It was a long shot, but one that we decided to look into. I (Five String) have always dreamed of rock climbing, and spending two weeks in the Joshua Tree National Park area seemed the ideal time to pursue that dream. However, as our emphasis is on “family” travel, I did not want to kiss the kids goodbye and head off on a climbing trip with everyone else unable to share in the experience.
Luckily, we found a rock climbing guide that responded to our request for a climbing trip that could accommodate a 7, 5, and 3-year-old. While he regretted to inform us that his insurance could only cover kids ages 8 and up, he would be happy to plan a morning for me that would still be exciting for the kids and allow them to share in the climb as well. Nelson from The Climbing Life Guides proved true to his word and put together an absolutely unforgettable morning in Joshua Tree National Park, exploring the beautiful rock formations and desert landscape in a whole new way. As I was a newbie to rock climbing, Nelson started with a brief overview of the basics close to the ground. Five of Hearts joined in on the explanation of the gear, anchors, and basic techniques as Five Ball and High Five clambered over nearby boulders. Next he walked through the basics of belaying, where one person climbs and the other person serves as an anchor, and I got the chance to get a feel for how it would work while still close to the ground. Then, the real fun started. I left the rest of the Fives on the ground and followed Nelson up a rock scramble to the base of the first climb itself. He did a wonderful job explaining all the safety procedures, reviewing the communication we would use during the climb, and making sure that I had no questions. Then he began his lead climb up the rock face, placing anchors for safety along the way. When he reached the top it was my turn to climb. After a few nervous first inches, I trusted the equipment and my guide and really started enjoying scaling up the rock. My only real challenge came with remembering how to take the anchors out of the rock cracks as I went, but Nelson was able to clearly (and patiently) give me instructions from the top. The kids, of course, were also having their own climbing adventure far below. After watching me at the start and cheering me on, they soon turned their attention to the many interesting boulders and rock formations that were perfect for them to explore. Upon reaching the top, I was truly surprised to realize how high I had climbed. It was a wonderful feeling to be able to wave to the rest of the Fives, tiny on the ground, and hear their words of encouragement. The surrounding rocks were truly stunning from the top of Intersection Rock, and the feeling of peace and tranquility is hard to describe. I also really fed off of Nelson’s obvious pride in my success with the climb. His smile said it all, the genuine joy of someone who absolutely loves sharing his passion with others.
Of course, what goes up must also come down. Back on the ground Nelson had checked that I would be interested in repelling down from the top (instead of climbing back down), but I must confess taking those first few steps off the cliff into space were not the easiest that I’ve ever taken. Again though, knowing that I was in good hands made all the difference, and halfway down my repel I was comfortable enough to take a timid look behind me to the ground below. Once I finally reached the ground I was surrounded by the other Fives, and it it felt pretty good to hear the kids exclaim, “Wow, Dad, I can’t believe you just did that!” The second climb that Nelson had planned nearby was crowded with other climbers, so instead we set off for a very brief walk across the parking lot to climb “The Eye.” The kids were excited to have a new place to explore, and I couldn’t wait to climb again. This time the jitters were definitely gone, and I learned a lot about climbing and Nelson’s background as I asked him a ton of questions while we made the climb up into The Eye. This spacious shelter at the top of the formation was a welcome break from the sun, and we spent a few minutes resting before scrambling up the final few feet to the very top. The repel this time would be out away from the rock, meaning that I would be dangling completely free in the air without my feet walking down the rock face at all. Nelson sensed a little bit of trepidation on my part, especially combined with the howling wind. He suggested that instead of using the anchor bolted into the rock for the repel (which would have involved me having to lower myself over the edge before my weight caught on the rope), he could put anchors in a crack a little higher in the rock so that I would already be below the anchor when I started the repel. I really liked this idea, but it would mean that unlike last time, when Nelson went down first, this time I would be entirely on my own. Again, he sensed the slight hesitation on my part and offered to put in a rope break, one that I would keep sliding down the rope to act as a back up anchor. These extra precautions on his part made all the difference, and soon I was lowering myself down, dangling in thin air, and having the time of my life. After two amazing climbs and repels I expected that our time would be over. However, Nelson offered to lead everyone to The Eye by scrambling up the less steep back side of the formation and leading the kids over the more difficult sections. As we climbed he really took the time to connect with the kids and ask them lots of questions, and I appreciated that he was very mindful of their safety as they climbed up the rocks and crawled through some pretty cool caves. The Younger Fives are practically pros given all the free climbing we have done on coastlines from Newfoundland to Baja Mexico, and I think he was impressed with how comfortable they are on the rock. When we finally all climbed into the shade of The Eye, I realized that this was my perfect ending to the day. It had been thrilling to climb to this height previously with Nelson, but it meant even more to me to be able to share it with the rest of the Fives. Seeing Joshua Tree National Park from above and trying something completely new as a family: it really doesn’t get any better and thanks to an excellent guide like Nelson it was all possible 🙂