Joshua Peak ex-HPS
Tandy Point ex-HPS
Keys BM LPC
Mt. Mel LPC
Eureka Peak ex-HPS / DS

Sun, Dec 12, 2010

With: Adam Jantz
Tom Becht
Laura Molnar
Sean O'Rourke
Erin Carper
Jon Barbour

Etymology
Joshua Peak
Tandy Point
Keys BM
Mt. Mel
Eureka Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 4 Profiles: 1 2

Continued...

Day 2 in Joshua Tree NP had me up at the temporarily usual time of 5:30a. Though we had two campsites paid for at Jumbo Rocks, our five cars amounted to one too many and the rangers asked us to remove one. So I parked mine at an empty site, put a blank stub in the associated clip, and slept there in the back of the van without trouble. In the morning I drove back to our campsites and found the others in various stages of waking and packing up. It didn't seem like the show was going to be ready to hit the road anytime soon, so I asked if anyone was game for a quick warmup to nearby Joshua Peak. Adam and Sean were both game, so the three of us drove off in the van.

Joshua Peak is the unofficial name for a small bump on the side of Ryan Mountain where a benchmark labeled "Joshua" had been placed when the area was surveyed sometime before WWII. It had been an HPS peak for a very short while, and even the HPS had lost track of its location for a time. The hike itself was barely half a mile each way. We drove west about four miles to Sheep Pass, then parked in the nearby group campground of the same name.

It was still a quarter hour before sunrise when we started off from Group Site 2 at 6:25a. We followed a sandy trail leaving south out of the campground, skirting the east side of Ryan Mountain across the flats of Queen Valley. We left the trail to head up the Southeast Slopes of Joshua with just under 500ft of gain to the summit. Sunrise came while we were on our way up, lighting up the hills with an orange glow. Ten minutes later we arrived at the summit. There was cairn with a wooden stake marking the top, along with an undated benchmark. We looked around for a register, but found none. Though a bit chilly, the air was still and it was a pleasant visit we had at the summit, taking in the views of of the new day and examining the weather-beaten junipers found there.

We dropped off the North Slope for a slightly shorter, more interesting return. We found some easy class 3 in a rocky gully, crossing over a short, rocky ridgeline just south of the campground for the most direct route back we could find. It was a more enjoyable scramble, to be sure. We got back to Jumbo Rocks in time to find everyone packed up.

Next on my agenda was Tandy Point, another delisted HPS summit. This one involves a 4mi walk for about 300ft of gain at the end to another benchmark, not a whole lot to recommend itself. Tom, Erin, and Jon decided to climb Ryan Mountain instead, while Laura, Sean, and Adam joined me for Tandy Point. We parked in the gravel lot at the gated start of the road heading west across the southern portion of Lost Horse Valley, heading over to Juniper Flat. The topo map has this road marked as private, though that seems only to refer to vehicular access to some of the private inholdings in the western portions of the park. Hiking was clearly allowed and very common along the road. Starting off just before 8a, we spent an enjoyable hour hiking along the road in the cool temperatures of the early morning. The first trail junction we came across was marked only by a set of arrows without further elaboration, causing us some puzzlement. About a mile later we came across a second junction, this one offering further info with the label for the Stubbe Springs Loop. Portions of this road are also part of the California Riding and Hiking Trail and there is much evidence of both activities judging by the many prints in the sandy road.

As we neared the end of the flat section at Juniper Flats, it was not clear from the topo exactly where we were. Part of this is due to several confusing roadside topographic features, and partly due to our own inattention while we were hiking and chatting away. We sent Sean ahead to check out what appeared to be a road junction several hundred yards ahead (he needs a bit more exercise than the rest of us to keep him happy, so he had no problem with the extra assignment). While he was off running on his errand, we took more time to inspect the topo map more carefully and were fairly certain it was time to leave the road even before he got back with the corroborating information he'd gleaned from his scouting run.

Tandy is just one point on a long, undulating ridgeline that rises up towards Keys View (the highpoint of this ridge is Mt. Inspiration, an HPS summit about 3mi to the southeast). We started south up the slopes to the first likely point in about ten minutes. It was a short scramble to a rocky outcrop, but there was no benchmark or other distinguishing features. We looked south and figured we'd just keep climbing each possible point until we found it (a GPS would have made this an easier exercise). Luckily, atop the next point to the south could be seen a wooden stake, and about six or seven minutes later we were atop Tandy Point. Next to the wooden stake we found the 1941 TANDY benchmark. No register was found accompanying it, and since we had none to leave we left it the same as we'd found it. The views were better than we had expected from such a short perch, but with fine weather and clear skies it would be hard to have a disagreeable view. Descending off the northeast side, we made a more direct return to the road which we used to return to our cars about an hour later. Sean had left us once we got to the road so that he could continue north to Quail Mtn, the highpoint of the park. He planned to catch up with us again on the next summit.

Driving north again through the park, we stopped at the large parking area which serves as the trailhead for the Boy Scout Trail. We had arranged to meet the others here at the conclusion of Tandy Point and they were already there though not exactly waiting for us. We spotted them to the south scrambling about on some high rocks. This area is known as the Wonderland of Rocks for the sheer abundance of scrambling and rock climbing opportunities. It would be hard for any of us to sit around for an hour or more waiting for someone without being drawn to the fantastically sculpted boulders.

We planned to use the Boy Scout Trail heading north to reach two LPC summits, Keys Peak and Mt. Mel. They are probably more easily reached from the north side of the park via Indian Cove, but that would have meant 25 miles and almost an hour of additional driving, time that seemed better spent with more hiking. There were six of us starting off on the trail though we almost forgot Adam who was dawdling behind. He was mildly incensed that we started off without him, though it was strictly by accident we insisted as our way to mollify him.

The Boy Scout Trail sees a good deal of traffic along the first three of four miles of its length as it makes a very gentle ascent of around 100ft heading north, before turning northwest, all the while following along the flats west of the Wonderland of Rocks. Keys Peak was easy to spot while approaching it, standing out above the surrounding terrain, the trail passing a short distance to the west. We left the trail at this point, perhaps a quarter mile from the summit, heading cross-country to ascend it from that side. With only about 300ft of gain, it took but ten minutes to reach the summit once we had left the trail. It was a mild scramble over interesting, rocky terrain with little serious brush to contend with. Adam was the first to arrive around 12:45p, myself close on his tail. We found the benchmark and some fine views but no register. We had some time to rest up while waiting for the others. About the time we were going to start looking for them, the four arrived almost 20 minutes behind us. It seems Erin was having some trouble on the scrambling portions, but eventually made it with the encouragement and guidance of the others. A few minutes later I spotted a runner on the trail below, heading past Keys. I turned to Laura and commented, "Hey, there goes Sean!" I figured he was well out of earshot, but once Laura zeroed in on the swiftly moving Sean, she cupped her hands to her mouth and gave out a yell that fairly shook the mountains to their foundation - a most impressive display of lung power. Following the two seconds it took for the soundwave to reach his ears, Sean stopped abruptly and looked behind him. He quickly noticed our waving arms and made a beeline for the summit up the north side of the peak. In something like five minutes he was standing beside us, breathing quite heavily, and doing a pulse check on his carotid artery (180bpm, for the curious). It was the first time I'd ever seen him looking out of breath, or even breathing hard for that matter.

After giving Sean time to get his heart rate back down, four of us started down the north side of Keys on our way to Mt. Mel while Laura and Erin decided to head back to the trailhead and call it a day. Once on the Boy Scout Trail again, we continued north, following it into a wash, past a couple trail junctions and an old watering trough. The trail climbs out of the wash and descends an adjacent canyon to the north, but we ended up missing this signed exit as we weren't paying close attention and continued down the wash. The lack of significant prints clued us in, but we decided to press on down the wash as it was likely to be more interesting. The presence of a few prints suggested it wasn't an impossible descent, but there was likely to be at least one dry waterfall that would need circumventing. In fact, there were three such drops, the first two shorter and easier, allowing us to descend the drops directly with some class 3 scrambling. The last one, just above where the trail reenters the wash, was a bigger problem. After some deliberation, a few of us descended off to the left side, the others choosing the right side, all of us eventually reconvening back on the trail below. A short while later we spotted on our right the pointy pile of rocks that we guessed must surely be Mt. Mel. Without a GPS we thought it might be difficult to pick out Mt. Mel from the surrounding terrain along with the ascent gully and saddle that were described in the LPC guide. All of this became more or less obvious as we descended the trail. We left the trail when we were northwest of the summit, picking our way through the brush and rock to the saddle west of Mt. Mel, and then an enjoyable class 2-3 rock scramble to the summit.

We had wondered how a peak got to be named something odd like Mel - a first name rather than the usual last name. A sticker on the outside of the PVC register described the leader of the "first known ascent" party in 1978 as one Mel Johnson. It seemed a rather tacky thing to name a peak after yourself, especially such a non-descript one that almost certainly has seen other ascensionists, seeing how close it is to Indian Cove and Twenty Nine Palms. Only later did we consider that it may have been others that named it after Mel, perhaps fellow club members to memorialize Mel's prowess in leading club outings. The register, dating to 1996, did not offer additional information concerning the naming, so we left it at that.

Jon had decided to turn back at the saddle, not really caring all that much if he reached a particular summit or not. That left Adam, Sean, Tom and myself to sign into the register and take in the views before starting back a few minutes later. I had originally considered making a loop of the outing, but the Wonderland of Rocks area is a confusing collection of gullies, canyons and peaklets, and it seemed like we might spend almost twice the time navigating the terrain without trail as we would with one. And given that it was already almost 3p, back to the trail we went. We made use of the trail section we had skipped earlier, a pleasant series of switchbacks that was longer and slightly more gain than the route through the wash, but it was clearly faster. Spreading ourselves out along the trail over hour since we'd left Mt. Mel, we reconvened on the west side of Keys Peak where the trail tops out.

Sean decided to run back to the trailhead, about four miles distance still, and in a flash he was gone. I made a half-hearted attempt to follow him, alternating some jogging with some walking, landing me somewhere between Sean and the others for the last 40 minutes along the trail. The fading light threw pleasant coloring on the surrounding rocks and a half moon could be seen high in the sky above the Joshua trees that dotted the landscape. Laura and Erin were bundled up outside the cars enjoying a beer when I returned around 4:35p. The air had grown chilly once the sun had gone down as Sean and I were soon to find as we started to cool down. I had a quick rinse behind the cars to wash off the sweat before changing into warmer clothes. The rest of our merry band returned shortly thereafter.

There was still one peak left on my agenda, but since it was another hour's worth of driving for all of five minutes' walking, only Adam was game for it. The others chose to head to their various homes in Los Angeles and Bishop after sharing one last drink to mark the end of a fine weekend. While we were all still milling about, Adam began to shyly ask if any of those heading home might not have some extra food they'd like to part with. Laura offered the leftover chicken from the previous night, Tom offered some granola bars and other stuff, but he declined these in turn. Puzzled, they asked him what he had in mind. I knew exactly what he was after and piped up, "What he wants to know is if there are any of Erin's cookies left." Adam sheepishly smiled, then broke out in a broad grin when Erin said, "Oh sure!" and pulled out a large bag that was only half empty. Adam would make short work of this stash over the next 24 hrs.

Trying to beat the fading daylight, Adam and I took off before the others, driving out to the town of Joshua Tree, west to Yucca Valley where we left my van, then south on a very long, but good dirt road, almost 15mi in length. Eureka Peak is one of the higher points in Joshua Tree. It was excised from the HPS list because it is essentially a drive-up, though one can make a very enjoyable hike of it from the Black Rock CG near Yucca Valley. It was completely dark by the time we pulled over at the end of the road, a short distance from the summit. This was not so bad, however, as the summit provides a wonderful view of the lights of Coachella Valley to the south. We found no benchmark nor register, but had to satisfy ourselves with standing on a lump of rock that marks the highpoint. And with that, we were done for the day, and for the weekend. We still had several days left in our roadtrip, so we would simply move our climbing objectives northward now that we were done for the time being in Joshua Tree. But it had been a fun weekend with pleasant companions, and would remain the highlight of the week.

Continued...


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