On Location in Joshua Tree

Greeting the morning sun in J-Tree Greeting the morning sun in J-Tree

It's been a long-standing goal of mine to get down to Joshua Tree. I imagined I would marvel at the 7,000+ climbing routes dispersed among a veritable sea of monzonite granite. The dry air, warm temps and sunny skies are just the thing to revitalize the soul after a long and gloomy Seattle winter. It didn't take much deliberation when choosing this season's location for our Feathered Friend's photo shoot.

The otherworldly landscape of Joshua Tree is truly something to behold. Imagine vast expanses of desert floor dashed with jumbles of perfectly cracked stoned and peppered with what must be a botanist’s dream of yucca, cholla and beavertail cactus for as far as the eye can see. It's no wonder J-tree is a mecca for climbers, scramblers, bikers or just about anyone who loves to throw a little adventure into the mix.

Red flowers bloom from a beavertail cactus Red flowers bloom from cactus in Joshua Tree

Now the big question – how to pack for this trip? You know, no matter how many of these shoots I go on, the biggest challenge I always encounter is how to properly pack for them. If you're not careful, the camping, camera and climbing gear can very easily add up to hundreds of pounds. Add to that all of the product needed for such a shoot and enough bourbon to keep our models happy and you have yourself quite a large gear cache. It would be no problem at all if I were just loading up the Subaru and heading to the mountains, but it's another challenge all together to condense all of this down to two duffel bags for a flight. I would love to say that I have this thing down to a science by now, but that would be stretching the truth a bit.

In the past, I have spent days packing, unpacking, then begrudgingly repacking for climbing shoots like this one. It's a tedious game of sacrifice, really. It means substituting clunky car camping gear with ultra-minimalist backpacking gear, thus leaving some favorite creature comforts behind - knowing very well that if I forget one thing while on assignment, I am much too cheap to replace it while on assignment. In order to avoid any such catastrophic event and unnecessary spending, I adhere to a strict and regimented packing list. And I am very proud to say that I have gotten two 120-liter duffels down to 49 lbs each.

Kaare Iverson and Abby Dione go over the morning beta. Kaare Iverson and Abby Dione go over the morning beta.

I did have a pretty extensive packing list for this trip that I will spare you from reading.  But there were certain pieces of gear on that list that I would label as absolutely essential for making a rad trip to Joshua Tree all that much better:

  • •Lightweight, durable and surprisingly abrasion resistant, the Stretch Zion Pant by Prana are my go to climbing/travel pant. I suggest buying one in every color immediately.

  • •The Ibex Shak base layer shirt is just like their synthetic counterpart, they wick and insulate very well. But since the Shak is 100% merino wool, it will keep your stink to a minimum while wearing it for many consecutive days. Your tent mate will thank you.

  • Hilleberg 4-season Allak tent. Now, you may be asking why on earth would I bring a bomber 4-season tent to the desert in the Spring. Kinda overkill, no? Well, if the 65 mph plus Santa Ana winds aren't enough to drive you towards something a bit more structurally sound, then the constant barrage of sand certainly will. Just zip up the mesh covering panels and seal yourself in.

  • Five-Ten Guide Tennie approach shoes. Many routes in J-Tree involve class four or five walk-offs. Not to mention, the fact that once you set eyes on this amazing granite, you're just going to want to scramble up everything in sight. Then when you find yourself in a bit of a sketchy top-out move, you will be oh-so thankful you brought these uber-grippy shoes along.

  • •One thing about the desert, the sun comes up pretty quick. This means as a photographer, you have to act fast to catch the good light. So, when you need to scramble but still haven't had your morning coffee fix, fret not. You can boil a half liter of water in just a minute and a half with the MSR Reactor stove. I'm told that it combines two modes of heat transfer, both convective and radiant, making it speedy and efficient. But I'm pretty sure it's voodoo.

  • •When it comes to a sleep system, I found that my Exped DownMat9 is pretty much all I can sleep on anymore. While it may be a bit heavier than a standard camping mat (22 oz). This thing is plush! I mean, you're sleeping on three and a half inches down and air for crying out loud! Couple it up with a 30 degree Feathered Friends Osprey down bag and you have yourself a pretty cush home away from home.

Abbby Dione on belay at the base of 'Toe Jam' a 5.7 classic route in Hidden Valley Campground Abbby Dione on belay at the base of 'Toe Jam' a 5.7 classic route in Hidden Valley Campground
Climber, Kaare Iverson has a go at the classic  route: 'Illusion Dweller" 5.10b Climber, Kaare Iverson has a go at the classic route: 'Illusion Dweller" 5.10b

To see more of Dan's work, visit his website at www.danholzphotography.com.

Expedition Tales