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Joshua Tree Excerpt from The Climbing Zine Volume 3

Here's another excerpt from "The Climbing Zine Volume 3", which will be released late this spring. This piece is from the feature story of the zine, "Go West Young Man, In the Freedom Mobile." 

We knew that California was going to love the Freedom Mobile, and we felt at ease as it crossed over the border to the Golden State. Soon we were immersed in a desert of Joshua trees on a lonesome highway, and I had a feeling of going home. I felt good too, because even if the Freedom Mobile were to break down, we could just tow it to the town of J-Tree, and we could still climb. I was always worrying about the Freedom Mobile breaking down, and Gene was always confident it wouldn’t. What made me worry, other than the obvious, was that seven out of the nine warning lights had come on, on the dashboard. The check engine light was on for the first time in the Freedom Mobile’s history, the trunk light was on, because I’d ripped off the spoiler a few weeks before the trip. (I’d ripped off the spoiler because I was afraid it would fall off, as the front bumper did.) But, alas the Freedom Mobile rolled into J-Tree without incident. 

It had been three years since I’ve been to J-Tree, but in town things did not seem to change much: still a dusty, rustic, small downtown, with the busy California highway rolling through it. Small town America, with much of the business aimed at the climbers and other tourists that pass through.

We stopped into the library, for a quick check of the weather, as we promised each other that we would bee-line it up to Yosemite if the weather improved. Sure enough the online weather showed that it would be in the 70s in Yosemite in a couple days. The minute I showed Gene this there was an electric feeling; we would be going to Yosemite after the Halloween weekend in J-Tree. 

J-Tree was crowded, as it was a Friday, and the start to the weekend. We wanted a prime spot in the best campground, Hidden Valley, where we knew the Halloween party would be. Hidden Valley is also close to a hundred or so great rock climbs, so once the Freedom Mobile was there we would be all set up for our weekend. 

Eventually we scored a spot in Hidden Valley. I was psyched to see several climbers already in costume for Halloween. Immediately the Freedom Mobile was getting approval, with nods and thumbs up from fellow climbers who walked by our campsite. 

We didn’t do too much climbing; we were pretty worked from the three days in a row in Red Rocks, so we took it easy on ourselves. Nothing can destroy the vibe of a good climbing trip worse than overdoing it. Climbing contains its magic with just the right amount of dosage. Plus, we were headed to Yosemite soon and we had big goals for climbing there.

We just enjoyed the California sunshine and visiting with other climbers. Already within a half an hour of arriving at the site, we ran into two different groups of climbers that we knew. One friend, Holly that I knew from my college days in Gunnison hooked Gene up with some costume attire, most notably a curly blue wig that went down past his shoulders. I already had a costume box in the car, and lent Gene some items as well, rounding out his outfit. By Halloween, we were ready to properly celebrate. 

I woke up and put on my costume: first the a grey wig, then the one piece pink jump suit and finally a black leather belt with metal loops that I could clip my chalk bag on to. Gene’s costume was even more over the top: the curly blue wig with an American flag bandana tied across it, a vintage late 1960s psychedelic shirt, and blue jeans.

We climbed a few pitches, in costume, attracting strange looks from some climbers, and shouts of approval from others. Other climbers were in costume as well, a tradition that holds strong in J-Tree.

We did the classic Geronimo climb, in camp, a moderate but overhanging crack that splits a roof. Tradition demands that one climber climbs up to the top of the roof, locks his feet off in the crack and yells, “Geronimoooooooo,” which echoes throughout the campsite below. I was climbing second, on top rope and did the deed, hanging upside down in my pink one piece, careful to hold on to my wig so that it did not fall off.

Rappelling down Gene got his blue wig stuck in the rappelling device, which would have been a problem if it was his real hair (long haired and especially dreadlocked climbers have run into this potentially dangerous situation in the past).

After a couple roped pitches we got rid of the gear, and just scrambled around the rocks around camp, ropeless, in costume, hooting and hollering when we reached the top. We stashed cans of beer in our pockets to drink on the top of the hundred foot domes, which looked over the landscape, all just blue skies and Joshua trees and granite domes for as far as the eye could see. An occasional plane from the nearby military base would fly by, seeming out of place in the peaceful setting of Joshua Tree. 

Scrambling down just as the sun was setting there was a troop of people in costumes parading through camp, announcing what camp site was hosting the big party. It was a classic climber party with all kinds of fun people in a variety of costumes from mullet wigs to one piece wrestling outfits. An aluminum foil robot was cranking the tunes, and a big dance party ensued around the camp fire.

At one point a big portion of the party left for the Chasm of Doom, a big tunnel/chimney system that is a popular nighttime excursion during and after climber parties. I’d done it before, and opted to not go. Gene, on the other hand, was psyched, and disappeared off into the night with a crew of a dozen or so drunken climbers. 

In the morning we woke up hungover. Gene was covered in scrapes and cuts that he acquired in the Chasm of Doom. He’d also lost one of his flip-flops, and the blue wig. I remembered why I chose not to go. We had our fun in Joshua Tree, and it was time to get serious about climbing again. We packed up the Freedom Mobile and headed up to Yosemite.

Link below is this blog post, with photos: 


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