Ribs in the desert? Hell yeah!
My climbing partner and I have been trying to get on this route for the last several months. We were last in Joshua Tree together over Thanksgiving and ran into Craig Peer who had done this climb before. He recommended multiple pins and promised a good time on the climb.
After assembling the appropriate El Cap sized rack for this short 3 pitch Aid Climb in the remote section of the park near Twentynine Palms, we planned our attack. Wanting to do the climb in a day from Los Angeles, we originally had the intentions of leaving at 0400 from Los Angeles. However, after a good solid day of skiing/boarding at Mt. Baldy following a night of fresh powder and then celebrating the great day with a few good drinks, we pushed back our departure time to 0600.
Everything was loaded the night before and ready to go so that when the alarm went off we could roll out of bed and head off to climb. We were joined by a friend of mine from NYC and a hiker who just moved from the Pacific Northwest that wanted to see the desert. The drive out to Joshua Tree was easy without traffic in the early morning and we were pleasantly surprised that the wind generators near Palm Springs were all still. The weather forecast has been calling for rain, wind, and possibly snow throughout the weekend. But as weather forecasts go, the only true one I believe is the one I see when I’m looking out my window.
After driving through Joshua Tree and then Twentynine Palms, we turned off of Hwy 62 onto Park Blvd. The entrance was just over 3 miles from the turn-off so we were looking for a pullout around 2.5 miles, just shy of Wellock Road. There was a gas/cable easement just off the road that we pulled into. The Indian Head formation could be seen prominently at the top of a 1000’ wash directly to our West.
Packs were donned and we were off across the desert. The first part of the approach is across a nice wide flat section with several dry creek beds. This quickly turns into an uphill slog through a boulder field after 15 minutes. My friend from NYC had never really stepped off of concrete so once the incline became more than a wheelchair ramp, he turned around. At least he made it that far. The three remaining in our group headed up the hill. After another 1.5 hours, we topped out just below the climb.
A little lunch made by our hiker friend and some Frisbee time got us ready for the climb. The first pitch has two options. There is a bolt/head ladder on the left directly under the anchors or a chossy looking crack 20’ to the right. The crack looks like it takes some finger to hand size cams down low before requiring several pieces of iron to a bolt ladder that traverses over to the anchors. If you decide to go up this way, I would suggest some KB’s and LA’s for the upper section.
I opted for the bolt/head ladder. The first piece appears to be a #4 or #5 head pasted into a drilled hole. It looked fairly new with no fray. Above this piece is a shiny ½” bolt. The next 7 pieces are all heads similar to the first. A couple of them are frayed but no rust and the metal is firmly pasted in place. Another bolt, 4 more heads, and then onto the bolt ladder from the right hand crack to the anchor. The anchor has a good 3/8” bolt along with multiple assorted bolts placed over the last 20 years. A couple ¼” expansion bolts with homemade hangars round out the complement.
The wind we had thought wasn’t going to affect today had decided to show up anyway. After the first pitch, I was climbing with a fleece and wind breaker. An unusual sight to see me in considering I mostly walk around in shorts all winter. The wind never let up and only intensified once out of the shelter of the roof.
As I was sorting the anchor and getting everything ready for the next pitch, my partner followed up the fixed line with all the gear. He had called the roof traverse and didn’t waste any time launching into it. An hour had already passed since stepping a foot off the ground. The roof traverse heads out about 70-80’ along the second tier of the roof. There were multiple fixed angles, KB’s, LA’s and a couple of nuts in place. But beware, one knifeblade was hand cleaned and rehammered into place. The fixed pro peters out around the middle of the roof but there were plenty of banged out pin placements. Jordan’s high-stepping techniques allowed him to place some small gear in the pin scars. There were also some totally beat out pins including a useless KB and LA. Gear used for the following traverse included Black Aliens, #00 Metolius TCU's (or equivalent such as a #000 BD C3), and Hybrid Aliens (Blue/Black, Blue/Green, Yellow/Green). Two sets of hybrids would have been perfect but a black Lowe Tri-cam did the trick instead.
Following the traverse was more difficult than the lead! It required releading the pitch. After the last time I did a roof traverse (Wally’s Roof in Tallulah Gorge, Georgia) I had sworn that I would bring two sets of aiders to make my life easier. Two bad I didn’t listen to myself. After struggling to get through the first few moves and into the roof proper, the following got a little easier. With only one set of aiders, my highstepping techniques weren’t quite that to match my partners and so I had to lower out on one piece. I left a small sling in place on a fixed LA that, from the side, you could see the entire length of it in the rock. But it was still solid enough for both of us to hang and lever off of it. A bomber 3/8” bolt and another head round out the end of the pitch to the anchors which has the same assortment as the first belay. Time for both of us to make it through the roof traverse was just under 3 hours.
I selected a bunch of gear for the final 5.8 pitch. The previous descriptions of this pitch insisted that you’d have the sh** scared out of you despite the 5.8 rating on your first ascent but that on subsequent leads it would be cruiser. I only intended to do this pitch once and now I know I don’t want to lead this pitch again. After 10’ up a face, I gained access to a small crack. It took a #2 BD nut. Another few feet up and I was able to sink in a solid #4 nut. From here it thinned out and ended in a roof straight up. I used a sidepull near the nut placement to peer around left. There was a blocky ramp the proceeded up and left. I down climbed a couple of moves to my previous nut placement where I was able to use another side pull and better feet to move left. Once on the ramp, I realized the rock was very chossy and would not take gear. I cautiously proceeded up this ramp, having one foot hold, the size of a football, break away. Two additional handholds broke off on me while I completed the next 20’ to the top. I was able to place my #00 Metolius TCU in a more “solid” crack under a block that probably would have gone had I taken a fall. A long sling was required to protect my partner from the traverse around the arête. I was able to construct an anchor with a Red and Yellow Alien, backed up with a .75 BD 15’ away.
Once Jordan and I were both on top, it was a short scramble to the summit proper. The views were great as the sun was setting. Unfortunately, with the clouds, the sun wasn’t out and it wasn’t the spectacular J’Tree sunset I was hoping to show our hiker friend. She had been keeping herself busy with photographing desert flora but had gone down earlier with the impending darkness looming ahead.
We walked off the top with little difficulty and made our way back to our gear. After reloading our packs we were off through the boulder field. It was fairly easy going as far as hopping boulders goes since we could never find any part of the trail that we took up the hill. Once back on the flat ground we quickly made our way back to the truck. Total time on the descent was 1:15.
Upon arriving at the truck I noticed the lights in the open door (two friends already back) were very dim. It was just as Jordan had predicted – the battery was dead. After draining our celebratory bottle of wine, we figured we better flag someone down for help. Fortunately for us, a very kind local passerby stopped to give us a jump. We headed back to Yucca for Ribs in the desert – Hell Yeah!
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