LivAbility Magazine
Photo shows someone suspended on a rock wall in this nylon chair with straps, webbing straps, and rock climbing ropes. They wear a helmet.

Conquering Joshua Tree National Park

Story by Kelsey Bocken

Photos by Tara Scoville

“It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness,” a great person once said.

These “heights of greatness” were recently explored by families sponsored by Ability360 to rock climb at various locations in Joshua Tree National Park. Using the “ARC” – adaptive climbing gear that resembles a webbed cage with pulleys, they experienced the joy and adventure that the tan rocks, vast vistas, innumerable Joshua trees, enormous-blue sky and desert creatures the park has to offer.

This day marked the culmination of months of preparation by Ability360 and the families involved. It started when we decided to incorporate rock climbing into our Breaking Barriers Youth Program. We discovered adaptive climbing gear created by Paralympian Mark Wellman, who created and tested new adaptive climbing gear on his own adventures in the French Alps.

The months leading up to our adventure included Breaking Barriers weekly indoor rock climbing classes at the Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center. The families learned how to use the equipment at the fitness center then ventured out to Tom’s Thumb, a popular hiking trail and rock climbing spot in Scottsdale. They used the gear on a Breaking Barriers adventure in February and again in March. Breaking Barriers is possible because of the enthusiastic support the Thunderbird Charities has provided since the program began in 2016.

April 14 arrived, and it was show time. The day the families had been waiting for: the opportunity to climb the breath-taking rock features that seem to spring up out of the earth like giant canine teeth at Joshua Tree National Park. Waking before dawn, the families made their way to the first of three locations offering different climbs for varying degrees of abilities.

Lily Yates, a 13-year-old with Spina Bifida, conquered three climbs that were specifically chosen to match her abilities. On those climbs, she didn’t need any adaptive climbing gear. However, on one more difficult traverse, the adaptive gear came into play.

Yates smiled from ear-to-ear as she used the adaptive “ARC” climbing rig for this ascent. With the use of the equipment and the skills she honed on previous adventures, Yates mastered yet another successful climb.

Youth are on a trip in the desert. An Ability360 staff member is hugging one of the youth in the foreground.
A woman hugs a young girl from behind. The young girl is using an adaptive manual wheelchair made for outdoor use. They are out in the desert.

Aidan Ringo, a 14-year-old with Cerebral Palsy, joined in the fun. Ringo has been an Ability360 climber since indoor rock climbing classes started in November. Those five months of hard work and training were put into practice at Joshua Tree National Park.

Ringo was able to climb the height of a three-story building using the adaptive climbing equipment. The gear resembled a pulley-system. Ringo pumped a handle up the ropes, each pump would click into place securing Ringo in position, allowing him to climb higher without expending all his energy. Remarkably, he pulled a third of his body weight.

One piece of equipment that helped move the young climbers across the rugged space was the Safari Chair, a sturdy wheelchair with wide, durable tires and long leverage poles that resembles a rickshaw. The Safari Chair allows a person to pull another person in the chair through the rocky terrain that made some of the hiking trails less accessible at the park.

Everyone – climbing guides, Ability360 staff, interns and the families – came together to support one another, regardless of ability level. All those involved were able to set new personal records using different methods and adaptive equipment.

After weeks of preparing and practicing, the Ability360 climbers conquered various trails and climbs that day. Everyone achieved a sense of accomplishment and experienced the glorious sights, sounds and much more in Joshua Tree National Park.

Kelsey Bocken

Kelsey Bocken