After mastering a handful of Mission Gorge 5.7 routes it was decided that “Team Big Mac” would head for the wilds of Joshua Tree National Park which will henceforth be known as JT for the sake of brevity.With little relevant preparation we headed out to see how real hard-climbing athletes winter.

In all seriousness, the ladies wanted to climb and I wanted more practice guiding. For this reason, we were somewhat more focused on getting climbing in than stopping to take pictures, so the photos for this post are a bit more concentrated on a couple of areas where we were climbing, not spread about through the entirety of the park.

This was the first time I had been in a major climbing area on a weekend with the purpose to climb- most times Stef and I have cruised into our destinations on Monday or Tuesday to enjoy the deserted classics left vacant by the weekend warriors. Welcome to the other side of the coin.

We headed out to Stirrup Tank, in the central portion of the park to begin our climbing. The rock quality was only so-so, but there was little crowding to worry about so we gave it a go.

Christie following Deja Moo (5.3), a nice little warm up climb on the back side of Bovine Dome, just off of the road.

I have mastered the art of the uncomfortable belay. I can turn a Lay-Z-Boy into an Iron Maiden…I swear I don’t know how it happens, but every time I belay I wind up doing some yoga pose.

Christina came next and then Stef followed last. I got to use several techniques I learned in the guide course and that was pretty satisfying.

Once everyone was up we did a simple walk-off to get down off the back side of the formation and it was time to tackle something a bit more challenging. We moved from the sunny south side to the north west side where it was a bit colder. We decided to climb “Where two deserts meet” a 5.8 crack, named for the fact that it is located in the transitory area where the higher Mojave Desert merges with the lower Colorado Desert.

I set up the ropes to climb it in the caterpillar style which actually was pretty simple. Each little pile of rope is set up for each of us, laid out so that it would not knot or snag, but feed freely as each of us climbed up.

Tying Christie in- I think both Christie and Christina learned their figure eight tie in knots now!

If you can dress yourselves, step two is dressing your knot! Make it pretty!

Starting up, Christina giving a good belay

Stef getting artistic

A much less awkward belay here! Bringing Christina up second…

The rope that Christie is trailing here is connected to Stef, on the ground, who will climb last after Christie is anchored on top.

Once everybody got up top, we elected to walk off again, only this was a bit harder than anticipated, so we walked as far as possible, found a good spot to anchor and I lowered the girls from there on the rope down to the ground and then cleaned up the gear and down-climbed the rest of the way.

Stepping lightly…

And the final grunt and thrash down a wide crack

All preceding photo credits go to Stef (obviously?) We ended day one by going to check out some areas to climb on day 2.

I was a bit euphoric that I managed everything safely and without incident so I was too excited to properly adjust the light metering…thus my photos were sort of salvaged, like that sheet of cookies that are too burnt to serve to your guests but too tantalizing to just throw away.

A cholla cactus

Day two…here is the short version. “Marley and Me” was on HBO. By the time we cleared out and got to climbing it was 12:30. We decided to try a neat looking little 5.6 that brings you up to the summit of Stirrup Rock and would allow for a fun rappelling lesson in the process.

We forgot to bring a camera on the climb so there are no pictures of us going up. At the top of the second pitch I discovered that it is a lot colder in the desert in November than I had anticipated. Also, four people on a small summit is pretty crowded.

All told, the girls did a fantastic job and incorporated a bunch of new skills very well into the multi-pitch climbing and the rap down to the ground was the high point…since it was WINDY as hell on top. I set up my first pre rigged rappel and it could have been worse, so I learned a lot and we all had a blast.

Christie rapping off Stirrup Rock.

Christina on rap

A short free hanging section was a good bit of fun

Good times with good people.

After a nice quick wrap up shot and a little debriefing we made our final sojourn to McDonalds for a celebratory meal.

Over all it was safe and fun. I feel like I am actually starting to “get it” about the whole guiding mentality. Not there yet, but I have a rough idea where “there” is on the map, at least. We are all excited to do more climbing together; Christie got her own harness and is going to get shoes when we come home for Thanksgiving.

Wednesday the day after tomorrow Stef and I are flying back to NY and we’ll be there for a while…when Christie comes out for Thanksgiving we will introduce her to some Gunks climbing!