Duct BM P750
Peak 2,936ft P500
Peak 3,625ft P300
Peak 3,756ft P300
Peak 3,835ft P750

Dec 1, 2017

With: Scott Barnes
Iris Ma

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


Scott and Iris were to meet me on the north side of Joshua Tree near Clark Pass in the early morning. There was no sign of them at my camp spot shortly before 6a, so I drove off to find them at the designated starting point. I had no cell reception where I'd slept and likewise none at the starting point, but somehow a text came through on the drive between the two spots. Scott had driven to the wrong place - Chiriaco Summit on the south side of Joshua Tree - and would be an hour late. He was terribly embarrassed by the mixup and beat himself up to no end (and little good), Iris bearing the brunt of his verbal self-flagellations that went along the lines of "I'm so stupid!! I can never make this up!" The one text that got through turned out to be key since I knew not to wait for them. It would actually work just fine since the first hike I had planned wasn't very long and not terribly interesting compared to the more demanding outing to follow. I would simply do the one on my own and look for them upon my return.

Duct BM

This is the highest of a small collection of summits lying between the Sheep Hole, Pinto and Coxcomb Mountains, with more than 850ft of prominence. My route was mostly a two-mile hike across the desert flat for a short 700-foot climb up to the highpoint. Starting at 6a, it took just under an hour to reach the summit where I found a survey tower and the expected benchmark. There was also a Gordon/Barbara register dating from 1992. There were four other entries since then, the most recent in 2015 by Dan Raether. Another 50min or so saw me back to the van parked along SR62 to the northeast. About a quarter mile from the van I was finally able to distinguish two vehicles where there had seemed to be only one, and soon noted Scott's bright red shirt and waving arms. They had found me.

Coxcomb Mountains

My interest was in Peak 3,835ft, another summit with more than 850ft of prominence. It is found in the northern part of the range in a chain with three other summits, all unnamed. Peak 3,835ft could be most easily reached using the same approach road as that for the DPS summit of Spectre Point. The road lies within the Wilderness boundary now, but still makes for easier desert travel from the highway. The lower summit at the northeast end of the chain was better served by a different starting point, so we left a car at each spot to save us some extra hiking. At 10mi and 4,000ft of gain, it would be a pretty involved day in the desert as it was.

We started at the northeast end of the chain since that would make for less driving (we were heading east on SR62 afterwards), though it was about 300ft lower than the other spot. We started by hiking up a small drainage on the north side of the range, nicely shaded from the warm sun for most of the approach. Upon gaining the crest at a saddle just west of Peak 2,936ft, we found ourselves back in sunshine and looking at some of the better stuff the Coxcomb Mtns have to offer. The range is primarily granite, though often of a rough and crumbly nature that makes for mixed results. We had a fine class 3 scramble up to the first summit on solid rock, but it was fairly short and took but five minutes to complete. Not surprisingly, we found no register here, but we left one of the three I had brought with me. We rested here a bit before beginning the hardest part of the day, the traverse along the crest to the next three peaks.

Though less than a mile to the southwest, it would take us the better part of two hours to find our way from the first peak to the second, Peak 3,625ft. We stayed close to the crest for much of this, reaching an intermediate bump before seeing that the final climb along the ridge to Peak 3,625ft was going to be quite difficult. Instead of following the ridge directly, we pitched off to the left, onto the sunnier southern side of the ridge before finding a suitable way up to our target. We had all sorts of interesting scrambling through a mix of rock quality before eventually gaining the summit. There were some arranged rocks found here, but again no register, whereby we left another of the ones I had brought.

The third summit, Peak 3,756ft, was another half mile to the southwest and would take us another hour, again with significant divergence from the crest and again favoring the south side. There was a short section of slab climbing, unusual in this range, that caused some trouble for Iris and afterwards she was a bit more cautious, not having liked the small jam she'd gotten into. From the LoJ logs, we knew that Gordon had been to these last two summits on the same day in 1981, but upon gaining the top we found no register here as one might expect. Perhaps Gordon was caught out carrying only one register that day? In any case, I didn't leave a register here in case we came up empty on the last, highest and most prominent of the four summits.

Another 30min and a good deal more scrambling saw us to the final summit, Peak 3,835ft. From the previous summit, a half mile away, it looked somewhat difficult, but with some creative route-finding along both sides of the ridgeline it went more quickly than the previous summits. It was almost 2:15p by the time we stood at the day's highpoint and we realized it would be close to dark, perhaps after dark, before we'd get back. This seemed to perk Scott up some, who is fond of saying "I have a headlamp!" with a smile and perky voice that tells you this is no inconvenience to him. We finally found one of the MacLeod/Lilley registers we'd been looking for. Richard Agnos had been with the dynamic duo in their 1981 ascent. The only other party to sign in was the undated entry of Smatko/Nelson/Schuler. We added our own scrawl, ate more of the food we'd brought with us and contemplated our return. We could see the road we were aiming for about a mile to the northwest, noting several options for the descent. We ended up choosing to drop west into a narrow drainage between two subsidiary ridgelines angling to the northwest (either of those ridges might have made a good descent option as well), and followed the sandy wash back out to the north. We eventually found the road and followed this for the last three miles out to the highway. The moon rose and the sun set while we were walking across the desert flats, a tarantula found along the way providing a rare desert wildlife photo opportunity. It was 4:45p by the time we got back to the edge of the Wilderness at the highway where we'd left our vehicle, not yet dark enough to need headlamps.

We had about half an hour's drive east to our camping spot for the night off SR62 at the junction with Cadiz Rd. We had dinner there and were early to bed, tired from the long day in the Coxcomb Mtns. Michael was to meet us here sometime during the night for an adventure in the southern Old Woman Mtns the next day. And so the fun continues...


Matt Yaussi comments on 12/14/17:
That Coxcomb Mountains circuit looks like a pretty fun one. I may have to head out there and give it a try myself since I couldn't make it out there with you guys this time. Hopefully while the weather is still cool enough, and maybe when there are a few flowers blooming.
Scott Barnes comments on 12/14/17:
This, like all of the other days, was a fun day. Also, for the record, Bob explicitly told me not to go to Chiriaco Summit on the south side of Joshua Tree, and I brushed off input as unnecessary paternalism. Then I drove directly to Chiriaco Summit on the south side of Joshua Tree. Another job well done.

Also, tips for parodying Scott Barnes:
1. "It's RIGHT THERE!" The peak need not be particularly close -- merely within sight.
2. "I am sooooo sorry." Repeat ad infinitum, with slightly different emphasis on the 'so' to mix things up a bit.
3. "I have a head lamp!" Or, sometimes, "I have my cell phone!" Mention this any time it's remotely possible that the sky could have anything other than full and direct sunlight.

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