Introduction

In March 2003 Tim and I undertook a climbing road trip through the south-west of the United States. Tim is my original climbing buddy mentioned elsewhere on these pages. Even though we have not lived in the same town for decades we still try and meet up every so often for climbing escapades. We each keep diaries of our adventures, but never normally share them; presenting them here, side by side, is the first time they have come together. Tim's diary changes style half way through as his scraps of paper ran out.

March 2003 was notable for the start of the Iraq War, where America and its allies (including the UK) sought to overthrow the government of Iraq. Objections in the United Nations from the French, amongst others, resulted in a backlash in the States against France; one consequence being that French Fries were renamed Freedom Fries.

The climbing grades used are on the american YDS scale (5.x) and the equivalent UK grades are (very) approximately 5.7 = HS, 5.8 = VS, 5.9 = HVS, 5.10a = E1.



Joshua Tree and Red Rocks Road Trip - March 2003

Date:
Nick's Diary
Tim's Diary
Sat 15th
Up at an ungodly 02:45 to get a taxi to the coach station, and a coach to the airport, arriving at Heathrow at 05:40 for an 09:40 flight to San Francisco. Have a snooze then meet Tim at the check-in. Tim has a pre-allocated seat while I have to battle for an aisle seat elsewhere. Arrive San Francisco about lunchtime and sit around waiting for our connecting flight. Fly to Las Vegas and pick up our car. Can't be bothered trying to pitch our tents in the dark so we try and find a motel. Get lost but eventually find the bottom end of the Strip and the Glass Pool Inn motel. Go to a grill bar but I forget to ask for no mayonnaise on my meal and have to scrape it off.
Wake up at 4am and a taxi at 4.40 to Hitchin to catch the 5am coach to Heathrow. I meet Nick and we catch the 9.40 flight to San Francisco and then on to Las Vegas. I'm using my airmiles and get my usual window seat. We pick a car up (a Suzuki) and drive into town, arriving at about 7pm. Check in at the Glass Pool Motel - a bit tacky, but ok for $45 for two. We wander up the road to the nearest pub on the Strip for food and beer. Early night.
Sun 16th
Wake up to rain. Pack up and head for Joshua Tree. Breakfast in Amboy on Route 66. The sun comes out. At Twenty-nine Palms we do some shopping. Drive into Joshua Tree National Park and spend some time working out where we are. Wander around looking for Echo Rock and eventually find it. Tim fails to pick the magic pebble so I lead Stichter Quits (5.7) which is delicate in places. Tim then leads Double Dip (5.6). It starts to get windy and cold with showers on the way so we head off for Black Rock Valley campsite where we pitch our tents. In the evening we head off to Joshua Tree to eat at the Thai restaurant.
Echo Rock
Nick on Stichter Quits and a dude on Double Dip
It's raining hard so we decide to head off to Joshua Tree as the sandstone at Red Rocks will take a while to dry in this weather. We leave at 7.15am and take the scenic route via Cima (a wooden hut) and Kelso (a rail depot). Stop at Amboy (nice crater) on Route 66. We have breakfast of ham, eggs and coffee in an old-fashioned American truck stop. The waitress asks if you boys want some pie, which turns out to be the pumpkin variety. We get to Joshua Tree at about 1pm and go to the supermarket in 29 Palms and then into the Park. We find it hard to work out where we are (this becomes a theme) and head to Echo Rock initially for a couple of routes. Nick leads Stichter Quits (5.7) which feels bold on spaced bolts, and I do Double Dip, a 5.6 with a layback flake and another bold slab bit higher up. We camp at Black Rock Canyon as it has water, nice bogs and seems quiet. No shower though. Got a nice spot overlooking the valley although it rains as we set up the tents. Dinner in the Thai restaurant. Windy and cold during the night,
Mon 17th
Wake up to sunshine but it is still cold. While pottering around the campsite I see a Mourning Dove and a Blue-backed Scrub Jay. We register at the campsite and I buy a JT t-shirt. We head off for the park and pull in at Hidden Valley. We walk over to Real Hidden Valley to check out Sail Away but there is someone on it so we locate Locomotion Rock for some warm up routes. However the 5.6 we start on (Leaping Leanna) is a pig to start and we give up. Instead Tim leads up Jumping Jehosaphat (5.7) which has some nice moments. We abb off and just as we get to the bottom it starts snowing! While the weather makes up its mind we head over to Turtle Rocks for some bouldering. It rains some but when it stops the rock dries quickly and we boulder away. It is still windy when we head back to the car for a late lunch. It's too early to give up quite yet so I scan the guidebook and find an area called Rock Garden Valley at Lost Horse that has some short routes. As usual with the Randy Vogel guide it takes a long time to find our bearings but eventually I find where I am and see a route called Swiss Cheese (5.6) that climbs a remarkable pocketed wall. The guidebook shows only one bolt but when we get there it has been re-equipped with four more. I start up it enjoying the lower half but when I get above half height the wind really picks up and I am in danger of being blown off. Luckily the bolts are closely spaced and this gives me the comfort to fight the wind. I make it over the top and the wind increases even more. Setting up the belay is a struggle and I swear and curse the wind. This is supposed to be a holiday. Once Tim struggles up we can pack up and escape to the car and some shelter.
Weather a bit iffy. Cloudy and cold with a biting wind. We head to the Real Hidden Valley thinking it may be more sheltered. There are already people on Sail Away, which looks awesome. We go to Locomotion Rock where the routes are weird. Either you're supposed to jump off the block (as the jumping theme in the route names suggests) or put up with hard starts from the ravine. The start to the 5.6, Leaping Leana, proves too hard for either of us! I lead Jumping Jehosaphat (5.7) which turns out to be a nice jamming crack with a tough bit at the top where the crack becomes a runnel. It starts snowing briefly so we abbed off! A couple of guys had geared up below us but have disappeared with the snow. We try some bouldering in Hidden Valley. Some really nice problems, especially on the aretes, and it's warmer and more sheltered amongst the boulders. We brave the weather again and do a route on Lost Horse Wall, a 5.6 called Swiss Cheese up an amazing pock-marked wall, mainly on bolts, which Nick leads. It is sooo cold and windy. My fingers have frozen before I got to the top. In the evening we get food and beer in the Crossroads Cafe in Joshua Tree (Sam Adams and an Ahi Burger).
JT t-shirt
Nick's quality JT-shirt, still going after all these years
Tue 18th
Windy in the night but wake up to blue skies and calm. On the way through the park we see some good looking rocks that turn out to be Hemingway. Go over for a look. One guy is really struggling on a 5.7 crack, so we try a 5.6 but are put off by a large perched block. Lots of other parties are there and it appears the locals need to shout a lot; awesome move dude. To escape the crowds we head over to the Barker Dam car park. After some searching we find a 5.7 crack called Life's a Bitch... on Dissolution Rock which turns out to be pleasant but short. We then head into the Wonderland of Rocks. Trek all the way into Nomad Dome via Bankrupt Wall, but all the routes look hard. An offwidth on Astro Dome puts us off too. We walk back towards Barker Dam to the Gunsmoke area to look at the famous boulder problem called A Streetcar Named Desire. I do a short 5.7 route called Die-hedral on Killer Cracks. It is only after that I discover that the next two routes have disappeared because a house-sized buttress has fallen out of the cliff. After a bit of bouldering we call it a day. In the evening we go to a Mexican restaurant in Joshua Tree which is unusual in having terrible customer service. We then go to the Joshua Tree saloon where there is a Karaoke evening. We chat to the locals and talk climbing with the barmaid.
Warmer today with less wind but another struggle deciding what to do. We start by going to Hemingway. There was someone already on White Lightning so we try Poodlesby, a 5.6, but don't like the look of a dodgy block, so give up. Off then to look at a 5.7 on Dissolution Slab near Hunk Rock. I think it was called `Life's a Bitch', a nice jamming crack for a change, too short though, which I lead. We then spend ages wandering around in Wonderland of Rocks area - you could really get lost in there. We found some routes on Nomad Dome but they looked outrageous for the grade. It took ages to get there as well, through scrub and jumbled boulders. We then go to look at a 5.7 on Astrodome, but that looks desperate as well! In the end we fought our way back and had a look at Street Car Named Desire. I remember a photo of Ron Fawcett doing it but I couldn't get off the ground. Nick led a 5.7 called Diehedral - again too short. The whole of the adjacent buttress has collapsed, obliterating several routes. There's a nice traverse problem here too (5.11). In the evening we decide to try a weird Mexican restaurant in J-Tree (Arturo's - not recommended) then adjourn to the Saloon. It's karaoke night and two girls were doing most of the songs. The girl behind the bar is a climber and it turns out that she's done the route on Astrodome and thought it scary. I started talking to a guy called Frankie who, apparently, used to run a topless shoeshine parlour in Honolulu.
Wed 19th
Wake up to sun and blue skies but a great deal of wind. Where does all this wind come from. Driving through JT we see there is no one on the routes at Hemingway so we take a look at White Lightning (5.7) which that guy was having a real epic on yesterday. I draw the magic pebble and think it might be a bad one to win, because the crack looks wicked and steep near the bottom. After an up and down, to place gear, I steam through the lower crux and keep on going for almost a full ropes length. My hands are slightly scarred from 40m of jamming but not too bad. Tim then wants to lead Sail Away a 5.8- in the Real Hidden Valley. But when we get there there is a queue. We decide to stick it out while a bunch of dudes from New York State faff about on it. When we eventually get on it it turns out to be a real peach with crack and face climbing. It is cold though in the wind and shade and I want to find something in the sun. When we get to Intersection Rock there is no-one on Overhang Bypass (5.7) so I start up the first pitch. There is a nice pull round onto the cracked face up to the belay. The second pitch goes out across an overhanging / undercut crack line. Tim leads it strenuously. As we reach the bottom we find the dudes from N.Y. heading up the route. We drive into JT for dinner but the Crossroads Café is shut. We end up in a strange fish and chip café in Yucca Valley then back to the campsite earlyish. Decide to de-camp to Las Vegas tomorrow.
We decide to get our act together today. We go back to Hemingway and it's deserted, so we do White Lightning (5.7) on the Hemingway 'boulder'. Nick led. Quite sustained in the first section, really nice jamming though, but for 120 ft, and then an airy finish. Still no one around. We go to Hidden Valley to look at Sail Away and there's a queue! We had to wait for about an hour and by the time we get on it there is an audience of Americans watching, so failure is not an option! The bottom bit was fairly easy, then jamming and finger locking up the crack before traversing left the top. Superb and our first 5.8 of the trip. We then do Overhang Bypass near the Hidden Valley campsite, a 2-pitch 5.7. Nick led the first pitch which had a tricky pull around out of a groove onto a slab and then up to a recess. The second pitch takes the wild overhanging flake, traversing out right under the roof and around the corner with little for the feet. I ran out of oomph and had to rest. The Crossroads Caff is closed tonight so we go into Yucca Valley which was fast-food-city. Had fish and chips in a diner, crap beer though. The Iraq thing seems to have kicked off. Still no shower.
White Lightning
White Lightning at Hemingway and Nick looking awesome on it
Thu 20th
Wake up to blue skies. Pack up our tents. Discover that the weird noise in the night comes from birds that have a funny forward-pointing tuft on their head; they are called Gambel's Quail. Decide to go and do a route called Hawk's Nest in the Valley of Voices (a 5.7 that is described as a hand crack with buckets). However we go wrong on the walk in and end up in Munchkinland. Now I hate the Munchkins and I hate them even more after we get hopelessly lost amongst boulders and crags few of which looked like they are supposed to. We escape from Oz and drive down into 29 Palms where I do some shopping and manage to exchange my traveller's cheques after much effort. We then drive to Las Vegas heading for Red Rocks. As we near Vegas the blue skies turn dark and rain can be seen. Seems like the only place to get rain in all of the Western US. Fortunately it is only a few showers. On the radio we hear Blair announce that Britain has gone to war with Iraq. We find the 13 mile campsite but the sign says it is full. We ask the host and he says there is only one plot left, number 48. While most of the other plots have a nice drive and flat gravel pitches, number 48 is a dusty boulder field on the side of a hill. We pay up for three nights and pitch our tents.
We indended to do a route before heading off to Vegas, so took the tents down and went to look for a rock called Hawk Hatchery in the Oz area. This supposedly has a route with a huge jamming crack. We wander around for ages (again) near Voodoo Dome, not seeing anything vaguely resembling the fabled jamming crack, before giving up. It's quite warm today but clouding over. We visit the post office and shop in 29 Palms before heading off. There seems to be a slow puncture in one of the rear tyres. The weather looks a bit grim as we pulled into the Red Rocks campsite. We literally get the last spot on the site (number 48) and spend a while clearing it of boulders and rubble to make room for our tents. We go to Applebees for food - the joints on the otherside of Charleston Boulevarde look well posh - even the steakhouses have valet parking! Still no shower.
RR camp
Pitch 48 at 13 mile campsite
Fri 21st
Get up early to go and do Cat in the Hat (5.6+) but when we get there we are the fifth party on the route. The american and his czech friend in front of us take their time setting up and we wait patiently. Eventually we get going to find the climbing on lovely sandstone huecos and edges. After two pitches the american has lost his way and we jump in front. Most of the pitches are long and the sun blazes down. Two of the pitches near the top are especially fine. The top of the route doesn't quite reach the red cap of the Mescalito. We then rap the route with problems of the ropes catching on all the flakes. We get down, with some help to free the ropes, and make our way back to the car for a full on day. In the evening we go to the climbing wall for a shower followed by food in Mimi's Café.
Earlyish start, well half past seven anyway. We plan to do Cat in the Hat as our first route, so park at Pine Creek and walk in from there to Mescalito, the pyramid-shaped rock. There is a queue! A pair are going up the first pitch and two more waiting with the latter two discussing how to place gear, which doesn't bode well. We wait for over an hour before getting on the route. The first pitch is superb, up a crack on amazing pockets (led). Second pitch up another slanting crack and then a traverse right (2nd). Then up a corner/crack to belay below a black wall (led). Then up a crack in the black wall, moving left under a white ceiling and up another steep crack and then over bulges to the right. Superb (2nd). A short traverse down and right to below another black wall then then up the huge crack past a peadpod-esque widening and up a white slab (led). It took a while to abseil down with people still coming up. We head into town and finally get a shower at the Powerhouse Climbing Gym! A cool place, they even let me boulder around while I'm waiting for the shower. The usual hassle finding somewhere to eat. We had to wait half an hour to get a table at Mimi's Cafe - the food was along the same lines as everywhere else though with big plastic menus. They did have Sierra Nevada Pale Ale though.
Sat 22nd
Wake up to more sun. This bastard sand gets everywhere. Go cragging at the second pull off. Start at the Magic Bus, and do Neon Sunset (5.8), Electric Koolaid (5.9+), Blonde Dwarf (5.10-), Technicolor Sunrise (5.8). These are very soft touch grades compared to Joshua Tree. Then go to the Black Corridor and do Bonaire (5.9), which feels harder than the previous routes. At least that one is in the shade but against that there is lots of sand in the gully. Strangely I'm beginning to miss the challenge of the routes at Joshua Tree; battling with a 5.7 jamming crack against neat face climbing up to 5.10-. What does this mean? In the evening we eat on Sahara rather than Charleston.
It's the weekend and after the queue yesterday we decide to stay off the long routes and go cragging instead. The weather was hot and sunny and we end up at Magic Bus crag near the second pullout on the Loop Trail and it's busy. We do most of the routes here. Neon Sunset (5.8) is well bolted (for a US route). To the left Electric Koolade (5.9) feels tough at the top and the bolts are more spaced. Blonde Dwarf (5.10) is inbetween the last two and doesn't feel any harder, probably a J-Tree 5.8! We then do Technicolor Sunrise (5.8) up the left side of the red triangle. Some dude asks us which route are you on? to which the reply was this one. It was getting hot in the sun so we went to seek out some shade in the Black Corridor, a bizarre alley, maybe 5 ft wide, with climbers on both sides. Like a mini Huntsman's Leap. We do Bonaire (5.9) which is lovely on small edges. We head to a pizza place on Sahara for tea.
Sun 23rd
Drive to the Grand Canyon via the Hoover Dam. Am impressed by the art-deco finish to the dam. At the Grand Canyon we hike the South Kaibab trail to Skeleton Point about halfway down where you can see the river. Then hike back up again. Spend about 4 hours there in total. Stop in Kingman, in a diner, for some food.
Grand Canyon
Tim at the Grand Canyon
Mon 24th
Return to the Mescalito to do Dark Shadows a four pitch 5.8-. It takes us a while to find it but we still beat two other parties who are also looking for it. A lovely route. It rains a bit mid-day but then we go back to Brass Wall to do Topless Twins (5.9) which Tim leads.
Dark Shadows
A dude on the 4th pitch of Dark Shadows
Dark Shadows a 4-pitch 5.8 on the other side of Mescalito from Cat in the Hat. It took ages to find this, which was rather astounding as once you do see it, it's obvious. The huge corner, capped by an ovehang, with amazing varnished black walls. Nick led the first pitch up the slab with a couple of bolts to belay below the dihedral. I led the dihedral (nice) then traversed left to belay. Nick led the long corner and right wall on varnish plates (great) to a ledge. I then led up the right wall to a niche which I had to leave by laybacking with just a 00-quadcam. Great pitch. We abbed off down the pitches which was a bit of a faff as there were lots of people coming up. We went up to Brass Walls and saw Topless Twins, a 5.9. It looked well hard but we decided to do it. Twin cracks up black varnish walls again but mainly on the right. Superb climbing.
Tue 25th
Go to do Tunnel Vision (5.7) but we are beaten to it by Eliza, Charlie and Brian. They are just setting off as we get there - typical. Even worse they are unbelievably slow. We wait ages for Brian to do the first pitch. Then Charlie struggles to follow. After Eliza has gone I start climbing. At the belay Charlie and Brian are waiting for Eliza to finish the second pitch. Then we wait some more. Finally Charlie starts up in his slow way. We talk him through the moves as he struggles again. Finally we can hear him say hi to Eliza, but then it takes ages for him to tie in or something, we can't see. It is now about 4 hours after we arrived and we have only climbed one pitch, so we decide to bail out. In their defence they are very sweet people but we don't know the local ethics about asking to climb through. We then go to look at Ragged Edges (5.8). Tim leads the first pitch but the second, up an awesome wide crack, looks impossible to protect with our spindly English gear. So we rap off and I have a go at the first pitch of Plan F (5.10-). I make it to the overlap but run out of oomph. Tim makes it up and over and I second it and that is it for the day. We wonder if Eliza, Charlie and Brian have made it up Tunnel Vision. I finally agree to go and do Crimson Chrysalis which I have been putting off because of its length (1000 feet of climbing). Eat out at Old Nevada, a theme gun-slinging resort. Have BBQ chicken with authentic baked beans and scones!
We go to do Tunnel Vision (5.7) but get stuck behind a party of three who are taking ages. I couldn't believe that they didn't offer to let us pass. We abbed off after the first pitch. We go to do Ragged Edges (5.7). I lead the first pitch but then it becomes obvious that we don't have anything like big-enough gear for the top crack. We lower off again! We head for Plan F (5.10) a stonking-looking crack to the left of Ragged Edges. Nick got almost to the top. I managed to pull over onto sloping ledges to find no gear and a tricky traverse right to the anchors. Wow!
Wed 26th
Up at 05:15 for out attempt on Crimson Chrysalis (5.8+). We get to the gate smack on 6am and start walking about 06:20. We get to the route in about an hour, and after figuring out which crack to climb start up just before 8am. We are first there and as we set off other parties start arriving. Tim leads off. The first section looks very steep and daunting and there are sections reasonably run out. At the end of pitch 4 the route breaks out of the chimney onto the face and there is the only belay on a ledge - all the others are hanging belays. We continue up and up. All the pitches are long, over 100 feet. At the end of pitch 7 we have entered the red band, but the wind is picking up and it makes me very nervous for the descent. With all the flakes and knobbles on the face a gust of wind could take the ropes out of reach on the abseil and wrap themselves round some rock. As we are two shortish pitches from the top I reluctantly agree to continue. The other groups have decided to bail out. We reach the top sometime after 2pm. The wind is strong. We have a quick break and then start on the 9 abseils about 2:30. Fortunately the wind decides to ease and pulling the ropes through only jams up a couple of times which we are able to free with judicious flicks of the ropes. At 5:10pm we are back on the ground. We start walking out at 5:30 and get back to the car at 6:30 as the sun goes down to complete a big day.
The big one - Crimson Chrysalis on Cloud Tower. We are up at 5.15am and leave the campsite at 5.45 to be at the entry gate just before 6am. We get to the route first and set off at 8am. Nine pitches, I draw the pebble so lead the odd numbers. Other people start to arrive and soon there are about three parties below us. However, most start backing off as we reach half height. It was getting windy and at 2/3 height the last party below us rap off. We topped out at 2.15 by which point it was very windy. We had to ab all 9 pitches on hanging belays which took two and a half hours. It was hard to maintain focus for so long but we get down without any major rope jams. Arrive back at the car at 6.20pm. Wow!
CC abseil
Nick abseiling off the "ledge" on Crimson Chrysalis - ½ way down
Thu 27th
Pack up camp at the 13 Mile dust bowl and head off for Zion National Park in Utah. That will be the 4'th state in 2 weeks. On the way we stop for brunch at Sweet Williams homefare restaurant in Hurricane, Utah. The waitress notes our strange accents and asks are you french?, threatening to spill something over us, until I point to the TV and our friend Tony Blair at the Whack Iraq war summit with George W Bush. We eat our food and go, refraining from some apple pie which does not go down too well with the waitress. Maybe she thinks we're french after all. We head into the park and take the Hidden Canyon trail. It is deep and chilly in the canyon. Back at the car we continue to the end of the road, spying some rock climbers on the way. After walking up the narrows we head back. In Vegas we drive down the strip amazed by all the bright lights and check into the Comfort Inn on Paradise. Just up the road is the best Indian in Vegas called Ghandi's. So we had to go there. I have a chicken vindaloo which was average and not very hot. After I walk up to the strip and watch the musical fountains.
Fri 28th
Have to check out of the Comfort Inn. Drive up to Black Velvet canyon in nice sunny weather. Walk up to Whiskey Peak to look at Shaeffer's Delight - a one pitch 5.7. Once we get there and stop moving and out of the sun, the cold wind really kicks in. We do the route but it is chilly on the hilly even with a thermal, fleece and windstop on. We beat a hurried retreat looking for a sunny crag. We go into the loop road and stop at the first pullout to look at Dog Wall. When we get there there is a group already on the 5.10a and 5.10b, however my guts are still playing up so I trek up to the second pullout to find a restroom. When I return the two easier routes are free. I dog my way up Cat Walk, the 5.10a then we top-rope It's a Bitch, the 5.10b. Returning to Vegas we find room in the Econo Lodge round the corner from the Comfort Inn.
Our first and only foray into Velvet Canyon. It was freezing! I led Shaefers Delight (5.7) and then we decided it was way too cold and left. At Dog Wall, Nick led a tough 5.10a called Cat Walk. I top roped it. We then did It's a Bitch (5.10b) which was even harder - both of us top roped it!
Sat 29th
Go for breakfast in the Hotel Tuscany and blow 1 dollar in the slot machines. Then check our flights. Mine has too short a connection at LA so I get switched to a flight via Washington. Go to the airport. Buy some gifts and have a beer.
Sun 30th
Arrive back at Heathrow at 10:30. The weather is stunning all the way across Ireland and Wales. Typical. We leave on the back of a glorious weekend and arrive back to the same. What's the betting those are the last good weekends of the summer.

© Nick & Tim 2003
© Photos courtesy of Tim