Climbing and running in Joshua Tree National Park

I just got back from a winter trip to Joshua Tree National Park. Which is an awesome place to be, no matter what… I was there mostly to climb, but I fit in a trail run and some down-time, too.

top of walk on the wild side- Joshua Tree National Park - Back Country Geezer
photo by Lei Wang

JTree is expansive, rugged, beautiful. Your time there can be social or solitary: there is such variety in the Park that one can easily climb either surrounded by other climbers or completely alone. I did both on this trip. In the Hidden Valley Campground area, my climbing partner and I could be at the base of a climb two minutes after parking the car, and there were usually other climbers around to chat with. At Saddle Rocks, though, we danced up three pitches on the tallest rock in the Park without meeting anyone.

up high in jtree national park - BackCountry Geezer
photo by Lei Wang

I am just getting back into climbing after a long break, and I find that having other climbers around can be fun (and helpful for beta). I just got into line, and waited for my turn. And honestly, it was worth the wait. When I was younger, I was too impatient to wait around—and too shy to want to climb and hang with a bunch of random climbers (I assumed they were all better than I was). These days, my goals are just to have fun and be safe while pushing my limits, and I had more fun since I am less worried about making a fool of myself (one of the benefits of geezerhood). But there is also something wonderful about being exposed and small in a vast landscape. I found both in this trip.

Going into the mountains or the desert to run and hike and climb are in part an escape. These trips get me out of myself and out of my everyday life. But they help me get back to myself: a more balanced and integrated self. I gain perspective in the wilderness, and by confronting doubts and fear I re-connect to myself (with my strengths and weaknesses), and my place in the world (small as it is).  Taking time for introspection and reflection is a key part of these trips for me- I highly recommend it, and maybe that was you will still be climbing at the age of 90.

If you don’t believe me, read this trip report on a 90-year-old-legend who climbed on Moosedog Tower in Joshua Tree around the time I was there. The kind of geezer future anyone could be proud of, if you ask me!


1) Work out! Whatever you can do! I am one of those creatures who likes to push my limits, and see what I can do… so even though I am really busy and during the week I can only sneak in a 30 minute run in the morning, my weekend trail running and strength training is on the strenuous side, and this really paid off on my trip. What I did not have in well-honed technique and climber-specific muscle I made up for with cardiovascular stamina, core strength and stubbornness. All those early morning runs paid off, and made it possible for me to enjoy topping out on a few climbs that would have otherwise just been a real battle.

2) Be comfortable! The nights were cold, and the days were windy with a hot sun. Always bring extra layers, water, snacks and a light just in case the setting sun or a change in weather catches up with you. As for camping, it is pretty rugged in the Park, but there are great small bed and breakfast or private campground (with hot shower) options nearby.

introspection at sunset jtree Backcountry Geezer
photo by Lei Wang

3) Take breaks! There are opportunities in the area to hang out (Crossroads Café) or shop—there is a Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning (try the local dates!), take advantage of some of the great trails in the park (don’t be too shy to ask a ranger for suggestions) or just find a great spot to enjoy the view (at 5,185 feet of elevation, Keys View is a great place to watch the sun set, and if it is clear, you can see as far as the Mexico-U.S. border).

Christina is an awesome trail runner, climber, and dancer as well
as having a doctorate in International Relations and two ridgebacks she runs with.

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