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Joshua Tree: the rock climbing Mecca


Greenhorn climber and guide

While this column spends a good deal of time and effort singing the praises of the resurgent and happening town of Joshua Tree (or J-Tree, if you’re one of the local hipsters), we would be remiss if we did not state the imperative: Joshua Tree National Park is THE rock climbing Mecca of North America, if not the world!

If you are already a climber, then you would have to have been living under a rock (ha! get it?!) to not be aware of the endless sprawling climber’s paradise that is Joshua Tree National Park. But if you’re a novice, or you’re interested in getting friends or family involved in this delightful, engaging, and challenging sport, there are a few crucial resources in the area that can help you get up that first rock.

First and foremost, any climber needs an outfitter they can rely on. In Joshua Tree, no climber heads into the park without first stopping in and saying hello at Nomad Ventures. Whether it’s a carabineer set or just some casual climber’s conversation, Nomad is the place to start. Reliable, up-to-the-minute information on climbing conditions within the park is guaranteed here. Climb maps are available here in a dizzying variety. Grab a few!

It is never a bad idea to poke your nose into the country store across the street. Coyote Corner serves more as a general store than a outdoor supplier, but has many amenities local climbers love. Free wifi! Plenty of gorp! A small but useful corner of the store is devoted to climber’s and hiker’s needs, and even if you’ve already got all your gear, the store still has much to offer, including surprisingly fashion forward apparel, convenient gifts for your couch potato friends back home, and, to amuse you, an entirely diverting bumper sticker display to give you a few good laughs after a long day on the ropes. Keep your eyes open for the occasional parking lot sale, where the finest of climbing shoes and apparel are sold out of the backs of itinerant climber’s trunks, and the savings passed on to you. Best of all: Coyote Corner offers showers! No, really, just like in the olden days, you can present yourself at the front desk, ask for a key, and for a paltry sum (last season it was $3), you can enjoy a 10 minute hot shower in complete privacy, and be ready to hit the J-Tree night spots without the desert grit in your teeth. Quaint and cool.

If you’re looking to enjoy your climbing experience to the fullest, then the best way to learn the Park is to call on a guide. Many experienced climbers wince at the thought of hiring a guide, as it is perceived as an unnecessary expense. This is, frankly, short-sighted. Guides can teach you techniques you’d never learn on your own, share mountaineering stories worthy of any Jon Krakauer novel, and, best of all, show you the absolute best and least traversed routes throughout the park.

If it’s a guide you want, or more detailed lessons, there is none better than the Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School. The instructors and guides total something like a gazillion hours of climbing, and are internationally known. I can personally recommend Steve Gerberding, who had my 8 year old daughter flying heavenward before I even had the chance to tie my shoes.

If you are interested in longer adventures, you might want to check out the Joshua Tree Climber's Ranch.  This 18 acre site contains primitive campsites for the "Lifestyle Climber."  Spend a week (or a month, or a season) here, eat, sleep, and breathe climbing with likeminded souls, and your life will never be the same.  Best of all, it is FREE to stay here, and it is not open to the public.  You must, however, be a member of the JT Climbers Association, which you can join here.

It is not uncommon for climbers to arrive in Joshua Tree with the intention of spending an fun afternoon on the rocks, and find themselves coming back every weekend for years. It is a wonderland for those who are vertically inclined. The season is just starting: go climb a rock!

For more info: When visiting any US National Park, it is always a good idea to check the Park website.  Joshua Tree National Park is no exception.