Five hidden gems in hyper-crowded Joshua Tree
TIRED OF ROLLING UP TO JOSHUA TREE’S MEGA-CLASSICS only to find queues five parties deep? Well, so am I — you’d think the park’s 5,000 pitches would make finding solitude simple, but the sad truth is most climbers flock to Josh’s handful of pedestrian classics with high stars and easy access. Still, with a little effort, you’ll find four- and five star pitches far from the hordes.
I’ve been climbing in J-Tree nine years, tacking thousands of miles onto my odometer on the drive up from San Diego. Although most of my treks into the park’s more obscure areas have turned out fruitless, a handful of climbs stick in my mind as true gems — some revealed by longtime locals, and others upon which I simply stumbled. As the park becomes more crowded, with weekend warriors like me piling in from LA and San Diego, the pressure’s on to find solitude. Below, you’ll find five high-quality, obscure, and seldom-done classics that involve more climbing than waiting.
10 More Hidden Gems of Joshua Tree
Diagnostics (5.6), Castle Rock, Belle Campground A climb at this grade does not get much better — deserves 4 stars! This climb is gaining in popularity since The Trad Guide to Joshua Tree came out. A wonderful dihedral with a tricky layback start and fun jamming the rest of the way.
Gear: Standard Rack, plus gear for anchor. Walk off down and right on low-angle slab.
Approach: Located in Belle Campground. One-minute approach.
Guidebook:The Trad Guide to Joshua Tree(60 Favorite Climbs from 5.5-5.9), by Charlie and Diane Winger, CMC Press. Or Rock Climbing Joshua Tree, by Randy Vogel.
Hawks Nest (5.7), The Hawk Hatchery, Oz AreaIf you like adventure, route-finding, and long scrambling hikes into the heart of Josh backcountry, then this climb is for you. Any climber of any level will enjoy the endless hand jams and great exposure on this rare 120-foot long formation.
Gear: Standard rack, with doubles in hand sizes.
Approach: Park in pullout with interpretive signage, 1.4 miles north of the Sheep Pass Loop and Pinto Basin Road intersection. Hike into the “Valley of Voices,” a formation of rocks high on the hillside to the west. Thirty-to-45-minute hike.
Guidebook:Rock Climbing Joshua Tree by Randy Vogel
Dos Chi Chis (2P 5.9 and 10a) Siberia Formation, Outer Mongolia(Wonderland North)Siberia is all the rage right now. Why? Because there are tons of great climbs ranging from from 5.7 to 5.11, all on quality rock. The shining star is the two-pitch Dos Chi Chis, which will have you patina pulling to your heart’s content.
Gear: 10 quickdraws. Three single-rope raps to the ground.
Approach: Park at Key's Corner and hike the wonderland trail for 1.25 miles north. At the forks, go right toward Willow Hole for approx 0.75 miles. From there, head off-trail north to the base of Siberia. The main routes are on the south face. Approach time: one hour.
Guidebook:Rock Climbing Joshua Tree West, by Randy Vogel.
Icon (5.10b/c), Olympic Dome, Queen MountainThis climb is what Joshua Tree is all about. Classic, sustained jams on solid rock. The fact that this climb is located in one of the park’s most picturesque areas only adds to the allure. Plenty of other high-star classics are in the immediate area.
Gear: Standard rack with extra 3” piece. Rap off top, 65 feet.
Approach: From the Queen Mountain Dirt parking lot, head straight up approach trail, but instead of heading east and over the summit as you would for Walt’s Rocks, go west and head over the low part of the ridgeline. Drop into the gully of “The Happy Hunting Ground” and follow north for approx. 40 minutes. Eventually, you’ll take the wash east toward the North Ridge area, at which point the Olympic Dome will be visible to the northeast. Moderate scrambling gets you to the base. Approach time: 1.5 to 2 hours.
Guidebook:Rock Climbing Joshua Tree, by Randy Vogel. Definitely consult a guide for this one, as it can get confusing.
Waltzing Wern (5.11a), Vernal Wall, Rattlesnake CanyonAny 180-foot crack that wasn’t discovered until 2004 absolutely earns the “hidden” status. Whether it’s a classic, only time will tell. Although there are some loose, crumbly sections, overall the route is pretty fantastic and makes for a great day of exploring and solitude.
Gear: Standard Rack
Approach: From picnic area loop in southeast part of Indian Cove, hike into Rattlesnake Canyon, staying on the right side of wash and canyon to avoid too much scrambling. Hike through a notch to the north to reach Rattlesnake Forks. From here, the Vernal Wall is south of the Bulkhead Formation. Approach time: 1.5 to 2 hours.
Guidebook: Directions to Bulkhead in Rock Climbing Joshua Tree, by Randy Vogel. Vernal Wall described on mountainproject.com
Firewater Chimney (5.10b), Arrowhead Formation, Valley of Kings (Wonderland North)This might very well be one of the most unique climbs in the park —full-body stemming in a big chimney protected by bolts. Fun! The long hike will ensure you earn the right of passage on this Thighmaster workout.
Approach: From Indian Cove, take Rattlesnake Canyon trail from the parking loop/picnic area. After a short distance, head right toward the Corral Wall; some rougher terrain will take you up through a notch in the pass, and then back down into the main wash. Follow the wash past The Pyramid and Commissioner's Buttress. From here, you’ll need to climb up another boulderfield on your left (south) to a notch, staying right until it levels out. From this point, you’ll see Valley of Kings to the east. The Arrowhead Formation is a large exfoliated flake, and the route is located behind it.
Gear: 6 quickdraws. Ninety-foot rap.
Guidebook:Rock Climbing Joshua Tree West, by Randy Vogel. Consult guide as approach is challenging.
Rice Cake Roof (5.10c), Fool Proof Tower, Wonderland of Rocks Everyone who’s ever hiked on the sandy wash toward the super popular Astro Domes has probably looked to their left and wondered, What’s that cool splitter crack to a big roof? Well, it’s a neglected classic called Rice Cake Roof. So, next time you head out to the Wonderland, take a moment to rack up and send this incredibly fun climb. You won’t regret it.
Approach: Park at the dirt parking lot East of Barker Dam. This is called the Wonderland Ranch Trail Head. Head north up the main wash for 30 minutes, and look for an obvious flake system with a large roof capping it. The route starts on the 5.9 splitter then moves up the flake to the exposed roof finish. Approach: 30 minutes.
Guide:Rock Climbing Joshua Tree, by Randy Vogel.
Dyno in the Dark (5.10b), Chimney Rock, Hidden Valley CampgroundEven though this climb is literally right in the most popular campground in the park, it sees limited traffic due to low stars. But the wild move into a layback, out of a cave 50 feet off the deck, makes this short climb a cult classic.
Approach: Park in the Hidden Valley Campground lot and walk about 30 seconds to Chimney Rock. Scramble up slabs, and crawl into a cave just above “the Space Station.” Set up a belay and commit to the first move and sudden exposure.
Gear: Basic rack, with optional 4” piece for offwidth finish. Single-rope rap to ground.
Guidebook:Rock Climbing Joshua Tree, by Randy Vogel
Spirited Away (three pitches: 5.8, 5.11b, 5.7 PG-13), The Dunce Cap, Wonderland NorthFor those that want a little mental workout, this might be just what the doctor ordered. Spicy face moves and small gear get you through the crux of this seldom done or heard of three-pitch classic. Randy Vogel, guidebook author and prolific first ascensionist, claims this to be one of the better obscure classics of Joshua Tree, and I agree.
Gear: Standard rack to 2” with assortment of small nuts or RPs. Single-rope rap off back side.
Approach: Hike the North Wonderland Trail from Key’s Corner parking lot. Continue to Willow Hole. Head east through a narrow wash into Rattlesnake Canyon. Look for the Dunce Cap just south of here. It’s an obvious formation with a large right-leaning pillar on its side.
Guidebook:Rock Climbing Joshua Tree West, by Randy Vogel.
Where Have All The Cowboys Gone? (three pitches: 5.8, 5.10d, 5.7), Saddle Rocks, Saddle Rocks AreaYet another classic created by the one and only Bob Gaines. Take a fun, balancy 5.8 crack up and left to a belay station. From there, step across and onto the crux move and steep pumpy flakes of P2. Once the jugs run out, you have to tiptoe back left and smear up a slabby bolted finish. You can either finish with another pitch of moderate crack or rap down. If you’re not feeling up to the 5.10d pitch, follow bolts up and right on Santa Cruz, a 5.10a variation. Both pitches are classic.
Gear: Basic rack to 2”, 8 quickdraws. Two single-rope raps; or rap/descend off back of formation if you top out the third pitch.
Approach: Park in Hall of Horrors parking lot. Cross the road and head toward Saddle Rocks on the main climbers trail. Take the fork north, and scramble along the base of the formation. Look for the obvious overhanging arête of Iconoclast (5.13a hardman route); the left-leaning crack on P1 starts just down and right from there.
Guidebook: Not in guide. Details on mountainproject.com