Rambo, our janky Honda Civic, had seen better days but was still plugging along. At the last minute I made plans with a friend, Matt Donahue, to drive up to Tuscon and continue on to Joshua Tree in his slightly more reliable truck. I scrounged jobs in Austin to earn enough for gas and food for a one week stint in one of my favorite desert areas. I knew there would be a huge crew of slackliners there that year, and it was fun that could not be missed! I was disappointed to go alone without my team, however balance beckoned, and I answered.
A few days before I was supposed to leave, a childhood friend, Roxanne, had recently graduated and expressed interest in going with me. She had a brand new SUV which would take us all the way and back with no problems. Roxanne had never dirtbagged, climbed or slacklined, but was eager enough to try it all. We made a plan, packed up and headed out. What luxury! Driving this car was like floating on a cloud, I could barely feel how fast we were driving. It was great to have a friend to talk to as well, and we had 3 years of life to catch up on.
We stopped in Tuscon for a night and slept on Matt's couches, in the morning packed the rest of the gear and continued on. I am constantly thankful for my multitudes of gear when I have to use my ropes to secure bags or crashpads to the top of vehicles.
We arrived in the nighttime, finding The Pit the same as always, with good ol' Phil still enjoying his white wine by a campfire made of wood someone donated from a remodel job. We met a few new faces, opened our own wine then eventually slept next to the fire on the sandy rug.
The next morning we drove into the park to search for a campsite, a difficult mission considering New Years was two days off. We found the German crew (Lukas Irmler, Christian Krr and Alex Schulz) along with Brian Mosbaugh and his girlfriend. Next to their site we lucked out when a large group left and we swooped in with a crew of new friends in their prius. New Years at Hidden Valley is the only place to be. Over the next few days many old friends and new would show up.
The next couple days were spent bouldering and poaching highlines that the Germans rigged.
As usual a long pause from climbing left my skin and muscles weak, but I was happy to be breaking myself in all over again. We scrambled up to the Cave Corridor lines and hung out with a large crew on top.
Big Boy, my previous longest line and the previous world record highline (two years ago) hung heavily at 67 meters (220 feet) with Strong II and a backup rope. It had been sent repeatedly by the Germans, but I felt extra pressure to send it since I had only walked it one direction before. I fell a couple times, but managed to walk the direction previously unsent. I could feel the fatigue of the drive, the climbing and the late night fire talks in every shake of my body, however I tried to send back. The trembles were uncontrollable, and I fought with every step. Three quarters of the way across, my body gave in before my mind, and I whipped unintentionally for the first time in two years. I attempted to catch the line slightly, merely slapping it with my hand and then hitting the back of my ear before rolling ribs-first around the leash. Ouch. Besides breaking my unintentional whipper sabbatical, everyone who was watching decided to make a big deal out of it. I guess seeing me whip is an unusual sight, and no one would allow me to forget it. Despite that walk, I sent the 90' line in a belt loop swami, helped Roxanne ascend and descend, and met a photographer who wished to sell some photos of me to Patagonia.
Overall, I now could say I walked Big Boy both directions, tick that one off the list!
New Years commenced with a night at the Chasm of Doom; the tight passageway through a pile of boulders that remains a traditional adventure to be had in Joshua Tree. The point is to go with a group, no lights whatsoever, and maneuver your way through various tunnels until arriving on top of the boulder pile for a celebratory safety meeting before descending back through the passageways and back to a warm campfire, if you are lucky. Many a down jacket has been sacrificed in this chasm, but it remains fun every time. This year was interrupted by a group of city folk who came in fifteen all with headlamps atop their heads. They passed our group, rudely, and continued to bombard us with light despite our requests to let us enjoy it the way it is supposed to be enjoyed. We referred to them as the "Light People," and made sure to blame anything unsavory that happened around Hidden Valley on them as a whole for the rest of our trip. After four hours of scrambling, hearing the count down in a dark passageway and almost roughing up the light people, we trekked back to camp where the fire was dim but alight. Cheap champagne was passed around, but New Years remained timid. Roxanne and I were happy to finally retire to our crash pad bed next to the fireside.
Climbing felt better with ropes, and along with Dave and our new friends Alisha and Andrew we were able to do some great routes.
Another day we headed over to Thin Wall where Andrew and I both lead our first trad climbs; easy 5.7's that were short but mixed and allowed for various placements.
Because of the easy grade it was not the challenge I had imagined, however it was fun to place gear, figure out which was the best, and know that my own safety was up to me. I lead two routes next to each other. Roxanne did really well toproping, and by the time the sun set we all left satisfied.
Most of the time I spent highlining this year was in the area known as Hemingway. It is nearby Hidden Valley campground, and home to some of the most aesthetic highlines in the park. I rigged the 100 foot Hemingway highline with Andrew Craig and Alex Schulz, with my favorite mix of type-18 and aeon as backup. I love the Hemingway area because it has 360 degrees of beautiful Joshua Tree views.
While we sent the line the German crew rigged "Ranger Danger," a line I established in the park the year before. At 56 meters it is quite challenging. Andrew sent the Hemingway line OS FM, and later even walked it in a 'super progressive' spandex outfit!
Dave also came up and raged the line. He sent as gracefully and freely as a beautiful butterfly!
I walked the line again this year in a swami belt. It felt great to feel confident, though the year before I had walked it in an ankle leash, so I could tell that my level was not where it once was. Alisha also got on the highline, and though it was quite long for a beginner, had some great moments just standing and feeling it.
There was a big crew of slackliners on top of the rocks, and it was great to see so many people raging!
Roxanne had never slacklined much before our trip, but I was determined to get her to Tyrollean across a highline. Ranger Danger seemed like a good choice given it's length and exposure, so I hooked her up and she zipped across!
Besides rigging and walking, the weather was perfect for noon-time naps and laziness.
On the third day, with the craving for a new line, I rigged "Mustache Mania," a 69' line on two small peaks next to Ranger Danger and Hemingway Highline. It was completely on natural protection, and with the Germans help the line was up quite quickly. One side had a slung knob, with the sling wrapping around another peak as a directional, while the other side was a small boulder wrapped backpack-style with slings. We backed this anchor up to a bigger boulder nearby the other lines, since the the rock was not connected. It was a perfect line, exposed in both directions. On threaded tubular, it felt like the good ol' days. I sent the line OS FM Ankle Leash.
I had a creeping feeling that I wanted to solo the new line, and finally after several walks in an ankle leash, learning the feel of the line, becoming comfortable with the exposure and my abilities, I went for it. The feeling is unbeatable.
I love establishing a new line and watching everyone send it. It is a beautiful thing about highlining; sharing the experience.
Finally our time in Joshua Tree came to a close. I was sad to leave, this desert is a magical place that feels like home every time I return. Thanks to global warming us slackliners and climbers had the best winter weather we could imagine, warm and sunny. Our campsite had become some kind of weird rosetta stone, and besides the strange yoga-Matt guy who came and weirded us all out, everyone else seemed to be really rad. Mustaches and temporary tattoos continued to be a theme, and though our trip was supposed to end there, it was really only the beginning.
Thank you to everyone who made this trip one of the best in my life!