First of all let me say that this story does not involve a small child crag hopping. No children were harmed or even remotely involved in the making of this story, the only harm was to my own ego, which has become somewhat accustomed to the occasional bump and bruise. So the baby in this story is me, not the two thrill-seeking children who managed to out-climb, out maneuver and beat me to the top of Mastodon Peak in exquisit Joshua Tree National Park. But we’ll get to that later, for now let me tell you a bit about the park and how I found myself bouldering in the first place.
Joshua Tree – Cottonwood Campground
The last time Catherine and I went to Joshua Tree we by some miracle managed to snag a last-minute campsite in Cottonwood Campground. Cottonwood is located at the southeast part of the park. The campground’s southern location means it’s a little less crowded than many other spots, a wonderful added bonus for two solitude seeking campers.
Cottonwood has 62 campsites and several modern amenities for indoorsy types like myself including; potable water and flush toilets. On this particular weekend a very generous person left a partially used bottle of lavender soap in the women’s bathroom. I never thought I’d have such admiration for a bottle of lavender soap, which I should clarify is my least favorite smell in the world, aside from poop and vomit of course. But there’s something about camping that really makes you stop and appreciate the little things, even when they’re tainted with the offensive smell of pine and flowers. So I must say thank you to the kind lady who left us her stinky soap, I used it many times and was grateful to have clean, degreased and degrimed hands all weekend.
After a trip to the bathroom we pitched our tent, realized that I had failed to put the camp chairs in the car (such a bummer!) and decided that we weren’t quite ready for dinner yet so we set off on a little tour of our new neighborhood. In truth this is one of my favorite parts of camping. It’s guaranteed entertainment, and the more camping you do the more you begin to recognize the ‘types’ of campers that are out there. I’m particularly fond of the hard core RV-ers who manage to set up multiple living areas, a covered dining room and a sit-out porch for evening tipples. On our loop there were three such campers, several of which had full camp kitchens with multiple stoves, pop-up canopies for shaded dining and one with colorful blanket “walls” which I found irresistibly charming. My inner indoorsy camper often looks at such sites with envy, that is until the next morning when I get to watch the whole house come down to the studs, an operation that takes infinitely longer than deflating a sleeping pad and packing up a tent.
An Oasis and a Scramble
On our second day in Joshua Tree we decided to take the Lost Palm Oasis Trail located near our campground.
Palm trees and pink sunsets are so iconically Southern California it can’t be denied. One trip to SoCal and your phone is bound to be filled up with spindly palm pictures, but the truth is that none of those palms are native to the area. The first ornamental palms to come to LA were brought by 18th century Spanish missionaries. The palms retained their popularity thanks to the Victorians extensive interests in greenhouses and no time was more prosperous for the ornamental palm than the 1930’s. Knowing that the Olympic games were heading to LA in 1932 a huge planting effort was made that not only greened up the city, but also provided employment for many during the Great Depression. During that time over 40,000 trees were planted and the symbol of LA was cemented for the foreseeable future.End of side note.
However, the palms in Lost Palms Oasis are the native California fan palm, which tend to grow in canyons near springs, hence the oasis part of the trail name. The start of the trail is shaded and cocooned by these wooly fan palms, a truly wonderful way to start a hike in the desert. The trail quickly opens up to traditional desert scenes with spiky plants, sand, rock, and of course Loony Toons style rounded boulders.
The path is filled with little hills and valleys, stone steps and scurrying lizards. About an hour into our hike we reached a fork where we could go right to continue on the 7 mile Lost Palm Oasis trail or veer to the left to a place called Mastodon Peak.
It was a warm afternoon and we weren’t exactly ready for a 7 mile jaunt, so we headed towards Mastodon where I hoped to see a rock in the shape of the great beast, but of course was disappointed to find a pile of nondescript boulders.
As you approach the pile there is a small sign that gives hikers permission to scramble .1 miles to the top of the peak. I’m not really a fan of the word scramble, unless of course you are referring to my morning eggs in which case, by all means scramble away. In this instance scramble makes me thing of two other words; struggle and free-for-all.
With some trepidation we headed towards the pile and started our .1 mile scramble. Catherine of course scrambles with grace and lightness of foot, making the ascent look easy. I on the other hand prefer a different kind of scrambling, a technique some might classify as scooting. It’s difficult to truly fall when you are already sitting on the ground. And so with heaviness of bum I slowly made my way up towards the top of the peak.
About a third of the way to the top a family came up behind us, one parent and two very brave and fearless little boys. Sensing their desire to pass me out I scooted out of the way and watched with mild horror as they scampered ahead without fear or notice of the heights they were achieving. Mind you their mother was very quick to say, “slow down!” many times as they bounded up the crag. There were promises of Smarties at the top, so who can blame them for being a little reckless, sugar is of course the great motivator. They made it to the top in record time and were happily munching on discs of compressed sugar by the time my dusty buns made an appearance.
The view from the top was sweeping with mountains in the distance, rocky rounded boulders strewn about and desert scruff. I hesitated to look down, but did manage to sneak a peek to get a better feel for how .1 miles looks from above. Turns out it looks like a long way down and so I scooted back a little, drank several sips of cool water and shared a snack with Catherine.
I consider making it to the top of Mastodon Peak a great triumph. I’m no boulderer, wouldn’t think of taking up climbing and can barely rock hop my way across a river. I approach most rocks with a sliver of fear. Rocks have an uncanny ability to appear sturdy, stable and reliable. Then just when you’re feeling comfortable they give a little wobble. One little unplanned movement and my hands fly up in the air as if I’m starting a cartwheel…except I’m actually about to fall into a river or more likely onto the extra padding of my fleshy behind (sometimes having a big butt has perks).
I initially wrote this post to entertain myself and hopefully you in the recounting of my great scoot. I also hope that I inspired you to try something new, something you’re a little afraid to try or maybe I just got you to spend some time contemplating palm trees. I’m quite happy with any of those results.
Point one of a mile of bouldering sounds pretty measly when I stop and think about it, but the thing is when you’re the one finding hand, foot and butt holds it feels like a lot further. No matter how you get to the top whether by leap, bound or scoot you got there, and there’s reason to celebrate.