South Park Peak DS
Peak 4,860ft P300
Warren Peak P300 HPS / DS
Quail Mountain P2K HPS / DS
Bernard Peak HPS / DS
Little Berdoo Peak P1K HPS / DS

Mon, Dec 1, 2008
Warren Peak
Quail Mountain
Bernard Peak
Little Berdoo Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3

When my wife asked me what I wanted for my upcoming birthday, I gave her the usual reply - "Nothing, I have everything I need." She wasn't buying it, "There must be something you'd like..." I thought a moment and said, "How about a week off to go climbing?" It was sort of like an alchoholic asking for more booze since I'd already drunk myself into a stupor with more than 70 days so far this year. I didn't really expect a positive response since I knew we had a busy calendar for the month ahead, but she took me seriously. As I expected, every weekend was already booked but we arranged to split the week into two four day blocks, Mon-Thur for two consecutive weeks. It would be a bit of a pain to do the extra driving this would entail, but a true drunk is generally willing to go the extra mile if it means another drink.

Having a handful of HPS peaks to climb in Joshua Tree NP, I headed down during the night so that I could be hiking at first light. It was a stressful drive across the Central Valley due to dense tule fog, and it was only after climbing up towards Tehachapi on SR58 that I was able to escape it. I continued on to Bakersfield, headed south on SR247 to Yucca Valley, then took the road to the Black Rock CG inside the national park. I found an isolated picnic area described in the HPS guide near South Park Peak, just outside the park that I used to sleep a few hours before daylight. A really great rogue campsite.

I was up at 6a, dressed, breakfasted, and out the door in fifteen minutes. The whole morning routine is highly compressed and much faster when I'm by myself. I started the day with a warmup to South Park Peak, targeted for no other reason than it had a name. It was a beautiful morning with crisp temperatures and thin clouds overhead that lit up with fire as sunrise approached. It took all of ten minutes to reach the summit from the picnic area. There was an elaborate register evidently installed by the city or county some years ago when this was a local park. It seemed silly to me with page after page of recent visitors, all of which are removed after less than a year. There was no sense of history, and it seemed to lack purpose.

I hiked back down to the van and continued south along a use trail until I managed to stumble upon a maintained one heading up in the direction of Warren Point, my next stop. Sunrise came upon the San Gorgonio to the west as I was heading up the trail, lingering snow from the season's first storm still visible at the highest elevations. Halfway up to the ridgeline I came across another register like the one I'd found atop South Park Peak, this one at an overlook, but not atop anything at all. Even sillier.

I reached the ridgeline above the overlook shortly before 7a as the first rays of sun reached me. Warren Point was visible about a mile to the south and it took another half hour to reach the summit along a use trail that did the job nicely. The air was exceptionally clear with swell views in all directions for many miles. San Jacinto and San Gorgonio to the southwest and west were the most prominent peaks visible, with a dozen desert ranges to be seen in the other directions. A summit register contained a small spiral notebook along with an overkill of religious literature that found its way into my pack and a trash can later the same day. I find it funny how an activity that evokes visions of the divine in some, does no such such thing for others.

My return route descended southeast off the summit, following the directions in the HPS guide for Black Rock Canyon. This is the primary route used by HPSers and others, a well-signed main trail with a number of subsidiary trails at various junctions. I took the side trail going west of the campground and the nearby firestation. Both were quiet in the early morning and the campground had few visitors. This brought be back to the dirt road I had driven in on during the night, and I was back at the van shortly after 8a.

It took an hour to drive back out to Yucca Valley and then back into the park through the main entrance at Twentynine Palms. I parked at a turnout off the main road a mile south of the Hidden Valley Campground, almost due east from Quail Mtn. This was the longest hike of the day, but at under five miles one way and less than 2,000ft of gain, it wasn't very difficult. Though there were no trails, it was easy traveling, mostly over flat desert terrain with firm footing and little vegetation.

A mile from the road I spotted a homestead to the side and made a small detour to pay it a visit. The rusted shell of an 80yr-old car sat as a sentinel in the otherwise tidy yard. There were two stone buildings, the larger of the two looking considerably older. As both looked to be still, or occasionally occupied, I didn't investigate further for fear of disturbing the residents.

I continued west across the desert floor, then up a shallow canyon and over a low rise in the hills east of Quail Mountain. Past this rise was the southern end of the Johnny Lang Canyon which I used to contour across and over the next line of hills to the west. Quail Mtn was finally visible as I dropped into a second wash (this one flowing south), then followed a faint use trail up the easy Southeast Ridge to Quail's summit.

There was a large cairn, a few scattered aircraft parts (from a nearby wreck, it would seem), and the usual HPS register found at the summit. I marveled at some of the 94 visits recorded by Doug Bear in the register. A few weeks later I got an email from Doug who had seen my register entry on his 95th visit, evidently amused. Though I have yet to meet Doug, I'd exchanged emails with him. From his many entries in the peaks of the Southern Sierra I had previously guessed he lived near Ridgecrest or thereabouts, before surmising he lived near Joshua Tree.

The return was via the same route I had ascended. It was 12:20p before I returned to the van, still plenty of time for a few more peaks. The day was progressing well, much as I'd hoped. I drove another 45 minutes to the trailhead for the last two peaks of the day, the driving being a bit more work than the hike. There were miles of dirt roads to reach it, much of it washboarded, and the last few miles a tough challenge for my low clearance van. I gave up driving to the shortest starting point described in the HPS guide as the Berdoo Canyon Road continued to deteriorate, choosing to hike an extra mile to save a few more miles of abuse on the van.

The approach from the east, described as "possible" on the HPS map, was very straightforward. In fact it seems possible to approach the peaks in the area from any canyon or any ridge, all of them looking similarly navigable. The route I took followed a shallow canyon north and west of Pt. 4,460ft, then 1,200ft up a side canyon on a fairly direct line to Bernard Peak. It took just over an hour to cover the two miles to the summit. I found a summit register dating to 1972, one of the older HPS registers I've seen outside the Southern Sierra. This was a far better find than the ones I saw at the beginning of the day.

Little Berdoo Peak was now visible to the west less than a mile away, but looking further, possibly because I was starting to get tired. There is some elevation loss between the two summits, but not much, and I was able to cover the distance in about twenty minutes. Little Berdoo had a misspelled benchmark, along with another register also dating to 1972. I retraced my route back towards Bernard Peak and down the other side, managing to get back to the van before 4p, as the sun was starting to fade across the desert landscape.

I drove back out to the main road, then north through the park the way I had come, to SR62. It was dark by this time, heading west on SR62 and I-10 to Banning, where I was to meet Ryan the next morning for another hike. After dinner I wandered about town looking for an inexpensive motel, eventually following signs labeled "CAMPGROUND" to the KOA just south of town. The combination lock on the shower room was broken, allowing me to use the facilities despite my lack of a formal invitation to do so. The free WiFi was a bonus I used to advantage to get an update from Ryan on when to expect him. Afterwards I drove back out to find a secluded spot out of the way to spend the night at. This was dirtbag peakbagging at its finest...


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