Thursday 20th April – Scramble Party

We both woke up early with the sun, around 7am, and were ready to go. Having just cereal for breakfast, we broke down camp pretty quickly and were on the road soon after we’d gotten up. I didn’t last long behind the wheel, my lethargy continuing on from yesterday for no apparent reason since I’d had a wonderful sleep. Jon happily took over when I stopped in at a servo where he washed every single window on the car, something I hadn’t done in the longest time.

We reached the turn off to Joshua Tree after about an hour of driving and after stopping in at the south side visitor’s centre, it was another hour driving at super slow national park speeds to get to Hidden Valley, where all the climbing is. I had a few powernaps during the national park drive, unable to keep my eyes open. We checked out the first campsite we came to, but didn’t stay long, knowing that Hidden Valley was the place to be, even though the ranger at the visitor’s center told us it was full. As we pulled in to the Hidden Valley campground, I told Jon to put his friendly face on because we’d have to make friends if we were to share sombody’s campsite. This is a tactic that worked for me the last time I was here. After driving around once, we found that the people at Site #2 were leaving that afternoon and as long as a lady with a red Subaru didn’t need it, it was ours. We drove around camp looking for this lady and found no sign of her. By the time we returned to Site #2, there was another prospector there, with whom we made a deal to share the site with.

Paul, a tall fit man in his 50s, had just arrived also and was looking for a site for the next two nights. After a bit of back and forth, we were all happy to share the site and so put some cash into an envelope and put dibs on it. Perfect timing on everybody’s behalf! Paul parked his VW Vanagon in the site and we drove off to find some climbing to do. Before we went anywhere, I gave Jon a huge high five for our campsite nabbing.

Based on some minimal research I’d done on Mountain Project and a book I’d taken a photo of in the visitor’s center, we were headed to Ranger Station Rock. Not a very popular place, but a good spot to get in a bunch of easy climbs around the 5.5 to 5.7 grade. We parked as far as we could down Lost Horse Road, then kitted up. I managed to spray sunscreen right into my eyes and spent a good half hour trying to wash it out and stop crying, something I didn’t have much success at. While I was dealing with that, Jon made us some wraps for lunch which we ate before we set off.

When I finally had dry eyes and we were equipped with all our climbing gear, we walked on down the road. It lead to a ranger’s station which looked like a secluded oasis for the lone ranger. Per the Mountain Project instructions, we walked right around the buildings and couldn’t quite find the “well worn path” that lead to the crag. After doing a loop of the buildings, we were startled to see someone there. An older lady was loading her truck and so we explained that we were looking for the trail up to Ranger Station Rock. She explained that there was no trail, but it was a scramble up to the climbs and she pointed out the first two, visible from the station.

Ok, so we made our own path! We scrambled up to the cracks the lady had pointed out and used them as a reference point as we moved around the rock looking for the “Wall of 10,000 Holds”. It was supposed to look a bit like Swiss cheese and thus pretty obvious. We scrambled and scrambled and scrambled for more than an hour, looking up and around thinking, “is that it?”, “could that be it?” Halfway through the scrambling, I gave up on my Tevas and switched to bare feet to stop my feet slipping anywhere.

Finally, we were pretty sure we’d found the cheese, but it really didn’t look like much of a climb. When we’d made it up onto a ledge, I thought I’d scramble up a bit further to take a look. Jon did some spotting for me at the base of the scramble, which was more like a Class 4 climb, and before I knew it, I had soloed it to the top of the rock. The view was pretty stunning at least. Probably not the best idea, especially when I started heading down. No one likes a down climb.

Safely back on the ledge, we decided to make our own adventure and chose a nice crack to climb up. Jon geared up with his trad rack and I prepped to be seconder. It would be Jon’s first lead on trad in a long time. It was a cruisy climb that followed two parallel cracks which was probably only fifteen meters high, but it was nice to finally get climbing. Jon lead it solidly. I had my first second without a nut tool, having to use finesse and patience to get some of his nuts out of the wall, something I wasn’t used to. The difficulty I had just meant that they were bomber placements. At the top, we couldn’t find anything to make a recoverable abseil so Jon abseiled down on the anchor he built then I recovered the gear and repeated my down climb.

Next create-your-own adventure, we set up a top rope on a fist-sized crack that travelled up then across a big boulder. We’d noticed it on the scramble up and thought it looked fun. We fussed about making an anchor at the top with some long slings so that it hung out over the edge. Satisfied with that, we grabbed our stuff and scrambled down to the bottom. We made cheesy jokes about how tough top ropers are as we got ready to climb.

Jon gave me first climb and I started off by doing some gardening, removing a dead bush from the bottom of the crack. Next, I got over a live bush and lay back to get up the crack. The wall was crumbly with sand but super grippy. While the crack had looked hand-jammable from the base, I didn’t do a single jam, just held the edge instead. It was nice to do a harder climb at least to justify the trouble we’d gone to to get here. Jon ran up it, making it look easy, enjoying it so much he wanted a second go. We broke for a snack before he had a second go while I pussied out because my back was giving me hell and I didn’t think my feet could take any more time in my climbing shoes since I’d forgotten to cut my toenails.

That was our afternoon of climbing done. Despite the incredible hassle to get out there, we’d both had a good time. We enjoyed the walk back to the car, it was soothing to be the only people around, jingling along back to civilisation. We dumped our stuff on the bed and drove back to camp, getting in about an hour before sunset. Paul was there, chilling out under a tree with his guitar. I put a shower on as soon as we got back and heated up more water for Jon when I was done. His first bottle shower! We got in just in time, before it got too cold.

After we were clean and had sorted the van out, I got a dinner of rice, beans and eggplant going while we both enjoyed a beer and Jon set about stringing up the hammock. As he tied a sling around a tree in the camp, a man sitting in the alcove of a rock informed him that it was prohibited to tie a hammock up to a Joshua tree, understandably so. He thanked him for the information and we came up with another solution. After looking for gear placements in the rocks around camp, we thought it best to attach the hammock to the car and the picnic table. After a bit of faffing around and readjustment, Jon was successful and we had a comfy hammock, just as dinner was served too.

While all this was happening, our neighbour Daniel came over to say hi and pointed out some choice climbs around the campsite, most of which we probably should have done instead of bashing around Ranger Station Rock. He had been here for eight days just hanging out and talking to climbers having a good old time. He invited us over to his fire if we wanted company which we thanked him for. After eating our yummy dinner, we wandered over to chat more to Daniel. After doing the dishes, I carried our chairs over and when Paul returned from his sunset walk, he joined us too.

Between the four of us, we enjoyed a relaxed conversation about all sorts of things including Elon Musk and the activities in the sky. Jon broke up the conversation to point out the Hubble Telescope flying across the sky and later, an Iridium flare from a satellite whose panels caught the sun for only a few seconds. He did it all using the “Heavens Above” app and we all marvelled to see what was happening in the sky above us. The stars out here in the desert were in abundance.

I was ashamed to be the first to go to bed, even though I was the youngest in the circle by ten years. Still haven’t got over my lethargy it seems. Jon joined me soon after and we made our preparations. Before we got the chance to crawl into the van, a young couple pulled up next to us, asking where more campsites were because they hadn’t found a place to sleep. I showed them the map and explained where they could go but advised that they should just look for someone around camp that only had one car so that they could share. In the end, they didn’t have to go far, sharing a site with Daniel.

Jon and I cuddled in the van in an attempt to warm him up. Jon had started feeling a bit ill the day before, probably catching the cold that I’d given to Dan so he hadn’t really managed to warm up after his shower despite the thermals and down jacket he was wearing. Same as the night before, I attempted to do some writing, but couldn’t keep my eyes open.

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