Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wonderland of Rocks

I understand that this was now a long time since my last entry. Work had got me almost every minute I had - but now I'm back. My supervisor at Johns Hopkins, John, invited his whole research group to the ARO conference in San Diego, California. San Diego is a nice city, you can go out for a walk at night without having the fear of being shot or something, and the conference was really not bad either. After the 5 days of the conference, Bernhard and I took five days off, rented a Jeep and headed to the Joshua Tree National Park, which is about a two and a half hours drive from San Diego.
Joshua Tree is awesome. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth I've ever been to. Basically, Joshua Tree National Park is a region where two different types of desert come together, often named as 'high' and 'low' desert: below about 900 meters, the Colorado Desert occupies the eastern part of the park with the typical creosote bush and the cholla cactus as you see it in the famous Cactus Garden in the center of the park. The higher, cooler and wetter Mojave Desert is typical for the northwestern part of the park and habitat for the Joshua Trees - which are no real trees at all. 
Even more astonishing as the flora is the geology of the park and its surroundings. On the south end (standing on Keys View) you can clearly see the San Andreas Fault, and within the park are rugged mountains and twisted rock formations of exposed granite monoliths which look very dramatic on the one hand, and are absolutely irresistible for climbers on the other hand: Joshua Tree is one of the best climbing areas in the whole U.S. - if not world - and the fact, that you can climb year round, makes it even more popular. 

In Joshua Tree, you can find such amazing big wall climbs as onto the Astro Domes (a climbers dream, I'd say), but in fact, you find about 8000 routes in the whole park, and an uncountable number of boulder problems. Bernhard and I were long discussing how and in which form to climb there - we definitely wanted to. The only drawback: we started climbing just in October, and still had not gathered too much of the gear necessary - the trad gear you need there is often worth literally thousands of Dollars. So we booked a Guide for an 'Intermediate Rock Climbing Course' - but essentially, this was a private guide: we were only four people in the group. The guide - mountaineer and sooner or later doctor of Chinese Medicine Scott Cole - taught us about anchoring, equipment, self-rescue and thankfully chose quite difficult routes for us: I wouldn't have been happy with beginner routes ;)

We were climbing at Cap Rock an Echo Cove, developing better climbing technique in cracks and especially on friction climbs which are typical for Joshua Tree: you can understand such a friction climb as walking up a sometimes almost vertical wall just by using proper footwork since you have almost nothing to hold on to for your hands. If you find the tiniest chip of rock on the otherwise really smooth rock surface, you can consider yourself lucky but then you will be climbing a grade below 5.10 or so. The first friction climb I tried was rated a 5.10d/5.11a (which I didn't know at the time I started) - and I remained the only one of our group who could climb that without falling. I'm really proud of that. 

The conclusion of our days in Joshua Tree are: I want to come back. The Astro Domes look very interesting (a famous 5.9 leads up there) and it is so beautiful... I wouldn't have been able to go away if I wouldn't be sure I will come back and do some more climbing. 

But now, let me show you a few pictures of Joshua Tree:

Arch Rock at night. A self-portrait. (Run, Karin! Run!!! And now hold your breath for 30 seconds...).

March 2012. Arch Rock at night. Self portrait.

March 2012. Arch Rock at night.

Rappelling off a rock.

Cap Rock. Rappelling off a rock.

Scrambling in Hidden Valley at night.

In the Wonderland of Rocks.

March 2012. Wonderland of Rocks.

A Joshua Tree with star rails.

March 2012. Star rails and a Joshua Tree.

The route continues right above the climber's head where you see the white rock surface. It's indeed quite steep and there is nothing for your hands to hold on to.

Echo Cove. Above the climber starts a funny friction climb rated 5.10d/5.11a which I successfully climbed later the day.

Echo Cove/Wonderland of Rocks. Ascending a 5.8.

One of our fellow climbers in Echo Cove.

Clove Hitch, Figure 8, anchoring...

Cap Rock. Anchoring technique.

Echo Cove. Preparing for a climb and reviewing self-rescue skills.

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