It was late December 2008 and I had just been invited on a trip to escape the Seattle monsoon season for my first dedicated climbing trip outside the NW. In only my second year climbing I was addicted. Each weekend the summer prior, I escaped the concrete jungle to scale snowy and rocky peaks in the NW. Climbing over 12 technical summits and along the way I learned trad, completed the mountaineers intermediate course and was on my way to leading trips of my own.
When I showed up in J-Tree I was in awe of the unique granite blobs and vast desert landscape. We started out on 5.3 and 5.5. routes and they proved more sustained than our typical alpine route. As the days continued we set our sites on the classic 5.7s in the area. This climbing was different than what I had experience in the summer, it was sustained, bold, and a blue collar battle of sorts. One of my first accomplishments was leading overhang bypass and with a fit of pure luck I made it cleanly to the top where I lay down a claim that the whole Mojave desert could hear.
My 25 year old babyface working through Overhang Bypass.
What I learned most from that trip was how humbling some of these classic hard man destinations are. This instilled in me a deep-routed insecurity about certain climbing areas and routes that I have never fully been able to kick, so when I planned to return in 2017 for the 6th time, I knew it was going to be a mental challenge.
My climbing over the year had been sporadic on account of my recent re-found love with mountain biking and the extensive ski season in the PNW. Just two years early I was confidently on-siting many 5.9s in the park, below grades elsewhere, but a challenge at J-tree. But during this trip my confidence severely lacked.
My 33 year old self, dancing across some Fun Stuff 5.8.
So there I was 9 years later, staring up at overhang bypass and completely intimidated. Unwilling to admit it to my friends, I tried to convince them to lead it under the ruse of having led it before. No one took my bait so I started on some other 5.7s in the area that weren't as intimidating. While climbing I generally felt comfortable, albeit slow and hesitant, much like 9 years prior. Over the course of the 4 days I battled my confidence. I felt comfortable on some, and uncomfortable on others. I never did feel like I regained my form, but its a good reminder that climbing is not easy and it takes constant practice to stay on form. When I did get on a good route, the simple joys of movement and problem solving were inspiring and reminded me that its not all about grade. Regardless of how difficult this was, it was great fun to be back in the desert spending time with good friends and tackling the nerves of climbing as a beginner again. It also gave me the bug so I hope to stay fresher this upcoming year.