Community is an integral part of the human experience, one which materializes in unexpected forms when living life on the road. As climbers, our path has led us from one crag to the next while we continue to push south. Two weeks in and filled with anticipation, our route brought us back to the community of Joshua Tree, California. I say “community” because Joshua is not simply a National Park or popular crag, but a winter season gathering place for dirt-baggers, weekend climbers, and nature enthusiasts alike. Eleven months had passed since our initial visit to the lunar landscape of granite mounds nestled within this extremely unique National Park and we were stoked to be back.
Adjusting to the rock of J-Tree seemingly takes a couple “sends” to get out of the way. The rock has the constancy of raised sandpaper and the exposed face routes make you work for every finger hold while forcing an unnatural trust of one’s feet. We found a 5.10a two star bolted route called “Quick Draw McGraw” to quickly put us back in the saddle. We worked, we bled a little, but we both sent the route and were back to speaking the language of the desert rock.
Without warning, community found us high on the rock that day at a set of shared bolt anchors. The Father/Son climbing duo of Dave and Dylan Leppert were working a route next to us called “Heart and Sole” when Dave’s back went out halfway through the pitch. Dylan, a climbing prodigy who has sent a number of the big walls in Yosemite and knows Joshua Tree like the back of his hand, became our new best friend. Not only did they give us a killer site in the highly sought after climber campground of Hidden Valley but he took us on a “seek and destroy” tour of cracks and faces throughout the park. His rack of climbing gear was well stocked (quad cams –double zeros through fours), his stoke factor was through the roof and we ate it up.
As our days in Joshua Tree went on we grew our climbing posse to four by linking up with a free spirit named Sam Wysoski who had driven down from Homer, Alaska in a retro fitted milk truck turned overland climber-mobile. With an even number and plenty of gear all around we fell into a routine of waking early, trekking to routes and sending them before the other Hidden Valley dwellers rallied for the day.
J-Tree continued to push our bodies and pull our senses beyond an ordinary societal and even terrestrial existence. Each afternoon, the sun in full retreat cast stenciled outlines of Dr. Seuss-like Joshua Trees and threw pink hues upon the granite domes. Stars exploded from their daytime cover and occasionally hurled themselves at us leaving long illuminated tails set against the dark sky. Campfires were something to look forward to as a commune of warmth, shared goods and stories from adventures gone by. There are mysteries in this special place found in the landscape, the community of climbers and within ourselves; mysteries that are only unlocked as the one lets the days turn to weeks…
We will be back.