Squirm, eh?

Squirm. The direct version that goes at v5. Now that’s a fun problem!

One of my favorites in Jtree, located in the Stonehenge formation outside Cap Rock, this sloper beauty encapsulates all that I love about Joshua Tree bouldering. Powerful opening moves off a prominent feature, smeary feet, thuggy bumping on sloped monzonite, capped off by a western roll mantel made possible by a faint sloper edge right where you want it. I’ll take all of that you got.

It took me my second session to send. Danelze and I were with Joe, Betsy, and Chelsea plus Chelsea’s friends from Washington state, Jeff and Alexa. I hadn’t met Jeff and Alexa before but they really fun. They figured prominently into the day when Alexa lost the car keys out in the desert. Ha! 

We opened the day warming up at the Roadside Rocks, which hosts my very favorite warmup slab in the park. Patina Slab 5.9. Name says it all. It’s so featured for that less-than-vertical angle you could probably send it first go after staying up all night drinking beer, eating Taco Bell, and crying about your ex. It’s one of the easiest problems I know of that’s less than v0. It may be slab, but even the easy slabs are marked by faint impressions that make ascension possible, and pack a far more cryptic read than this little number provides. Funny how that works.

Patina Slab gets no stars in the Miramontes GB while the adjacent route, Chunkers at 5.8, get’s two. Chunkers is thuggy for the grade as you layback and pull up on, yes, chunky features along an arete. It’s harder from a purely muscular standpoint, and I think less fun. How Patina Slab gets zero stars is beyond me, but that’s why you can’t take that stuff too seriously. You never know what you might like despite what the dominating culture will tell you. There are people who don’t listen to Nickleback ironically, after all. 

Like most Americans, I don’t listen to Nickleback at all, though I have been mistaken to be Canadian on more than one occasion. One of these was at a Kings game when the Ottawa Senators were in town. It was the final year of the current contracts for both teams’ number one defensemen, Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson respectively, both widely regarded at that time as the two best defensemen in the league.

After the game I was talking to an Ottawa fan in line at the bathroom in a conversation that extended from the urinal to the escalator. Those piss talks with strangers surprise you sometimes. Not that I usually partake, but Kings won and I was feeling good. 

He talked to me about how he had watched Karlsson years ago at the World Junior Championship (WJC) and knew he’d be special. I had never watched the WJC before, which surprised him, and he told me it was a must-watch that started every year on Boxing Day. He then asked me, “You’re Canadian, aren’t you?”

Maybe he assumed anyone who was a Kings fan was still Canadian, because who watches hockey in southern California? Many people actually. It’s not as fringe as it’s believed, though at this point hockey is probably less popular than rock climbing. God I wish the opposite were true. 

Another time some guy at Mountain High thought I was Canadian. Apparently something in my voice or pronunciation had him certain that I was, despite me telling him that I was born in California, and had spent my whole life here. This was at the beautiful Foggy Goggle bar, where Danelze and I were taking a break from skiing and he and his girlfriend were likewise taking a break from snowboarding. That’s already a troubling foundation, we don’t exactly love each other, skiers and snowboarders, but this guy’s girlfriend was really taking to Danelze. She was a true sweetheart, and called men simple and predictable. Wait…

My favorite bar, Mountain High’s The Foggy Goggle

Anyway, her boyfriend was visibly drunk and so I offered to buy him a Labatt Blue. This set him off and he slurred, “Labatt Blue? I knew you were a fucking Canuck!

I told him I was just joking but he didn’t believe me. His girlfriend decided to take a bathroom break with Danelze and thought that he and I were cute together and could bond for a few minutes while they were away. He didn’t say a word and was a bit drunkenly angry, refusing even to look at me. When the girls got back his girlfriend asked if we bonded. He either mumbled or said nothing at all, I can’t remember. I was too busy laughing to myself.

Speaking of Canadians, our friend Joe seems a little Canadian when I think about it. He’s from Oklahoma and is a well-mannered man with a subtle twang in his voice. He and Betsy are a lot of fun. She’s from Maine and not super into meat, but Joe is. He hunts and skins that shit himself. I think if he were up there with me at the Foggy Goggle that drunk snowboarder might have tried to take a bottle to our heads. 

Joe doesn’t climb often but when he does he’ll knock out a JTree v1 or something off the couch. Just like how he doesn’t ski much but when he does he’ll knock out a black diamond off the couch. I like it when Joe comes along with us places.

He and Danelze gave me a spot on Squirm when I sent. It’s a two-padder since there’s a pronounced rock about two feet tall at the base. I dropped off a few times to land on the padded rock, so it’s not much of a concern. It has a rounded flat top and a pad folds over it neatly. As far as rocks at the base of problems go, I’d define this one as polite.

Joe with the spot early in the squirm

As I said earlier, Squirm embodies so much of of what I love about Jtree boulders. It’s not like it’s crazy hard or anything, but it has that air of the improbable about it at first glance at its big, bald finish. The introductory sequence has a different character as you start out in a kind of alcove. You get this monster rail feature on the right to match on and lean off, sticking your left foot out against the other side of the scooped face. Your right foot smears delicately as you bump up higher on the opening rail. You then take the right foot and swing it over a bit into the center of the concave so that you can push up and gain a left sloper at the lowest edge of the bald top, and then a higher right sloper after that. This is the set-up. The crux comes next.

Setting up for the final crux foot placement

It’s easy enough to replicate this maneuver once you get it down, the harder part now is taking that right foot and more or less dragging it up the face of the rock until you can awkwardly plant it somewhere on that opening rail. I ended up scumming it up and pressing down with my heel angled to the sky when I stuck it, at which point there was no turning back because that’s all I needed to send. I instinctively shot my right hand up and latched a sloper edge high on the boulder’s top, which gave me enough purchase to bear down and pull my left heel up high so I could roll over and mantel. So sweet.

Getting ready to send

I mentioned a western roll before, which this problem lends itself to pretty readily. I actually did it more gracefully than that, managed some air between my body and the rock, but the rolling motion was all there and as far I’m concerned you’d be forgiven for rubbing your stomach on the top if that’s what happens. It’s just so satisfying pulling a move like that which could never be replicated on plastic and puts you face-to-face with the strangeness of slopers in all their wild beauty.

My joy at having just climbed what I still maintain as among my very favorites in the park was momentarily stalled due to a new and urgent mission. While I was working Squirm, Chelsea and Alexa took a walk back to the car. When they returned, we were all basically done, and then checking her pockets and backpack, Alexa realized she had lost the car keys. So now we were all part of a search party.

We scoured the ground heading back to her and Jeff’s Subaru, which had lost the passenger side window on the drive down from Washington and was replaced by a plastic bag (talk about bad luck), but the keys were nowhere to be found. We then retraced her and Chelsea’s steps around Cap Rock and back out to Stonehenge a few times. Around the third time back out there I found her keys sitting in the shade of a little bush, and the relief she and Jeff felt was felt by us all. It may be a National Park, and they may have been around friends, but two states down with missing car keys in a place without cell reception was palpably unsettling. Finding those keys was like sending Squirm all over again, only better. 

We went to the Joshua Tree Saloon afterwards and got to know each other more. Alexa said that Bud Light tastes like watermelon. Oh my. She’s right. I swear. Open your heart and try it and tell me you don’t pick up on those watermelon notes on the finish. For me, Bud Light will never be the same. 

Chelsea and Jeff and Alexa were camping in the park that night and climbing routes the next day. Danelze and I were right on the edge of calling in sick that next day since it was a Monday, but declined. It was the last and only time I saw those two and a reminder that sometimes taking the sick day is worth it. I have no idea what I did that day at work. Though I know when I left that job I had around 200 hours of sick leave in my balance. 

Squirm. Lost keys. Bud Light tasting like watermelon. That’s what I remember. And when I finally try out a Labatt Blue, I’m sure I’ll savor that memory, too. Maybe it tastes like maple syrup or some shit. 

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