If possible, I’d also suggest visiting mid-week, especially during peak seasons, as weekends and holidays can be very crowded. With that said, climbing in Joshua Tree is the best fall through spring, though even the hot summer days can be fun for a night session. Winter provides great send temps but can also be very windy and cold. But, temperatures can swing wildly in the desert at any time of year, so always check the weather and prepare with appropriate layers. It is also beneficial to check sun angles and know when climbs will be in the sun or shade.
Where to sleep
Camping: Hidden Valley Campground, Jumbo Rocks, and Indian Cove are all adjacent to great climbing. Hidden Valley is first-come-first-serve and very busy, so arrive mid-week to snag a spot. Jumbo Rocks and Indian Cove, and the many other campgrounds in the park, are now reservation only and may require booking weeks to months in advance.
Check www.recreativon.gov for availability.
Besides camping in the Park, Joshua Tree has a few hotels, hundreds of cute Bnb’s, and free camping on BLM. You should have your accommodation sorted in advance if you are visiting on a weekend or holiday, especially during peak season.
Eat Drink and Meet Local Climbers
Before Climbing: The Joshua Tree Visitor Center Cafe and The Dez are my favorite stops for coffee and a quick breakfast to go, like overnight oats, burritos, or breakfast pastries.
Climber Café, on weekend mornings, October - April, in the Hidden Valley Campground, is a fantastic way to meet other climbers, learn more about climbing in the park, and enjoy a free cup of coffee. This is hosted by the Climbing Stewards and Friends of Joshua Tree
Midday: Natural Sisters Cafe is great to refresh with a Climber’s Revenge Smoothie! You can also find healthy breakfast and lunch options along with vegan and vegetarian food here. Though, be prepared for a decent weight as it’s a popular place!
Dinner: Pie for the People serves up amazing pizza for carnivores and vegans alike. There can sometimes be a wait, but it is well worth it!
Sam’s Indian Food is another favorite that offers plenty of vegetarian options.
Entertainment: Saturday Farmer’s Market is worth a stroll for fresh food and fun gifts.
Joshua Tree Saloon and the famous Pappy and Harriets offer live music and karaoke.
Showers: Coyote Corner offers hot showers for $5.00 and also has lots of fun trinkets and gifts!