Joshua Tree is a large expanse of desert land located just outside of Palm Springs. At first glance, the landscape appears to be desolate and barren, consisting of large piles of boulders and littered with its namesake Joshua trees. Upon closer examination, you begin to realize that you are in the middle of an extremely diverse ecosystem teeming with life at every turn. The piled boulders appear to be out of place. It’s as if some prehistoric race of giants gently stacked them one upon the other in order to create some sort of massive Zen garden.
After a long day of rock climbing on one of these weekend field trips, without telling anyone, I and a couple buddies of mine decided that it would be a good idea to boulder to the top of a huge pile of rocks, smoke a joint, drink a beer and watch the sunset. Bouldering is basically free climbing without the aid of ropes or any equipment other than your hands and a good pair of climbing shoes. Most people don’t realize that this is actually the most dangerous style of rock climbing due to the simple fact that if you slip, there is nothing to break your fall.
On the way up, we realized that the route we had chosen was much more difficult than we had anticipated, but we didn’t let that deter us as we shimmied up thirty plus foot chimneys and jumped across five-foot crevasses between boulders. Eventually, we made it to the summit where we all sat down, cracked open our beers and passed around a joint. The California sunset over Mount San Jacinto was absolutely awe inspiring and after we finished up our beers, we decided it was time to head back to camp. As we got up to start our descent, all three of us simultaneously realized that we had neglected to consider one very important variable in planning our expedition. This was a no moon night and Joshua Tree has virtually no light pollution so after the sunset, the desert was pitch black. The visibility was almost nil and the only light came from the stars and the distant flicker of our campsite fire. The temperature was starting to drop and we had no other alternative than to descend into the darkness.
Imagine jumping from one boulder to another without being able to accurately judge the distance between the two or attempting to make your way down a chimney without being able to see the bottom. We were all absolutely terrified, but by slowly negotiating each horrific turn and working to assist one another through each step, we were able to make it back to the desert floor safely, without much more than a couple of scrapes and bruises. What started out as a thirty to forty-five minute ascension would eventually turn out to be a three to four-hour descent.
It’s like I always say, “Don’t go up there Dude, if you’re not sure how your gonna get back down”.