On the Rocks - Lost Horse Area

Trek Date: January 2, 2015

Ask not for whom the rock waits, it waits for thee.
— anon

There are a lot of big rocks in what the climbing community refers to as the "Lost Horse" area, and most have very unusual names. If you like rocks, this is a great place to spend some time. The main parking area for this location is signed "Hemingway," after one of the more notable chunks of quartz monzonite that stands nearby.

The rocks at J Tree have always fascinated me and I thought I'd like to get to know some of them on a first-name basis. So I decided to visit and interview them, get their story, take their picture and then post their tales. There are a number of books available, as well as a great climbing website,  that list many of the climbing rocks and routes to the top. I doubt these posts of mine will add much, if anything, to the knowledge base that's out there regarding the art of rock climbing. However, I hope they at least entertain and perchance awaken a desire in my constant readers to veer off the beaten path and visit some of my new found friends. The map below is a general guide to where they live.

The parking area at #1 on the map is a perfect place to begin an exploration of the surrounding environs. It tends to fill up early on weekends and holidays, but during the week there are usually some empty spots.

Playhouse Rock

Playhouse Rock is located near spot #2, just a bit south of Hemingway. It's a popular rock, combining some easy routes with some harder ones to get to the top. Perhaps you'd like to try Stucca by a Yucca, or maybe Psycho Groove? I'd stay away from Anthrax and Break a Leg.

This trip was actually the first time I've stopped here and gotten out to explore the area. All the times I've driven by and looked over at the huge rocks, I thought they were all one long, continuous wall. Which proves that things aren't always what they seem. Getting up close and personal, there are ridges and canyons slicing through these giant rocks. Case in point, spot #3 on the map is actually tucked in its own little canyon. That's where I found IRS Wall and Dairy Queen Wall.

IRS Wall

I'm going to have to guess that it was either a tax man, or someone who didn't like the IRS who named IRS Wall. Most of the routes to the top are crack routes, such as Bloody Tax Break, Mr. Bunny's Tax Shelter, Bullet Head and the Serbian Stairway.

Dairy Queen Wall

Dairy Queen Wall is located just a bit south of IRS Wall. Like many of the rocks in the park, it has a left side and a right side. Many of the routes for Dairy Queen seem to follow a theme: Scrumdillyishus, Frosty Cone, Hot Fudge and Chili Dog. Hmmm, makes me hungry....

Hemingway Buttress

Spot #4 is the namesake for the parking lot and general area, 'officially' known as Hemingway Buttress. There's an East Face Left, and farther north along the ridge is the East Face Right. There are at least 43 routes to the top, including White Lightning, For Whom the Poodle Tolls, Astropoodle, Poodles are People Too (I sense another theme), the Importance of Being Ernest, and the Roadrunner, to name a few. 

Ken Black Memorial Dome

The rather large formation (#5) standing near the intersection of Park Blvd. and the dirt road that heads behind the Hemingway area is known as Ken Black Memorial Dome, shown here with and without climbers on top. How did they get up there? Did they use My Friends Treat Me Like a Mushroom? Or maybe Holiday in the Sun? I'm betting they took the Chicken Mechanics route.

Banana Cracks

What can I say about Banana Cracks that hasn't already been said before?  It's located roughly between Ken Black and Hemingway and it has rather a steep face. How to get to the top of this? Try Banana Peel, Papaya Cracks, or maybe the Tails of Poodles.

Location #6 is a nifty area with some very interesting rock formations. Amongst those I was able to meet and greet were Roadside Rock, Lizard's Hangout, Mels Diner and Bush Dome. A few of the others in the area were a bit shy, so I wasn't able to get a picture of them during this trip. Maybe next time I can tame them.

Roadside Rock

Roadside Rock is rather small in terms of rock size in J Tree, but it is impressive nonetheless. It has a steep crack system on its road side. Try Cheap Thrills to get to the top, or maybe Just Another Roadside Attraction.

Lizard's Hangout - check out the scales

I particularly enjoyed visiting Lizard's Hangout. There is a huge section on one side that resembles lizard scales, which I guess is how it got its name. As you might imagine, most of the climbing routes are reptilian in name. There were a few climbers present when Murbachi and I visited. Perhaps they were ascending via Lizard Taylor, or Chicken Lizard. But Alligator Lizard and Poodle Lizard are always good options as well.

Mels Diner

There wasn't any food available at Mels Diner, in fact, I didn't see a diner at all, just a big rock. Still some snow on the ground though, from a storm that passed through a few days earlier. Plan on bringing your own lunch and maybe watch some climbers on the Roman Pretzel, or maybe just Kickin' Bach.

Bush Dome

Bush Dome in a very handsome rock, in a granitic sort of way. It's located to the right side of Mels Diner and only has a few published routes. Chestwig seems to be the most popular.

Location #7 was one of my favorites in this area, and contains one of the most impressive rock walls in J Tree, the Lost Horse Wall. Also impressive and right nearby is Freeway Wall. These are some tall drinks of water.

Lost Horse Wall

I don't think anyone can look at this picture of Lost Horse Wall and not say, "Now that's a rock!" Whether you're looking at the Left Side, or the Right Side, this is an impressive piece of quartz monzonite. The tiny specks you can see on the far right are actually people, which helps put the size of Lost Horse Wall into perspective.

Lost Horse Wall

There were at least a dozen climbers on Lost Horse Wall while I was there, testifying to its popularity. Some of the favorite routes to the top include: The Swift, Dappled Mare, Roan Way, Mare's Tail and City Slickers.

Freeway Wall

Another impressive wall nearby is Freeway Wall. Can you spot the climber about halfway up the face? Perhaps he's taking the Sig Alert route, or maybe Nobody Walks in L.A. It's amazing as I hike through J Tree, I'll look up at a huge rock somewhere and odds are good, there will be someone sitting on top, enjoying the bird's eye view.

Even with all the odd, sometimes apparent, sometimes out of left field names that have been bestowed upon the rocks, sometimes one will just catch my fancy a bit more than the others. Spot #8 is one of those.

Imaginary Voyage Formation

You are made to respect this route early, as you have to crawl to the base, located in an alcove. The exposure starts here, with the alcove 30 feet above the talus, and the valley spread out a few hundred feet below.

A stiff layback starts out the route, keep pulling until you feel the opposite wall at your back. Continue to the handrail, traverse into the light, and contemplate the move over the roof. The exposure is thrilling at this point, enjoy it. Pull the move, clipping the bolts, and clamber to the top.
— http://www.mountainproject.com/v/imaginary-voyage/105722548

Sometimes the rocks all start to look alike, but Imaginary Voyage (spot #8 on the map) is distinctive, both its name and its appearance. Those two chunks of rock at the top create an impressive landmark that can be seen for quite some distance. That's one of the advantages of getting friendly with the rocks in the park. They make great landmarks if you happen to be traveling away from established trails. This formation was named after the famous route to the top, Imaginary Voyage.

Uncle Remus

Uncle Remus sits stoically atop a small pile of boulders near location #9. It's a short and pleasant walk from the last turnout on the dirt Ranger Road. The rocks in J Tree come in different qualities, and Uncle Remus is quite good when it comes to quality. The most popular route to reach the top and sit on his head is the Uncle Remus route. However, climbers could also choose Up the Ante, or Man from Uncle.

Aiguille de Joshua Tree

Also known as the Finger of Hercules, the Aiguille de Joshua Tree is definitely one of the more distinctive rocks in the park. I might have called it 'Nessie,' as it sort of reminds me of those photos you see of the Loch Ness Monster. There's only one route to the top, the ultra-classic Aiguille de Joshua Tree. It's basically a free solo climb. If you do a Google search on the Aiguille, you'll see a lot of images with people standing atop the finger. It's pretty impressive in person.

Full Frontal view of the Aiguille de Joshua Tree

These are only a few of the named rocks and some of their routes in the Lost Horse area. I hope my slightly irreverent commentary and stunning images have entertained and enthralled my 42 subscribers and maybe given someone the urge to get out and visit some of these places for themselves. As with all of my travel posts, if there happens to be an image or two you are fond of, please feel free to right click and download it for your own use. There's no charge. Credit back to Cali49.com would be nice, but it's not required. I make my photos available for everyone, free of watermarks or copyright notices. 

Author/Photographer/Explorer "in situ"