Friday, December 3, 2010

No. 1 - Observations on Jtreetweetup 2010

As a rule, I always wait at least a week before I write a trip report.  The extra time allows me to gather perspective and to be more reflective.  Most importantly however, time gives my imagination the space necessary to fill in the ever-widening gaps in my memory, which in turn makes for better copy.

For my most recent trip, the wait also gave me the opportunity to read five or six trip reports from others who had adventured with me.  So, for better or worse, my account will be necessarily colored by the collective memories of others.  I suspect also that my remarks will be far less introspective than others, much more superficial.  I’ll be using the Carey model.  Enough with the prefatory comments, here goes.


Jtreetweetup (JTT) – a four-day rock climbing/camping adventure in California’s Joshua Tree National Park.


JTT for me began on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 4:20 AM.  David picked me up at my house.  He was ten minutes early.  But I was awake and ready.  I had just stuffed the last tri-cam into my trusty duffle which incidentally weighed in at precisely 49.5 pounds on the airport baggage scale.  My task of packing had begun just four hours earlier, and with a mere two hours of shuteye, I piled my sleep-deprived body and gear into David’s car and drove off.  We flew from our local airport (AVP) to Philadelphia and then on to Los Angeles (LAX).

Five days later on November 15th I flew home, after a one day side trip to Chicago where I rode the L, viewed the second city from the Willis Tower Skydeck at 1300 feet, took the world’s shortest cab ride, devoured some deep dish Chicago-style pizza, and enjoyed the company and hospitality of non-tweep friends.   


Two months ago, I was on the fence about this whole JTT thing.  While I thoroughly enjoyed my first ever climbing tweetup experience (COTweetup – August, 2010) and met some amazing people in the process, I didn’t have an overwhelming desire to go to the California desert for this one.  In the northeast, the summer climbing season was winding down; holidays were approaching.  I was content to shut it down for a few months and pick back up with my climbing after the first of the year.  But then…

But then, sometime in early October, I read a tweet from my good friend Patrick.  Patrick has been my primary climbing partner for most of my climbing life.  Sure, he had talked about the JTT before, but Patrick talks about climbing destinations the way a six-year-old talks about Christmas presents – only with more enthusiasm.  They are wish lists, and often they are big and bold and brash pie-in-the-sky desires that stand little chance of ever finding their way into Santa’s sleigh.  So when it came to JJT, I heard talk but did not expect action.

Then came the tweet.  Suddenly and without notice, Patrick was announcing to the twitterverse that he had just “pulled the trigger” on a flight to Palm Springs.  He was going to California. He was going to the JTT.  This tweet changed the equation for me.  If Patrick was in, I had to give this some more serious thought.  (He is such a bad influence on me).  I decided that if I could find three good reasons to go, I’d pull the trigger myself.  Why three?  Well, it just seemed like a good number.  I really didn’t care how many reasons I could find not to go.  Believe me, there were plenty.  Besides, people are always finding reasons not to do something.  So I set about to focus on the positive, even accentuate it.

An internet search quickly revealed reason number one: dirt cheap airfare.  I glanced at the calendar and discovered reason two: the trip was to take place during Veterans’ Day weekend, which meant one less work day to worry about missing.  Reason three came just as swiftly in the form of a thirty-second conversation with Patrick on a Tuesday night at our local climbing gym in Wilkes-Barre.

            Bill:  I can’t believe you booked a flight to go to Jtree.
Patrick:  Hey, you know, we have to leave this Pennsylvania place ‘cause it’s bogus; and if we don’t get some cool climbs for ourselves, pronto, we’ll just be bogus too.

            I was sold instantly.  It was as persuasive as any argument ever posited by the most learned of legal scholars.  My response as I recall was equally as eloquent.

Bill:  All I need are some tasty climbs, some cool brews and I’m fine.

I booked my flight the next day.

The preceding conversation represents my best effort to create that far less introspective, much more superficial trip report.


Twenty-three, maybe twenty-five tweeps from all corners of the country.  I have to agree with much of the commentary already out there on this one.  It was the people that genuinely made this trip an immensely pleasurable and memorable experience.

Think about it fellow JTT tweeps. Take away the group.  Imagine for a moment that we all did this trip on our own – okay, maybe in pairs, you need a belayer – but same trip, same camp site, same weather, same climbs.  Would it have been as enjoyable? No chance.

During my years as an alpine mountaineer and recently as a rock climber, I have come to realize that climbers are a special breed.  There exists a certain camaraderie between climbers and among the climbing community as a whole.  And what’s more, this connection is almost always instantaneous.  It’s hard to explain why this is other than to say that it just is.

Maybe climbing attracts those with personalities similar to my own and I just fit.  Perhaps it’s the fact that climbers routinely place their safety and ultimately their lives in hands of their climbing partners.  Trust, the foundation upon which good relationships are built, is a necessary byproduct.  (Crap, so much for being superficial).

Anyway, my point is that there is a special hard-to-define bond that exists between climbers.  I feel a closer kinship to climbers I’ve known for a few short months than I do to high school or college classmates or coworkers I’ve known for years.  My family still insists that climbers are crazy, but there is no doubt in my mind that these crazies I’ve met over the years, these enablers to my addiction, have truly enriched my life. 

The other observation I have about the climbing community, and the JTT group in particular, is that they all seem so damn smart.  I’m an advanced-degree kinda guy.  Hell, I’m an anti-authoritarian multi-disciplinarian (not exactly sure what that means, but it sounds good).  But after ten minutes of conversation with a group of climbers, I often end up thinking I’m the dumbest guy in the room.  What other group sits around a campfire and engages in a half-hour long discussion on string theory? (Particle physicists excluded of course).

Then in the blink of an eye, the conversation turns.

Teri: A skeleton walks into a bar and says ‘gimme a beer, and a mop.’
Bill: Two peanuts were walking down the street. One was assaulted.  Ooh, Ooh wait, I have another one. Two fish are in a tank. One turns to the other and says, ‘hey, you know how to drive this thing?’

Such diversity - of life, of culture, of background, experience and education.  If only United Nations diplomats were climbers first, the world would be a much safer and peaceful and fun place.


The climbing, oh yeah, almost forgot about the climbing.  It was great.  As an east-coaster, the landscape of Joshua Tree is other-worldly.  I half expected to see two guys in spotted tunics peddling by in an open-floored car with stone wheels.  The monzogranite formations popping out from the high desert plains amongst a sea of Joshua trees, cacti and sage brush, provided as advertised world-class climbing.  The rock was rough and sometimes sharp, and took some getting used to.  My hands were much worse for the wear after three straight days of dawn-to-dark climbing.  And despite my best efforts, I could not totally satiate my appetite.  This of course simply means I must go back.

As for specific climbs, my favorites include: Double Cross, Sail Away, Congratulations, Vorpal Sword, Aiguille de Joshua Tree, and Sexy Grandma.  These are classics for sure.  I let our amazing host Eileen know early on that I have a penchant for classics, and she was ever gracious in her recommendations.  But in all honesty, I enjoyed every climb I was on in Joshua Tree, even the Gunsmoke bouldering traverse.  I may not be much of a boulderer, but hey, Gunsmoke is a classic.

I suppose my next climbing trip to Joshua Tree can’t come soon enough.   The only problem I foresee will be deciding what to climb when I get there.  Classics are classics for a reason.  Next time I know I’ll want to revisit some of my faves, but for me there is a whole world of unexplored territory out there.


I’ve always said that you know you’ve had a good vacation if upon your return you are so thoroughly exhausted that you feel like you need a vacation.  This is my vacation modus operandi.  Frankly, I’m not sure how my body does it sometimes – how I can exert so much energy and survive on so little sleep.  There seems to be a constant adrenaline rush – up early, out late.  To me, sleep time on vacation is wasted time.  I think my mind takes over and controls my body through fear, more specifically, fear that I might miss something.  I have a ten-year-old nephew who appears to suffer from this same affliction.  He regularly and desperately tries to stay awake during family get-togethers as they wind on into the wee hours.  Why? – same reason, for fear he’ll miss something.  Maybe vacations just take me back to this childlike state.

For JTT, it was no different.  It was dawn-to-dark climbing followed by enjoying the company of my fellow JTT tweeps around the fire pit until the last glimmer of light faded from the last smoldering ember.  I never wanted to crawl into my tent until I knew everyone else was already in theirs.  If someone was still sitting by the fire, I had to be there; or if some silly soul wanted to make one more run up the Manure Pile, I was in.  These are just examples of a suck-the-marrow-out-of-life philosophy that I wholeheartedly endorse.

Recently, I stumbled across two quotes that echo this sentiment:

“Dream as if you’ll live forever; live as if you’ll die today.”  - J. Dean.

“As you grow older, you'll find the only things you regret are the things you didn’t do.” – Z. Scott.

            Words to live by, at least in my book.

Okay, I’m waxing philosophic again, so here’s one last nod to the superficial – my conversation with my Uncle Stu after showing him some video of a climb I butchered on the Thin Wall called Congratulations.

Uncle Stu:  Congratulations. Things looked kind of rough out there.

Bill:  Well, I'll tell you Stu, I did battle some humongous climbs! But you know, just like I told the park ranger, "Danger is my business!"

Uncle Stu:  That's fantastic! Let me ask you a question. When you get up there, do you ever fear for your life?

Bill:  Well Stu I'll tell you, climbing’s not a sport; it's a way of life.  It's a way of looking at that climb and saying, "Hey bud, let's party!" Where'd you get that jacket?

Uncle Stu: Got this from your aunt. Let me ask you a question. What's next for Bill?

Bill: Heading out to the Gunks, Mocanaqua, maybe Yosemite, then me and Mick are going to wing on over to London and jam with the Stones!

Awesome! Totally awesome!

link to full set of Bill's Jtreetweetup photos, click here


  1. as a rule I like to wait about 6 months. but that's because I'm lazy

  2. Ha Laurel, I think you said you'd have one up before you went to Jtree again... ;)

    Great write up Bill, I like your style.

    And as I already Tweeted, thanks for the kind words, it was my pleasure to share Joshua Tree with my tweeps.

  3. Love the post. Your comments about the climbing community reflect my experiences as well. I hope to join y'all next year!

  4. Awesome post, Bill! As a new climber it's exciting and reassuring to learn that these fellowships are common to everybody. Looking forward to more about Devil's Tower!