50 climb solo day at Joshua Tree
50 climb solo day at Joshua Tree
Page Type: Trip Report
50 climb solo day at Joshua Tree
Nov 1, 2000
Created/Edited: Mar 7, 2005 /
Object ID: 169908
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Yonder lies my trip report. It's long, rambles a bit, and is somewhat
philosophical. Even so, I enjoyed writing it. Hopefully you will enjoy
Oh no!! What does that mean!? I groggily open my eyes as my wife
points to the instrument panel where both the brake light and battery
light are flashing. I take a moment to acquire a modicum of coherence.
I tell her to pull over. We are somewhere in the middle of the Mojave
Desert. In a few minutes it will be midnight.
Cindy was taking the graveyard shift at the wheel since I was planning
on a big day at Joshua Tree tomorrow. Dave is to meet me there at first
light for a marathon climbing day. I was planning to climb fifty
A few weeks ago I emailed my good buddy Dave in S. California with the
crazy idea of climbing 50 routes in a day. Strangely, he is interested
in the plan, though for him he says that 25 will be a reasonable goal.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not usually prone to such flights of fancy.
As a matter of fact, up until this weekend, the most individual climbs
I've done in a day is probably less than a dozen. In the past, I've
never considered such numbers in the context of a competition or as an
end unto itself. At the end of the day if it turned out that a large
number of climbs have been done, then it would only serve to add to the
satisfaction and enjoyment of the day.
Climbing is a very personal endeavor. Aside from the usual friendly
competitive camaraderie, I have never equated climbing with competition.
But for some reason I was feeling antsy. Maybe it was the cold
weather. After living nearly ten years in Southern California, I
wasn't accustomed to the snow and cold. Climbing was something that
could be done year round in either the mountains or the desert depending
on the time of year. I think I was feeling a little claustrophobic.
So, on Thursday November 10th my wife and I leave after work on the nine
hour drive to Joshua Tree. The plan is for me to meet Dave at 6:00 AM
Friday morning for the big event. At around 11:56 PM, a few miles from
the small desert town of Johannesburg, we nervously pull the car over to
the side of the road.
I open the car door and am instantly hit by a blast of cold desert
wind. Fully awake now, I reach in the back for my pullover and
headlamp. I lift the hood and look things over and conclude that
everything looks okay. Not that I would really know if things didn't
look okay. I guess at midnight in the middle of the Mojave Desert I
just hoped that everything was okay. I close the hood and get back into
the car. My wife suggests that we head back to Ridgecrest and spend the
night. She says we can have someone look at it in the morning, I'm
against the idea. I don't want to jeopardize the plans I've already
made with Dave. Besides, I figure it's likely just a problem with the
sensor lights and that the vehicle is probably fine.
We continue on and after ten miles or so I realize that I've made a bad
mistake. At one point my wife, who was driving, turns on the brights
which causes the vehicle to lurch and sputter. I immediately tell her
to turn off the lights as I realize that the alternator is gone and
that we are running on battery power only. I also realize that I will
be paying for my bad judgment in more ways than with just my pocketbook!
She pulls over and we switch positions. My night vision is better than
hers and I figure well need every advantage we can get. We head on
toward the nearest point of civilization which is Kramer's Junction more
than fifteen miles away.
As I remember, Kramer’s Junction is nothing more than a few gas stations
and a couple of restaurants. The sole existence of the place is based
on the fact that it’s location is at the junction of hwy. 395 and hwy.
58. Although home to no more than a few souls, right now it seems like
a metropolis of salvation. We head on with dim hopes of making it. We
both are experiencing a feeling of intense doom since we are now
traveling with no lights and have only about twenty minutes of battery
I dig out my headlamp and tell my wife to hold it up in the window so
oncoming traffic will notice and be able to avoid the idiots driving
sixty miles an hour on the shoulder of the oncoming lane with their
Taking full advantage of our only bit of luck, we race on at a full clip
with the nearly full moon lighting our way. Suddenly a car looms behind
us and I have no choice but to pull off the road and engage the
flashers. As the car passes our engine dies and I quickly turn off the
flashers and pop the clutch. I know that our fate is pretty certain,
but I refuse to give in to it quite yet. The vehicle amazingly jumps to
life again. I realize that I've got to build up more speed. If
another car comes up behind us it will be all over.
At this point we see the lights of our destination, but I realize that
we are probably still at least ten miles away. Still, we both feel
better having something to shoot for.
Some of the oncoming cars flash us repeatedly. They are probably
thinking that we are drunk or unbelievably stupid in not realizing that
we are driving seventy miles an hour at night with no lights on.
Although I can verify that we haven't been drinking I am not so sure
that we don't qualify as unbelievably stupid. I think there is a good
doctoral thesis to be written on the subject of differentiating the fine
line between stupidity and desperation.
In my mind the miles go by very slowly. I continue to focus on the
distant lights of the four corner's community. Concentrating on that
target is difficult through the doubts I have about the wisdom of what
we are doing and while at the same time, trying my best to ignore the
panicked induced utterances of my wife.
After an eternity, the traffic lights are upon us. A quick scan of the
place shows that the only open gas station is on the other side of the
intersection. The traffic light will not be in my favor. I make an
illegal left turn and power across Hwy. 58 towards the gas station.
Suddenly my wife yells out that she sees a motel. The vehicle shudders
and begins to die as I step on the gas in an attempt to cajole the thing
another one-hundred yards. I realize we’re getting greedy, but I
figure we've earned it. As I pull into the motel parking lot, the
engine gives a great wheeze and finally quits. We coast on into an open
parking place in front of room number 14.
My wife and I silently look at each other and at that point I notice
that my hands are shaking uncontrollably.
At around 3:00 the next day we head out of the little town of Boron,
California. We had spent nearly five tedious hours in the small and
dirty waiting room of the only repair shop within a thirty mile
radius. In all fairness the local repair guys were quite friendly and
treated us fairly. Considering our limited options they could have
really stuck it to us and we would have had no choice but to suck it
up. They actually took two sixty mile round trips to Mojave to pick up
parts for our vehicle. On the way out of town we stopped at a great
little Mexican restaurant called Domingo's. It was a much deserved
treat after our recent troubles.
I called Dave the night before and explained the situation to him and we
rescheduled our attempt for Sunday at 7:00 AM.
Sunday morning Dave and I pull into the parking lot of the Short Wall at
Indian Cove. I am sore from a full day of climbing the day before. I
had linked up with my brother Mark and friend Roger for an interesting
foray into the Wonderland of Rocks. I probably climbed harder than I
should have in light of my plans for the next day, but I think that the
main problem was all of the scrambling and boulder hopping that is
necessarily a part of any trip into the Wonderlands.
On the way to the park I told Dave that I was feeling mentally ready for
the day. I think that Yogi Berra’s comments regarding baseball are as
equally applicable to rock climbing when he said “Ninety percent of
this game is half mental.” I explained to Dave that my “well of
intensity” is full to the brim.
The idea of the “well of intensity” came from my friend Roger. At one
point while in the
Wonderlands yesterday, I was preparing to lead a climb on the west face
of the North Astro Dome called Deliver Us From Evil. Roger spoke up and
cautioned against it. This climb was rated "R" in the guidebook and
Roger made an interesting observation. It's his opinion that we all
have a "pool" or “well” of intensity, that refills slowly. He
suggested that in consideration of my plan to do fifty climbs tomorrow,
that I not climb anything today that will draw from that pool. It was
his thought that leading any "R" climb will certainly use up valuable
reserves from that precious well.
After thinking about what he said I realized that he was probably
right. We talked about how sometimes we just don't "have it" for
certain leads. Under his theory, those are the moments when our mental
well is at low tide. At such moments, the best way to regain the mental
"eye of the tiger" is to have patience and to wait for our mental wells
of intensity to refill. His comments were not just off the cuff. I
could tell that he had thought about such things before, and that his
conclusions were based on analysis of his own personal experiences. To
me it sounded right.
Dave and I boot up at the base of the wall, and at five minutes after
seven the sun hits the east face of the Short Wall. The warmth of the
sun and the fact that we had the normally crowded wall to ourselves seem
a favorable augur for the day. After a couple of quick photos we each
begin climbing. The time is 7:10.
For me, the first few climbs go very quickly. I start on the right side
of the Short Wall and work left. Dave on the other hand begins in the
middle and staggers his climbs from either side.
Before I begin each climb I write down the name of the route and the
time I begin climbing it. Having each route already written down in my
log before I begin, seems to give me a little extra incentive to
complete the climb.
Donna T’s Route at 7:10, Gotcha Bush at 7:12, S.O.B. at 7:17. Things
begin brilliantly. Dave and I are cruising. We see each other on
neighboring routes, at the base of the wall, on the descents. We call
out words of encouragement. Each giving the other a little confidence
boost. I feel that there is nowhere I need to be except right here
doing what I am doing. Everything feels right.
The seventh climb for me is a route called Linda’s Face. I was worried
about that route. Actually, I worry about any face route when soloing.
Dave and I finalized the "rules of engagement" while driving to the crag
early in the morning. We discussed several possible scenarios, but
settled on the following:
1.) No ropes would be used.
We realized that we could greatly increase our climb tally by
concentrating on a certain area and using quick body belays and maybe a
piece or two for pro on climbs that we felt were a little to hard to
solo. This would greatly cut down on our need to drive to different
areas in search of solo climbs.
We also knew that one of the main time killers would be the time it
would take to descend from the top of the routes. Many areas were set
up for rappels. We could have saved a lot of time by setting up fixed
We opted instead for the logistically easier alternative to just climb
up and scramble (and sometimes climb) down. We did bring a rope along
just in case it was needed for a rescue.
2.) We would climb up everything.
Dave had talked to several of his friends who have done similar things.
Their advice was to climb up some routes and then to downclimb others.
At first I thought that the idea sounded good, but then the more I
considered it, the more it didn't feel quite right. I can't exactly put
my finger on it, but it somehow seemed that I would be shortchanging
myself. Yeah, I know that it's usually harder to downclimb a route
than to climb up it, but this was a personal challenge. I was compelled
to pursue my challenge in my way. At the end of the day I didn't want
any asterisk next to my name. As it turns out, during the day I used
several climbs as decent routes, but I made sure at some point to climb
up each one.
3.) No headlamps
We wanted to be finished when the sun went down. We didn't want to
engage in any twenty-four hour epic marathons. We both had busy days
coming up. Dave had to go to work and I had a long drive back home.
Besides, I'm not sure if either of us could have mustered the physical
energy necessary to continue climbing past dark.
4.) No pressure
This actually went unstated, but was clearly a part of the day’s
interactions. If somebody wasn't interested in a certain climb, then
fine. If someone wanted to quit altogether, that was also fine, so long
as he didn't mind waiting for the other guy to finish.
I make the first balancy move beyond the second bulge of this route. I
then make a stretch for an obvious chicken head and am now fully
committed. A couple of dicey moves to the right and I have my hands on
a solid chunk of dark rock. I pass the first mental milestone. The
time is 7:44.
Dave and I didn’t really spend much time thinking this project through.
We had a general idea of where we would go, but we were really playing
it fast and loose. At one point we spent about 20 minutes looking for a
route in Clump Canyon. On a day like this, time like that can’t be
From Indian Cove we drive to Belle Campground. As I head to the base of
the north face of Castle Rock, I begin to feel a little spent. The
climbs here are in the shade. The sweat from my previous exertions
begins to instantly cool down and sap my strength.
But there is no time to relax. Diabetics at 1:02, Diagnostics at 1:08,
Chimney Sweep at 1:15. I can tell that Dave is slowing down as well.
Our words of encouragement for each other are spoken with less
enthusiasm if at all. Each of us is concentrating on his own task.
Focusing in on our own personal goals.
My thirty seventh route is called Two Point Crack. The guide book gives
it a rating of 5.1. Two Point Crack is an offwidth and chimney combo
that at this point in the day causes me to sacrifice at least a third of
my remaining strength. After finishing Two Point Crack I don’t even try
One Point Crack (5.4). Instead, I skip over to Half Crack (5.3) and
then head straight back to the truck and start chowing down on apples
and pumpkin seeds. My reserves are low and for the first time I'm
wondering if I’m going to make it.
By this time Dave has already made his goal and has decided to kick back
and rest up. He’s planning to wait until we hit Trash Can Rock to tick
off some gravy routes. That’s a luxury I can’t afford.
Strategy is now playing a big part as I consider my options. I figure I
can solo at least seven routes at Trash Can Rock with the outside
possibility of nine or ten. At this point I’m tired and am not sure of
my ability to do routes such as Karpkwitz (5.6) or Eschar (5.4). Both
routes have cruxes up high and I’m not sure my intensity well is
sufficiently full for such commitments.
By this time I figure that I still need to do thirteen routes. I also
figure that I need to get in six routes between here and there. That
would leave me with my guaranteed seven routes at Trash Can. The time
Dave begins driving toward Trash Can Rock as I frantically thumb through
the guide book looking for six routes that I can do. “Quick, Pull in
here!” Dave pulls into Cave Corridor and I rush out and knock back
We continue down to Roadside Rocks. By 3:11, I am starting up Mother
Goose (5.4). This is a face route, and I have trouble committing to the
sequence that I know I must make. I would prefer a 5.7 hand crack about
now! I finally commit and then have trouble finding the proper way
down. The clock is ticking and I am feeling frustrated with myself.
Back in the truck now, the guidebook shows another possibility, A climb
called Barney Rubble located nearby on the west face of the Freeway
Wall. I ask Dave to drive down to it so I can take a look. The
approach looks much longer than I would like, but if I can rush over and
do it quickly I will be down to seven routes. I quickly scan the
descent and it looks easy. I decide to do it. I rush over in my
climbing shoes. My feet are in intense pain, but I can ill afford the
time it would take to change into approach shoes and then change back
I charge up the route and immediately begin to wonder “who rates these
There’s probably not a big difference between 5.1 and 5.3, unless you’ve
been climbing almost constantly for nearly eight hours. At this point,
the differences begin to magnify like pesticides through the food
chain. I make it to the top and realize that the “easy” descent is
actually a 5.1 downclimb. Once again, normally a 5.1 downclimb is no
big deal, but I am suddenly feeling very tentative and insecure. The
efforts of the day are telling in both my mental and physical abilities.
I make it back to the truck and am alarmed when I realize that I wasted
nearly half an hour on that route. Poor judgment once again raises it’s
ugly and omnipresent head.
Dave races on to Trash Can Rock. We are cutting it very thin. Darkness
begins to fall between 4:30 and 5:00. I am chilled to the bone and
feeling weak. I force down a pop-tart in the hope that my glucose level
will rise and give me a needed energy boost. Dave pulls into the Trash
Can Rock parking area. I rush over to The Trough (5.0), and start up.
The time is 4:01.
I am beginning to feel the days aches and pains. The descent from the
top of this crag is relatively easy, but the repetition is wearing me
down. Up and down, up and down. The sun dives below Quail Mountain and
I realize that between the cold and the darkness, it’s going to be
close. B-2, B-1, Baby- Point Five. I’m at forty-eight and Dave’s at
twenty eight. We feel a pall slowly lifting as we continue on toward
success. Dave chooses Simpatico (5.1), and I head for Eyesore (5.4).
Wrong! We both realize that we chose poorly, but neither wants to admit
it. This is the test. It seems to boil down to this one route. Dave
is now shooting for thirty and I still have hopes of nailing fifty.
Above my own heavy breathing I hear Dave’s cursing nearby. We are
probably both thinking the same thing; “Who rates these things?” I move
slowly upward. Tic.. tic.. tic. Three minutes, five minutes, ten
minutes. I continue to struggle. Dave finally makes it to the top and
calls down asking me about the descent. I tell him I’m currently only
worried about avoiding a certain obvious sudden and unexpected descent.
After thirteen precious minutes I pull over the top. Dave and I finish
up the last route and head back to the truck to enjoy a celebratory
beer, and savor the fading crimson of a western sunset. The time is
An hour later we are waiting for Cindy in front of Chen’s in Yucca
Valley. The moon peeks above the northeastern horizon looking
incredibly large and orange. Cindy pulls up and is happy to see us.
Her job of waiting and worrying is the most difficult. She is
incredibly understanding of my passions and has never tried to force me
to find a more “suitable” pastime. We have talked about the possibility
of a climbing accident. Though neither of us like to think about such
things, the possibility does exist. I can’t offer her any consolation
except that if I die climbing, then I died doing something that I love.
People will say that such talk is meaningless. I disagree. People can
die in any number of ways, but one thing is certain. If either of us go
unexpectedly, the other won’t have regrets about taking the others
presence for granted.
Someone recently asked me why I solo climb. That’s a tough question to
answer. Like trying to unravel the Gordian Knot. If it could easily be
done, there really wouldn’t be much curiosity about it.
When I was younger I had what I called the “fifteen minute” theory. The
main theme of this theory is that most people in this country live most
of their lives within fifteen minutes of a car. Think about it. When
was the last time you couldn’t get to a car within fifteen minutes.
I used to cherish time I spent beyond the “fifteen minutes.” I
considered such time to be time added to my life. Bonus time. Time
that counted double over “normal” time. This was usually time spent
hiking or canoeing far from the rush of the motorized world. It was
time well spent.
For me, soloing is like living fifteen minutes beyond “normal” life. I
believe in the power and uniqueness of the experience. Time that is
counted triple over the normal, the mundane, the ordinary. Time that
is not only added back in triplicate at the end of my life, but makes
the time between then and now, much more precious. Of course if all
other explanations fail, then there’s the old reliable “If you need to
ask, you’ll never understand.”
By the time we exit the restaurant, the moon is well above the
horizon. We each do our best to bundle up against the cold. Dave says
he needs to get going. After transferring my gear from his truck, we
shake hands. The act takes a split second longer that usual. A small
acknowledgment of mutual respect.
Cindy and I get in the car. She starts the engine and turns the heat up
to full blast, but cold air is all it can muster. She steers the car
east, in the direction of Joshua Tree. Tomorrow we have a long drive
home. It’s been a good trip.
I think that the idea of climbing a hundred routes in a day first came
from Todd Gordon and Dave Evans who did it back in 1980. Since then,
Joshua Tree has been witness to many other climbing schemes. I have
read that Charles Cole holds the current record for climbing the most
routes in a day at 124. I have to believe that many others have done
“speed solo” days. I am equally convinced that seventy-five, and
probably even one-hundred route solo days have been done. I make no
claims of greatness. For me fifty routes was satisfying.
The following information is provided to anyone planning a similar
project. May you learn from my mistakes.
Plan ahead: Scope the routes ahead of time. Know your itinerary. A
lot of time can be wasted looking for routes or even backing off of
routes that may have had difficulties that you were not prepared for.
Know your descents: I wasted valuable time looking for the way off of
Keep the routes short: I climbed some two pitch routes on the Feudal
Wall that really cost me some valuable minutes. Not only was I climbing
twice the length, but I had to descend twice the distance.
Try to clump as many routes together at a time as you can: Driving
around for a route here and a route there is not the way.
Keep hydrated: I did and I know it helped.
Eat: My main problem was that I didn’t eat anything until my body began
fading. I think had I munched a little here and there along the way, I
would have had a much stronger finish.
Daylight: If you are in doubt about finishing in the sun, be sure to
plan your attempt more toward late spring or early fall to give yourself
a few extra hours of daylight.
Hands: After climbing for eight years at Joshua Tree without using
tape, I recently began to “tape up.” It cuts down on my use of chalk,
and allows me to better concentrate on the climbing. Even so, my hands
were in great pain that night from all of the abuse they took. I try
not to imagine the pain I might have felt had I not taped up.
Feet: After the first dozen routes or so, I realized that my feet were
going to be in a bad way. I tried climbing without socks, even though
the temps were at times very low. Eventually, my feet became a source
of almost constant concern. Later that evening I stubbed my toe and
almost passed out from the pain! I would recommend bringing an extra
large pair of shoes along so that you can wear socks and give your feet
Crowds: Throughout the day, I estimate that we lost the chance to climb
five routes that were on our list because people were on them.
Especially at places like the Short Wall, people will drop topropes on
routes and leave them there for hours. I would suggest that you build a
certain “fudge factor” into your plans.
The following is mostly for my own personal log, but I decided to post
it in case anyone is interested. For the route names, I consulted Randy
Vogel’s 1992 guide and Alan Bartlett’s mini-guides. I believe one or
two climbs are not listed in any guide, but based on length, aesthetics,
and difficulty, I considered them as individual routes. Also, in some
cases I thought that the guidebook ratings were inaccurate. I tried
here to present the published viewpoints.
Route Number and Name
Rating Time Started
1. Donna T’s Route
2. Gotcha Bush
4. Toe Jam Express
5. Double Crack
6. Chockstone Chimney
7. Linda’s Face
8. Linda's Crack
9. Mad Race
10. Duchess Left
11. Route 1326
14. Court Jester
15. Dum Roodle
18. The Heart Route
19. brimstone Stairway
20. Hillside Strangler
21. Be Wary
22. Ambulance Driver
23. Myrmecocystus Ewarti
26. Crack 69
30. Short Crack
33. Chimney Sweep
34. Ground Finale
35. Junction Chimney
36. Crack above route 35
37. Two Point Crack
38. Half Crack
39. The Sound of Grains Snapping
40. Short crack left of route 39
41. On Ramp
42. Mother Goose
43. Barney Rubble
44. The Trough
5.3 4: 07