You've heard about the climbing in Joshua Tree, with its run-out routes and chossy boulder topouts. But have you heard of J Tree's world class scrambling opportunities? The Chasm, The Magical Mystery Tour, and the The Underground approach are but a few classics in the park. A movement is taking shape in which climbers, armed with four or five beers each (minimum), are taking on these scrambles at night and with minimal head lamp usage. We went to Joshua Tree to climb warm-up problems only and to see for ourselves how these scramblers get their thrill on hardly-vertical rock.
The first night we planned to boulder around Hidden Valley campground, but the jumbled formation adjacent to the campsite, The Magical Mystery Tour, beckoned to us: "scramble... scramble!" it whispered. Racing to finish our already opened icy refreshments, we racked up by stashing a few more in jacket pockets. My friends were thrilled when I asked them to stop scrambling to take a photo, so they could rest their stem-weary legs. We stemmed onward through the crevasse to a vantage point, where we could hear clearly below the hippies strumming and campfires crackling.
After a quick refueling mission to camp, we pushed toward the chasm with a few extra bottles of liquid courage. Using *a handheld plastic flame maker for light* only when we needed it most (to spare our ankles any unwanted shattering), we crawled under, slid through, and mantled over what must have been an S4 (like a V4, but for scrambling). The Chasm: check.
*Note* Using a lighter for a torch is well within the ethics of scrambling, outlined in "The Ethics of Scrambling; A Horizontal Lifestyle," by Casey Van Gelderen, to be released later this month.
The following day, we rose earlier than most boulderers dare to fathom. We had heard about the "different" granite in The Underground, which might be a draw for us boulderers on a regular day. But today we were scramblers; we were here for the heinous approach. The initial trek up a steep hill left us in prime condition for the final scramble to the underground. We brought crash pads mostly to train our legs for future scrambling endeavors.
We fell on warm up boulders, unsent a problem or three, ate shit on the down-scramble, and had cold meatloaf sandwiches with Sierra Nevada ale to wash it down. This was the life of a scrambler we had come to J Tree to experience. It takes a lot to step outside of your comfort zone and try an entirely new form of climbing; we met the challenge head on.