Tag Archives: climbing

Joshua Tree National Park

It is National Park Week, so we will revisit a few of the National Parks that I have been to. We are extremely lucky to have such a system in the United States: from Battlefields to Memorials, and Monuments to Parks and everything in-between, the National Park Service has it covered.

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Today’s Park Week Theme: Park Rx Day

Entering Joshua Tree

The Day One Theme for National Park Week is Rx Day: Where being outdoors improves your mental and physical health. Anyone who has followed this blog for anytime would not be surprised to hear that I support that conclusion. As a dweller of the Far North, I find myself intrigued by the desert, and I have to admit that Joshua Tree is one of my favorite parks. Full Disclosure: I may say this all week long.

There is a simplicity to the desert that I find fascinating. Rarely have I found a crowd when I visit the desert, which suits me just fine. I have been to Joshua Tree several times: Once on the Beetle Roadtrip, at least once during a Land Rover Roadtrip, and once when I was on an Amtrak Railpass crisscrossing the country. Each time, I found my visit to Joshua Tree to be soul cleansing, and I do not use that term lightly. Even though, I may not have known I needed it, that is exactly what I found as I hiked the trails of this magnificent National Park.

The Land Rover meets a Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree was declared a National Monument in 1936, and it wasn’t reclassified as a National Park until 1994. Today, the Park encompasses 790,636 acres, including parts of two deserts: The Mohave and the Colorado. In the open areas of the Mohave Desert thrives the Yucca brevifolia, also know as the Joshua Tree, from which the park gets its name.

Hiking Joshua Tree

I spent much of my time hiking Joshua Tree, and I do not remember ever coming across another hiker on the trails. I met people at other areas, like lookouts, etc, but on the serious trails I was alone with my thoughts and the wilderness. I was certainly helped out at times by a friend who was a park ranger, who could point me in the right direction, but I imagine that much was simply luck of the draw.

Hiking trail in JTNP

In the spring of the year, I found the park relatively green, but I still carried plenty of water, as temps did rise above what I am used to by noon. Still, I found the desert refreshing in a way that only someone who lives in a completely opposite environment can. I have found myself coming back to this park often.

Lost Palms Oasis

A popular hike is out to Lost Palms Oasis, which is approximately 7-1/2 miles roundtrip. Most of the hike was through hilly terrain with a drop down into a palm-filled canyon at the end. It was a beautiful hike, with what really is an oasis at the end. Well worth the effort, although this is hardly the only hike in the park worth sweating over.

The homestead at Keys Ranch

The park has a rich history of mining and ranching, and a good example of both is Keys Ranch. I took the tour on one of my visits, and as an end-of-the-roader myself, I really enjoyed it. The family had a rich history in the area, and had carved a unique, yet wonderful homestead out of the desert. If in the area, I really do recommend a stop at the ranch.

The Keys Ranch Willys Jeep

Any resident of Interior Alaska would sympathize with the ranch life out here. The ranger giving the tour took us through their “hardware store” of used parts sitting out in the dry air, ready to be put back into action. There is even a sawmill run by a FordAll tractor. A dam was built to collect what little water flowed from a creek, which allowed the family to prosper.

Gram Parsons’ Rock; RIP Grievous Angel

I should not perpetuate this story, as it will annoy my ranger friend, but how does one talk of Joshua Tree without mentioning Gram Parsons? I did my pilgrimage out to the Gram Parsons Rock, in spite of the annoyance it gave to others. Parsons, who was a singer and musician in bands such as The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and others, was a huge fan of Joshua Tree back in the 1960’s and ’70’s, when it was still a National Monument. The cliff notes version of the story, is when Parsons overdosed in 1973, his friends knowing that Parsons wanted to be cremated within Joshua Tree NM, stole his body from the Los Angeles International Airport in a “borrowed hearse”. They then brought his body and casket to Cap Rock and attempted an unofficial cremation with five gallons of gasoline. Police arrived, and the friends escaped, only to be caught later. Since it wasn’t exactly a crime at the time to steal a dead body, they were charged with stealing the coffin and fined $750. Cap Rock, or what is now mostly known as Gram Parsons Rock, still brings mourners and fans of the influential singer/songwriter. I should note that it is the site of my very first selfie. One of a total of three. I should also note that Park Rangers are not overly fond of giving directions to the rock, even if you have known them since they first arrived in Alaska, back when they were a young Cheechako. Just saying.

One of my campsites in Joshua Tree

I have met many rock climbers within Joshua Tree, and have offered a few beers to some after their climb, after finding out they were camping near me. This park, along with Yosemite and Zion seems to be a magnet for climbers.

My favorite individual who I shared a camp with was an Argentinian. I had just traveled from Prudhoe Bay to Belize and back to Southern California, obsessed with driving to the tip of South America. My new friend from Argentina had beat me to it, and was driving north to Alaska from Tierra del Fuego in a mid-80’s Land Cruiser. He had spotted my old Land Rover first, as one does, when I was out hiking, and stopped by with a bottle of Argentinian Fernet. The next night, I went down to his campsite with a bottle of Scotch. We had a lot to discuss.

One never knows who you will meet when you are out & about in our public lands.

There were 2,399,542 visitors to Joshua Tree NP in 2020.


Climbing The Great One

Denali; Photo credit: National Park Service

For the first time in 70 years, no one climbed Denali in 2020. In an average year, 1200 climbers attempt to summit the tallest peak in North America, with around 58% being successful.

The National Park Service has announced that climbing permits have resumed for 2021. So far, most applications have been for domestic climbers, with the number of requests from foreign climbers being down from normal years.

This was certainly good news for businesses in the Northern Susitna Valley, which provides everything from transportation to The Mountain, as well as supplies and accommodations for the climbers.


Walter Harper Day

Walter Harper

Today, 7 June, is the first Walter Harper Day. Harper, whom I have written about on here before, is one of my favorite historical Alaskans.

It was on this day in 1913, when Harper became the first known person to stand on the summit of Denali.

Harper tragically died at the age of 25, along with his young bride, Frances Wells Harper, with the sinking of the Princess Sophia in 1918.


Cooler thoughts


The ice climbing wall at UAF; Camera: Leica M3, Lens: 135mm, Film: Fuji Superia 800

With the extension of these unusually warm temps here in Interior Alaska, let’s go back to this past March, when snow was on the ground, and the UAF students were climbing the ice wall on campus.


Mount Everest

It’s a long way from the days of Mallory and Hillary:


Traffic jam at the top of the world; Photo credit: Project Possible/AFP/Getty Images

I’m absolutely fascinated by the recent photo to come from the summit of Mount Everest. Over 100 climbers, queued up in a line, in the death zone of Everest, waiting to summit. The death toll on Everest has reached 11 this year, as a result.

A record number of permits, 381, to climb the world’s tallest peak were issued. Which means at least double that number, if not closer to triple, were on the mountain, since guides and sherpas are not included in the permit number.

Also, the window of good weather was extremely small compared to most years, so everyone was forced to summit basically at the same time. Waiting in a line, using up oxygen, stepping over dead bodies that had been left behind, all while trying to combat exhaustion in the death zone.

The entire concept, just spins my head. The desire to climb Everest, I get, although I’ve never really had that great burn to do so. We’ve reached the point where we wait in a line at the roof top of our planet, for what? To take a selfie? Thank about it: One couldn’t take a picture from the summit without people in it! I live in Fairbanks so that I can avoid lines. I walk out of the post office if the line has more than three people in it. I realize, I’m the odd duck on this planet, but I can not imagine my extreme disappointment, if I climbed Everest, only to be forced to endure a conga line before summiting.

One has to ask about the skill level of so many climbers. Are they experienced climbers, or thrill seeking amateurs on a selfie hunt? Peter Beaumont wrote in The Guardian that climbing the world’s tallest peak “has become a trophy experience.” I have to admit, I agree with him.

What would George Mallory think about The Mountain now?


Leave it to the Sourdoughs

I love the sourdough reference:

“In the spring and summer of 1910, as (Hiram) Bingham sat in New Haven sifting through the evidence about Vilcabamba (Peru) … the newly self-described explorer would have found it almost impossible to pick up a newspaper without reading about one expedition or another. (Dr. Frederick) Cook and (Robert) Peary were feuding publicly over who had reached the North Pole first. Norway’s (Roald) Amundsen sent England’s (Robert Falcon) Scott a telegram announcing that he planned to beat him to the South Pole. And a group of amateur “sourdoughs” shocked the mountaineering world with their claim to have climbed the north summit of Mount McKinley, fueled by doughnuts and hot chocolate.”

from: “Turn Right at Machu Picchu” by Mark Adams

Alaska Sidenote:

Frederick Cook claimed, in 1906, to have been the first to summit Mt McKinley. His claim has since been discredited.

Fake Peak

Noted explorer and photographer (among other trades) Bradford Washburn, later proved that none of the photographs that Cook took on his 1906 McKinley Expedition had been taken anywhere near the summit. In fact, the peak in the photo above, which Cook claimed was Denali’s summit, is now known as Fake Peak.

The four locals, Tom Lloyd, Peter Anderson, Billy Taylor, and Charles McGonagall, which became known as “The Sourdough Expedition”, attempted the North Summit in 1910, while carrying a spruce pole. Two of the Sourdoughs did make the summit. Their claim was not believed until 1913, when another team climbed the North Summit, and found the spruce pole that the Sourdoughs had erected near the top. The team of sourdoughs had absolutely no climbing experience whatsoever.

A special shoutout to Mr Mark Adams. Love the book so far. Don’t forget your second pair of socks.