The Brilliant Plan
The winter had been pretty dull, work was still work but other than that there wasn't a whole lot going on. I was itching for an adventure and after recalling a couple of buddies bragging about the climbing in Joshua Tree I decided to do a little research and see if anyone else was up for a trip. After contacting my dad and my cousin (who lives in Vegas), they all agreed Joshua Tree sounded cool and I set out to plan us a trip.
I'm not a technical climber so I wasn't looking to get too crazy but I was definitely in the mood for some bouldering and Joshua Tree looked to be just the place. After reading a few trip reports and looking at a few maps, we settled on Indian Cove as a campsite for our adventure to begin. It was in close proximity to the trailheads entering the Wonderland of Rocks and that's where we were looking to climb. The route I was looking at would take us southwest from the Indian Cove Picnic Area trailhead into Rattlesnake Canyon, up a few draws where we could check out Willow Hole and then return down the same route back to camp.
I printed off a few topo maps, made a phone call to the ranger station to reserve a campsite and notified everybody about the plans. My dad and I planned to meet up after work on Friday, drive up from San Diego, grab some grub along the way and meet my cousin and one of his friends who were driving in from Vegas with him at the campsite. My girlfriend was going to meet up with us during the afternoon on Sat. and hang out at the campsite until we left on Sunday.
The Adventure Begins - Day 1
The trip started off without a hiccup. My dad and I both managed to get off work early, got our gear together and loaded in the truck and got on the road at a reasonable hour. I wasn't sure how traffic would be heading north on the 15 or east on the 10 out of LA on a Friday afternoon but we lucked out and made great time out to the desert. My cousin called and said he had to work late and he didn't know what time they would be in but they would definitely get in sometime Friday night.
Before checking in at the Indian Cove Ranger station, we stopped at a local market right off Hwy 62 in Joshua Tree to grab some food supplies and some misc. gear. We loaded up on hotdogs, eggs, chorizo, extra water, some beef, fruit and of course some beer. Afterwards, we raced off to claim our campsite and rushed to get it set up before the quickly disappearing sun vanished over the horizon.
After we got settled, my dad kick started the festivities by lighting the fire and cooking us up some carne asada he had purchased at the market. Just as we had finished polishing off our food, my cousin and his buddy rolled up. I guess they had been driving about 100 down back roads all the way from Vegas and made great time in the process. We helped them set up their tent, stacked the wood to keep the fire roaring, and settled in for a night of telling stories and drinking beer around the fire.
One beer must have turned into fifteen because before I knew it all of us, except for my dad, were pretty drunk. As the night wore on, the stories must have got louder and more profanity laced, because around 1 AM my dad said he was heading to bed and asked if we could keep it down. Of course we tried, but we failed miserably.
What Hangover - Day 2
I woke up at the butt crack of dawn, with the worst cottonmouth I think I've ever had. After downing a few bottles of water I went to wake up my cousin, the supposed chef for our gourmet breakfast. He had brought a large griddle with him so we tasked him with the job of cooking. The chorizo and egg burritos were excellent and we all agreed we were feeling pretty well considering the amount of beer we had consumed the night before. After cleaning up the dishes and prepping our gear, we discussed the itinerary over a map and decided we had better get a move on.
The sun was just creeping over the eastern horizon as we drove through the empty campgrounds to the picnic area trailhead located at the southeast corner of the Indian Cove Campgrounds. Using the North/South running ridge to our east as our guide, we struck out heading south from the east side of the trailhead. Picking our way through a stone-filled riverbed towards an obvious break in the canyon walls that we had identified, both by sight and via our topo, to be the correct route to Rattlesnake Canyon. As we twisted and climbed our way first south and then west around Peak 3497 and continued on through the wash, the trail switched from rock to sand, and then finally back to large boulders. The boulder hopping was tedious and the going was a lot slower than any of us expected.
The sun was burning hot in the sky as we continued to climb southwest through Rattlesnake Canyon. We knew we needed to climb the southern wall at the second draw on the topo, a point we deemed would lead us up a boulder-filled waterway, around a mass of several boulder peaks and drop us into Willow Hole. However, from our viewpoint on the canyon floor, we couldn’t visually see the opening where the two canyons converged so we just selected a spot that looked like it would lead us in the right direction. The canyon seemed to be ending so instead of pressing on down Rattlesnake Canyon, as we should have done, we elected to attack the southern wall of the canyon through a nice crack in the rocks.
Needless to say I was scared shitless with the route we selected. The handholds on the crack were great but the exposure was ridiculous. I kept trying not to look down but for some reason I couldn’t help myself. About ¾ of the way up, the route required me to swing out a bit from the tiny ledge I was on, hurdle a small shrub and hoist myself up to the next ledge. However, before I could even begin I tensed up and froze. Clinging to the rock like a baby koala, I prayed that I didn’t fall and hoped that no one else would either. Luckily we had brought a rope and an ascender. My cousin, who also happens to moonlight as a mountain goat, was able to shimmy up to the top of the wall, tie off the rope and give the rest of us the assistance we needed to continue.
At the top of the canyon wall, we hopped west along the huge boulders and ran smack into the north/south draw we should’ve been climbing to begin with. At the draw we turned left and climbed south, scaling the huge boulders up the draw until we came upon another tough section of rocks forming a small cave with a small pool of water below. Bat guano covered the rocks so we knew we had some friends somewhere. We scouted the area looking for a route around or through and we managed to find a way; climbing across a slick boulder, squeezing through a small opening and climbing the steep rock on the other side.
The route flattened out a bit as we exited the southwest side of the cave. The route became a small, sandy, boulder-filled draw and we picked up on what looked to be a use trail heading west. As we continued down the draw we came upon a small campsite/geo cache/cave cabin someone had constructed. Made up of a small cave of boulders and some logs, one could tell some time had been spent putting the hut together. After quickly looking over the contents stowed inside and signing the register, we settled on the Frisbees and played a competitive round of disc golf.
The holes were exciting, consisting of a few par 5’s, a couple par 3’s and the rest some crazy, boulder-hopping par 4’s. I can’t really remember who won but I’m pretty sure it was my dad; he always seems to find a way to win at Frisbee golf. During one throw, my cousin managed to get his Frisbee stuck in the crack of one huge boulder. Amazingly, he somehow managed to free it by constructing a hook out of a piece of barbwire he snagged from the little hut and fishing it out.
After playing Frisbee for several hours we decided that we needed to head on. We put our heads together, checked our water supply and took a look at the map to see what our next move was. According to the topo, Willow Hole, which was our main objective, seemed to be just around the corner but we were all running a little low on water and energy by this time and didn’t really know how far we would have to go to get there. Also, my girlfriend was sure to be waiting back at camp and she was the last one I wanted pissed off at me when we returned. The area we had discovered seemed like a pretty cool place to camp but I’m pretty sure no overnight camping is allowed in that area of the park, so I don’t know what the little hut is actually used for.
The boulder hopping back down the canyon went without incident. We followed the draw the entire way north back to Rattlesnake Canyon. From there we headed east/northeast until we came to the gully heading directly north. We popped out of the last little draw almost directly south of the picnic area. By that time we reached the car my water bladder was bone dry, as was everybody else’s and my legs were starting to cramp. Inside the truck were a couple of bottles of hot water but nobody seemed to mind, we chugged them and were thankful just the same.
An Adventure to Remember
As we drove back to the campsite I checked my phone and sure enough had the “Where are you??” message on my voicemail. As we approached camp I didn’t spot anybody hanging out and I didn’t see my girlfriend’s car, so I was kind of wondering where she was. After I finished taking off my boots, soaking my feet and finishing off a couple of glasses of cold water, my girlfriend showed up. She said she had gotten too hot and tired of waiting around for us in the heat so she had driven back to Joshua Tree to buy an umbrella. The good news was she wasn’t mad at all and she had also brought back some more beer.
My dad left shortly after we returned to camp, he had church the next day or something. Meanwhile, everyone else laid down for a nice, hot nap in the scorching 90-degree heat of a Joshua Tree winter afternoon. It was just too hot for me to comfortably sleep so I clambered out of my tent, opened the cooler, cracked a beer and proceeded to try and drink myself to sleep. We had talked about climbing some of the rocks around camp but by the time everyone else returned from their slumber, it just wasn’t in the cards for me.
My cousin and his friend went and climbed a few rocks in the area and then returned shortly to catch up on the drinking they had missed. With not another car, fire or tent in sight; it seemed like we had the campgrounds to ourselves so we didn’t feel too bad about playing our music, slamming some Jagerbombs and howling along with some of the tunes at the moon. From what I can remember the night sky was amazing. The stars seemed so bright and we were able to watch satellites trail all the way across the sky. It was an amazing experience.
As we packed up in the morning, I thought about the great time we had camping at Indian Cove, climbing the boulders of Rattlesnake Canyon and exploring the area known as the Wonderland of Rocks. Yes, we didn’t reach our goal of Willow Hole but we had a helluva time trying. The boulder climbing, chicken-shit near death experience, Frisbee golf, dehydration, and camping experience are one I’ll never forget and I can guarantee that I’ll be back to do it again sometime soon
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