Joshua Tree National Park

Southern California is a great place to live because it’s so close to many national parks. Miles, Nick, Lexi, and I left San Diego for Joshua Tree National Park on a Thursday around 3 pm. There was a little bit of traffic on I-15 as usual and we hit every stop light in Hemet. The drive was pretty neat because we could see Mt San Jacinto, which we were planning to hike on Saturday, along the highway. On I-10 there are hundreds of windmills which are fun to watch spinning.

An unusual green landscape

We arrived in Twentynine Palms around 6 pm and stopped at Pie for the People! for dinner. This pizza joint is tasty but expensive.


Chimney Rock

Once we finished dinner we headed into the park. Although we had a National Park Pass, we didn’t have to show it because there were no rangers at the gate.

View from our campsite

View from our campsite

We stayed at Hidden Valley Campground which was $15 for the night. We didn’t bring a tent or sleeping bags since we thought Jtree in July would mean intense heat and no rain. We were very wrong. Around midnight a thunderstorm passed through and didn’t let up for over an hour. Luckily we ran for cover in the car just in time. Once the storm was over we lay a tarp on the ground and drifted into a half-sleep until about 5 am. All of the coyotes in the campground started howling which was terrifying.


Early morning moon

The next morning we packed up the campsite and headed out to do a little bit of bouldering.

Baby Joshua trees!

Nick and Miles climbed on Pothole Rock which had climbs from V-easy to V0. I found it pretty terrifying so I just watched and spotted.

Obligatory crash pad shot

After bouldering, we drove through the park to see Skull Rock.

Skull Rock

Skull Rock

Overall we were in Jtree for about 14 hours. I’d like to come back during the fall/winter months and do some more climbing.


Summer in San Diego: Big Bear Lake / Holcomb Valley

Miles, Nick, and I headed up to Big Bear Lake for a weekend of camping and rock climbing. About three hours from San Diego, Big Bear Lake is located within the San Bernardino National Forest. The views were amazing driving in.

Big Bear Lake

We reserved site 79 at the Hanna Flat Campground in the town of Fawnskin the day before our trip. This campground has many amenities including a camp host, vault toilets, trash collection, and water spigots (to be used only for putting out camp fires). Each campsite has a picnic table and a campfire ring with a grill. The road leading to the campground is mostly dirt and gravel but our Nissan Altima rental car handled the bumpy ride just fine!

After we pitched the tent we drove into Fawnskin to pick up a $5 Forest Adventure Pass. The Forest Adventure Pass is needed in parts of National Forests for daily parking.

We also picked up firewood outside the campground at a local’s home. Some houses sell various bundle sizes between $3-$20 while the camp host sells firewood for $8/bundle.

Holcomb Valley

After waking up at the crack of dawn, we headed to Holcomb Valley. The drive took about an hour due to the dirt roads. There was plenty of parking when we arrived around 7am.

We used Mountain Project as our guide. We had some trouble finding the walls, but luckily two climbers were really friendly and pointed us in the right direction. By about 11am, Holcomb Valley was very crowded as there were two Meetup groups.

Fever Pitch (5.3), Gunsmoke Wall- This route was basically a ladder which made the first sport lead of the day a confidence booster. We also got Nick up on his first sport climb on this route.

Medicine Man (5.7), Thunderbird Wall- Miles fell while clipping in the third draw and I shot up about 4 feet into the air. I was freaked out but Miles felt comfortable continuing. Nick and I both followed on top rope.

View from above on Medicine Man (5.7), Thunderbird Wall

View from above on Medicine Man (5.7), Thunderbird Wall

Hidden Gold (5.7), Gold Wall- Miles sport lead this route easily. Once Nick and I followed, Miles top roped up to clean.

Climbing Hidden Gold (5.7), Gold Wall

Climbing Hidden Gold (5.7), Gold Wall

After a full morning of climbing and hiking we were ready to head back to camp. On our way back we stopped at the lake!

Miles and me at Big Bear Lake

Miles and me at Big Bear Lake

I was hooked on camping after this trip. Eating s’mores for dessert and breakfast definitely helped my camping experience 🙂

Elizabeth Furnace

Elizabeth Furnace Recreational Area, located in the George Washington National Forest in Shenandoah Valley, VA, is about an hour west of Washington, DC. Elizabeth Furnace has two walls: Buzzard Rock and Talking Headwall. We decided to check out the Talking Headwall.

The trailhead is easy to miss; we had to turn around and circle back even though we were looking carefully.The parking lot is small so get there early. The approach is short but be careful as it’s hard to see cars coming around the bends. The wall is mostly shaded and has plenty of space to lay out your gear. You can walk around the wall and set up a top rope anchor on some routes.

The resources we used for Talking Headwall are Mountain Project and

I Love Big Jugs (5.8)- I sport lead this climb which was a confidence booster since I didn’t sport climb all summer. The holds are great (hence the name of the route) and I felt comfortable hanging the quickdraws and clipping in.

Sport leading "I Love Big Jugs"

Sport leading “I Love Big Jugs”

Fortis (5.10a/b)- Bryan sport lead and I followed on top rope. This was a fun overhanging route. I had some trouble with the roof but once I figured it out the rest was fine. Stephanie heel hooked over the roof and made the climb look very easy.

Discontinuance (5.9)- I watched Randy sport lead and he had quite a bit of run out, albeit over easy terrain. I followed on top rope and thought it was just OK.

Figuring out the beta on "Discontinuance"

Figuring out the beta on “Discontinuance”

Fat Bastard (5.7)- This was a great warm up sport climb. Finding handholds from the last bolt to the anchor was a bit tricky for me but overall I enjoyed the moves.

Last clip before the tricky roof on "Fat Bastard"

Last clip before the roof on “Fat Bastard”

Red River Gorge: Climbing 2015

We climbed in the Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve (PMRP) and Muir Valley. We picked the south side since we only have experience with sport climbing and the difficulty of the routes were within our skill set. Both the PMRP and Muir Valley require waivers to climb on the properties.

Miles gifted “Red River Gorge North” and “Red River Gorge South” by Ray Ellington to Bryan for his birthday. These guidebooks are invaluable and must-haves for climbing in the RRG. An iPhone/Android app is also available for the Red River Gorge South where you can purchase a 2 month rental, digital guide, or digital guide plus print copy.

A Muir Valley Pocket Guidebook is also available. We didn’t buy this but you can purchase a copy at Miguel’s Gear Shop, Skybridge Station, Torrent Falls Via Ferrata, and J & H Sporting Goods.


DaVinci’s Left Ear (5.10b), The Gallery- We “warmed up” on this route as the PMRP was very busy with all of the Rocktoberfest climbers. I followed on top rope and didn’t feel there was any flow to the route.

27 Years of Climbing (5.8), The Gallery- I sport climbed this route which had solid hand holds and good feet at every clip. I would recommend this for a warm up or a beginner’s first lead.

Murano (5.10b), The Gallery- I followed on top rope and enjoyed the flakes. Next time I will try sport climbing!

Miles sending "27 Years of Climbing" and me on "Murano"

Miles sending “27 Years of Climbing” and me on “Murano”

Darwin Loves You (5.9+), Volunteer Wall- This was a spicy warm up sport climb for me. Only four bolts, this climb is short and pumpy.

Swap Meet (5.6), Volunteer Wall- Easy sport climb with jugs.

Nice to Know You (5.10b), Volunteer Wall- I followed this slabby route on top tope. The first clip is a little sketchy to me since it’s on a hill, but Bryan breezed through it.

Climbing "Nice to Know You"

Climbing “Nice to Know You”

Tong Shing (5.10d), Volunteer Wall- Super crimpy and pinchy. This was probably my favorite climb of the trip since I had to push myself harder than I ever have to send this on top rope.

The G-Man (5.10c), The Shire- I pumped out early on this as I climbed Tong Shing right before. Mostly pockets and slopers.

Muir Valley

Muir Valley does not charge admission or parking fees. However, they ask for a donation to help keep up the building and maintenance of trails and bridges, emergency rescue equipment, and utilities and supplies for the public restrooms. In addition, all of their climbs have medallions at the base of the route to identify the route and grade. The “Red River Gorge South” guidebook lists all of the Muir Valley climbs from right to left.

Slabalito (5.7), Practice Wall- This was a fun warm up as it’s only two bolts. Excellent feet and hands.

The day I decided to be a free solo-er!

The day I decided to be a free solo-er!

Shawty (5.8), Practice Wall- Again another short, aptly-named route with two bolts.

Mercenary of the Mandarin Chicken (5.9), Practice Wall- Fun arete climb with a bit of overhang near the anchors.

Beta Spewer (5.10b), Practice Wall- I followed on top rope and thought this short climb was fun. The start was the crux for me with the side pull, but the holds near the anchor were solid.

Built for Life (5.8+), Guide Wall- Really long, really weird climb. If you wanted to, you could climb a ladder and stairs to get through the first few bolts. I sport lead and didn’t hate this climb, but didn’t love it either.

Mona Lisa Crack (5.8), Guide Wall- There is only a crack to the first bolt which was disappointing. I thought this was similar to Built for Life in that it was long and nothing stuck out.

Dragon’s Mouth (5.6), Practice Wall- This was a fun and scary chimney. Getting through the chimney makes you feel like a spider. The ledge to the anchors was scary because there is a tree you will hit if you fall. I ended up throwing up a heel hook to top out and set the anchors.

Getting ready for some spider action on "Dragon's Mouth"

Getting ready for some spider action on “Dragon’s Mouth”

Casey (5.8), Animal Crackers- Super slabby and balancy. I had a good time until the second to last bolt.

Captain Blonde Sinks the Ship (5.11a), The Boneyard- The moves up to the third bolt are nice and juggy. The route moves left and becomes more overhung. Most of the ledges were just covered in chalk which made it difficult to find where the hand holds were. Lots of pockets.

Getting a sweet rest ledge on "Captain Blondie Sinks the Ship"

Getting a sweet rest ledge on “Captain Blondie Sinks the Ship”

Cinderella (5.9), The Boneyard- Really tough start, Hannah basically pulled me on top rope. This was one of the longest routes we climbed and I sure did get pumped out after about 40 feet.

One-Armed Bandit (5.9), The Boneyard- This was a great climb to end the trip on. Start on an arete, move right, and then back left. I found mostly crimps but everything felt solid.


Miles, Bryan, Hannah, Mike, and I decided to check out the Red River Gorge (RRG) in Kentucky for a week of climbing! We coordinated our trip to include Rocktoberfest.

Rocktoberfest is an annual fundraiser for the Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition (RRGCC). Held October 9-11, 2015 in Slade, KY, Rocktoberfest included a showing of the 2015 Reel Rock Tour, a climbing competition at the Miller Fork Recreational Preserve, vendors, and climbing clinics.


After an 8 hour drive, Miles, Bryan, and I arrived at the Natural Bridge Campground around 3:30 pm. The RRGCC volunteers were still getting organized and trying to figure out the parking, camping, and registration processes. We set up our tents in the rain and Miles and Bryan threw a frisbee in the soggy open field.

Bryan's and my lonely tents

Bryan’s and my lonely tents

Once Hannah and Mike arrived we walked around the vendor booths. Most of the companies donated products and the proceeds were donated back to the RRGCC. We watched a preview of “Ascending India: Bringing Rock Climbing Home.” This documentary is about Sujay Kawale who was born in India, discovered rocking climbing in the US, and wants to bring awareness of rock climbing back to India and also features the RRG. Reel Rock 10 was a collection of short films and had us laughing at Alex Honnold’s humor and white knuckling at the high ball bouldering.


Evin and Danielle joined us late Friday night so it was a nice surprise to wake up next to their tricked out dirtbag van. After a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, and hash browns, the seven of us headed to The Gallery in the PMRP. We got a late start but there were still some routes open for us to try.

We climbed DaVinci’s Left Ear (5.10b), 27 Years of Climbing (5.8), and Murano (5.10b). Bryan and Evin also tried Clair Obscur (5.11a) which they mistakenly thought was a 5.10. They got pretty far, but Bryan couldn’t quite get past the last bolt to the anchors. The rock up there looked totally featureless. Rather than bailing and leaving behind a sacrificial carabiner, another pair of climbers volunteered to get our gear down and try finishing the climb. Despite looking stronger than Bryan and Evin, these two couldn’t get to the anchor either and were forced to bail near the top. One of the duo had snagged a leaver ‘biner earlier in the day and used it on this route: easy come, easy go.

Climbing DaVinci's Left Ear

Climbing DaVinci’s Left Ear

After a day of climbing we headed back to the campsite. Rocktoberfest was in full swing with the crate stacking competition, live music, and food trucks. Evin and Miles participated in the water balloon launch where they chucked balloons using a sling across the pond and tried to hit targets. Evin got lucky and won a sweet chalk bag from So Ill.


The Solid Rock Climbers for Christ cooked a pancake and sausage breakfast early Sunday morning before the clinics. Miles, Bryan, Hannah, and I signed up for the Introduction to Traditional Climbing. The class was held at Solar Collector in the PMRP and taught by Shingo Ohkawa. Shingo is an awesome instructor and made everything as simple as possible. He reiterated that the course was not nearly enough time to learn everything about trad climbing but simply an overview of the principles and tools. We all learned a lot about how to place gear, and Shingo gave us the confidence to explore trad climbing in the future.

We had to say goodbye to Evin and Danielle after our clinic as they needed to return to work for the week. After our goodbyes we headed over to the Land of the Arches Campground to set up our base camp for the next week.

Danielle, me, Miles, and Evin

Danielle, me, Miles, and Evin

Overall I had a great time at Rocktoberfest. Everyone was friendly and nerding out about climbing.

Summer in San Diego: Climbing

I had an amazing opportunity to spend my summer in San Diego with Miles. We really tried to take advantage of all the activities San Diego offers. One of the first things we did was rock climb. Here are the local places we checked out.

Grotto Climbing & Yoga
Grotto is a boulder-only gym in the Mission Gorge/Grantville area. We only bouldered there so I can’t comment on their yoga classes. We both purchased a one-month membership on Groupon for $29. The walls are between 12-16 feet tall and have about 2 feet of padding. The setters put up new problems on a regular schedule. Since I had only returned to climbing three months prior, I wasn’t super confident on the slick holds. We didn’t go back after our memberships ended.

Mesa Rim Climbing and Fitness Center

Mesa Rim, located in Mira Mesa, offers top roping, lead climbing, bouldering, yoga classes, and a fitness area. We purchased a 10 visit day pass. We only took the top roping test but there were a lot of fun climbs. Most of the walls are 55 feet high which had me pumping out quickly. The gym fills up quickly in both the bouldering and rope area during the evening weekdays.

Mission Gorge

Mission Gorge is the local crag. Two great resources for Mission Gorge are Mission Gorge Topos and Mountain Project. The walls are shaded until about 11am so get there early to beat the sun. You can walk around most routes to set up a top rope anchor or lead climb.

Knob Job (5.8), Main Wall Far Left- Traverse right, traverse left, and then scramble over the knob. Miles onsighted and loved this climb. I redpointed and came down with bruised knees.

The Blocks (5.4), Main Wall Far Left- This route is directly to the right of Knob Job and is great for beginners. I think it’s harder than a 5.4, but not as hard as a 5.8 as suggested by other climbers on MP. I fell in love with cracks on this climb.

The Chimney (5.4), Main Wall Far Left- Located to the right of Knob Job and The Blocks. Take everything off your harness. If you fall you will swing into the wall behind you and get some nice bruises on your back and butt. For a harder challenge, try climbing one face- I heard it’s a 5.10.

Skyline Arete (5.7+), Lunch Rock- We set up a top rope anchor by walking around the backside. Miles onsighted and found the holds easily, but I had a tougher time.

Skyline Face (5.7+), Lunch Rock- A variation on Skyline Arete, I had more fun on this. It was nice to get a second climb out of one anchor.

Empathy (5.10b), Main Wall- One of our coworkers showed us this pretty technical route. The wall felt polished and I had difficulty finding my feet.


Sending Empathy

As the Crow Flies (5.8), Limbo Area- Miles walked around and set a top rope anchor. The first bolt is pretty high up so I would recommend using a stick clip if leading. This was one of my favorite climbs in Mission Gorge.

The Ramp (5.7), Lunch Rock- Fun crack climb with a dihedral. We got two outdoor newbies up this route.


Getting my jam on The Ramp

Easy Rider, Middle Earth (5.7)- This is the first bolted climb at the end of the approach from the south Climbers Loop trail. Miles sport climbed this route, Nick and I followed on top rope. I’m really glad I didn’t lead this as it’s quite slippery and I had to really reach for some of the moves. Not a fan.

PSA: The REI Outdoor School typically climbs in Mission Gorge every Sunday from 7am – 1pm and they set up on Main Wall Far Left.

More to come on other activities in San Diego!