RockAroundTheWorld Retrospective – The 2004-5 BIG TRIP Part 3: California – Big Trees to J Tree via The Big Stone

If you missed the first couple of installments of our Big Trip Retrospective, you can follow our blast around Eastern Europe and Scandinavia here: https://rockaroundtheworld.co.uk/2020/06/22/rockaroundtheworld-retrospective-the-big-trip-part-1-around-the-baltic-in-80-days/ and our trip across the Rockies here: https://rockaroundtheworld.co.uk/2020/07/13/rockaroundtheworld-retrospective-the-2004-5-big-trip-part-2-the-us-from-boulder-to-smith/

Alternatively, just hitch up your waggon as we push on westward to the land of plenty: There’s climbing in them there hills!

Our first stop out of Portland was a quick diversion to the coast, to confirm to ourselves that we’d really crossed half a continent in the previous month.

Then we headed south to what’s become one of our favourite, but lesser known, National Parks: Crater Lake has a magnificent enchantment all of its own.

Where better to celebrate our Anniversary?

Entering California we visited the Giant Redwoods State Park for more iconic natural wonders including rutting elk

… and of course the first of a number of big tree encounters:

Catching a spectacular sunset from the coastal Route 1

…we were a bit disappointed with the foggy view of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge:

… but couldn’t really savour San Francisco as we had to rendezvous with Jim in Yosemite a couple of days later.

I’d hoodwinked Jim into joining me for a whistle-stop trip to fulfil a lifetime ambition of climbing The Nose on El Cap.

Jim had just a week’s holiday, and with an ascent typically taking 4 or 5 days, we were on a tight schedule! He landed at SFO around midnight and by early afternoon the next day we were fixing to Sickle Ledge. The following day, a pre-dawn start had us at the back of a major log-jam of international parties

Ivan and Jane, from Australia, sadly had to bail, but I was really touched that Ivan had the generosity amidst his disappointment to lend me a nut-key when I dropped mine. I promised to return it in Oz (no spoilers – you’ll have to wait for Episode 6 to find out if I did). We also overtook a pair of hysterical Italians who’d tried to link two 30m pitches with a 50m haul-line, and were waved through by a couple of newbie Yank Big Wallers (Ben and Ben) who decided we looked like we knew what we were doing.

Having resolved the cluster-f@c# we had a clear run to the summit, but a lot of ground to cover to find somewhere to kip before dark.

I ended up doing the last couple of pitches to Dolt Tower in the dark, not helped by the fact that Jim kindly lent my head torch to the Bens!

By the next day we were starting to get the hang of things

… and worked through the logistics of the King Swing without hitch. Camp 5 was almost comfortable (or we were knackered).

The Great Roof is not an exaggerated moniker!

Camp 6 was less palatial, in part due to all the crap and junk left by previous parties (really!?) and by 5am an attack of summit fever had me climbing the sketchy changing corners pitch by torchlight – strangely calm and surreal in a tiny bubble of light. Topped out by lunchtime and Jim had finally come round from his jet-lagged state to be saddled up to get the haul bag down the hill. Despite having climbed The Big Stone 7 times since, by ostensibly “harder” routes, I’ve never been so physically and mentally drained!

Great to chill in The Meadows the next day with the family and a well-earned beer (they’d been providing a running commentary for inquisitive tourists during our ascent).

Having despatched Jim back to Blighty we headed up to Tuolmnee – what a difference a few thousand feet makes in terms of fresh air and thinning crowds. More big trees

… and stunning granite domes.

The forecast was for a sudden end to the balmy weather, and sure enough we just managed to make it over the Tioga Pass before the first snows. Tragically, the storm also hit in The Valley resulting in the dreadful loss of a Japanese team on The Nose (just a week since we’d been on it – A sobering episode).

Owen’s River Gorge, in the quirky, outdoorsy Town of Bishop, could hardly offer a greater contrast to Yosemite – single-pitch sports climbing on welded tuff in a somewhat industrial setting.

Fully compensated by the magnificent surroundings of the High Sierra, with the free camping in “The Pit” (what a misnomer!)

… and numerous thermal springs.

It’s also a great base from which to explore the 5,000 year-old Bristlecone Pines, adapting to the high altitude desert to defy time. Amazing to think this tree was alive as Stonehenge was being constructed.

Quite a contrast plunging down about 10,000ft to Death Valley – still frighteningly hot even in mid October…

We were working to a pretty flexible schedule, but had a few key dates inked in (particularly the most popular national parks) so unfortunately couldn’t sit it out when our sidetrip to Red Rocks coincided with a storm system

…but at least we were able to take in the Vegas Strip.

Then another super-sized concrete construction in the desert, The Hoover Dam.

Of course, you can’t take your 8 and 11 year-olds to LA without a day at Disneyland – I’d been dreading it, but have to confess to quite enjoying the experience (mid week in mid October is a winner).

We rounded off our LA tour with an RV crawl down Rodeo Drive and some R&R on the beach.

Never mind Disneyland; Our final stop in California really was a “magical experience” as we visited another of the US’s Climbing Meccas: Joshua Tree.

Weird trees, even weirder rocks, all set in an extraordinary desert ecosystem – a fitting finale to our tour of The Golden State.

Next stop – on to the “Four Corners” for canyons, towers and a world of desert sandstone.

3 responses to “RockAroundTheWorld Retrospective – The 2004-5 BIG TRIP Part 3: California – Big Trees to J Tree via The Big Stone

  1. Merci Dom, i have ticked lots of the boxes on this trip. So, was a nice trip down memory lane. Except for Disneyland and the hard climbs. Climbed on Joshua tree rocks etc.. that was with Tony, many years back 😉. Sorry missed the Rucksac club meet on Tuesday. Sounded really good. Hope all is good your way. Missing you lot and coming over. It’s been a while now. With love Is x

    • Hi Is. Great to hear from you – hope you are coping OK in Le Lockdown. Fingers crossed for a return to more normal times in the New year and hopefully catch up then. Meanwhile, stay safe!

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