Climbing is Honest: Joshua Tree Trip Report

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Joshua Tree Trip ReportI found myself on the car ride back from my post-Thanksgiving Joshua Tree trip with a little bit less skin, a lot less pride, a lot more dirt, and just the right amount of necessary introspection. 

Let me explain.

Climbing has always been a multifaceted sport for me, as I must assume it is for many of those that spend their holidays, weekends, and free evenings partaking in it. No other sport pushes me in so many aspects; after a good climbing session, I am mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. Most of the time I just leave it at that – I like climbing because it requires more than brute strength. Climbing requires more than technique. I’ve always known that, but what I learned this past weekend is that I love climbing because it is honest.

Once again, let me explain.

After a day of bouldering and a day of trad climbing that had me completely worked (demoralized, beat, shattered…pick what you will) I spent the third day following the routes my friends decided to lead. I figured that the emotional stress I endured whilst contemplating the many versions of my death-by-leading-sandbagged-trad-routes would be relieved now that I’d be on good, old fashioned toprope.

Joshua Tree Trip ReportNot the case, as it turns out.

Will, my forever optimistic and equally tenacious friend, had his eyes set on an 11.a horizontal, overhang-of-death hand crack. The first red flag should have been the name of the area in which the route lay dormant, waiting for new victims; Hall of Horrors. I figured that I had creatively avoided any chance of having to lead the route by waiting until my “following” day, so of course I wholeheartedly led our group of three to the route that is now the bane of my existence.

After Will bossed up the lead, Andrew made the second follow. I lightly brushed off the agro comments of how much he hated climbing and how little fun he was having while he was hauling his chicken legs up and over the godforsaken crack. That should have been my second red flag.

Yet, on went my Muiras and in I tied in.

Halfway up the route and only a few moves into the roof, with blood dripping from my arm after being caught by the rope, my shoulder seizing after trying to remove a cam that stubbornly walked itself deep into the abyss of hell, and just on the brink of dry heaving due my ungraceful and painful hand jams with legs flailing underneath me, I let go. I fell just out of reach of the roof. I gave a half-hearted attempt to grab the draw attached to the wandering cam, but with no success.

I sat there for a moment and felt the silence of Joshua Tree surround me. The sun was beating down on my already sunburned face. I couldn’t tell if my hands were numb from pain or from being cold.

And the tears started streaming down my face.Yes. I sat there crying.

Like a moron.

Joshua Tree Trip Report

There I was, feeling so badly for myself… which seemed absolutely ridiculous.  Everything about the climb seemed to make me cry. There were tears shed because I couldn’t do it clean. There were tears shed because I may not be able to do it at all. There were tears shed because I remembered I was breaking through my rubber on my Muiras. There were tears shed because I made such a pathetic attempt at tape gloves that they had almost completely fallen off. There were tears shed for just… about…everything.

Who cares if I couldn’t finish the route? Who cares if I finished it and flailed the whole way? I’ve never been a competitive climber in that way and I generally try not to judge my self-worth based on the grace or the grade of my latest send. But this was.. too much.

A minute or two went by and my (blissfully oblivious to my mental breakdown) climbing partners called down and asked how I was doing. I managed to choke down a few tears before yelling back, “I’m all good!!!!!!!!!!!”

Though this was after I had informed those same two climbing partners that “I CAN’T DO THIS” and “I DON’T THINK I CAN DO THIS” and “I THINK SATAN MADE THIS ROUTE TO MOCK ME”, I thought I maybe had them duped. Maybe they thought I was the eternally happy, hardcore (toproper?), and determined climber of the year instead of Ms. Waterworks 2012.

Maybe that was what motivated to wipe those tears with my throbbing, dirty hands with their pathetic tape gloves hanging on for dear life and get my act together. I can’t say it was pretty. I can’t say I didn’t grunt and swear and scream and hyperventilate up that thing. But I can say I made it to the top.

So why did I expose you to such an unflattering and detailed description of a climb that didn’t have any crazy hard sends, no new records, no epic bigwalls, and no crazy injuries?

Joshua Tree Trip ReportBecause, as someone that is presumably interested in climbing, maybe you can relate to that moment of truth. It wasn’t the fact that I wouldn’t be able to finish the climb that was making me cry. It wasn’t that fact that I made really crappy tape gloves. I don’t think it had anything to do with climbing at all. I think that I simply can’t lie, to myself or anyone else, while I’m climbing. It forces me to deal with the internal complexity of my life in a way that nothing really else does.

And that’s a really good thing.
Climbing is honest.

Maybe that’s one of the big draws of the sport. And I guess I’m just writing this to say that, though it’s really super awesome when a 5.15c is put up in Mallorca, there can be a lot more to climbing than the grade. We all deserve a few pats on the back or preferably a few stiff drinks to celebrate our willingness to test ourselves in this way.

Tears or not, 5.6 or 5.27z, climbing is not for the faint-hearted. It can be like holding a mirror up when you’ve just been electrocuted. Take a deep, hard look and yourself and find out what you’re made of…that’s what climbing is to me at its best, even when it makes me look my worst. So cheers. Keep on trucking. And give credit where credit is due – you’ve chosen quite the hobby.

Amanda Robinson wrote this trip report after a Thanksgiving trip to Joshua Tree. She has since sustained a non-climbing related broken hand but remains all smiles. Stop by the desk at Berkeley Ironworks to wish her well and share your own climbing triumphs with her.