Learning the ropes (again) in one of the most beautiful schoolyards around, Joshua Tree National Park.
It was a thrilling experience but also extremely dangerous. Instead of using the proper rappelling gear, we ended up tying a rope to one of our cars and using our hands and feet to get us down. It wasn’t safe and we’re lucky we didn’t kill ourselves in the process. – Photo credit Xavier Drenfold
Since 1983, Vertical Adventures has been Southern California’s rock climbing school leader, setting the standard of professionalism with their low student to instructor ratios, excellent safety record, and exceptional rock climbing guides.
In 2008, they were ranked as the #1 rock climbing school in America by Outside Magazine and in 2011 they made the list of msnbc.com’s “Top Ten Outdoor Adventures.”
They also provided me with all the gear I needed for the day, including a pair of climbing shoes, a helmet, harness, carabiner, belay device and rope.
Since I had signed up to take the class by myself, I wasn’t sure how many other people would be in my group. Thankfully, I got lucky and only had one other person, a really cool chick from San Diego. We also had an incredible guide named Chris Baumann who began rock climbing in 1985 and has been a professional rock climbing guide since 2007.
The area we were climbing in is known as The Solarium which is about 2/3 of the way along the road between Hidden Valley Campground and Barker Dam, at a ‘tee’ known as Echo Tee Trail.
The area was gorgeous and much less crowded than the Hidden Valley area further up the road.
Our first route was fairly easy…
…and even though I hadn’t been on the ropes in a very long time…
…I was still feeling pretty damn proud of myself…
…as I scrambled my way up to the top…
…which happened to rise 60 feet above the desert floor.
Of course a celebratory selfie was in order…
…before making my way back down to earth.
In the U.S., the Yosemite Decimal Rating System is predominantly used to rate climbing difficulty.
The technical climbing portion of the scale runs from 5.0 through 5.15, with the difficulty increasing as the decimal portion of the rating goes up.
Easier climbing routes are rated in the 5.1 through 5.5 range, which is generally what we stuck with, although our guide did challenge us with a 5.7 and 5.7+ as the day progressed.
Our next route was definitely more technical and at 90 feet, was a full 30 feet higher than our last route.
Fortunately, neither of us were afraid of heights and were both up for the challenge.
As soon as I started, I could tell this route wasn’t going to be as easy as the first.
The real challenge began as soon as I hit this section of the route.
Finding my footing was only part of the problem, keeping it was another. Joshua Tree’s granite is notoriously rough and ragged and is often referred to as the cheese grater. Each slip took a little more skin from my body.
I actually got to a point where I wanted to give up but thankfully, my awesome guide Chris was able to talk me through it…
…and I eventually made it to the top again to take another celebratory selfie high above the desert floor.
After a brief break to enjoy the view of the park from my 90 foot perch, I made my way back down.
And since there were only two of us in our class, we were able to hit all the routes as many times as we liked.
Our next route at first didn’t appear to look that difficult.
Named Sam Shady by our guide Chris (those who develop a route get to name it) it was a 5.7+ and 79 feet high.
The difficulty of this route soon became more real after Chris was forced to make his way up to help guide my climbing partner through one of the more hairy sections of the route.
Of course she easily made her way up to the top which put the pressure on me to hopefully be able to do the same.
It wasn’t easy and I actually froze as I neared the top. Once again, our incredible guide Chris was able to talk me off the ledge and get my ass to the top. The white dots are my helmet as I made my way up the route.
I was so happy I pushed through my fears and made it all the way up because the views from the top were amazing.
…and the selfies weren’t that bad either.
As we ended our day of climbing and made our way back to our cars, our guide had one last thing to amaze us with.
Described by some as the “Brunette Red Lady,” this incredible pictograph was the perfect way to end our day of climbing in one of my favorite places on earth, Joshua Tree National Park.