Why am I rock climbing?

I contemplate the reasons in my head for the hundredth time.  

Rock climbing and sleeping in the desert.  Two things I would never consider doing, not in a million years.  But then again, through the years there were many things I’ve done in my quest for balance in life;  accomplishments that I never saw myself doing, such as speaking in public, having a life outside of children and housework, and becoming an athlete.  However, after careful consideration, I still didn’t know why I am venturing into climbing, but it is something I need to do for myself. (Photo left: A buddy system always works best — two are better than one.)

Marian Marbury of Adventures in Good Company prepares me by providing information about the trip: what to expect, what to bring, contact info to reach others.  Her website and letters offer links to wonderful photos and facts of the Joshua Tree National Park, climbing, and car camping in the desert.  Marian has thirty years of experience in backpacking, hiking, and canoeing, and ten years of climbing experience — she definitely knew her stuff — That's why she started Adventures in Good Company in 1999.

Marian’s guides and staff are qualified and experienced.  In fact, Kathy Cosley is quite a celebrity in the field of mountaineering — she was the first ever amongst men and women to be certified in mountaineering and rock climbing. 

Joshua Tree National Park near
Palm Springs, California is a
wonderland of bouldering rock.

However, the desert brings to mind desolation and death; images of blowing sand, cow skulls, and an occasional tumbleweed rolling.  Oh, and the eerie Western music from Clint Eastwood’s, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” plays along in my mind as I think of this Mojave Desert ecosystem.  After my research I could not picture this “fascinating” world. 

Joshua Tree National Park is a surreal world of geologic displays.  I have fallen into a computer-created movie where mountains of rocks, enormous boulders of varying sizes defying gravity, sitting one on top of the other, forming a mountain.  They look as if a giant placed the rocks in these arrangements, perhaps creating a booby trap tumbling down any second and crushing everything in their path.

There is no death and desolation here either.  No cow skulls and occasional tumbleweeds; instead, life and an amazing story of survival!  Desert plants and grasses with unbelievable blooms reveal their patience, waiting upon rain — for a long, long time, not giving up but holding on and finally getting the water they need, blossoming in beautiful arrays, the desert now looking more like a meadow.  People tell me about the beauty of the springtime desert, now in a rainbow profuse wtih enthusiasm and passion. My overwhelming senses inhale the sights.

(Photo left: The panorama of the living desert comes alive after rare storms.)

Renew your spirit by camping
under the desert night Zenith.

Our campsite, the women, and the vehicles all seem so tiny next to the monster mountain of rocks sheltering us; I keep these thoughts to myself until one of the guides talks about the Sun Shower.  I can't focus on what a Sun Shower is but instead on the location of our shower!.  If you stand under the shower and look up and behind, you see a rock sitting half in mid-air and half resting on the mountain.  I imagine enjoying a refreshing shower then suddenly fleeing for my life as the boulder rolls down bringing me to a nude death!  Of course, the guides assure me that they have been coming here for many years and the rock has not budged an inch.

From the info list Marian sent me I had noticed
that Shiela is also from Missouri , just three hours away, so we communicate via e-mail before the trip. So when finally camping in the the desert it was like meeting a friend.

An energy packed breakfast gets
us ready for daily climbs.

“Don’t ask if you can help with the cooking and cleaning unless you absolutely want to.”  Jan, the Business Manager, cook, former emergency room nurse, and a great climber (as we soon discover) informs us.  “This is YOUR vacation,” she said.  “If you want to help, great, otherwise your only responsibility is to pack the gear you need for each day and to have a great time.”

Wow!  No cooking, no cleaning, no responsibilities but to have a good time?  I can get used to this!  I think that this climbing trip in the desert isn’t such a bad idea even if the boulders still look intimidating

ach morning starts with a delicious, nutritious breakfast. Snacks and plenty of fresh water are brought to our climbing sites.  Lunch and dinner are even better, if that is possible.  My idea of camp food is changed forever!  Hot dogs, burgers, and chips? — NO! — these are not on the menu, which could have appeared on a gourmet cooking show or perhaps some fine dining magazine.  African Ground Nut Soup, Wild Rice Asparagus with Vinaigrette, Tortilla Rollups with Cream Cheese hors d’oeurves, fresh fruit and vegetables with hummus spread, Spinach Salad with Mandarin Oranges, and Slivered Almonds, Lemon Cake, chocolate!, and vintage South Australian wine.  For vegetarians and for those who still want the true camping experience with hot chocolate and such, trust me, there is quite a variety to choose from and EVERYONE is happy.

Rush hour in the desert -
waiting for the adrenaline rush!

From all walks of life we arrive to rock climb.  Among us is a geology professor, massage therapist, veterinarian, a mother of five, librarian, a student, an accountant, and a toy store owner. The ages range from 33-63; some are first time climbers, others are intermediate, and a few are advanced.

Each day starts with usefully and necessary technical lessons, such as a fist jam, hand jam, foot jam, chimneying, and smearing.  We practice bouldering and climbing on a short rock.  No matter the experience level, everyone gets a chance to try out new techniques or practice what they already knew before climbing; it is an adventure for everyone at any level.

Inset Photo:  Raiders of the Lost Ark
rock is wedged securely.

Top roping gains great heigths.

I am nervous, yes, I must admit but the guides never forget what it is like to be a beginner.  They speak of every emotion that may arise and tell us to not take climbing personally.  “Just because you can’t climb a certain rock does not mean that you are a worthless failure,” Marian says.  “It just means that you can’t climb this particular rock right now.”  We all laugh. We truly understand that is oh-so-true how we can take things personally that have nothing to do with our self-worth.

The more advanced women climbers are also very encouraging, telling stories of when they first learned to climb, cheering each other on, and revealing their own frustrations on the climbs during the week.  The variety of climbs on the rock face give each woman, no matter her level, a good challenge.  Marian and the guides ask each of us personally throughout the week if we are getting what we want out of the trip. 

Incognitus Unknown Rock Climbing
Instructor, good for shielding
the sun and the press!

Each climber has something that motivates them.  Whether it is a self-improvement goal — as with Jenifer, a former ballet dancer — or an athletic goal for Shiela, who is an engineer for Boeing. We all have different reasons that encourage us.  My motivation is a 63-year old grandmother who had never climbed before.

Pat, to me, is just downright hilarious!  She doesn't try to be but her comments just keep us laughing.  Pat has no sense of fear and she tries anything — and she is the first one to do it. 

“Who wants to be the first to try this?”  Angelie, one of our guides asks.  We all look down hoping that we aren't the first but there goes Pat, straight for the rock.

“Who wants to rappel?”  No act of God is going to make me do this one!  “I’ll do it.  Might as well!”  Pat announces and down she goes. Each time I have a doubt in my mind, I think to myself, “If Pat can do it, so can I.”

Pat and I climb next to each other, about sixty feet up, when she asks, “Now tell me why I’m doing this again?”  I just lose it right then and there!  It’s a good thing the belaying system works — and works well!

Rock climbers trust their equipment
and mates, but always
kiss the carabiner!

I knew what a belay system is, but never tried it before this trip. The belay stops a fall by means of a rope.  It includes the anchor, the belayer, and the belaying devices or method.  Each person is taught correct knot tying, locking in, and double checking for security. It isn’t until my last day that I trust this system to keep me from falling.  I guess I’m sort of a control freak and depend on myself a lot in life.  With climbing, you have to completely trust your partner and others.  It’s a good lesson that carries on in other areas of life.

Climbing is very challenging with no choice but to focus on what you are doing at the moment.  I find that my life's worries and concerns no longer exist — just the upfront and personal rock that I am dealing with at the moment.  Where is my next hand hold, if any?  What to do with this left foot that is just dangling in mid-air with no possible place to rest?  What to do with this right foot that is jamming into the crack forever and eternity?  When I arrived at the Joshua Tree, my mind was loaded with all kinds of thoughts racing around. In fact, I even had a small twitch in my left eye every now and then from my overactive mind.  How I missed my kids, how I still needed to paint my dining room, and on and on.  But when climbing, it is just me and the rock (oh, and of course, my belayer who knows exactly what she is doing).

Enormous granite monoliths
dwarf our campsite.

From the rock top the view is incredible!  But then I look down and realize that I have a long, long way to go to get back to the ground.   Going down was not my forte!  Eventually, I make it down with a little encouragement from my fellow climbers below and A LOT of assistance from my belayer.  My poor belayer!  I trust one person and one person only — Angelie.  But by the end of the week the belaying system worked no matter who is at the other end of the rope and someone else belays my climb.

Nighttime gives us the rest that we need for another day’s activities.  The stars are brilliant in the clear desert sky.  I am so tired but fight sleep so I can stare at the stars and planets.  There are no buildings, power lines, trees, nothing to get in the way of the view.  I grew up on a farm and spent many nights with our family gazing at the sky as my dad talked about the heavenly bodies.  I can remember the magnificent canopy of stars when I was younger but what I witnessed in the desert far surpasses what I saw on the farm.  Perhaps it is the unobstructed view or the peace and quiet.

Our trip also includes a hike to an oasis in the parched and thirsty terrain.  We learn about the desert plant and animal life, revealed in a magnificent story by a Joshua Tree National Park Ranger. We lunch under palm tree shade with the sound of water.

Chimneying is a secure
way of climbing.  Now we
know how Santa feels! 

The final day, as with other days, provides a variety of climbs.  Some choose the 80-90 feet rock face while others went on a three-pitch climb, starting with 100 feet of bouldering and then climbing up another 80 feet or so.  I also learn that Jo, a rock climber and a guide intern, climbs in the dark by the headlights of a car. She feels “it is a waste not to take advantage of one of the climbs that someone had set up”.

“Say good-bye to the stress and clutter of daily life. Reconnect with what is truly essential. Spend a few days—or a few weeks—in the peace and splendor of some of the world’s most beautiful natural locations. Engage your mind…rejuvenate your body…nurture your spirit. And share the adventure with other women as you laugh, support, and inspire each other to take on new challenges, both on your journey and in your life.”  

And this is what I truly did on my Adventures in Good Company adventure. — B
y Lena Hunt Mabra, Kansas City Correspondent.

Adventures In Good Company
Fax 410/435-3084
5913 Brackenridge Ave .
Baltimore , MD 21212

Joshua Tree National Park Trail Map

Joshua Tree National Park Trail Map

More than just a map - National Geographic Trails Illustrated topographic maps are designed to take you into the wilderness and back. Printed on durable tear-resistant waterproof material this map can go anywhere you do! Each map is based on exact reproductions of USGS topographic map information updated customized and enhanced to meet the unique features of each area. Folded and printed on plastic for durability.

Rock Climbing Guide: Joshua Tree

Rock Climbing Guide: Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree is the most popular rock climbing area in the world, and for good reason. When other climbing locales are buried in winter snow, Josh is basking in Southern California sunshine. Thousands of sport and traditional routes on the myriad golden domes offer climbers of all abilities endless variety, from classic, well-protected cracks to delicate friction faces to edgy vertical testpieces. Excellent bouldering abounds, and unsurpassed camping in the beautiful high-desert environment encourages extended stays. Simply put, no climber's career is complete without at least one trip to Joshua Tree, and many people find themselves returning year after year. The long awaited reprint of Chockstone's Joshua Tree Rock Climbing Guide is the most complete guide available to the area. Maps, photos, and written descriptions give climbers all the information they need to explore and enjoy one of the climbing world's most treasured resources.

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