The Cliffs Community Takes Joshua Tree

Guest post written by Cliffs member Thomas Theofilatos

All photos courtesy of Thomas + The Joshua Tree group

All photos courtesy of Thomas + The Joshua Tree group

In early May, seven climbers from The Cliffs boarded an airplane at JFK to escape the gray skies and cold rain that kept us indoors for weeks in early spring. Our destination was the climber’s Promised Land of Southern California where the warm sun would receive us to lighten our spirits. At LAX, we met Cliffs’ Director of Climbing, TJ Ciotti, who captained our minivan through the boundless 8 lane highways of suburban Los Angeles and into the Mohave Desert. In a few hours we would arrive at dusk at the Indian Cove campground of Joshua Tree National Park, our home for the next 3 days. Here, we would climb these seemingly extraterrestrial rock formations by day and sleep under a wondrous, star speckled sky by night. In awe of the peculiar landscape, we jumped out of the van, dumped our packs on the dusty ground and scrambled up the quartz monzonite boulders that inspired us to make this journey. Our arrival in this peaceful, desolate place was a welcome respite from the hysteria of New York City.


The scenery in Joshua Tree is too alien to be likened to any wilderness any of us had seen before. We agreed that it looked like a live action film set for the Flintstones. The legendary rock formations seemed like they were forged from giant globs of molten wax that cooled to form the oddest of shapes. Animals, faces and figures appeared to form from the stone and a melting clock or two would render this a dreamscape from the mind of Dali. But these rocks weren’t meant to be painted—they were meant to be climbed!

And climb them we did, starting with a wall near Indian Cove a short hike through the desert from our camp. The Indian Cove area was less than vertical slab climbing where the relatively featureless rock offered an interesting introduction the concepts of trusting friction and honing balance. The splitters were vertical and any imperfections in the rock that presented opportunities to ascend were composed of millions of minuscule razor blades that cut deep into our fingers as we pressed harder for purchase. After completing a challenging 5.10c entitled Ceremony T, a climber was asked for beta on the route. “You literally just have to follow the trail of my blood to the top,” was his forthright response.  


The following days presented unique challenges and the completion of each new route offered a fulfilling achievement for each climber. We all embraced these challenges and ascended the desert walls at inspired levels that many of us did not know we were capable of. We all struggled and sometimes failed but more often the feeling of camaraderie that bound the group helped us overcome any doubts we had about our ability to reach the top. My hands blistered and bleeding, my joints tender from 3 days of relentless work, I recall feeling uneasy as I approached the crux of my final climb, Men With Cow’s Heads. “You got this Tom!” was all I needed to hear from my companions below. With furrowed brow, I looked up towards the precipice, let out an exasperated howl and executed a sequence of moves that saw me send the route.


 Usually when I travel to a new and unusual place, the people I meet become distant fond memories that I am never able to revisit. It was heartening to know that, at the end of this expedition, I was going home with this same group and that this desert experience was just the beginning of our climbing adventures together. In a sly nod to the great climbing groups of Yosemite lore and the reptiles that slithered through the rocks that we rested on between climbs, we dubbed our team the “Stone Lizards.”

On behalf of the group, I’d like to express our heartfelt appreciation to TJ and The Cliffs for organizing this memorable trip and to our new friends from Golden State Climbing for showing us the treasure that is Joshua Tree National Park.

Adam SchwartzComment