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3 Days, 3 Nights in the Desert: New Jack City | Part III

3 Days, 3 Nights in the Desert: New Jack City | Part III

the content

Words and photos by Don Burton

Read Part II Here

After packing up the next morning, Vall and I drove our cars to the East Canyon parking area where there are a lot of different walls. Todd had to be back in Big Bear so he left the night before. I wanted to check out one of the most popular walls, Raven Rocks. As we approached we saw a lot of climbers, which reminded me it was Saturday. We had been spoiled with seeing only a handful of climbers the past two days. There were ropes hanging everywhere! We found an open route named Custom Tailored. It was a fun climb with lots of holds and nice sequences. After Vall’s turn, we decided to leave my rope after asking other climbers if they wanted to top rope it. Being an introvert, this was a nice segue for me to ask to climb on other people’s ropes, which everyone said yes. It was awesome to see everyone sharing ropes and providing beta on different routes. (Note: If climbing on another climber’s rope, make sure their anchor is safe. If you have any questions about safety, do not climb on other’s gear). We eventually gravitated towards a group that had three ropes set up. They welcomed us to climb with them. They lived in Orange County and climb at Sender One Santa Ana. The Sender One community bands together!

Don Burton with a fantastic review of his trip to New Jack City.

Raven Rocks was very clean compared to the other walls we climbed so it was nice not to be dodging any falling rocks. It even gave me the confidence to flail two thirds of the way up a tough 5.11b route on top rope, but the route I had really had my eye on to climb before I left was the classic, Route 66. It is a sustained and thoughtful 5.9. There were quick draws on all of the bolts but no anchor built so I was hoping someone else would finish the route so I could top rope it. Vall left around 3 pm but I planned to stay until dark and I still had hopes of climbing Route 66. After climbing a couple of other routes I finally worked up the nerve to climb it on lead. As I made my way towards the last bolt I realized I had reached the crux. I paused to figure out the sequence to the anchors. After trying a few moves and hanging in between, I decided to step far left on the thin ledge I had been standing on and then match my feet. This would put me in position to work my way up a short crack to the anchors. As I jammed my hands and feet into the crack, I tried to recall all of the Wide Boyz YouTube videos on crack climbing technique. Point your thumb towards your pinky, rotate you leg to wedge your foot… it was working! Before I knew it I reached the chains. It was really satisfying to top out and finish my trip on a high note.

As I was packing up, my new friends (Arturo, Christina, and Sarionne) asked if I wanted to eat dinner with them at a Vietnamese Restaurant in Victorville as they were leaving soon. “Sounds good,” I said. It turned out to be an even better way to finish my trip.

Quick Tips:

  • Bring toilet paper as the restrooms have been known to be empty.
  • No running water so bring plenty for all of your needs.
  • There are no trash bins so bring trash bags and pack out everything.
  • Check the weather before heading out. Temperatures can fluctuate drastically.
  • New Jack City Sport Climbing Guide by Jordan Robbins can be found on Amazon.


3 Days, 3 Nights in the Desert: New Jack City | Part II

3 Days, 3 Nights in the Desert: New Jack City | Part II

the content

Words and photos by Don Burton

Read Part I Here

We both decided to head to bed early because it was getting quite cold even with the fire. The next morning while eating breakfast Todd checked the weather and saw that the low temperature for nearby Barstow was 22 degrees Fahrenheit! As we shivered over our breakfasts, I suggested we pack up and move to a site that was in the sun. Todd said he was thinking the same thing. We moved over to site 4 which is right next to the White Face wall so we decided to get in a few pitches before Vall showed up. We started with the far right route named White Flight, rated at 5.7. “Great beginning lead route,” said the guidebook. I thought it would be a fun way for me to start the day. Wrong! About three fourths of the way up I was stumped. I didn’t see any good holds and it was too early to take a fall, well at least for me. Even up to that point I never really felt secure so I tucked my tail between my legs and down climbed just below the fourth bolt. “Take!” “Lower.” It wasn’t like any other 5.7 I had climbed outside before. Todd tied in and started climbing. I sure hoped he would finish it so he could clean my quick draws. I didn’t want to leave any gear on such an easy route. When he was finished he said it

Vall and Todd scrambling down from Cliffs of Insanity.

was definitely not rated correctly and suspected some holds had pulled off making it much more difficult of a climb. Phew, I thought I would have to update my Mountain Project profile to “Leads 5.5 Sport.” We climbed the neighboring route, which was fun and seemed to be appropriately graded. Afterwards we headed back to camp to eat lunch and wait for Vall.

Once Vall arrived we quickly hopped in my car and headed to the trailhead that leads to the Cliffs of Insanity wall. It is one of the few areas that require any sort of approach. Still, it only took about 15 minutes to reach with the help of the recently published New Jack City guidebook by Jordan Robbins. This is a really thorough guidebook with an overview, approach directions and even coordinates for each wall. There are also short descriptions of each route along with the number of bolts and the type of anchors plus plenty of pictures.


Once at the base of Cliffs on Insanity you need to scramble up a short distance to reach the belay station. I was most excited to climb this wall because it has the longest routes in New Jack City at 120 feet high. Two of the routes, Inconceivable and Uncle Funs Basement have mid-point anchors if you want to climb it in two pitches. This is especially nice if you wanted to practice multi pitch climbing. Note: It is necessary to climb it in two pitches if you are using a 60m rope though. Todd led first and made it to the mid point ledge fairly quickly but soon after he started to slow down. He said a lot of the holds seemed suspect and as he steadily made his way up pebbles periodically fell towards Vall and I. It wasn’t surprising though because this wall isn’t very popular so it is not as clean as some of the others. As he reached the last bolt, he only had one quick draw left. He paused for a bit and I could see him getting a little gripped and I imagined pumped too. He had a few options at this point. One, he could continue climbing to the top and rappel down which meant there wouldn’t be a top rope anchor for me to climb if that's what I wanted to do, which I did. Two, I could have lowered him and he could have back cleaned two more quick draws to build an anchor. Three, he could bail and lower off his highest quick draw and clean the rest on the way down. Todd opted to bail, which I don’t blame him. It is unfortunate he didn’t have a bail biner and ended up having to leave a quick draw behind. On his was down, he built an anchor at the mid-point bolts so Vall and I could do a couple of short pitches. Vall even cleaned her first sport anchor, which Todd had taught her how to do earlier.

Don leading Cupid’s Fever on the Valentine Wall.

With only about 1.5 hours of daylight left we decided to head back to camp and check out some more routes next to our site. We decided on Valentine Wall, which had a couple of 5.8’s. I decided to lead Cupid’s Fever, which had a tough start for the grade. It was kind of thin until I reached the fourth bolt, then it was pretty easy the rest of the way to the anchors. Next it was Vall’s turn. She cruised up the route, which to me was really impressive because she had 1.5” long painted nails! The sun was setting so it was time to get back to camp for dinner. Vall had a subway sandwich, Todd had cold spaghetti and I pulled out a rib eye steak. What can I say? I backpack a lot so when I car camp I like to splurge a little. As my steak was sizzling away, Todd shouted and pointed to the horizon. There was an amazing glowing streak across the sky.

Space X Launch

Growing up in Southern California you see this type of thing every so often. We figured it was a missile launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base but we later found out it was SpaceX’s Falcon rocket launch. Thanks to the much warmer night, we spent more time catching up around the campfire before heading to bed.

Part III Here!

3 Days, 3 Nights in the Desert: New Jack City | Part I

3 Days, 3 Nights in the Desert: New Jack City | Part I

the content

Words and photos by Don Burton

The awesome Don Burton!

We’re pretty lucky in Southern California to have so many climbing destinations nearby. I had some time off over the holidays and was looking for a place to climb for 3 days. The two places I considered first were Red Rock outside of Las Vegas and Joshua Tree. I decided against Red Rock because I felt like the drive was going to eat into too much of my climbing time so I originally decided on Joshua Tree. As I did more research, I was reconsidering for two main reasons. One, it would be really hard to get a campsite (although, there are nearby BLM sites). Two, I was looking to Sport climb and JTree leans more towards trad which I don’t have any experience in yet. I saw a friend’s Instagram post of him climbing at a place called New Jack City so I did some research.

Although most climbers refer to the area as New Jack City, the official name is Sawtooth Canyon. It’s located about 15 miles south of Barstow along Highway 247. The elevation is approximately 2500’ and you can expect similar weather as Joshua Tree. The climbing season is generally late Fall, Winter and Spring. In terms of climbing, Jack Marshall and Sam Owings are credited with discovering it, hence the name New Jack City. I guess New Sam City or Sam’s Town didn’t have quite the same ring to it. The two of them developed and bolted a majority of the routes starting in the mid 1990’s, which is now approaching 400 routes. When Jack and Sam first started coming here the area was littered with burnt out cars, ammunition casings and broken glass. Efforts were made to get the area cleaned up and eventually in late 2010 the Bureau of Land Management built 13 campsites each with a fire ring, grill, picnic table and patio cover along with a couple of pit toilets. The shooting of firearms and off road driving is prohibited within 0.5 miles of the area now.

Campsite on the far left

Since I was going from Thursday to Saturday, it was difficult to find a partner among my usual pool of climbers because most of them were working or out of town for the holidays. I decided to extend my search to the world wide web and posted on Mountain Project. About a week after posting, a climber living in Indiana named Todd responded by saying he’d be nearby visiting family in Big Bear but could drive down and stay Thursday and Friday. Great, I got 2 of 3 days covered for a climbing partner and I figured I could just meet some other climbers on Saturday because I assumed it would be crowded. A few days later my friend Vall said she could come down Friday and Saturday from Bishop. Even better!

Todd and I met at campsite 11 before lunch the first day. I quickly set up my tent and we walked over to the Boy Scout Wall. New Jack City has routes ranging in grade from 5.6-5.13 so there is something for everyone but a majority of the routes are rated 5.10-5.11. When I dream, I’m a 5.12 climber outdoors but in reality I lead more moderate routes. Boy Scout Wall is popular because of the abundance of moderate routes. It is mostly in the shade, which is usually nice but it was bitterly cold this day. We started with a fun 5.7 called Girl Scout Cookies. I noticed Todd stopping whenever he had a good stance to warm up his hands. I guess it wasn’t too surprising seeing how I was belaying while wearing my winter down parka and a beanie. When it was my turn to lead, I made quick work of climbing and cleaning because of the cold temps. Todd, who had flown in from Indiana where he is finishing up his Ph.D. in engineering at Purdue University, said it was the coldest he’s ever climbed in. Yikes! It was in the low 40’s in the shade so we made our way to a nearby wall aptly named Sunnyside.

It was significantly warmer in the sun and it made the climbing much more enjoyable until Todd pulled a hold. He was above the last bolt and almost to the anchors when he pulled off a hold about the size of a softball on a route ironically named Fun In The Sun. I dodged it and waited for the familiar pull of a falling leader. Moments later I realize he didn’t fall. By some miracle he only fell about 2 feet before a sling racked on his harness caught on a small horn. If that hadn’t happened he most likely would have fallen about 15 feet and it wouldn’t have been pretty because the route was fairly low angle so he probably would have hit the wall a couple of times before stopping. This is one of the big warnings of New Jack City. Choss (loose rock)! Be careful when pulling on holds here, especially flakes. More than a few times each of us had pulled on holds that flexed. It doesn’t really inspire confidence, but sometimes you have to work with what you have. “Uh Todd, why don’t you just build an anchor and I’ll top rope it.” After I top roped and cleaned the route we decided to walk back to camp. We felt like we tested our luck enough for one day and it was getting dark soon.

Sunset view from the campsite

Todd was sleeping in his car and didn’t need to set up a tent so he built a fire while I finished setting up. Around the campfire we ate dinner and talked about climbing and life in general. Besides the obvious, one of the things I have really enjoyed during the short time I have been climbing is the people I have met. I have heard stories about intimidating and arrogant climbers but I have yet to meet them. I’m sure I will at some point but I have mostly experienced support and encouragement from other climbers. Whether they are shouting words of encouragement as you struggle with a sequence or share invaluable beta, climbers make a great community. Todd is a great example of that too. Being the more experienced climber, he never hesitated to lead a route first if I was reluctant and always shared helpful beta after he finished.

Part II here!

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