Shortly after driving Gaia the van across the country from Chicago to Los Angeles, an opportunity to go to Joshua Tree National Park came up. A friend of Kyuri’s extended an invite to go climb the boulders & rock formations at the national park, and to camp overnight with his group of his friends. A short distance drive from Los Angeles, the iconic Joshua Tree made famous by the U2 album cover is located in the Mojave desert of Southeastern California. The park is very popular with rock climbers, with thousands of climbing routes available at various levels of difficulty. It didn’t take long to convince me. Climbing gear, sleeping bags, and food supplies were packed, and both Kyuri and I headed out for a short weekend of climbing and van camping.
I’ve done a small amount of indoor climbing, but this was to be my first time rock climbing the outdoors. Climbing is a sport I’ve picked up as an internal physical and mental challenge to myself, especially since I fall into the not so great with heights camp. I’ve gotten more comfortable climbing the 50-70 feet tall walls at indoor gyms, but was really looking forward to getting that first outdoor climb off my bucketlist. Through gym practice I’ve gotten familiar with tying the figure 8 follow through-knot, and belaying, but was told by friends that outdoors poses different challenges.
As our group settled on a climbing spot and got the gear ready, I had the opportunity to watch some of the more experienced climbers lead climb their way up to set up a top rope for the remainder of us. The sight of the 100+ foot wall in front of me was making me a little anxious, but eventually it was my turn to try my hands at a 5.9 route. I began my way up and the first thing I noticed was how much more grippier the rock was compared to gym holds, and then when further up how much more abrasive the rock is on one’s hands. The approach is also a bit different in that there are no color coordinated holds, and one has to find their own way up. I immediately enjoyed that aspect of outdoor climbing. After getting up halfway through the approach, I made the rookie mistake of looking down (for someone with a fear of heights). My first reaction was to get back down and get more comfortable with a few more attempts, but some encouragement from the group & belayer below spurred me to take a deep breath, tell myself I can do this, and proceed up.
The climb was going well, and I got about 7/8’s of the way up before a more challenging section got the better of me and I ended up getting belayed down. Despite not making it all the way up, I was glad I gave it a try. It could have been easy to back out and not make the move up when I was halfway up, but it’s amazing what a small change of mindset and internal pep talk can do. Not only in relation to climbing, but in all walks of life. I ended up trying a 5.11 approach that required a different technique, and also made it a decent way up. That one also felt good, and I can’t wait to do some more outdoor climbing.
Our group left the climbing spot right around sunset, and we headed out to our camp spot right outside the park. There were a couple of children amongst the group, and one of the more memorable moments of the trip for me was when one of them asked me why I pronounce Theo as “Teo”. The TH sound is almost non-existent in Poland, so I naturally pronounce TH as T. Let me tell you, getting taught proper pronunciation by a five year old can be a trip!