For anyone who follows what I write on this blog, you will probably know that last fall I took the American Mountain Guides Association's Rock Instructor Course. By taking this course, I was able to guide in multipitch terrain for work. It was a great learning experience that opened up some great opportunities for me. After taking that course the next question was do I move on to the Rock Guide Course or take the Rock Instructor Exam? I quickly decided to take the exam after some advice from my fellow coworkers. Originally, I was hoping to take the exam next spring. That would give me ample time to prepare and save up the money. Instead, I was persuaded to take the exam this fall in Joshua Tree National Park.
I had never been to Joshua Tree before. Friends have told me that it is a magical place where your inner dirtbag is at peace. Joshua Tree lies about an hour to the east of Palm Springs in southern California. One thing that the park is known for and is its namesake are the multitude of Joshua Trees spread throughout the park. You get forests of these huge Dr. Seuss looking plants that are not even trees at all. They are actually a type of yucca plant. Some of the Joshua Trees are thought to be 500 or more years old. Also dotting the landscape is the reason that I went there. Throughout the park, there are these mounds of rock that seem to rise out of the ground. From afar, they have been described as piles of rock droppings. That is somewhat fitting. On these piles of rock there are some amazing climbs. The rock is a granite that has a very coarse crystal structure. This can be bad for your skin but allows you to stick to just about anything. Most of the routes tend to follow crack systems. I loved the amount of classic vertical cracks.
Intersection Rock viewed from site 28 in the Hidden Valley Campground.
My intention was to fly out to Palm Springs on the 8th of November, rent a car, drive to Joshua Tree, then climb for about 6 days before the exam. Well I managed to miss my flight out on the 8th, so instead I flew out on the 9th. The one good thing about missing my flight was that it gave me one more day to train with Ron and Wes at Looking Glass. That day I also was able to redpoint the first pitch of Out to Lunch which has a crux that was tricky for me due to my height.
One last day of training at Looking Glass
On the 9th, I arrived in Palm Springs, got a car, purchased supplies, then headed to the park. Once there I set out to find a campsite and possibly hook up with the other guys taking the exam. I was unable to meet up with the two guys that I knew were there already. Now I had to find a campsite. This proved to be tough since it was the friday before a holiday weekend. After searching for a while, I finally snagged a site in the Jumbo Rocks campground. The downside to camping there is that it is further from all of the good climbing. So the first couple of days, I would drive 15 minutes just to meet up with everyone. It was also cold and windy my first couple of days which made life less enjoyable. Due to the conditions, I tended to crawl into my tent around 7 and fall asleep by 8. This led to me waking up just before sunrise most mornings. Each morning I would get out of my tent and start breakfast while enjoying the sunrise on the horizon of the desert. Joshua Trees silhouetted against a blue, yellow and red morning sky is quite a beautiful sight.
This first day that I had a chance to climb, I went on a mission to meet up with Russel and Matt. Both guys had emailed saying that they were in Joshua Tree and told me what sites they were occupying. I first checked Matt's site. No luck, they had already left. I then wandered over to Russel's site where I met a guy that he was sharing the site with. They guy said that Russel was in town. While talking to this gentleman, a guy named David drove up also looking for Russel. It turns out that David was a friend of Matt's. Finally, a lead. I went with David to meet up with Matt. After meeting Matt, we all decided to find a climb that would allow us to be out of the wind and in the sun. We chose two routes on Chimney Rock in the campground. David and I did a no star 5.7 called Howard's Horror. Never do this climb. I managed to tear a large portion of skin off of the back of my left hand when one of my hand jams slipped. After getting off of that route; Russel, Matt, David, Teresa and I headed over to the Echo Tee area to get on some more routes in the sun. Over there, I onsighted a fun, jug filled crack called Bacon Flake. We also did a few other routes on that wall, one of which was a bolted face climb that left me thinking a couple of times during the climb. To finish the day, Russel and I separated from the group and went to Lost Horse wall which was one of the few walls with multipitch routes. We climbed a route called Roan Way. It starts with the classic Dappled Mare then heads straight up off of the second pitch anchor avoiding a downward traverse. It was super fun with cracks that had huge holds around it. It was a great first day in Joshua Tree.
Panorama of an early morning at Hidden Valley Campground
The next day, I hooked up with David later in the morning and we did a few routes on The Old Woman. I led Double Cross, which is an amazing climb. Once we were off of that, Matt and Teresa met us. We then went up Dogleg in two separate groups. Another great climb. I finally felt as if I was getting the feel of the rock. The next morning, I was only able to get one route in since I had to go pick up Wes from the airport. I followed Matt up the Orphan since he was unable to get one of his cams out of it the evening before. After meeting Wes at the airport, we gathered more supplies then went to go find the crew. They were all in the Echo Tee area chilling at a parking area with one new guy, Jon. Jon was one of the other guys taking the exam. Now we knew that every one taking the exam was in the park because Russel and I had run into Rodney on Lost Horse a few days before. From this meeting, we split up. Jon, Russel, Wes and I headed to Lost Horse to do some more multipitch routes. I teamed up with John on the Swift. It was a bit crowded with the Rock Instructor Course that was going on taking up most of the routes so Wes and Russel came up the Swift right behind us. After topping out, Jon and Wes went down the standard descent while Russel and I scouted out a possible alternative descent that Adam Fox had hold me about. It was quite an adventure traversing the top of Lost Horse back towards the parking area. We eventually found a rappel down into the Rock Garden area. From there we did a lot of boulder hopping back down to the parking area.
Jon following the second pitch of The Swift
The next day was the day before the exam. We had a meeting with the examiners/instructors at 4PM but wanted to do a bit of climbing and the rescue drill that day as well. Wes and I came across Tom Hargis one of the instructors in the camp ground and he told us of some possible routes that were going to be used for the movement test and where we would be doing the rescue drill. With that beta in mind, Wes, Jon and I headed to the possible climbs which were on the Thin Wall. There I led up No Calculators as did Wes and Jon. We then top roped the 5.9 to the right. Feeling good about our movement abilities, we headed over to the Peyote Cracks area to practice the drill. There we found Matt working on the rescue drill with Teresa. After figuring out the set up, we went to it. Everyone did the drill at least once. I managed to have my best time on the drill ever with a time of 27 minutes. After this day, I was excited for the exam. I finally felt ready.
Practicing the rescue drill. Jon coming down to save me.
Later that afternoon, we met up with the instructors, Angela Hawse, Tom Hargis, and Silas Rossi. We went over the schedule, expectations, and our route assignments for the first two days. From the start, the instructors set a great atmosphere for the exam. This had me psyched. I was ready to go out and crush this exam. That night, Wes and I moved into a hotel for the duration of the exam so that we could be well rested and clean for each day of the exam.
Stay tuned for part 2 (The Exam)