November 7th, 2015 – Team: Bill Brooks, Maggie Hellmann, Stuart Brooks, Lou Renner, Aaron Nelson and Krista Curtis.

Goal: (50 crags, 15,000 ft+, 150 pitches, 50 rappels) – grade to be determined

From November 7th to November 20th, four MyClimb members (Bill Brooks, Maggie Hellmann, Stuart Brooks, Lou Renner – we eventually had two members join us! Aaron Nelson and Krista Curtis.) will attempt to make an enchainment of 50 crags in the Indian Cove Area of Joshua Tree. The traverse will begin with the most eastern crags and head true north. Climbing each crag by the most interesting route, the team will photograph, map and log information about their ascent. They estimate that this enchainment will include [50 crags, 150 pitches, 50 rappels, and 15,000+ vertical feet]. The team will offer daily coverage of their progress on this ‘Northern Traverse’

Northern Traverse Project / Joshua Tree, CA

(50 crags, 150 pitches, 50 rappels, 150+ vertical feet)

‘You can’t expect to travel afar without expecting an element of delay’

My drive south from Santa Cruz turned from a ocean view, into an 11 hour epic filled with overturned trucks to traffic jams. Bill missed his flight in Denver and had to be rerouted, he sat in the airport for 4 hours.  Meeting in Palm Springs we grabbed a quick bowl of soup and licked our wounds.

“I’ve been sitting in my truck for what seems the better part of a month” I said fishing for mushrooms.

“I started, ‘Treason’, by Orson Scott Card. Can’t believe I missed my flight!”
“Maggie’s foot is still bruised, she couldn’t make it. She will be logging in our progress into the MyClimb Website. She’s bummed that she can’t join us.” Bill’s soup was cooling fast, as he stirred it I watched as a single mushroom came to the surface.

“Rob had to cancel as well, he has been having some health issues. Any news about Stuart? When will he be flying in?”

Raising his eyebrows, Bill grinned, “I haven’t heard from Stuart, not sure if he’s coming.   I’m just glad that my cold seems to have past, I felt pretty grim last week.”

Itching my forearms, I wondered if my cat Mookie had given me a case of poison oak. I said nothing and continued to look for mushrooms.

No worries, soon enough Bill and I will be climbing and traversing north. Things are bound to improve once we get vertical!

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Day 1: Northern Traverse

Managed to arrive late in the park. Started our traverse with an ascent of Short Wall. Donna T’s Route, Double Crack, Chimney Route, Morning Warmup, and Right N Up. Morning Warmup is a tad dicey, loose flakes, bit run-out but a solid line. Bill’s lead of Right N Up went well although this line was gritty. Fun day all in all, looking forward putting in a big day on Sunday. – Lou

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Day 2: Northern Traverse 
I wake early before tackling big climbs, can’t help it, the habit comes from climbing in the Alps for so many years. Big alpine routes demand pre-dawn starts, sometimes as early as 1:00 am. Today, I woke at 4:30 and lay there thinking about the upcoming day of climbing. In my restless mind, I could see the progression of our traverse laid as if I were painting it on a map.

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Day 3: Northern Traverse 
Today started slow… The rope got tangled. A chimney pitch nearly ate a Cam. A pink Tricam got jammed so hard that I had to take a rock to the cleaning tool. One anchor set-up was such a mess that it took 5 minutes to sort the knots and tangles. Sometimes you just have to take a step back, regroup, and go into town for lunch!

Our afternoon session went somewhat better. While gearing up, Bill and I meet two climbers from Portland, Oregon who agreed to climb a few routes with us. Aaron Nelson roped-up with me, while Krista Curtis teamed with Bill. Although Aaron and Krista had not climbed more than a few years, they indeed showed their skills as solid climbers. We started out with a quick link-up of Scaramouch and the Chessboard, two classic routes. Rappelling, we then skirted around to the Palisades area and although the temperatures were dropping we managed to squeeze in three bolted routes.

Krista and Aaron are members of the Mazamas mountaineering club. Over the years I have had the pleasure to run into club members from the Mazamas. Founded in 1894, this climbing organization has set the path for high quality education. The overall climbing skills that Krista and Aaron showed today is a testament to the leadership, and safety traditions that the Mazamas teach and share. – Lou

Day 4: Northern Traverse 
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Full day of climbing today, 14 pitches in 6 hours. The best routes of the day were Bill’s lead of ‘Riff Raff Direct’ a bouldering start to a steep 5.9+ corner. I started the day with ‘Fluff Boy’ a classic 5.8 2 bolt face route. Later in the day we climbed ‘Checkerboard’ a beautiful patina 5.8 face. After rappeling the North side of Feudal Wall, we ended our day climbing in the Indian Palisades Corridor, and three fantastic semi-bolted lines. Bit warm today, sore feet, great dinner at ‘Crossroads’. – Lou

Strong day, Lou started with a real classic, ‘Fluff Boy – 5.8’. I opted for a stiff line, 5.9+ ‘Riff Raff’ Technical Boulder start to a steep stemming bit, my new ‘Totem Cams’ fit into off-sized holes perfectly. Later in the day we climbed ‘Checkerboard – 5.8’. The rock on this line is like dinner plates stacked vertically, one of my placements had to be forced into a flake, slight pull and the whole plate flexed…. Interesting! – Bill

Day 4: Northern Traverse

Joshua Tree Background:
The high desert is a uniquely diverse environment; it is also an extreme place to climb. The dry air, parched wind, sandy soil, spike-like plants such as the Ocotillo, foxtail cactus and pricklypear are just a few of the 750 needle-like wonders that can make a trek into a crag a real treat! Over the past 35 years, I have seen Bighorn Sheep, Black-tailed jack rabbits, tortoise, Iguana, Mojave Sidewinders and Red Diamond Rattlesnakes. Just yesterday while climbing on Feudal Wall, Isaw a Cactus Wren, three quail, a hermit thrush and a lone, Red-TailedHawk. But the animal, reptiles, and plant life is not the main factor that makes a day of climbing at the ‘Tree’ often a harsh experience. The rock formations were formed more than 100 million years ago. The skin of the Monzogranite offers a tough, sandpaper-like texture that can rip your fingertips right off. Climbers need to take care; tape-up, try not to pull too hard, and to edge and smear as much as possible. – Lou

Day 4: Northern Traverse – am
I have been blessed and cursed with a strong fire to climb. It’s 4:30 am, Bill’s sleeping sound while I’m pacing around like a caged animal. After a full hour of Qi Gong, I pull out my Indian Cove guide book, sit back and take a look at some climbs. In all of the years that I have enjoyed climbing in Joshua Tree, I have never brought a guide book out to the crags. In Joshua Tree I enjoy climbing by the seat of my pants. Over the years my goal has been just to climb what looks interesting and let the cards fall where they fall. As I flip through my Alan Bartlett guide book, I quickly locate yesterdays routes and check my MyClimb log. – Lou

Day 4: Northern Traverse – pm
In the morning we climbed with shorts and light jackets, the sky was the shade of high-mountain blue and the air was crisp. As the morning progressed, huge clouds drifted in from the west, Bill and I climbed a series of thin face routes, some quite thin! As we climbed a clot of clouds came in from the northwest. The clouds had an orange tint and when they blotted out the sun, the temperatures plummeted a full 20 degrees. By late afternoon we were climbing in fleece pants and jackets. The Northern Traverse is coming along, although looking across the northern horizon the summits seem to go on an on. – Lou

Day 5 – Northern Traverse
Veterans Day brought us warmer weather and more people to the park. The crags were full of climbers, campgrounds beaming with RV’s. For the past two days we pretty much had the ‘Cove’ to ourselves but today the air was full of laugher, climbing signals, and the hum of camper vans. Bill started our day with an ascent of Willit, south face. At a grade of 5.9, this route is soft compared to many of the other 9’s in the park. Next came a thin 5.9 face route. ‘Toe the Line’ was thin on pro but also a soft grade for J.Tree tradition. Billboard Buttress was quiet, so we jumped on ‘Driving Limitations’. We led several variations to this line, and I opted to lead this sport route without using the bolts. Two Nuts and two cams fit perfectly in the patina and gave me a more direct line.
In all of the years that I have climbed with Bill, I can count the pitches on one hand that he really had to struggle. One way or the other he can use his footwork or power to overcome just about any ice or rock pitch. Well today he battled! Roping up for ‘The Reverand’ he glanced up at the crack, began climbing but used his big cam’s too early.
This route ends with a wide fist fight to the top. Near the top, he halted, fumbled and realized that he did not have the gear to complete the line. He then had to down-climb, unplug a yellow Link-Cam and jam his way back up to his high point. Next came a small slip, and fair amount of mumbling, and almost 45 minutes of grunting.
“I can’t believe how bad I messed that pitch up!” He said as I cleared the top moves.
“A 5.8 kicked my arse… a 5.8!”
The sun was setting behind the ridge high above us, a perfect sunset, yellow and green, long shadows, a fan of light. – Lou

Team: [15 peaks / 52 pitches / 4,750 vertical feet / 29 rappels / 5.10d high grade / 28 hrs.]

Day 6: Northern Traverse
Our 6th day started out with Bill’s return to ‘The Reverend – 5.8’. This route starts moderately until the main hand and fist crack is reached. As a description, ‘Thuggish’ should have been printed in the guidebook. This right-hand jam sucks you in making cam placements awkward at best. Bill had punched it out with ‘The Reverend’ the day before and had wanted a rematch. This time he climbed it without taking a single blow to the face. A great start to the day!
Many years ago, I discovered a route that took myself and a handful of friends a full day to work. We named the line, ‘Desperado’ and estimated the grade at ‘Pretty Damn Hard’. Today Bill and I jumped back on this route and put in a combined 9 attempts.
In the end we fried our fingers and at one point I managed to come within a single throw from pulling off the crux. Although our days vertical output was not as solid as we had planned today, no worries. Tomorrow is another day… – Lou


Day 7: Northern Traverse
The California rock band the ‘Eagles of Death Metal’ is from Palm Desert, a town which is only a stones throw from Joshua Tree. Bill and I had just come down from day 6 of our traverse when we started hearing rumors  of the Paris, Terrorist act. We are both in shock, not again. The gunmen had taken hundreds hostage only to open up with automatic weapons, reload and open up again. Six locations, bombing, shootings, 128 are estimated dead.
We had a fantastic day of climbing today, 25 pitches, sun, bright blue sky’s… It is impossible to feel anything but numbness when something so horrible happens. I woke early this morning, my mind was miles away from the Northern Traverse project. My hands are cut, dry and stiff from our last six days of climbing. Placing them together, I closed my eyes and prayed.
– Lou

Day 8: Northern Traverse
20 years ago I set up climbing competition for kids here in Joshua Tree. Bill was one of these kids as was his brother Stuart. The comp lasted 2 days, where the kids had to Top Rope, Boulder, Rappel, preform a selection of rope skills, and show good sportsmanship toward each other. I had set up a system for logging in points for each event and in the end Stuart won. The comp was very close and to close out the point system, each kid had to do push-ups. Stuart did his push-ups with me holding his
legs high above his head. At the age of 7 he did 25!
Today, Stuart joined Bill and I on the Northern Traverse. Now as a young man, Stuart’s shoulders are a testament to his strength. He jumped right into the fire with an ascent of the ‘Sharks Tooth’. This climb may not have a high technical grade, but it does offer the sharpest rock on the planet!

It is very cool to have the brothers sharing a rope on this project. – Lou

Day 9: Northern Traverse
It was a bone-cold today, the temps dipped into the low 50’s and the wind-chill was a steady factor; it felt as if winter had arrived. Heading toward the northern peaks we tackled the ‘Great Arch’ first. Stuart was in top form and as a team of three we climbed steady through gusts of 30 mph winds. Pressing on, we tackled the ‘Lost Tower’ and then descended a gully of boulders. I was in the lead, and while turning a bend I encountered a yellow and gold rattlesnake. Bill and Stuart stopped behind me as the snake descended a boulder. Desert reptiles are truly beautiful creatures. The snake knew that I was near, it’s rattles hummed for a second, while it’s length coiled slightly. Then as if not a care in the world, the snake stretched out it’s recently fed body, and slowly continued to descend the rock. its color almost perfectly blending into its environment. – Lou

Day 10: Northern Traverse
The forecast for today read, 50 degrees, 35 mile an hour winds: ‘Feels like 37 degrees’

Well, the forecast was dead on, climbing in the northern part of Indian Cove felt as if we were doing a winter route in the Alps. Bill, Stuart and I piled on soft-shell pants, a fleece shirt, warm hat and a wind jacket. As we hiked to Tower, we watched as gusts of wind blew the desert plants to their sides, The sky was pure cobalt.

Stuart had wanted to climb ‘Moosedog Tower’ before heading back to work, so Bill took the first lead while I photographed the ascent. After leading the first pitch, Bill set a belay using a old bolt, backed up with two cams. My lead traversed right, skirted thin crack, and entered the shadows of the east wall. A perfect lie-back crack brought me to a second belay stance. The summit pitch is truly classic, a open face which is slit by a diagonal crack system. We raced to the summit, traversed the ridge, and with a west wind howling we tossed the ropes for a rappel.
Nothing like a bit of weather… Sure makes a cup of soup at ‘Crossroads’ a welcomed treat.
– Lou

Day 11 – Northern Traverse
The warm weather returned today, temps rose up into the high 50’s, no wind. Bill and I hit the crags hard and managed to climb four multi-pitch routes. When the sun went down, we had climbed 15 pitches. It was great to move quickly and climb with intent. Rock climbing in Joshua Tree is a unique experience. The rock is as rough as heavy grade sandpaper, the cracks can be difficult to protect, down-climbs and descents are more often than not a real task to locate. The hardest element, especially durning a prolonged traverse is the effect of the dry, desert air. Although I have managed to keep hydrated for the last 11 days, my hands and especially my finger tips have taken a real beating. The combination of chalk, cold, heat, jamming gritty rock and sharp plants have combined to crack all of my fingertips.

Today was Bill’s last day working the Northern Traverse Project, he has to leave due to work commitments. Richard is coming in tonight, driving from Arizona he will climb with me for a few days, hopefully the weather will remain warm. – Lou

Day – Northern Traverse – Day 12
An almost perfect day of climbing, sun, no wind and the return to warm temperatures. Richard joined the Northern Traverse team today, he has not climbed much in the past year but did not show it. We blasted 10 pitches in 3 hours. There was a time where Richard was a fairly strong lead climber. He and I had climbed together in Arizona, Colorado, New Hampshire, California and in the Alps. In Chamonix, he joined myself and a team of eight climbers in an attempt to traverse of the Aiguille Rouge. Our team managed to climb almost every peak in the Aiguille Rouge range, but were eventually stormed off in late September.

Richard was in fine form today, very excited to join in on the effort. As for myself, today marked my 12th straight day of climbing. My dried-out hands feel as if I have been working as a brick layer, my fingers are raw to a point that picking up a cup of tea is downright painful, and my legs look like a half-crazed cat used them as a scratching post. I know… tough it up, keep climbing, and if need be, buy a tube of ‘Crazy Glue’ to seal the cuts!

Two days left… – Lou

Day 13 – Northern Traverse
Richard and I started the morning with an early 4WD road trip to the upper parts of Joshua Tree, the Geological Road Tour. This side trip was to offer us a break in the Northern Traverse project. I was up for a break and had heard that this remote area offered fantastic bouldering. Driving Richard’s Jeep, we lowered the tire pressure and hit the dirt road which was at the start in good shape. Richard does a fair amount of off-road in Arizona, and before long his rig was sideways, going in and out of deep ruts and over television sized boulders.

Heading south-west we banged our way across the rutted road, until Richard heard a noise coming from the passenger side of the Jeep. The noise was due to a broken wheel bolt. Jacking up the Jeep we noticed that the bolt had sheered clear off so we tightened the other bolts and hobbled back to Yucca Valley.

In the afternoon we headed back to Indian Cove and managed to fire off several routes. We both climbed well, although plugging forward was more of a grind than any day prior. Today was Richard’s second day and final day of climbing, The totals of our Northern Traverse will come out on Sunday.
– Lou

Day 14 – Northern Traverse
Waking before dawn, I cleaned off my rock shoes, filled my chalk bag and taped my hands. Today, marked the 14th straight day of climbing and I was on my own. As the sun came up, the entire eastern sky was lit as if painted in oil pastels. I launched off onto several 5.6 warm-up cracks, then feeling balanced, I tackled a few face routes. The morning went by smoothly, cool air, and the profound quiet that comes from the high desert. Within two hours, I managed to get my goal of 16 pitches which brought the Northern Traverse Project to a high point of 150 total pitches.

From the very first day of starting this project I had felt a fire burning in my gut. I wanted to test myself, get a load of vertical feet under me and climb with a strong group of climbers. Driving out of the park, I stopped to look back at the 50 crags that we had climbed and wondered what it might take to climb them faster, perhaps even in a continuous push… – Lou


[50 peaks / 150 pitches / 13,500 vertical feet / 49 rappels / 5.10d high grade / 72 hours / 14 days]

This project would not have been done without the help of Maggie Hellmann. Durning the 14 days of climbing, we sent Maggie photo’s and notes of the experience. We wish that she could have joined us climbing, but a bone-bruise held her back. As a team member, Maggie logged in our climbs and photos to the myclimb website, offering coverage to the entire project. (Happy to do it & thanks for climbing some for me too! Great job Lou & guys!! – Maggie