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North America, United States, California, Joshua Tree National Monument

Joshua Tree National Monument. There is a variety of rock climbing to be found in this large Southwestern desert preserve. Here one can climb on large tumbled piles of monzonite and granite or upon individual boulders which rise from 30 to 150 feet above level ground. Some "individuals," including the Old Woman and the Gateman, near the Hidden Valley campgrounds, have long been popular with Sierra Club groups. West of Twentynine Palms, in Indian Cove, there are high rocks used for practice climbing by the Air Rescue Command, while our local group has found class 3 to class 6 routes on Indian Head Rock, also easily reached from the town.

Some of the more spectacular rocks cannot be climbed without direct aid. A few years ago, Rod Smith and Phil Smith made two attempts to reach the top of the Pope’s Hat, a massive pointed boulder in Split Rock Valley, but were turned back for lack of piton cracks near the summit. Later Rod and Don Cornell made a successful effort by driving three studs and moving up in stirrups while under rope tension. Following this ascent, Cornell and John Merriam visited the Lost Pencil and used 13 studs to climb the flawless 60-foot summit block. On a repeat climb which I accompanied as a guest, we re-used the anchors to put Merriam on top and there joined him by quick ascent on a Prusik "ladder." The "ladder," which consists of two parallel taut lines with a Prusik stirrup mounted on each, makes this sort of direct-aid climbing easy and efficient. Tension, too, can be alternated in either line to assist the climber in getting over obstructing bulges and overhangs. On this occasion we also found a "new" retractive rappel quite handy for bringing up cumbersome equipment to the base of the summit block.

In recent months, Rod Smith, R. J. Boyle, and John Davis have made numerous new ascents. Headstone Rock, a curved balanced boulder which might have been difficult even with studs, was climbed by resorting to a tricky cord-throw over its top and then carefully pulling a fixed line into a favorable position.

Phil D. Smith