Mon, Mar 28, 2005
It was Matthew's idea to head to Joshua Tree NP to bag some peaks in that area. Neither of us had been to Joshua Tree before, so in the interest of exploring a new area, his idea won the day. I didn't really expect the peaks to be too interesting, but fortunately that's not what we found. The wildflower displays were spectacular, and combined with the desert terrain and interesting rock formations, we enjoyed the day a great deal. The peaks were all fairly easy, none more than 6 miles roundtrip. We had a long drive back to San Jose afterwards, so we didn't mind having an easy day.
We arrived at the Ryan Mtn trailhead shortly after 6a, following a fine drive through the park watching all the cool rock formations that seemed to line both sides. The road seemed exceptionally smooth, looking newly paved. In fact all the man-made features seemed relatively new and in fine conditions: the roads, restrooms, parking areas, and most of the signs. Perhaps this was a recent facelift to celebrate the upgrade to National Park Status? Ryan was the only one of the four peaks we climbed that had a maintained trail to the summit. It made for short work, covering the mile and a half in something like 35 minutes. At the summit we had views of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio to the west. The upper elevations of San Jacinto were buried in clouds and would remain so for most of the day - it was good that we had climbed it the previous day instead of today. The weather looked to be changing, high clouds signaling a return to rainy weather in the coming days. Today was just the beginning of the change, so we stayed dry with only some moderate winds at the summits to inconvenience us.
We zipped back down the trail, passing a few other hikers on their way up. Back at the car we followed our HPS directions to the trailhead for Queen Mtn found about 5 miles east of Ryan Mtn. We followed several miles of dirt road in a roundabout fashion before we found the TH. Leaving the car, we followed the road east to its terminus, then followed the use trail to the southeast. As we began a climb up a broad gully, we started to notice an abundance of wildflowers. We paused to take pictures of many of the varieties we saw along the trail. Each time we thought we had captured all the various flowers, a new one would appear and we'd stop again. We weren't too concerned with actually getting to the summit as the flowers seemed to capture most of our attention. Though the trail was very well-defined, almost as though it were maintained, a series of ducks were made available by previous visitors that seemed to line the route every 10 yards, sometimes more often. At first it seemed silly and amusing, but it soon grew tiresome, and then annoying. That's about the time I started knocking them over.
Queen Mtn has two summts, one NW, the other SE of the saddle between them. The trail led up to the saddle and from there we went to the NW summit, knowing ahead of time that it was the higher of the two. Near the top we scrambled along some large slabs before coming to the massive summit block. We tried a more aesthetic line directly up the east or southeast side, but without good holds we both chickened back off. Humbled, we wandered around to the north side where the easy class 2 route was evident. After the usual photos and signing of the register, we decided to visit the SE summit as well, knowing it had a register too (we're suckers for summit registers). The SE summit has the USGS benchmark and because it also had a register, a number of the entries indicated they thought must be on the right summit. Almost. In descending, we purposely went down the gully starting from the saddle, missing our traverse to the flower gully and the use trail. Cross-country travel is fairly easy we found, so the trail didn't seem particularly important. Ahead of Matthew at the mouth of the gully, we got separated and took different routes back to the car. We couldn't see the car as we hiked along, and we both miscalculated by perhaps half a mile as to where the car was located. But that made little difference - we knew to head generally northwest and we would come across the road eventually, and then just head left to the car.
Our third peak was Lost Horse Mtn, located about five miles west of Ryan Mtn. After more driving, we were at the TH, again the only car in the lot at the start. A trail, more like a road, runs most of the 2.5 miles to the peak. The trail passes by the ruins of the Lost Horse Mine still occupying a site on a lower hill about a mile NE of the peak. We came across two runners out on the trail, and found it odd that we were catching up to them. We then realized that the female was walking a good deal in between spurts of jogging, but the overall average speed was less than our fast walking pace. The male runner looked to be in much better condition - he would jog past the other for some distance, then turn around and return, always keeping a jogging pace. We followed the road until we reached a shallow saddle on the NE side of the peak, then followed a faint use trail up that side. We reached the summit at 11:30a, and took in the views. We easily recognized the two previous peaks to the east, and to the west were the Little San Bernadino Mtns, looking to be the highest mountains in the park (we would head there next). On the descent, Matthew decided to go back and check out the mine, while I decided to head cross-country north, following the undulating ridgeline back to the car. It was as good as I had hoped, minimal bushwhacking and nice views the whole way. Halfway along the ridge I saw Matthew jogging down on the road, having finished his investigation of the mine. It looked like he'd beat me back to the car by a good 20 minutes or so. When I finally got back to the parking lot, I was surprised to see it nearly full with half a dozen cars. It had suddenly become rather popular.
We drove a short ways to the fourth and last peak, Mt. Inspiration. That's not an official name, just the HPS-given one, based on the benchmark located there, labeled simply 'Inspiration.' The TH starts at Keys View, a popular lookout point where one can look out from the spine of the Little San Bernadinos onto the Palm Springs desert area below to the southwest - an impressive view when the air is clear. On this last peak, Matthew zipped out ahead of me in the first minute and got to the summit well ahead of me (he had done similarly on Lost Horse as well). There's just no way I can keep up with him on class 1 anymore. I know this difference in our abilities is due to his vast improvements over the past two years, but I can't help feeling like the old man at times. There's just no way for a 44-year old to outpace a determined 28-year old. It took us only 45 minutes to cover the roundtrip distance, and we found ourselves finished with the day's objectives by 1:30p. Time for the long, long drive home. We took the route north around the San Bernandino Mtns to avoid the afternoon traffic in Los Angeles. To our surprise we ran into some nasty trafffic around Apple Valley and Victorville that stretched our driving time to over nine hours - ugh!
Despite the unpleasantly long drive, we'd had a very fine time in the four day we spent chasing peaks. Now that spring had arrived, it was starting to warm up in California and winter was on it's way out. With a little luck, the snow would start to melt in the Sierra and our next outing would return to our favorite range. This might be the last Southern California outing until the snows return in the fall.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Ryan Mountain - Lost Horse Mountain - Inspiration Peak
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