Cox BM P500
Peak 3,092ft P500
Peak 2,635ft
Peak 2,500ft P300
Granite Shaft BM P300

Feb 12, 2020

With: Scott Barnes

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profiles: 1 2


This was a warm-up for the bigger adventure the next day, a chance to stretch our legs and enjoy some summits in my favorite Joshua Tree range, the Coxcomb Mtns. Afterwards we had a few extra hours so we paid a visit to the Granite Mtns near the SR177/SR62 junction outside the park.

Coxcomb Mtns

I was interested in a foursome of peaks in the middle of the range that Gordon MacLeod had visited back in the 1980s. They were located on a pair of joined ridgelines with an unnamed wash between them. We approached from the south off the aqueduct road, then using a little-used sandy road to get closer to the mouth of the wash that spills into Chuckwalla Valley. This would leave us with a 6.5mi hike with about 3,000ft of gain, an effort that would keep us busy for almost six and half hours.

We went north across Chuckwalla Valley starting around 7:50a, aiming for the wash between our four summits. Much of this was fairly smooth until we dropped into the main drainage where it begins to narrow. Rather than jump on the left ridgeline immediately, we continued up the wash for about 1/3mi to avoid some tediousness along the ridge south of Cox BM. We then climbed out of the wash, some 1,200ft to gain the ridge, finding the crumbling granite decent but not particularly enjoyable. Once on the ridge, we had about 1/3mi north to Cox BM and began to enjoy the route a good deal more - we had fine views overlooking the western side of Joshua Tree NP and the traversing along the ridge was easier than the straight ascent we'd just done. It took us almost two hours to reach the first summit, covering a little more than two miles. Our pace would be about the same for the rest of the outing as we found the traverses between summits fairly slow. Cox BM had the busiest register of the day, with four parties visiting before Gordon's party in 1983. Smatko's party had arrived in 1979 (leaving a separate register), but there were earlier entries dating to 1971. From the red nested can and sticker-laden jar, we guessed correctly that Richard Carey had been the last visitor (in 2013).

We spent an hour along the ridge, covering about 3/4mi to the second summit, Peak 3,092ft. This was the highest of the day's peaks and the most prominent. The register here was left by Smatko and party in 1979, with entries by Gordon's party, John Vitz and an unusual party of Alaskans. From Peak 3,092ft we turned southeast and south to make our way along the connecting ridge to summit #3, Peak 2,635ft in a bit over an hour. There was no Smatko register here, but Gordon had returned in 1985 with Barbara in tow to leave one of theirs. The Alaska party was the only one to sign it until our arrival. The traverse to the last summit, Peak 2,500ft was the easiest, taking about 45min with a bit faster travel than we'd had earlier. This summit presented us with a small mystery. We knew that Gordon and party had been here in 1983 (the day after they did the first two summits), but we could not find any register. Looking south we spotted a slightly lower summit about 1/4mi further and guessed maybe they had gone there? Sure enough, after reaching Pt. 2,479ft we found the expected register. Ours was only the second entry in the small register - nice!

We considered continuing south along the ridge though there were no more summits, but decided it would be faster to drop southwest into the wash and exit the way we started. This proved a very nice route with fairly good granite rock in the center of the gully we descended, the best rock all day. We agreed it would make a good ascent route if doing the loop in the opposite direction. Back in Chuckwalla Valley, we paused to admire some small yellow poppies and some leafy ocotillo. We were back to the jeep by 2:10p with another two and a half hours of daylight remaining.

Granite Shaft BM

We drove back out to SR177 where we picked up Scott's car before driving north to SR62. We continued east on SR62 for a few miles until we were almost due north of Granite Shaft BM, a minor summit at the north end of the Granite Mtns that we knew Barbara and Gordon had visited in 1983. Starting from near the highway, the 2mi one-way distance was more than I was hoping for, but the elevation gain was modest, less than 800ft. Most of the hike was fairly flat across the desert floor, the main climbing coming with less than half a mile to go to the summit. We went up one gully and down an adjacent one, finding neither particularly exciting, but no real difficulties. We found the expected benchmark but no sign of a register. We left one of our own while taking in the colorful late-afternoon lighting, the finest of the day. The sun had set shortly before we got back to the jeep around 5:20p, time to call it a day.


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