Todd Swain: Thirty Years of Grit and Grins in JTree
My first visit to Joshua Tree was in the fall of 1983…long before bouldering pads, sticky rubber and velcro
closed climbing shoes were a glimmer in Mad Rock’s eyes. For a climber hailing from New England, the
thought of climbing on warm rock in the winter was very appealing. Imagine my surprise however, when
I rolled into Hidden Valley on that first trip, only to find it was raining!
Despite the inclement weather, that initial visit to Joshua Tree changed my life. Wandering around the
rock formations on that damp day led me to the realization that for me, this was the Promised Land. On
that day, I resolved to find a way to reside in Joshua Tree and fully immerse myself in its wonders.
I moved to Joshua Tree full time in the fall of 1988. Since then I’ve climbed over 4,000 different routes
and probably done 15-20,000 climbs in the park total. I’ve climbed on days so windy that I took leader
falls after having been blown off holds, a day when it was so hot my belayer passed out from the heat
and days cold enough that I was able to ice climb (not to mention snowshoe and cross-country ski after
large snowfalls). While doing new routes on gritty rock, I have taken dozens of whippers and shed many
a tear. I have worn through more than a few soles doing the “JT Shuffle” trying to de-grain footholds.
While climbing at Joshua Tree, I have seen bobcats, fox, mountain lion, sheep and tortoise on numerous
occasions. Searching for routes or new areas has led me to some great geological formations such as
Garrett’s Arch in the Wonderland of Rocks and the 29 Palms Corridor, not too far from Hidden Valley. A
few springs ago, I sat atop a rock formation with East Coast friends and we marveled at the ground
below us, which was so densely covered by flowers that the ground looked like it had been painted
While not as stunning as the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree is a magical place and after 30 years, I am still
discovering areas and routes that are new to me. If you haven’t been to JT, grab your shoes, bouldering
pad and gear (preferably all Mad Rock) and go explore!