Scrambling for Our Lives: Joshua Tree National Park

I’ve thrown myself off bridges, ledges, and planes – but I’ve never feared for my life before.

…until I went scrambling with these folks recently in Joshua Tree National Park. Special thanks to Zach, since he apparently coined one particular “hike” as one of the easiest and most rewarding ones he had ever done.

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None of us had been to J-Tree before except the guys, who we were extremely lucky to have with us – especially Chris. They basically were our lifelines when we hesitated to jump over huge crevasses or were unsure how to hop down rocks without breaking our necks.

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According to Google, scrambling is “to make one’s way quickly or awkwardly up a steep slope or over rough ground by using one’s hands as well as one’s feet.” To me, it’s a way of flailing your arms and legs while ascending rocky heights just to prevent face planting.

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I had never scrambled before, and it was certainly a challenge at first – and I was frustrated with myself because I felt like I should have been strong enough and not as afraid to “Hulk it” (what we coined Chris as doing) by hopping on the rocks. Half the time, I was a neon dot being left behind (see photos below), while the other four breezed past and had way more athleticism than me. I blamed the fact that I had been eating mounds upon mounds in Japan and never had this much physical hopping and climbing other than scaling steps to a castle. Yeah, maybe that’s my excuse.

Queen Thalia being a badass.
Queen Thalia being a badass.

I’ll never forget how Zach described this particular early morning hike we were set to do. “It’s a really easy hike, I’ve led loads of older guys on it who weren’t in shape and they were all fine.” Was there scrambling involved? “Only a little.”

Okay. Right. The girls and I should have known by the start of it that Zach was clearly biased in his description of this as an “easy” hike, especially when we were climbing rocks parallel to our bodies in the first few minutes. And then we reached a roadblock, with a huge rock blocking our way further (because this clearly wasn’t a clearcut trail at all – it was a speciality/secret Zach trail), and we all looked at each other like, “Okay, we’re effed.”

“So the pathway is blocked, because it’s usually an easy straight shot from here. We’ll just go around, it’s cool,” he said. He led all of us under and over narrow gaps, crevices, and rocks that seemed to grow in size with every corner we turned. It was almost like we were in a movie, trying desperately to find our way out of a gigantic rock maze with all sorts of obstacles.

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There were definitely a lot of profanities unconsciously flowing from my mouth every time my feet slipped or when I thought I was close to breaking an ankle in a high jump. But the thing about pushing yourself and continuously challenging yourself to keep taking risks is that it makes you become more and more fearless. I went from being the cautious slowpoke whose heart kept dropping every time she almost fell off a ledge to being more relaxed and at trusting that I wouldn’t die. After all, the guys were so kind as to always watch us every time we jumped or went through the highest climbs to ensure that we didn’t fall off into a black pit.

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I’ll never forget one particular moment when we were faced with only one option to scale the rocks, at the highest viewpoint of the hike. It was 100% trusting Chris at that point, who carefully guided each of us as we shifted our weight on him and along an extremely narrow gap in the rocks to the other side. Each of us had to do one of those trust fall things, except forward, with our hands clenched into his. He was basically the only thing preventing us from plummeting to our deaths above the high gaps in the rocks, and it was terrifying to see how he was putting his life at risk for all of us. Thalia, Courtney and I seemed to be thinking the same exact thing – each of us hoping that we wouldn’t be the ones who would be to blame for somehow losing balance and pulling him down with us into the depths below.

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I was the last of the girls to do this life-or-death thing with Chris, but I somehow trusted him fully in knowing that I wouldn’t get hurt. It was just an odd feeling, my stomach in knots and my heart in my throat, knowing that if I somehow slipped up, I could possibly injure him in the process, and I was more terrified about that than anything else. None of us were afraid of heights – I think we all loved adrenaline and adventure – but holy shit, those were definitely the five longest and scariest seconds of my life. And no, we don’t have photographic evidence since we were all so focused on staying alive at that point.

We all made it through unscathed, and the 360 view of J-Tree that we had from that highest rock was totally worth it. Of course, we all made fun of Zach the rest of the trip (“Hardly any scrambling,” my ass), but it was all in good fun – because without him, we wouldn’t have pushed ourselves nearly that hard. Pays off to have two Hulk badasses in your camping group.

Getting down was a lot easier than scrambling up, except for the few narrow things we had to squeeze through (see photo below), which sadly resulted in a couple injuries on the guys’ end – but everyone survived.

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What an experience, to say the least. We could have all had honorary Indiana Jones badges by the end of this so-called “hike,” and it was so rewarding.

Chris, our hero!
Chris, our hero!

Other than the fact that two of us kept mixing each other’s names up (I was Becky to Zach and I accidentally kept calling him Josh), it was such a memorable trip. We didn’t even let a couple hundred Indian princesses (“WE FOUND WAAAAATER!” screams from little kids at 7 A.M. – as we all thought to ourselves the STFU remark) bog down our trip. And certainly nothing prevented us from staying up until midnight around the campfire, telling stories and dirty jokes and just enjoying moments in general. Not even the sudden rain halted anything – or the fact that all of our bread mysteriously flew away or was eaten by rabbits (leaving us to resort to cheese and turkey sandwiches wrapped in lettuce). Some mysteries will never be solved. 🙂

Thanks for the memories, camp crew – until next time. 🙂 And thanks for saving all of our lives at so many different points, Zach and Chris!

Most photos courtesy of Courtney 🙂

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