Joshua Tree Memories. Going out of your comfort zone can have interesting consequences!

Joshua Tree Memories. Going out of your comfort zone can have interesting consequences!

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Trad Climbing
Intersection RockNote the two circles on top showing climbers
A Joshua Tree

Before the age of the Internet and smart phones it wasn't easy to find a climbing partner every single time you got the itch to get on the rocks. Although I had many climbing partners, on many occasions I found myself alone in Joshua Tree looking for someone willing to do what I wanted to do, to do the routes I wanted to climb. All I needed was a belayer. My wife filled that role beautifully, but she had her own sports and passions and couldn't always go with me. Meeting new people has never been easy for me, but some of the events that took place have stuck with me for a long time. The purpose of this page is to share two of my stories during the years I was most active in Joshua Tree National Park.

Steve from Alaska and North Overhang

North OverhangIntersection Rock and the scary corner of North Overhang!
A Joshua Tree

Intersection Rock is probably the most prominent rock formation in Joshua Tree National Park. It sits at the cross roads to several points of interests as well as a very large parking lot, in short a great meeting place. Many mega classic routes are located on this formation. One of these mega classics is North Overhang. It was during the afternoon hours and I was bouldering the first few moves of another route called Waterchute. I noticed a rugged looking guy was also interested to try the same moves. After a while and some chit chats, we introduced ourselves. He asked me what I was up to in Joshua Tree and I told him that I had been walking around hoping to meet another climber to climb with. Then he asked me if I could lead a 5.9. My answer was, "I think so." He asked me if I would be interested to lead North Overhang so he could follow. I asked if he had a harness and knew how to belay. The answer to both questions was yes.

North Overhang is usually done in two pitches. The first pitch is very easy and it ends in an alcove with a fantastic view. We made it to the alcove with no problem. The start of the second pitch is an entirely different story. It consists of climbing under a roof/overhang with a crack. You can jam your hands in the crack but for your feet you have only a dead vertical face with absolutely no features. The only recognizable feature on this face are the dead rubber streaks from previous climbers' shoes sliding. At that time, the overhang was protected by two rusty 1/4 inch bolts that were both half way pulled out of the holes and bent from catching repeated falls. I knew I had to place my own protection. To make matters even more interesting, if the exposure hasn't unnerved you yet, the left hand jam above the overhang is completely blind. You are feeling your way up. You might as well close your eyes. In fact, that might be a good idea since it's better not to see the exposure below your feet.

I knew that I had to be brave for my newly found friend and just go for it, and I did. After the crux the route becomes much easier, in the 5.8 range. After a few hard pants I continued to the top of the crack and set up an anchor where I could see the troublesome corner. I yelled down "Steve, you are on belay. Climb when you're ready." No answer, and no slack in the rope for me to take. I waited for a while and yelled down again, "Steve, you can climb any time." No answer. My shouts got louder and louder to no avail. Steve seemed to have melted and gone into the ground. But, there was no slack in the rope, so surely, he was still there, somewhere! This went on for what seemed like half an hour with no results. It was getting late, and I had to do something. I began to pull the rope with all my might. Low and behold, the rope began to move. I kept pulling with my whole body. Then, I saw a hand come around the scary corner, then a head. Steve was climbing, and it was getting dark.

Steve had finally reached the easier part of the route and was climbing fast. Then, no more than a few seconds later I saw another hand come around the corner, then a head and a whole body. Had we held up another party? I wondered! No, this guy was all alone. No ropes, no partners, no gear, no nothing! He was soloing the same route. Walking fast past our awe-struck gazes he just smiled and murmured "hey" and disappeared.

Yves from Argentina and The Flake

The Flake
On another one of my solo trips to Joshua Tree I was exploring areas I had never been to. This time it was the western trail to Wonderland of Rocks. The trail was kind of boring and I wasn't very happy to be by myself. I saw a slender figure, a bit taller than myself, appear in the distance walking back toward the parking lot. When he got closer, we started talking. I asked him what was out there and what he was doing. He had a camera and he said he was taking pictures. I wasn't too interested in continuing to walk up the boring trail. So, I turned around and walked back to the parking lot with the new guy. I asked him what he was doing in Joshua Tree all by himself. He told me that he was waiting for some friends to join him tomorrow night. Since I didn't have a campsite, he offered me to use his for just one night. Great, I jumped on the offer.

His name was Yves. We talked about climbing, and he said that he had done some. I told him that I wanted to do The Flake, 5.8, early the next morning before it gets too hot. It was about the end of May, and Joshua Tree gets very hot by mid-day. Yves told me that I would have to lead. I had no problem with that. I was going to be climbing with someone with lower ability than myself, and may be I could teach him a thing or two, I thought to myself. It was going to be my pick of the route, my gear and my lead. Life couldn't get better. That night in the camp Yves told me that he was working on his Phd in mathematics and his doctoral thesis was on "good numbers." Having had college level math and physics, I convinced him to tell me more, and he did, patiently.

Early in the morning, Yves and I headed for Intersection Rock and quickly sorted gear and tied in. I checked his harness knot and his belay device. I wanted to be sure he knew how to thread the rope through the device. He did well. I started to lead the first pitch to the top of a very large flake. There was nobody else there and I didn't want to be too far from my belayer with questionable abilities. I set up the belay and asked him to climb. He came up very quickly. Wow! "If he gets into climbing, he'll do very well," I told him. I was very slow leading the friction face of the second pitch, but Yves was fast again. After reaching the top we rapped twice to get down the formation and I showed him how to coil the rope, how to throw the rope and how to yell "rope" before throwing. He did very well with a smile. On the bottom, I wanted to leave Joshua Tree before the temps got super hot. I shook his hand, thanked him for the belay, and drove away.

A month later, I got my "Climbing" magazine in the mail. Flipping through the pages, I came across a face that I had seen before. The caption read "Yves M, leading a route rated 5.13." This route was one of the highest grades of the time in Joshua Tree being established on some remote formation in the Wonderland of Rocks.
Every time I remember this story, I'm either embarrassed about my foolish assumptions, or I shake my head in disbelief and chuckle.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-10 of 10
Augie Medina

Augie Medina - May 7, 2014 7:43 pm - Voted 10/10

Great Stories

Thanks for sharing.


Marcsoltan - May 7, 2014 9:22 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great Stories

Thanks Augie. My solo trips didn't always end up good. I have some pretty bad ones too.


Marcsoltan - May 8, 2014 11:25 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: ropeless randy vogel

Well, Randy Vogel can easily solo North Overhang, but may be he didn't want to wait for you guys to clear the way and took the easy way out. Going right is Overhang Bypass, 5.7, as I'm sure you know.
Now I'm wondering what kind of tricks did the French climbers have up their sleeves!

Silvia Mazzani

Silvia Mazzani - May 9, 2014 1:10 pm - Voted 10/10

Fine climbing adventures!

I can't imagine which are your "bad solo trips", Marc, but these one are amusing enough! Thanks for sharing with us.
Ciao and cheers.


asmrz - May 10, 2014 3:02 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Fine climbing adventures!

Hi Marc, love these J Tree stories.

I have one too:

In the early 80s, Miguel Carmona and I ran into some of his old Spanish climbing buddies in J Tree. They were visiting from Spain. Small world.

We chatted and Miguel offered everyone a beer. An American bottled beer.

During the conversation Miguel casually twisted the bottle cap off. The Spaniards almost fainted in response. Their eyes were totally wide and they were just starring at Miguel's hands.

Finally one of them said, you must be in a really good shape...

Only then it occurred to both of us, that they never saw easy twist off cap before...

Cheers. Alois.


Marcsoltan - May 10, 2014 10:43 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Fine climbing adventures!

Thank you Alois.
Your story about the twist-off bottle cap is funny and amusing. This reminds of the soda bottles you get in the sherpa houses in the Himalayas. It seems that, at least in the 90s, they used the same bottles over and over again till the bottles looked totally foggy. The new caps they put on are barely on. They can all be twisted off, even if they were not meant to be. And, as the result, all of the carbonation would have escaped and taste completely flat.

Cheers, Marc


silversummit - May 10, 2014 8:45 am - Voted 10/10

Great stories Marc!

Not being a bashful, quiet person myself I am always amazed by others who are silent "demi-gods" (can't think of a good word....) in their field, especially when they are so human and approachable.

I wonder how many each of us have actually hiked with, climbed with, camped with etc. and never realized it?

Your stories made my morning!



Marcsoltan - May 10, 2014 10:50 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Great stories Marc!

Thank you very much for the comment Kathy. I am happy to know that you enjoyed my two little stories. To tell you the truth, in my second story, I still feel that Yves was playing games with me. He could have told me that he was already an accomplished climber and he didn't need any instructions from me. But, I too have played this game before. So, I guess I deserved what I got.



tonyo - May 11, 2014 3:27 pm - Voted 10/10

Great stories

Thanks for sharing these fun stories. You were there, but it sounds more like Yves was being respectful to you rather than playing a game. The mark of a true gentleman. My first ever trad lead was on intersection rock, a short little 5.3 on the left of your pictures. Nervous as all hell, especially with others looking on!


Marcsoltan - May 11, 2014 4:34 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great stories

Thank you very much tonyo. I have no doubt that Yves was a very respectful gentleman, but I can't help but to think that he could have given me a clue as to why he was out there in Wonderland of rocks taking pictures. I'm sure he was photographing the new 5.13 routes. Shortly after I showed interest in climbing, he told me that he was not going to lead anything. Then I made those foolish assumptions. You may also be right. He didn't want to disrespect me by telling me that he could lead 5.13s. Who knows, I thought the whole thing was kind of interesting!
Glad to know your "short little 5.3," as you put it, didn't discourage you to keep going. I have had my moments of embarrassments and nervousness too, many of them.

Viewing: 1-10 of 10



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