Joshua Tree Climbing Clinic


I'm a hiker, not a climber. When I visit Joshua Tree National Park, I like to pick a mellow trail and stroll from cholla to cholla with the calm reserve of a nature enthusiast—no adrenaline rushes for me. But every once in a while, when I spot a group of climbers clinging to a boulder, I'll stop long enough to stare at their euphoric faces and wonder, is there something I'm missing?

That's the question that finally made me sign up for a rock climbing course with the Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School. I figured, whatever it is that keeps millions of climbers coming back here again and again, is probably worth pursuing. Besides, all those years of being a hiker in a climbers' park were starting to make me feel. . . well, wimpy.

When I showed up at our early-morning meeting place at the Indian Cove campground, I wasn't convinced that I could ever be the climbing type. But I took my place among the crowd of shivering students and rubbed my hands together for warmth as I waited my turn to sign a release.

Behind us, a group of climbers had already set up their gear and were happily scaling the sticky quartz monzonite that J-Tree is known for worldwide. With a consistency somewhere between sand paper and kitty litter, it's the kind of surface climbing shoes were made for. Add that to the fact that Joshua Tree is climbable year-round, and you start to understand why rock devotees consider this place a mecca.

Legalities accomplished, we moved on to the climbing shoe bins, where we each tried on a few pairs before settling on the size that was the least uncomfortable (those stiff, rubber-soled shoes aren't designed to feel good). Next, we chose our harnesses, the complex-looking contraptions of loops and cords that would be our safety gear for the day. I stepped into the harness and tied it up as best I could. It wasn't pretty, but it looked like it would probably hold.

"No no, wrong wrong wrong," said Al, one of the instructors, who shook his head disapprovingly as he walked over to untangle my mess. Al is exactly the kind of guide a reluctant beginner hopes to have: good-natured, but rigid about doing things the right way. I watched closely as he rearranged my straps. Through two buckles, in and around, then back through the top buckle again. Would I remember the sequence for next time? Probably not, but it was comforting to know I was in good hands.

Once we were outfitted, the guides split us into groups, and Al led nine of us away from the meeting place toward our very own pile of boulders. We walked down a short, sandy path, winding around the dense clumps of prickly scrub that seemed to reach out to snag our legs. The sun was still low enough to cast a warm, orange glow on the towers of granite that rose up from the desert floor all around us. When we got to our climbing site, Al told us its name: Morbid Mound. Someone in the group laughed nervously.

About the Author: Outdoors writer Kimberly Lisagor has spent much of her life exploring the SoCal wilds on foot, bike, and kayak. When she isn't glued to the computer, she can usually be found hiking Zuma Ridge or mountain biking Sullivan Canyon. She is GORP's Los Angeles Weekend Expert.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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