Last month, Kirk and I took a trip with our friends Phil and Hadley to Joshua Tree National Park. We climbed a mountain of rock called Pee Wee, camped in Phil and Hadley’s RV, hiked through the desert scrambled up and down boulders for giggles, and oogled the bright night stars.

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Friday afternoon we threw everything in the RV and set off. It’s about a 2.5 hour drive from Oceanside to Joshua Tree. About halfway there, we saw an incredible sunset from the windows of the RV.

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Saturday we explored the park in search of a climbing route.

Can you spy Kirk? He’s not much more than a speck in the photo above. He’s standing near the middle of the rock, about 5 feet above the ground, wearing a yellow shirt and a hat.

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I had never climbed outdoors before (and my experience at indoor gyms wasn’t impressive). Kirk’s experience wasn’t much more than mine, and Hadley just started climbing a couple years ago. As such, we were on the hunt for a route that wasn’t too difficult. Phil, who’s been climbing since he was 12, was our resident expert.

We found a smaller rock (compared to the others around) called Pee Wee, guessing it to be 80-90 feet. Phil and Hadley scrambled up the backside to check the integrity of the anchor — already put in place by other climbers — at the top of the route. We would be top-rope climbing, which is a fairly safe style of climbing (meaning if the climber slips he shouldn’t fall too far), assuming all gear performs at 100% and the belayer on the ground is paying attention.

Hadley rappelling to the ground:

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Who’s up first? Me. Eek.

Kirk checks my harness and figure-eight knot handiwork.

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“We’re climbing!” Yesss!

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The first 30 feet were fairly easy; plenty of crevasses with lots of hold.

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Then it got a little tricker. Some sections offered seemingly nothing to grab onto.

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The last 15 feet just below the top were the hardest. I never fell any real distance because Kirk, my belayer, kept the rope as tight as possible, but the one time I did lose grip with both hands and dropped 8 inches, I yelled.

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Any feeling of falling, no matter how short the distance, scares me when I’m six stories off the ground.

I shook out my hands and looked up at the wall, trying to figure out how to get to the top. Phil discovered a bit after the fact that this route was in fact rated 5.10a, which is a foreign language to most (I’m still getting the hang of the rating system), but, it’s safe to say it wasn’t a beginner route. I may have used an anchor or two as holds and had Kirk hoist me a few inches to get within reach of something, anything! to hang on to, but…

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…I made it!

Hadley, photographer.

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Kirk, halfway up.

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Decent view up top.

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Phil’s first ascent.

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Took him 8ish minutes. (It took me 20+.)

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Hadster. She took a different route than all of us.

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Phil, climbing again, to grab the caribeners and rope from the top. We timed him once more.

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Almost cut his time in half: 4:30. Nicknamed “Philly-goat” for a reason.

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It was late afternoon, and the desert had cooled off. Homemade pizza was on the dinner menu. Hadley wasted no time getting started. As Phil turned left, then right down the windy park roads, flour flew off the table.

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After our day in the sun, muscles dead tired, pizza hit the spot. Beer and drinks in hand, we climbed onto the roof of the RV to watch the sunset.

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And, oh, the stars. So bright and clear in the desert.

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Phil set up his camera, and with the help of a lighter, captured us in the night.

[Phil and Hadley, above. Hadley and me, below.]

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Sunday. After a leisurely breakfast, we lazily picked a hiking path and meandered through the park. Along the way, we found caves and rocks to climb (no ropes/harnesses necessary), taking a few hours to complete the mile-long trail.

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A few shots from Hadley’s Holga, a camera that shoots square film:

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Heading back to the RV.

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Hot tea to warm cold hands.

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One last thing to do before taking off…

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Group shot. ☼

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