Monday, May 24, 2010

Joshua Tree National Park - Part 1 - Bouldering

Awesome. There is no other word to describe this place. For us it is undeniably a 5 star destination. With incredible trad climbing and awesome bouldering in a gorgeous setting, it has been the best destination so far on the trip (Horse Pens 40 being a close second).

Check out the boulder in the bottom right, that's Kristal on Pinhead V1...

I won't speak too much for the trad climbing, other than the fact that there is an awful lot of it and it is awesome. The bouldering is equally as awesome, and the variety is stunning. You can find everything here. It's like Joshua Tree took all the climbing from all the destinations we've been to and rolled them into one. The painful crimps from McKenzie Pond. The ridiculous mantle topouts from Horse Pens 40. The Huecos from Hueco Tanks. Add in a healthy dose of friction climbing, painful (!!) rock texture, highballs and mostly flat landings and you have one awesome collection of problems.

Me on Yabo Roof V3...

As usual though, with anything this good, you have to pay a toll. Looking in the guidebook you might initially laugh at the fact that problems graded easier than V0- get distinct YDS grades (5.9, 5.8, etc - where most destinations lump these all together under the V0- or VB moniker). Until you come across a V0 that you can't pull off the ground, or a V0- that you can barely grovel up (both of which happened to us). To say that Joshua Tree is sandbagged is a little too simple. In the end we figured it out. By using the grade in the guidebook as a base, then adding (or in rare cases subtracting) based on the following, we were able to get a reasonably good idea of what problems we could climb.

Conditions - Has your friction problem been baking in the sun? Add 1.
Try and do this in the sun - me on Streetcar Named Desire V6/7...

Beta - Do you know how to climb an offwidth? A roof crack? A dihedral with no holds? Add 1.
Here is Hobbit Hole Offwidth V0-, which wouldn't be out of place as the crux of a 5.11c. The hardest V0- I have ever sent...

Length - A problem with 30+ V3 moves is still graded V3. Add 1.
Kristal on Gunsmoke V3, your typical 75 foot traverse...

Height Dependance - Some problems are heavily height dependant. Add or subtract 1.
Kristal just before the crux of High Noon V5. The next move is a 'bit' reachy...

General Sandbagging - Generally add 1.
Me on The Chube V2, actually a quite reasonably graded problem, except that on the east coast it would probably be V3.

It was pretty funny running into two kids from Colorado on their first outdoor road trip, saying they could climb V1-V3 in the gym, looking for White Rastafarian V3. When we later caught up with them, Kristal turned the corner and burst out laughing. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of the problem, which is beautiful. You'll just have to come check it out for yourself.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Off the Beaten Path

We only spent 4 days in Hueco. We've been blowing through these early destinations pretty quickly, in an effort to get through the rest of the desert areas before the heat of the summer starts. Our next major destination is Joshua Tree, but we decided to make a couple of short stops on the way. In Red River Gorge we met Victoria, a fellow road tripper who recommended we check out City of Rocks in New Mexico. Since it wasn't too far off our route we decided to stop in for a couple of hours. It's a really cool set of rock formations in an otherwise stark landscape.

One awesome thing about this place is that the camp sites are nestled right among the boulders.

There's no info (as far as we know) about problems, but sometimes it's awesome to just putter around and enjoy the freedom of making up your own. It's certainly a cool stop if you are travelling through the area. Here's Kristal on one of the erratics.

Despite the lure of the camping we decided to forge on to a place called Oak Flats, an hour east of Phoenix, Arizona. With some awesome free camping and a seemingly endless supply of rock we could have spent days there. In the end we only spent one, taking a quick sample of what it had to offer. We only snapped a few pics, as we were too busy enjoying the many fun problems we got on. Here's me on a nice pumpy overhang problem, one of many excellent problems on this face.

And here's a cool overhanging arete I got on.

Most of bouldering we did was nestled in this small valley, which is only a small part of what is available there.

Hopefully we can spend more time in beautiful places like these, enjoying the hidden gems and areas off the beaten path.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

5 Things I Learned at Hueco Tanks

5. The job of the spotter is also to make sure the crash pads don't blow away.

Our first day climbing at Hueco had sustained 60 km/h winds with 100 km/h gusts. While on several problems the crash pads simply blew away. Something we have never experienced before. Luckily there were some nice secluded areas that were reasonably sheltered. By the end of the day the sky was a nice solid sand colour and you could not see any of the mountains in the background through the dust. We now know what 'breezy' and 'windy' mean in the weather forecasts.

4. I like Green.

I like grass. I like trees. Yes there are plants here. Yes the desert is beautiful in many ways, but I would never be able to live here.

3. Coming to Hueco in the off season is pretty sweet.

The friction may not be as good, but you have the whole place to yourself. There was one other tent at the Hueco Rock Ranch when we arrived and over the course of our stay there were no more than 10 people at any one time. We pretty much had the barn to ourselves, permanently setting up our kitchen in there (see item 5, cooking/eating outside - not so good). Getting into the park was not a problem, except on Saturday when there are a lot of other tourists. There are downsides of course, all the volunteer guides were long gone, but if you are happy tootling around the North Mountain on your own it's all good.

One night there was a pretty epic ping pong showdown. Here are me and Austin having at it.

2. Hueco is not as awesome as it's claimed to be.

Don't get me wrong, Hueco is pretty awesome. There are some really awesome problems here, and an awful lot of hard stuff if you have super human climbing powers. But there isn't really a tonne of varied climbing. I was expecting 5 star awesome, but for us it was really only 4 star awesome.

Me on No One Here Gets out Alive V2, a classic roof jug haul.

Kristal on Ghetto Simulator V2, another classic (and long!) jug haul.

Me on Wonderhole Dyno V10, a one move wonder.

1. Our big tent is awesome.

We had been warned about the wind ahead of time so after a bit of consideration we decided to set up our small tent (thank goodness). It didn't seem so bad while staying there, especially since the barn was so spacious, but once we hit our next destination and set up our mansion again it was a newfound revelation. I have no idea how we survived all those road trips last year crammed into our little tent.

On our rest day we took a trip up to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, which is an absolutely stunning sea of white dunes in the middle of nowhere.

And here's a token cloud shot as we were driving back to Hueco.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

On The Road Again

On the way to Hueco Tanks we decided an extra day of rest would probably do us some good. Our fingertips certainly needed the time to grow some new skin. We took a leisurely 3 days to make the trip. During the drive through Oklahoma I got overly excited about all the flat land. I snapped a whole whack of pictures while Kristal was driving. Here are a few...

We spent a day at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, which was a bit over half way to Hueco, and did some approach training (aka hiking). It's the second largest canyon in the States (next to the Grand Canyon of course). Here's the view of the canyon from the midpoint of the trail we hiked.

We also spied a few boulders in the canyon and couldn't resist checking them out. The rock is definitely not great. It's pretty brittle, but it was still fun to scramble up a few easy problems.

Day 3 was another full day of driving through Texas and a bit of New Mexico. A lot of oil country...

At one point there was a stretch of road 130 miles long with nothing. At all. Well, except for this big mountain, which looked pretty awesome. Too bad it's in the middle of nowhere.

We managed to make it to Hueco before the sun set. Here's the view from out tent at the Hueco Rock Ranch.

After 3 full days of rest we were pretty psyched to get on the rock again. More to come.