BACK TO JOSHUA TREE

Larry Hamilton, January 2006 (with 2011 update; all photos by Leslie Hamilton)

Climbing might be OK, falling probably not, was the message I got from the doc. That seemed green light enough to plan a no-falls-allowed trip to JTree, five months after hip replacement. Our post-New Years weather turned out cool and blue, while the park was surprisingly empty.

In my imagination, the classic thin crack Bird of Fire became a goal for first onsight. But in reality, its granite was cold and hard. Only one move off the ledge, I stood gauging the distance to pro above, and found I had no confidence or courage at all. I stepped back down and switched goals. My first onsight became a forgettable 5.9 clip-up, Dead Bees, instead.

Later that afternoon, seeking easier success, Leslie and I tackled Overhang Bypass. The sun went down and a hard wind came up while I led across the traverse. Les followed gamely in gray light, not much liking this. Cold and tired on the summit, I was happier. Rising wind, gathering gloom, uncertainty about how to get down -- it felt like mountaineering. Mountaineering 104 feet above the parking lot.

The next day we returned to Bird of Fire with a better plan: a better leader. Our son Dave had driven up from Upland for the afternoon, and he was happy to play rope gun. Dave flashed the Bird easily, so I could follow numb-fingered, lurching through moves and glad for the toprope. What made me think I could lead this?

It was time to aim lower, and re-learn the grades. Our third day, Les and I hiked all the way to Double Cross only to find that route busy, although it didn't have enough bolts. That's the last time we'll listen to Juan's beta! There were plenty of bolts on Sexy Grandma, a guilty-pleasure 5.8 route next door. Across the street on Intersection Rock, the Flake provided a more prideful 5.8 where I could chuck in the whole rack. The rock chucked back; a #4 cam inverted and fell out after I passed it. The Flake looked so fun that Leslie set aside her no-chimneys rule to second.

Roan Way, high on Lost Horse Wall, and the Direct South Face, down on Moosedog Tower, both climbed like sunshine acid flashbacks from the days when "trad" and "multipitch" were not yet climbing words.

One nontrad unipitch route, Silent Scream, I recalled as well-bolted and juggy from a previous ascent long ago. Since then, geological forces have spread the bolts far apart, and eroded the jugs into slopers. I overgripped those slopers like a castaway landing tuna. On the summit we found a rap sling tied off with a granny.

There had been no falling so far, but I still looked for the one big onsight. We finally found it our last day, way out on Geology Tour Road. Light Sabre required effort without fear, and had a nice stance to huff between cruxes. Leslie cleaned all my gear with only a moment of well-justified cursing. Soon she joined me on top, where I was grinning madly in the sun.




2011 Update: It's now been 6 years since the hip replacement and I've got no complaints so far! Except for setting off metal detectors at airports around the world. May the good fortune continue as long as it can. I reckon I climbed 29 days in 2011, nothing big or high-end but with a handful of onsight 5.10s. We even got out to Joshua Tree again briefly.


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