With employment scarce and the need for entertainment high, the possibility of another Joshua Tree outing began rising to the fore. I needed to practice guiding and I had been contacted by a friend, Chuck, who wanted to give outdoor climbing a try. Once I found out that Frank (of Devils Tower fame) would be there at the same time practicing rescue skills with one of the PCGI mentors, a plan was hatched:
Go to the desert, get some quality practice in on the rock with a mock-client and some simulated rescue scenarios with the man that lit the fuse on the powder keg that is my prospective guiding career.
Shortly after this plan was established, I broadcasted it to the entire Facebook community; a sort of smug chest-thumping, letting everyone know that I was going to be enjoying the world class ambiance of the desert in winter while most of my friends have been relegated to pulling on plastic in gyms. One exception to this was Steve, who I had met back in South Dakota, in the Needles. Turns out he is in San Diego, living on a boat and feels like doing some climbing too. Game on.
The drive up was filled with anticipation and waiting, since I took a wrong turn that cost us about an extra hour of drive time. Upon arrival we met up with Chuck at the local outfitters. The three of us must have looked like quite the odd lot, based on the looks we got from the folks behind the counter. They kept giving me sidelong glances which I interpreted as either a fear that I would steal something or perhaps a general dislike based on the fact that I display my gumby-like qualities in public without remorse.
In the space of my three minutes I heard every plainly visible employee rattle off lists of their hardest red-points and onsights; chanting this mantra eventually had the desired effect as we all ran out of the store, covering our ears and screaming.
We decided that the best place for such unworthies as ourselves would be the eastern end of the park in Belle Campground; amongst the elderly RV drivers, displaced drunks and the raucous ravens we would dwell. As it turned out, Belle was cheap at 10 bucks a night, nearly empty, and had routes within spitting distance from our campsite. Not to mention, we also had a kickass neighbor who we became fast friends with the following morning.
A few night shots of the Belle CG scenery...
Peter (our new neighbor friend) hooked up with Steve with some climbing while Chuck and I went out and did battle with some fun routes in the Stirrup Tank region. The second day climbing we stayed closer to camp and explored Belle CG a little more in the morning and then checked out Live Oak area in the afternoon and did a fun 5.3 route up a decent sized slab with a heinous descent.
Steve working a project in Belle CG- I believe it is a hard 11 if memory serves me correctly
Steve (standing) and Peter, lighting up a fire
Peter, looking to see if my part time job as a beverage container collector is likely to bump me up into a higher tax bracket...
Beautiful fire, lame fire ring. Patented by an Iowan, this fire ring sits just high enough off the ground to reduce the possibility of warmth being transmitted to those around the fire. It was clear that the people who selected these units for installation had little concrete understanding of the nuances of burning things.
Chuck had to go home after day two and so Peter and Steve and I went out to get in a few more fun, short routes before the night fell. Once back from conquering a short but stout 10d, we decided to go into 29 Palms to get some firewood and a few supplies. At the local market I was immediately aware that this was the sort of place the inventors of car locks must have had in mind; I was certain to apply mine very deliberately. We entered what looked to be a post-apocalypse setting inside the store; shelves were stripped bare of all but the most objectionable food items and the refrigerated section was completely empty.
Small notes placed conspicuously around the facility apologized for the state of affairs and attributed them to the broken refrigeration units. I, while trying to imagine a similar scene but with better stocked shelves still adhered to my original misgivings. Back out in the parking lot, Steve and I were so overcome with excitement about our good day climbing that we were able to easily ignore the tweakers with pitbulls who were nipping into the market for some victuals and cough syrup.
So gleeful were we, in fact, that I managed to shut my keys in the car I had so carefully locked after putting the wood and food into it. Without going into a complete excess of detail, let me just say that I am glad Steve had AAA...I had it as well but I was so insanely furious and frustrated that I most likely would not have remembered it until the transients and scofflaws shook the card out of my wallet after robbing me...
Steve on lead, earlier in the day
Steve relaxing on the crash-pad
Shadows and flame
Day three I met up with Seth from PCGI and Frank to work on rescue skills. This was a really eye opening experience because I discovered that I have the basic systems and processes down pretty well but am in need of greater efficiency still. It was a real treat to be on the rock with Seth and Frank-I am still excited about getting better and getting my skills totally up to speed so that certification will be all set.
Additionally I would like to add that anyone who has never climbed with Frank might well take the chance to do so if not for the obvious fact that he is a fabulous guide, but for the fact that he is more entertaining than a South Park marathon and a several orders of wings. I have tried both and there is no comparison. It is always inspiring to watch someone who is a virtuoso ply their craft without effort. I had the benefit of two such individuals and if that doesn't make you want to get your skills dialed and improve then perhaps you should check your pulse...
After a day of serious bidness, it was back to camp for some lighthearted foolery. It seems that our site was the social apex of Belle CG for the duration of our stay; guests stopped by on our final night and joined us for a nice big fire. One guest in particular had a fondness for whiskey and I had the task of escorting him back to his expedition sized tent across the street once his thirst was thoroughly slaked. The good news is that I carried his guitar for him, so it was not broken underneath him when he fell walking back. The bad news is that carrying a guitar can really complicated catching a falling body.
Our final day out, we got up and climbed a quick 5.7 on our way out of the park. It was a nice way to cap off a great mini-trip. Steve led it--a heady lead, 4 bolts on 35 meters of climbing. Peter and I got to enjoy top rope rides on it and a good time was had by all.
More pictures are pending since there were some taken by Steve,Pete,Frank and Chuck that I do not have as of yet.
Good friends, old and new together in a beautiful setting--just one more thing for which to be thankful.