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Savoring the Classics ó A Joshua Tree Experience


 

by Jonathan Peischl

August 06, 2002

I looked down at my knot and glanced past to my feet to make sure that my shoes were laced tight. Everything felt right, and after a good hearty dip into my chalk bag, I was ready to start. Mike looked at me and gave me a grin and a nod to get moving. I struck into the opening stance and pulled up into the first move.

This wasnít a route that was beyond my abilities, this was a climb that I had previously onsighted with style, but I was back to climb it again, and to up the ante I was leaving all of the cams on the ground. There are so many ways of making climbing ďinterestingĒ, and to me a clean ascent with passive gear is an excellent way to relive the excitement of a classic route.

The Exorcist is .10a and youíre pulling hard right off the deck. Itís not the stiffest .10a in Joshua Tree, but itís definitely one of the best. The finger locks and hand jams are perfect. You could hang there all day. The crack takes great gear and the anchors are burly chains in great condition. The only drawback on Exorcist is that it doesnít keep going for another 5 pitches, but then nothing really does in Josh.

From the opening stance, ideally performed as a layback, I pulled straight into the crack and snagged a perfect thumbs-down jam in the crack from which I could set my first piece ó a medium stopper. Itís a good idea to get gear in low on the Exorcist, since you begin the route on a slab about 25 feet up.

Once the first piece was secure I started to cruise up the crack, sinking perfect finger locks and solid toe jams. I waited to place the second piece until I was at a good stance below an ďoff-balanceĒ move in the crack where the jam/lock potential isnít as good. The gear went in perfectly and I slipped past this section without a thought. A few feet up I dropped in another stopper in a flair that seemed like it was made for a #7 HB aluminum offset.

At this point the crack shallows out, and what had been a finger crack turns into small sidepulls. One last nut and a balance move advances to the end of the crack. Here, you stand comfortably on a large foothold, clip a bolt and prepare for what is probably considered the crux of the climb.

This is one of those places where you can stop and change your focus to take in your surroundings. From high on a rock in Joshua Tree the landscape unfolds around you, the rocks, the yucca, the occasional coyote, and even other people enjoying the park. Any climb can become that much more fulfilling by stopping to enjoy the surroundings and feel a part of nature.

People call climbing a frivolous activity, and from a pragmatic point-of-view it is, but when youíre there and all of your senses are at a heightened state of awareness life is different. The energy that can be felt is amazing. It can change your life. Sure, getting to the top just to come back down safely really accomplishes nothing of any social value, but thatís not the point.

I carefully grab a small crimp above the bolt and set my left foot high on a small edge. My left foot comes off of the large foothold and flags as a counterbalance. Pull up on the crimp and reach out with your right hand to a protruding table-like feature positively capped with desert varnish. I match and proceed to mantle carefully onto the feature. From here the holds are massive and the climbing is easy. Another 15 feet of climbing on low-angle ground leads to the anchors where a couple of locking biners sets this classic up for a few more laps on toprope. Yes, itís that good.

Mike lowers me slowly to the ledge where I started, waiting anxiously for his run on the Exorcist. Heís done the climb before and I know that he is just as psyched about it as I am. He knows the stone and is familiar the quality and the energy of this classic line.

I change my shoes and pull on a jacket before sitting down to belay. Mike ties in and chalks up before looking down to make sure that the belay is set. Iím ready, comfortably resting with my back against the same wall that I just climbed. Mike sinks his hands into the crack and charges into the climb. He executes the movement in his own way and I can tell from his body language that this is exactly where he wants to be right now. Itís a perfect day and this is the right place to be.

After both Mike and I take a few laps on toprope, Mike runs the rope through the chains and we rappel back to the desert floor. We pull the rope and collect our gear, contemplating the next climb to hit. We choose a high-quality 5.7 nearby that we both enjoy, and from which we can casually complete the day and watch the sun set. Just another day in paradise.



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