Posted on June 20 2016
Joshua Tree National Park is nirvana for rock climbers. This gorgeous desert park is just over two hours east of Los Angeles, California and features stellar rock formations that are the subject of films and the passion of hikers. Over 790,000 acres, the expansive terrain includes close to 6,000 different rock climbing routes, with climbs that are perfect for beginners and challenging routes that will draw the most experienced climbers.
Formations are varied and composed primarily of quartz monzonite domes, which formed due to erosion along the desert floor. Because the rocks were not polished by glacial activity, the surface of the quartz rock remains rough. This is a good thing for climbers, as the rugged surface offers an excellent grip for climbing shoes.
The high desert location that straddles both the Mojave and Colorado deserts means an environment of mostly year-round sunshine, stunning sunsets and routes not dampened by inclement weather. The most popular climbing seasons are October through December and March through April. Climbers will find January and February to be windy, and the heart of summer in the desert means high temps. Regardless of the time of year, there's a route to be found.
Mark Bowling, director and certified rock climbing guide for the Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School, says that most of Joshua Tree's routes fall into a moderately difficult category that's considerably "less intimidating than Yosemite National Park routes, because the rocks themselves are not overpoweringly high."
Bowling describes climbing in Joshua Tree as a "magical feeling" and one that many can achieve in the region, regardless of age. He should know: Bowling has guided clients from age 9 to 80. He notes, "Rock climbing depends mostly on lower body strength and balance."
The variety of routes available are varied, allowing traditional crack climbs, slab climbs and steep-face climbing options. Climbing doesn't simply entail a vertical climb; it encompasses balancing, scaling and achieving purchase.
Views of the expansive desert horizon, the unusually shaped Joshua trees for which the park is named and other rock formations add beauty to just about any climb throughout the national park. The Joshua Tree itself is a member of the Yucca family. It was named by Mormon pioneers crossing the desert due to the trees' outstretched branches, which reminded those passing of the supplications of the prophet Joshua.
The climbing route known as Echo Cove is studded with Joshua trees and broad views of granite outcrops. Echo Cove can be a challenging route but offers a rewarding view of the park. Other popular climbing routes include the Cap Rock area close to the West Entrance of the park, where climbs called Pumping Monzonite, All Washed Up and Picture Perfect are all located. Picture Perfect is a beginner's favorite that features a small boulder nestled within other boulders. It offers climbers an easy descent facilitated by jumping from an adjacent boulder.
The Wonderland of Rocks offers many more climbs for those experienced in bouldering and rock climbing. Hidden Valley campground is another stellar climbing location. It also makes a great base camp, with a wide variety of routes leaving from just outside the campground itself. Here, climbers find routes with names like Stem Gem, Caveman, Orange Julius and the classic Scatterbrain, which features a challenging overhanging arete.
To experience a peak rock climbing adventure, Joshua Tree is a prime location. Along with grand views and sensational routes, climbers will find options for virtually all skill levels as well as reliable weather conditions. In short: Joshua Tree offers bouldering at its finest and is a don't-miss opportunity in the American Southwest for rock climbing enthusiasts.