My first visit to Joshua Tree National Park 15 years ago nearly ended in that kind of tragedy. A buddy and I were down from Anchorage, Alaska to climb granite splitters in the desert sun. After a week of constant climbing, we needed to give our destroyed hands a break. A day hike through...
My first visit to Joshua Tree National Park 15 years ago nearly ended in that kind of tragedy. A buddy and I were down from Anchorage, Alaska, to climb granite splitters in the desert sun. After a week of constant climbing, we needed to give our destroyed hands a break.
A day hike through the spectacular Wonderland of Rocks seemed the perfect ‘rest day’ activity. We had been hitting the climbing areas on the Wonderland’s outer fringe and thought it would be cool to explore the inner workings of this labyrinth of stone. We replaced the climbing gear in our daypacks with some energy bars and a couple of liters of water. At the crack of dawn, we headed up a wash and dove headfirst into the Wonderland with the plan to magically emerge in Indian Cove before nightfall. We didn’t have a map, GPS, or route plan for crossing the five miles before us. But hey, we were climbers from Alaska, and this was just a ‘hike.’ It took us eight hours to run out of water, 12 hours to admit that we were hopelessly lost, and 36 hours to find our way back out to the trailhead.
I remember my partner looking up through a few hundred feet of boulders to an airliner jetting across the sky and rationalizing which way we needed to go because that plane was headed to LA. I remember feeling the panic that we were not going to survive this one, that we were going to make the local news as stupid tourists get lost in the park and die (didn’t they know better?). I remember sitting on the curb back at the trailhead, dirty and bloody, chugging water only to vomit it back up. It took us days to recover from this ‘rest day’ hike, and we never got full strength again on that trip.
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