Search This Blog...

Monday, April 26, 2010

US Tour V: Joshua Tree, CA

Joshua Tree Blog Entry
The final chapter of our trip was the longest. We spent almost 2 months in Joshua Tree, highlining and climbing.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

I have the best memories from this part of our trip. By the time we left, the rocky landscape, weird Suessical Joshua Trees, and gravel in every meal just felt like home.

Not to mention the amazing sunsets every evening! We had one contact that lived in J.Tree, a climbing guide named Seth. We received some handmade map to his house, and Rick had shared with us many a crazy story from visiting Seth.
We left San Juan Capistrano without Jordan, for he was going to Chicago for Christmas. Once we arrived at Seth’s house, we saw that it was just as interesting as we had heard. It is a half built house, without running water, that Seth apparently bought for really cheap because in the 1980’s a drunken guy decapitated himself riding an ATV there. There was a pit toilet in a shack out back, with a bag of mulch sitting next to it, and if you were lucky a roll of toilet paper.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

Seth was slowly building it up and making it his home.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

There were at least 5 different RV's sitting around the desert property, some from before Seth moved in and some from after. It resembled a small RV village, or a ghost town.
Photo by Jordan Tybon:

But, even for an eccentric home it had its beauty and appeal.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

He had several slacklines set up between telephone poles too. The whole place is aptly named "Sethspool." He was not home when we arrived, but on the phone told us we were welcome to stay the night, just not to cum on his pillow. Ha! So, we hung out, watched another Arnold Schwarzenegger movie (Total Recall) then slept.
The next day we drove to the Joshua Tree National Park, bought our yearly passes and went bouldering. After much trouble I finally scrambled up a V0 called "The Old Triangle Classic." The rock is rough, and my fingers were raw afterwards. Janek and I checked out the Chongo Gap highline place, a small classic. We then went to the Hidden Valley Campground and set up shop. Next to us were two old hippies in a Pop-top van, the guy would sing slow western songs alone each night. I think the guys were especially excited to climb, so that was the first mission.
Janek and I went to rig The Chongo Gap highline first. It was the same highline from the infamous Slacklife Movie, and we figured it was mellow enough to begin J.Tree with. This line is interesting to rig; one side is 3 bolts, the other side is a large 1/2 a golf-cart sized boulder that you sling with big slings.

We used 2 slings around it. Janek also worked slowly to show me the rigging process.

Janek walked first, in a belt-loop swami.

Each step caused the boulder to rock back and forth with a nice crunching sound of the granite-like rock beneath. Reassuring or what?! Next was my turn. I decided it was mellow enough to swami first try. So, I used Janek's swami, and On sighted it no problem.

I walked it twice in a row it felt so nice. After my walk, Janek walked it once again in belt loops, and then he free soloed the line.

For some reason, watching him Free solo that line (the second one on the trip) I was not worried about him falling. He walked so solidly, it was pretty amazing to be in the presence of a Free solo.

It was pretty cold and windy, so we took the line down after his solo and returned to camp. We soon learned that the windy conditions were normal for Joshua Tree.

It soon became our routine to climb for a few days, and then go rig a highline for a few days. We had so many options for things to do we never bothered to rest.
Here is a photo from a climbing day, where Jordan invented some weird mantle problem (he claims it is VO of course.)
photo by Jordan Tybon

The weather was almost sunny every day, the worst weather conditions for most of the time was the wind. The nights were cold as hell, and it was against the rules to collect desert wood (the ecosystem, ya' know) so we usually had no fires. This caused everyone to simply eat dinner and all retire to their tents by 7pm or so. Early bedtimes! Sometimes we would drive into the town and collect wood off the side of the highway, and have a big warm fire.

After visiting Maria in LA, she decided to help us out financially by allowing us to sell some SBI setups while on the road. It was difficult to sell them in Joshua Tree because most people in the campsite were also dirtbag climbers and did not have too much money laying around. However, in the end we made a little profit and put it towards car fuel. Thanks Maria!
Christmas was creeping ever near, though it was hard to imagine Santa flying chimney to chimney when you are camping in the desert with only cactus and Joshua Trees for greenery and sand and gravel for earth. I decided, however, that I would not let Christmas go unnoticed, so one day when we went into town for food shopping, I purchased a few things for the guys as Christmas presents.

For Brian I bought pop tarts and Orange juice. For Kornie, I bought a big container of delicious muffins in a variety of flavors. For Janek I went a little crazy and bought him Orange juice, good coffee, a travel-coffee cup with a filter holder, and nutella. For Damian there was only one option: Vodka. I used grocery store advertisements for wrapping paper, and the night before Christmas I had no patience so everyone opened their presents early. We also enjoyed some Apple pie and Pumpkin pie. I think they were happy.

The days passed, spent climbing or highlining around the park.
photo by Jordan Tybon

One fateful day we were bouldering together with our small crash pad from Brian, and towards the middle of the day after working on a few problems we came to a high rock with a thin crack running up it vertically. The grading was only V1, and Janek climbed it easily. Now, granted I had not been climbing long, and had no experience in crack climbing, I thought it looked doable. My first attempt I got to the very top, which ended as a big sloper which you had to mantle. I could not get up, and fell straight down (silly Faith did not know how to jump away from the boulder when falling) and I missed the crash pad and landed on the ground with my feet. Janek was spotting me and caught my back so I did not keep falling. So, second try followed the same course, and I fell from the top, landed hard and injuring my right foot. I thought it might be something serious, however I tried to finish the problem, I was at the top each time. The last try finished the same as before, and I fell and landed on my foot again, and this time it was pure pain. My climbing shoes kept my foot quite curled at the toes, so landing on the ball of my foot allowed no force to be absorbed into the movement of the foot. This time I sat down and without meaning to started crying. Yes, it hurt. Now, in retrospect, I probably should have gone to the Doctor since even 5 months later the foot is giving me trouble. Oh, to be young and stupid. The next week was lacking climbing or highlining due to the foot injury, and I found myself feeling quite blue most days. It was also quite a pain to limp around camp while all your friends are out climbing or highlining. I suppose it happens to everyone at some point.

The guys had rigged Cave Corridor Highlines, one was 90 feet long and the other 60 feet long.

I sat in the sun and played with rocks the entire time, but enjoyed watching the guys play on the highlines.

One beautiful and eerie aspect about Joshua Tree is the coyotes howling. Every morning you can hear the pack howling early in the morning, a mix of young coyotes and adults all howling, a long siren that travels through the rocks and fades into the desert wind. The coyotes are quite comfortable around the visitors too, and every day there was at least one walking amongst the campsites casually as if in their own living room. One sad aspect about the area being a public place is the graffiti on some of the rocks. I have a large distaste for graffiti, even the urban kind. It is one thing to make an artistic depiction using graffiti, but tagging a wall or the natural stone is blasphemy to the earth! It is so ugly! If the law were under my control, all people caught tagging on natural stones would have to get a tattoo for 5 years saying something like “defacer” or “tardcake,” on their forehead. I think it is a fair punishment.

The interesting stone in Joshua Tree is called Quartz Monzonite. It started underground as a sea of granite and pushed its way to the surface. Advice if you visit: Bring your own firewood, and beware there is no food or water available inside the park, and of course; pack it in, pack it out.

After spending several days MIA, I decided to go try The Cave Corridor highlines. The guys had rigged it previously, and it was still hanging. There are two lines in Cave Corridor, and the 90ft line was still up. Damian and I went while everyone else headed out for climbing.

I suppose it was a few days of break, who knows, but I had some trouble on the 90ft line. It is a nice place, a bit windy but exposed too. I walked it FM before Damian went for his second walk.

He did some tricks, and I snapped a few photos before we scrambled down and returned to site 29, our camp.

The next day we returned to Cave Corridor, and I walked the shorter line which sits under the 90ft line. The shorter one is “The 60ft Line.” Their names are their lengths. I walked the 60ft line OS, FM. It is nice, not very exposed since you are walking into a wall but still enjoyable.

The following day was spent at Manx Boulders, some nice problems, some too difficult for me but fun to try. I spent most of my efforts on a strange problem called Scuttlebutt, a friction problem in a slight concave. Even the guys had trouble on this problem. The next time I returned to Manx boulders alone I would send this problem. It was probably my proudest send in Joshua Tree, despite the V0 rating.
The unfortunate occurrence that happened next would change things a bit for our group. Kornie was working on a boulder problem and while topping out dislocated his shoulder. Luckily, we found a doctor who was visiting the Park, and he relocated Kornie’s shoulder. He still made a trip to the doctor, and it turned out that he would make plans to leave the US early since his climbing and highlining abilities were now deterred. It was a big bummer for the whole group. The only good part of that situation was after Kornie took vicadin and wondered around loopy as heck. I think the other campers were quite confused seeing a strange fellow wandering circles around the site...

Every Tuesday was Hot Springs day, and the whole group would pack up everything and drive half an hour to the Desert Hot Springs Spa. The entry was only $3, and it was definitely worth it.

It was really our only rest day, and we spent it soaking in hot springs amongst the senior citizens of the town. There were several other spas nearby, but they looked quite a bit fancier and most likely cost more as well. It was a funny sight, 5 dirtbags coming in all tan and dirty, then peeling down to our skivvies and soaking in the different hot tubs or sitting in the sauna.

Best $3 I’ve ever spent. The conversations usually struck up by the old folk were about what we were doing in the desert etc.

Directions to the Hot Springs from J.Tree:
62 West, at bottom of second huge hill go left on N. Indian Canyon Road, then Left on Mission Lakes Road, then Right on Palm Drive, and Desert Hot Springs Spa Hotel is on the right side. They are open until 10 or 11 pm. The place is a bit humble, it looks like it was built in 1950, was the talk of the town, some luxurious spa, but now it is 60 years later and the buildings and tiles are the same, and the same people are coming every week. You feel a bit transported back in time being there.

One challenging highline we did after Jordan returned was EBGB. This line was a bit famous because it involved a very difficult climbing route to set an anchor on one side. The other side is anchored at the top of a route called “Popes Crack.” We had information that the line was about 40 meters long; however it proved to be a bit longer. Jordan and Janek did the climbing and rigging.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

It is not the easiest line to set up, but luckily it is quite hidden in between two large dome formations, so from the road it is less visible then the other lines.

We used Type 18 for that line, and a backup rope. Janek measured the pulley system for 40 meter long highline, but when we measured the line later it turned out to be 50 meters long. Therefore, the line was extremely loose. Jordan vowed he would walk the line, despite the sage.
photo by Jordan Tybon

The first day I did not even try it, I was resting in the sun on the rocks instead. The second day, I realized the line was to be a great challenge. Janek even fought on it, and finally sent it FM after many tries.

Jordan also finally walked it one way, after working hard for two days. Damian and I fought, but eventually I could see I had not enough time to fight the line. I came quite close to sending it, but after falling and catching over and over, one must know when to quit.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

Damian also succumbed to exhaustion and bruises before sending the line.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

The day we arrived to rig down the line, we noticed two guys who had been climbing a route, and one guy was tied into our leash and looked like he was going to try the highline. Jordan called up to him and asked them if it was their gear, and they said “no…” hmm, seems like it’s a bit impolite to just assume you can use someone’s rig without asking. What would they say if we just picked up their climbing gear and began climbing with it? The guy did not even know how to get on the highline, and the beginning is over a slab, so it’s not the safest place to fall. Eventually he gave up and the two repelled down.

New Years came along quite fast, and all of Hidden Valley campground was full. Many climbers and campers roamed around campsite to campsite visiting and mingling, sharing booze, songs and stories. That night we had a raging campfire, and our group grew from 6 to 15 and back again.

The rangers were the only problem. They drove around in their SUV’s, controlling everyone. “Only 6 people to a campsite, 3 tents, and 2 cars!” We were bothered multiple times, they even issued some young kids on another campsite tickets for something. But, people continued coming back again to hang out. And, each time a ranger drove by someone shouted “Ranger Danger!” and a few people would disappear into the darkness.

It was another night that everyone drank booze and went to the Space Station; a hole in the side of a rock that you had to climb up a chimney to get to, then traverse along a narrow ledge and finally squeeze through a small hole into the cave. Then you were overlooking the entire campsite. It was a great hangout.

It was around this time that many of our friends began showing up in Joshua Tree. There was a new event called the Climbers Carnival which took place that weekend, so Jerry showed up to have a table to sell Balance Community gear. We planned to set up with him and sell SBI equipment; however the whole event ended up being a bust. We set up two slacklines, one with Maria’s A-frames and line, and Jerry rigged the other one.

photo by Jordan Tybon:

At this time Jeremy Louis, Phoxx and some others showed up too. Even Boswell (the crazy dude I began Slacklining with in Austin) made an appearance in J.Tree. It was on the way to the Climbers Carnival that I also received a lovely $125 speeding ticket in the Park from a ranger.

Since we had such a crowd of Highliners, we went and rigged “The 60ft Cave Corridor Line.” I walked it in a swami-belt, and Patrick, a highliner who had recently had a crash on a highline also walked it, his first highline since the accident. He still had a huge scar on his forehead.

photo by Jordan Tybon:

Meanwhile Jerry rigged “Big Boy,” the beastly 67 meter line. Jerry has a unique rigging and walking style; which is very loose tension. He sent the Big Boy in a day, after not very many tries. Everyone else, though, had some trouble. Janek fought hard on that line, but only managed to walk it halfway. I tried four or five times, but even just sitting in a Chongo I was swaying back and forth. I decided to stick to the cave corridor lines.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

It was clear this line was unwalkable for us in Jerry’s rigging style. So, eventually Jerry took the line down being the only one to send. He did however donate 110m of Type 18 webbing to us for our next try on Big Boy. Thanks Jerry and Balance Community!
Two chicks from LA had come to watch us at Cave Corridor, and apparently the guys convinced them that we all used to be zip liners, and that one day an unusual idea came about to try and stand up and walk on our zip lines, and that was how highlining was born! The girls ate it up. That night we had a large gathering around our fire at site 29, and practiced spitting whiskey into the fire for the fireball affect. I burned my eyelashes off, but it was worth it. Fireballs are cool! And, I am qualified; I used to work for an FX company ;)

The more we climbed, the better I got. Wow! Faith improving at climbing? I could not believe it. Slowly, but surely, I started to climb some V1’s after previously only climbing V0’s or less. It sure is motivating watching everyone around you climb crazy-difficult problems. There was one overhanging crack in particular I watched Janek work out and finally send.

He only had bloody hands and chalk all over him afterwards.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

We also went to a lovely spot called Barker dam, which is a bit off the main road for tourists, and that was a great area. I noted the sunset that day in my journal, another beautiful smear of purple, pink crimson and orange displayed behind the rocky hills, with the silhouetted Joshua Trees standing in front. The beautiful sunsets in Joshua Tree are difficult to beat.

Part of our site was joined by Jono, Anson and Hunter, three friends of Brian who were climbing and chilling in J.Tree for a little while. Cool dudes. Another mentionable fellow was Brad, a physics teacher/climber who lived in a van with a home-made wood burning stove in it. This guy was totally rad. He not only climbed well, but had a head full of information on any topic. He has dabbled in Tree-sitting, guns, and making road-kill jerky, among other things. He also had the craziest start on a highline I have ever seen. His start involves getting on his knees, facing the closest anchor. He then stands up and turns around to begin walking.

While walking, he makes some ninja-circular hand moves, putting one foot forward sideways on the line, then the next foot meanwhile turning the first foot forward. But it works for him! Brad was also responsible for starting us on the best dumpster diving of our life. There are two towns big enough to have Trader Joe’s (the expensive yuppie health food store) in Redlands, and Palm Springs. After taking Brad one night, we began doing most of our shopping on Tuesday nights after Hot Springs. If Dumpster diving sounds disgusting to you, read further! You may rethink your opinion!

We scored on different occasions fresh produce (tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, artichoke, broccoli, whole bags of fresh romaine lettuce, tangerines, apples, pineapple) 11 bottles of organic red wine, unopened, 12 jars of organic pasta sauce, unopened. Eggs, Goat milk, butter, cheese, steaks! Not even expired! We also scored pre-packaged salads that had expired that day, bread, unopened containers of coffee, candy, rice crackers, cocoa powder, dried apricots and an entire cheesecake amongst many other things. This ain’t no hobo dumpster diving, this is expensive stuff! So, we had to thank capitalists for something: wastefulness. This dumpstering took a big chunk out of our weekly shopping bill.

After staying for three weeks in the campground, finally a ranger took notice and came and told us we had to leave. Apparently there is a 2 week maximum limit. We had paid every night for our campsite, but that was not good enough. They needed to make room for those tourists in their campers! So, we moved to a legendary place called “The Pit.” I cannot give directions to this place, but it is pretty awesome. There is a piece of land near the entrance to the park that is owned by a climber, and those who know about it can camp for free. It follows similar rules as the park, don’t make a mess, don’t be too loud etc. The piece of land had a huge pit hollowed out that the road leads to, and if you drive all the way in, your car and your tent will not be visible from the neighborhood road.

So, after Kornie took off for Poland, and Ruthie Taylor (a friend of Jordan) joined our trip, we moved to The Pit. There we found Phil, and old school climber who had put up tons of routes in J.Tree, and had climbed back in the day with many of the Yosemite and J.Tree legends. He had been living in the Pit for a couple months; working on his stone carvings (he makes beautiful pieces). In the pit people came and went, often parking for one or two nights then taking off again.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

Our group was the main gatherer of firewood (using my bike rack to bring the wood from the side of the highway) and we had many lovely warm fires next to an old futon frame at night.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

We set up a 60 meter longline in the pit with Maria’s A-frames one day, the boy's got hot and sweaty trying to use the earth drills.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

The line was a bit on the hill and we had to take it down in order to avoid drawing attention to the habitation of the pit.

Our friend Dylan Buffington showed up the day we rigged Mahavatar’s Gap (behind site 21 of Hidden Valley Campground) a lovely short highline, about 45ft long. It was rigged with #3.5, 3, 4.5 and 5 Camelot’s in a crack on one side, and the other anchor was bolted. We used tubular threaded and a backup rope for this line. Ruthie was beginning highlining, so it was a good first line for her to practice on. Dylan just showed up underneath us while we were atop the rocks, and eagerly scrambled up and walked with us. He performed his usual impressive Dylan-tricks.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

We all walked a few times, despite the raging winds. I on sighted the line in a swami-belt. Swami walks were still a new thing for me, so even trying a line first time in a swami was a big accomplishment.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

The next day we rigged Mahavatar’s Gap again. That day, right after finishing rigging, some unfriendly ranger witch showed up and demanded us to remove the highline. She argued that there were no slacklines allowed on the campgrounds. We argued that it was not, in fact, on the campground, since it was in the rocks where there were even climbing routes. It was also not a slackline, it was a highline. Jordan went down to talk to her in person, and she called another ranger for a second opinion. The ranger she called was none other than the one who issued my ticket, “Pritchett.” Jordan talked them out of the whole campground issue in a way, but made the mistake of mentioning the fact that some members of the group were sponsored. So, the female ranger issued us a ticket for “running a business in the park without a permit.” What a load! It was another lovely $125 ticket. We all agreed to fight it. Dylan was especially angry at the whole situation. The only great moment that day was Janek free-soloing Mahavatar’s Gap while the rangers wrote the ticket.

That was epic. He said later that he would have preferred to walk the line more times before his Free Solo; however he refused to let the ranger’s take the opportunity away from him, so he just went for it.
Then came more climbing days, in boulder areas such as Fry Boulder’s, Stonehenge, Hall of Horror’s etc. I gave one traverse in particular quite a few tries, always falling on the last move which was a bit more then my arm span in width. It had a hilarious name, “Walking Mexican Down The Hall.”

The traverse was especially interesting because it was in a corridor, which was perfectly shaped by nature to look like a hallway. There were even climbing routes up the walls. Most often after our climbing day’s my fingers were left red, raw or bleeding. This was really only a bad predicament when we ate Mexican food, and salsa would enter the open cuts. It hurts so good! But, one cannot forget the Mexican food of Santanas. Giant Chimmi changas for $5, and Wi-Fi :)

While Dylan was still with us we went to scope out the Astrodomes location. The downside of this spot is that it is in the outback, which on one hand means less tourists, but also means less tread paths and more difficult terrain. We roamed around in the rocky hills, looking for the North and South Domes which were on the map. The group ended up splitting, and by the time we all found each other many felt it was too late to rig. The good news was that we located the highline spot, and it appeared beautiful.

Finally after weeks and weeks of good weather, we received all our bad weather in one foul swoop. The forecast called for rain, and Dylan invited us to sleep on the floor of his hotel room in Twenty-nine Palms until it subsided. Twenty-nine Palms is a military town just some miles from Joshua Tree.

There is military insignia everywhere, and almost all young men have crew cuts. It is probably what Europeans imagine when they think of gun-crazy, war-crazy American towns. Everyday there were helicopters flying by. What we thought was a short storm turned out to be the biggest rain the area had seen in 20 years. We left our tents in the pit and only took our valuables to Dylan’s hotel. There, we chilled and relaxed watching Schwarzenegger movies and drinking coffee, all spreading out on the floor with our sleeping mats.

We also celebrated Jordan’s 27th birthday by drinking White Russian’s and eating Subway. When it was not raining super -hard we enjoyed the pool, hot tub, and beer. It was fun hanging out with Dylan, but when we finally returned to the pit, we saw the effects of the rain.

All the roads were covered in a layer of dirt and sand, and huge waterways had been naturally dug out as the rain rushed down the hills. In the pit, the only remaining puddle (about a foot deep) happened to be right where Janek and my tent sat. All our climbing chalk was soaked, most of Janek’s clothing, and some books and papers we had left. It looked like mini disaster relief, as we cleared out our flooded tent and moved it to higher ground.

There was more rain coming, so we went to the Sethspool to stay dry. We all split up into different campers to sleep, somehow Janek and I stayed in the smallest one. It took some engineering to make a spot where we could both fit, two crash pads, a trash can and a pile of clothes later we had a bed with a giant dip in the middle. But, we were dry and therefore thankful. The next day it rained and rained and rained. This storm was not finished with us yet. We did not emerge from the Chinook until afternoon. We spent another night there, with winds so strong that our camper rocked back and forth as if a boat on the stormy sea. We tried to occupy ourselves during the rainy days, Jordan and Ruthie took turns playing video games on her computer, we went to town and did laundry, bought some cheap clothes at the thrift store…And one day I gave Janek a haircut.

He had grown some hippie-Afro the last few months, so he agreed to let me shorten it.

First of course I tried a few styles. The Hippie style…the Mull hawk…and finally, Mr. Suave!! It was great entertainment for an hour.

Finally, after almost a week of pouring rain and no highlines nor climbing, the weather began to get better. They had snow plough’s take care of the sand all over the roads, but there were still huge bumpy patches here and there. We decided to go rig a highline that we had all had our eyes on for a month: The Hall of Horror’s Highline. This line looked epic; it is two piles of stone, with two huge boulders sitting level across from each other. They are the highest point for quite some distance, so we knew the exposure would be great. It turned out that they were bolted previously, but lacking hangers like almost every line in J.Tree. Janek ended up using tread-climbing Nuts for hangers by putting the wire loop under the bolt and screwing it down. Worked like a charm. Janek and Damian and Jordan rigged the line, using Free Feet threaded tubular and a backup rope.

This line was beautiful, 25 meters long and a quite easy approach. One side you could easily scramble up a slab, and then do a short, easy climb up to the anchor. The other side was a bit more complicated, but still something you could do without climbing ropes. The surroundings were amazing; a huge stretch of desert in one direction, with rocky hills in the distance. The other way showed the snow-capped mountains (all white after the storm) and Ryan Mountain. The downside of the location is the parking lot right next to it, where tourists can easily park and make a scene while you are walking. Janek on sighted the line FM,
photo by Jordan Tybon

Brian went next FM,
photo by Jordan Tybon:

then Jordan FM, then I took my turn. I was feeling quite nervous that day but pushed through it and walked the line OS FM. One car passing by on the road below opened their window as I was starting my Chongo for the return, and some girl leaned out of her window and screamed “I know you asshole!” It was a bit surprising, but my instinctive reply was to shout, “I don’t know you bitch!” Little did I know Damian caught this lady-like moment on video? But, I really did not know that girl. Damian walked after me, OS, FM and with rock-out fingers, then middle fingers, then grabbing his balls Michael Jackson style. Nice. Ruthie sat on the line and tried a few times and took a nice whipper. Janek walked the line in a swami afterwards, dressed in black looking like a highline-ninja.

After this line we returned to Seth’s, slept one more evening then packed up and headed for the Astrodomes Highline. We drove towards Key’s Ranch Tours inside the park and left our cars on dirt parking by some popular climbing routes.
Next photo by Jordan Tybon:

We hoped that one night would not bring us too much trouble for leaving our cars. We set out from a different side towards Barker Damn, through Room To Shroom, and into the beautiful green area of Joshua Tree. Here there are winding paths through huge cacti, juniper and Madrone Tree’s. It feels almost as if you have left the desert in this part.

That night we camped in a small clearing, all in various places under overhanging boulders.

Next photo by Jordan Tybon:

We made a very small fire (it’s illegal, but we only used Madrone wood and just to stay warm until bedtime.) In the morning we realized that we had used all of our water already. Janek thought we could just drink milk all day, but in truth with that many people and sun and rigging, dehydration was likely. Somehow, Ruthie and I were the only ones willing to hike back to the cars to get some water from Brian’s jug. I had collected rainwater from a bowl in the stone, but it was yellow and no one else thought it was drinkable. So, we set out on the 1.5 mile hike back. Somehow, we strayed away from our footprints (there were a lot of footprints) and ended up by the EBGB highline location. From there we just followed the road back to our cars.

Once we returned to camp with water, we began the scramble up the North Astrodome. There was snow on top of all the boulders, which made it a slippery and dangerous ascent. Finally, we were able to climb up the slabby pocketed south dome to reach the highline. The rigging here was a bit different. There were bolts on a small boulder sitting atop the south dome, and the line stretched to the top of the north dome. It looked a bit unlevel, and we would later realize that the line descended by 3 meters!

It was nevertheless an epic and exposed 42 meter line. The backup was a static rope wrapped several times around a big boulder sitting behind the boulder with the bolts.

Janek had rigged the line with type 18 webbing and white magic underneath. The way down was so exposed, you were walking towards snow capped mountains in the far distance, and rocky Joshua Tree mountains nearer, and the whole valley lay around you.

It was beautiful. Everyone was scared about this line.

Janek went first because everyone else pussed out. He on sighted it one way, however the way back was so uphill that he decided to come back and give others a go.

It looked like if you fell at the beginning on the North dome side, your ring would slide down that three meters and bash you into the wall.

It might have been an extreme version, but maybe not worth the risk. Brian walked next, also on sighting the line one way. He decided against the walk back too. Damian took a walk next, walking it one direction.

He fell once unexpectedly, caught nicely and returned to the beginning and walked it, remaining on the other side to film.

During this time, Jordan had climbed down and walked about a mile away, then climbed up another big rock formation to take long distance photos:

His sound traveled all the way to us, however, and we could hear him muttering and singing for over an hour. I walked after Damian, and also on sighted one way. At that time it was my longest onsight.

next photo by Jordan Tybon:

It was a fight, but I was happy for my success.

Sitting in a Chongo for the return was a scary feeling; you are looking straight up a slanted line. To bring your foot up is extra difficult because of the rising level. There was little daylight left, so I decided against fighting for the uphill walk and returned. Jordan walked next, on his second try. He tried on the way back and walked it! So, Jordan had the only FM on the Astrodomes line. Ruthie tried a couple times, took a few whippers then came down. The sunset was beautiful from atop the domes.

I headed back to camp while the other’s de-rigged.

I met the strange animal that had visited us the night before; a mix of a squirrel, a kitten and a lemur. To this day I do not know what kind of animal it was, but it was the most fucking cute thing I have ever seen. It tried to steal a candy bar wrapper and I chased it around the boulder and got the trash back. The little animal lurked around for a while, I gave it some cheese (probably against some rule) and then it disappeared into the darkness. While I waited for the others to return I cursed myself for not owning a lighter or matches while I sat in the cold dark making a sandwich. Jordan and Janek returned, while the others were lost somewhere because they decided to take some alternate route. Once everyone was back we hiked through the dark back to our cars, drove to the pit and set up tents, quickly passing out. Hallelujah the next day was hot springs!

The next highline we did was good ol’ Chongo Gap, again. This time Jordan and I rigged it with Janek overseeing us. I had been nagging him to give me some proper rigging training and this was it. Once the line was ready to go, Ruthie gave it her all and finally crossed her first highline FM.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

I walked it in a pink jumpsuit that I had purchased at a thrift store for $3, with the sunglasses I had dug up when I scrambled through some small passages near Mahavatar’s Gap, circa 1982.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

I am certain they belonged to one of the J.Tree climbing greats. I rocked a side ponytail and a swami, and walked Chongo radical style. Afterwards I walked with a belt-loop-swami, and then debated whether I wanted to do my first Free solo. I felt so completely solid on this line, I mean, it was only 7.6 meters long. I had seen Janek free solo it, and physically and mentally I knew I was capable. So, I undid the belt-loop-swami and got on the line. It felt perfect, completely free.

photo by Jordan Tybon:

It was even more solid a walk then the previous ones. In that moment you are at your highest level of focus, your life lies completely in balance; it is up to you to live. Chongo is only about 100 feet high, but I was not pondering the falling aspect while walking it free. I was just, focusing, walking, balancing, and living. I liked it. After the solo Janek told me that even though it was an amazing feeling, that one should not get trigger-happy with solos. I agree. It is something you save for a moment when you feel completely ready, with no doubt anywhere in your whole being. It is a moment when you have to tune out your surroundings wholly and completely, and focus on the space around yourself, your movements, and your balance more than ever. Janek also free soloed it for a second time that day.

photo by Jordan Tybon:

After everyone was finished with Chongo we went to boulder a bit.

That same day a funny series of events had taken place. The morning we rigged Chongo, I opened my glove box in the car to grab something and there staring up at me was a faded, old picture of a vagina. Janek was always passenger in the car, so I asked him what it was doing there. He had no clue. The first thought in my head was to haunt someone else with the picture, so once everyone was at the Chongo Gap I ran back and taped the picture to Brian’s back window of his Element. The day went on, and we returned to our cars a bit late. I was getting ready to leave when I heard a guy say “Hey Brian, there is something on the back of your car…” and then they burst out laughing.

Brian came around and saw the giant faded picture of a vagina with a big blonde bush and a woman’s hand holding it open, and he took it off.

Turns out he had seen the photo first that morning when he opened his cooker to make breakfast, and it was him who put it in my glove box. No doubt the picture originated from some hooligan climbers staying in the pit. On the way out of the park we decided to tape the photo to the Ranger station, but then saw the big video camera and changed our minds. I guess Ruthie taped it to some tourist’s car later.

The next day was one of the most important of our trip. We rigged Big Boy, the 67 meter line only previously sent by Jerry. It took 3 hours, rigged with Type 18 and white magic as backup. As the rigging was nearly completed, our favorite Ranger “Peach Fuzz” came by and walked up the path. I was still down below, so he came and talked to me. The conversation went about like this’
“hey, how’s it going?” –Peach Fuzz
“Good.” –Me
“This is a new line…” –PF
“No, it’s been done before.” – Me
“How long you planning to walk for?” – PF
“Just until dark then we will take it down.” – Me
“Ok, because just so you know you cannot leave it up over night, I know you all did it before but if I come in the morning and it’s still up I will take all your gear and write you all tickets. OK?” – PF
“Yup, I know, and like I said we will rig it down tonight and come back and re-rig it tomorrow.” – Me
Really nice rangers in J.Tree. If he could even get up to the line, first of all, I think he would kill himself trying to figure out how to de-rig the line. I don’t think they realize how much tension is on a 67 meter line (or any highline for that matter!)
Janek walked the Big Boy on his first try that day.

He sent it FM. Proves that rigging is an important factor! So, he had now tied Jerry for the World Record Highline (rigged in the traditional style with one line.) And his sponsor Grolsch Beer was sure to be pleased.

I gave the line a few tries, and even walked it halfway that day. I could feel it was possible, and at the end of our trip I had enough training for such a line. That night we took everything except the anchors, so we could do fast rigging in the morning.

The next day started with coffee all around. Then we headed for Big Boy. Damian sent the line after fighting on it for a while, one way.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

So, another addition to the World Record. Finally, after fighting and walking it halfway various times, I pushed through and walked Big Boy. I walked it! I walked it! I walked it! I never thought it would be possible. Walking a line that is 220 feet long takes some kind of endurance and focus unlike that of even 40 meter lines. You cannot give up; even when you are in a moment of such a fight that all your muscles are trembling with fatigue and the line is trembling and swaying in response. Towards the end I even took some crazy step sideways and missed the line with my foot but was so determined that I fought through it and regained control.

Jordan fought long and hard on Big Boy, and on his best try came within 15 or less meters from the end, but fell. After a whole day fighting on this kind of line, sometimes you just have to succumb to exhaustion. His screams of curse words could be heard ringing out across the desert, frightening tourists and climbers alike. Brian also gave a good fight, but on the second day we rigged Big Boy down.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

I had worked on getting it FM, but on my best try walked 2/3rds, and did not have the energy to continue. Libby Sauter had also showed up unexpectedly and climbed up to chill with us and even gave Big Boy a few tries. I was so glad to have finally met her; she was a pioneer for women in the highline world! There were now 4 people tied for the World Record: Janek, Jerry, Damian and myself. It was hard to believe that it was just the summer before that I stepped on and failed at my first highline, only 14 meters long. Now, I had sent a 67 meter long highline. Progression is rewarding!

The next day we bought Damian a bus ticket from LA to SF, since his flight was leaving a bit earlier then Janek’s. Then Phil Burcheff (the awesome old school climber from the pit) took us to an unmapped area outside of the park called Section 6. He drew us a small map of where the boulder problems were, and we all loaded into two cars and headed over. The place was pretty sweet. It was fun to all climb and work on problems with no idea of rating or difficulty. We even got Phil to climb something, which apparently was his first time in 10 years.

The next day Janek and I drove Damian to LA to catch his bus.

When it finally arrived it was a big old tour bus with a giant eagle and American flag on the front. Out jumped a tall guy with greased back hair, a shirt open to show his lovely chest hair, and a gold necklace. He looked at us and said in an accent “San Franceesco?” We told Damian they were probably taking him to Mexico. So, we said goodbye, then headed to Maria’s to pick up our Petzl order of bolts etc. Then back to the pit.

The next day was our final highline day in Joshua Tree. There was one last project that Janek knew about and wished to do; Little Candy Rock Mountain Highline. It was easy rigging with two bolts on one side and three on the other. You could walk up a slab on one side and scramble up some easy climbing for the other.

We rigged it with threaded tubular and a climbing rope for backup, but tensioned the line too much and it was far too tight. It was short, about 110 feet long.

I walked it OS FM. This line was a bit of a struggle actually because of the tension. Afterwards I did not even feel like walking again. Jordan was trying to do the Luke Skywalker trick which is where you take a massive whipper and fly in a circle around the line eventually landed back where you started. He did not land the trick, but it was entertaining to watch him take whipper’s over and over and over.

Janek walked the line in a swami, and also walked the line with a can of Pabst; sat down in the middle, opened the Pabst and drank from it before finishing his walk. Great trick!
photo by Jordan Tybon:

Ruthie took a few tries on the line as well.

Brian walked the line in my pink jumpsuit.

He was wrestling in highschool so I suppose wearing tight bodysuits is something he is accustomed to... We stuffed his crotch with a pair of socks for better bulge photos. It was a pretty epic walk, and allowed some great blackmail photos!
photo by Jordan Tybon:

So, we spent our last night in the pit quietly, drank some beer and slept. The next morning we packed, said goodbye to what now felt like home, and drove back to Rick and Maria’s in LA. We spent a couple days there; longlined again in Sycamore Park, chilled around the house, and looked in awe at civilization. Before we left we gave Maria the materials and instructions to make Swami-belts for me, Jerry, Kwjet, and Bernhard. She would ship them all to me in Texas before I headed to Europe. (They turned out beautifully!) After that we drove up to LA. Janek and I took route 101 along the coast to pass through San Luis Obispo (where Jerry lives) to pick up my new Slack Bananas courtesy of Balance Community.
In LA, Emily Sukiennik was kind enough to let Janek and I and Brian crash at her tiny flat since we had nowhere else to go. Jordan had stayed behind in LA do some more traveling before he returned to Berlin, and Ruthie had gone her own way.
We celebrated my 21st birthday at a bar in El Cerrito, with Pool tables and beer. We also spent a day longlining in a park nearby Bridges Rock gym, though the ground was completely soggy and muddy so if you fell you were not coming out clean. It was here that I finally met Clay, one of the brothers who is known around as a great highliner. Libby was also there staying at Bridges, so we were able to hang out with them for a couple days. We climbed in the gym a few times, and then finally it came time to take Janek to the airport. He headed back to Poland, where I would see him three weeks from then.
Then, I said my goodbye’s to the new friends from the US, and began my 30 hour drive back to Austin. I took a nice hippie guy along to Tucson, AZ, as part of a rideshare, but then finished the drive alone. I tried to snap some photos of spots that looked highlinable along the way, however now I don’t even remember which state they were in. I was relieved to finally reach the Texas border, though it meant I still had 8 hours of driving before I would reach Austin. Finally, in the middle of the night after 30 hours driving and only 2 hours of sleep I pulled into my mother’s house, stumbled in a passed out. It was a bit surreal to think that the entire trip was over; 3 months of traveling with the same people, day in, day out, through good times and bad, all over. But, we had accomplished a lot. It was a success. And, those three months are memories that we can laugh about for years!
So, that concludes the US Highline Tour, with thanks to Grolsch Beer for sponsoring the Poles, Freewalker for sponsoring my flight and Petzl for the discount on gear. And special thanks to Maria and Rick from Slackline Brothers, and Jerry from Balance Community, and of course Damian Cooksey from Bridges Rock gym. Also can thank Emily for a place to stay! Terry and Jerry for the awesome highline places in Moab, the people of the Pit for being nice, interesting and eccentric characters…and Dylan Buffington for paying our fine from the Rangers in J.Tree, hosting us in his hotel room, and just being awesome. Hope I did not forget anyone! Oh, Jordan’s parents and aunt and uncle too were super nice.
Next, back to Europe.
photo by Jordan Tybon:

So, lastly here is a list of the highlines and my performance on them in the US:
Yosemite Valley
Lost Arrow Spire Highline 55ft/17m and 880m high – OS, FM
Lost Arrow Spire Long Highline 110ft/33m and 880m high – FM
Black and White Midline 154ft/45m and 10m high – OS FM
Moab, Utah
Spliff Highline 77ft/ ?m ?m high – FM
Bub Highline 102ft/31m and ? high – OS FM
The Great Bongzilla Highline 177ft/54m and ? high – One Way Send
The Chillum Highline 60ft/19m and ? high FM, and with an AR15
Fuzzy Peach Highline ?/? and ? high – OS FM
Wet Beaver Highline 92ft/29m and ? high – OS FM
Double Trouble Madness Highline 45m/154ft and ?high – FM
Fruita, Colorado
Terry’s Backyard Highline – FM OS
Joshua Tree, California
Chongo’s Gap Highline 7.6m/25ft and 30m high – OS FM in swami and FM Free Solo
Cave Corridor 90ft Line 90ft/28m and ?high – FM
Cave Corridor 60ft Line 60ft/19m and ? high – OS FM, and FM in swami
Mahavatar’s Gap Highline 45ft/?m and ? high – OS FM in a swami
Horror Rock Highline 77ft/25m – OS FM
Astrodomes Highline /42m - OS one way
Big Boy Highline 220ft/67m – One Way Send
Little Candy Rock Mountain Highline 110ft/33m