Sat, Nov 16, 2019
It was Iris' birthday weekend so naturally I had asked her what she wanted to do. Not used to picking locations and objectives herself, this seemed to catch her by surprise. After some back and forth via text, she settled on this fun romp through the Coxcomb Mtns, a classic Joshua Tree backcountry adventure. Tom B and I had done it a decade earlier but were happy to do a repeat for Iris, especially for her birthday. Tom G had driven down from Bishop to join us, having spent the past day and a half with me since neither of us has a job to get in the way of more fun.
Though the daylight hours were short this time of year, we were not very good at getting an early start. Tom B had had only 3hrs of sleep at it was, so starting an hour earlier would have been particularly cruel. We'd spent the night camped near Clarks Pass about 10mi to the west, driving in the early morning to our starting point at the old road junction with SR62. This is now marked on Google Maps as Dyadic Pk Trailhead. There is parking for around a dozen cars here, the old road leading to the base of the Coxcombs now closed to vehicles and part of the Joshua Tree Wilderness. There was a lone vehicle already parked there when we arrived with our small fleet of four additional cars, starting off just before 8a.
The road is easy to follow at first, but fades into the broad wash system that it follows to the south. We would find it again periodically, but it isn't really any easier to hike the road vs. the gravel/sand wash. After an hour and a quarter we'd neared the end of the hiking up the wash and came across a party of three young guys camping in the shade at the base of the range. They were sitting about their camp relaxing and we struck up a short conversation. On previous trips to the same camp, they had visited various points about them within view and wondered where we were off to. After pointing in a vague direction to the south, I told them they'd probably see us around sunset on our way back. Shortly after leaving them, we came to the end of the wash and the start of a steep ascent up a rocky gully. This would lead south up to our first stop, Tensor Point (aka, Aqua BM). There is lots of fun scrambling to be had from this point onward though the granite rock quality varies greatly. There was catclaw to avoid - it does such a fine job of grabbing and holding on to any type of clothing and skin, too. Temperatures were warming to uncomfortable so we were happy whenever we found ourselves in shade. As we climbed higher to more open terrain there was some breeze to be found, also quite welcome. Our gully rose to a saddle where we had to drop about 100ft over the other side before resuming our climb to Tensor, now going up the slopes on its north side. It was close to 11a when we finally topped out. It was a very nice view of our other two summits, Spectre to the southwest and Dyadic to the south. In addition to the AQUA bencmark, there was a register box with various books dating back decades. With some effort I located our old entry, but there were just too many pages to photograph all the pages in the various books. The last party to sign in was back in March, so it looked like ours was the first of the season which would be repeated on the other summits as well. Iris passed around Halloween candy and other snacks while we sat about the summit for about 15min or so before I could rouse the troops to continue.
Getting from Tensor to Aqua is pretty straightforward, descending one and climbing the other, pretty much in a straight line. Despite a drop of nearly 300ft between the two, it took only half an hour to get from one to the other. Spectre is the highest of the three points, a DPS summit, a range highpoint and a P2K, all of which has attracted hundreds of climbers over the years. The busy pages attest to the many Sierra Club members reaching the summit. Noted San Diego member Wes Shelberg's name can be found on a scrap from 1980. Sacramento member Pete Yamagata had left a register book in 1995. And hundreds of Los Angeles members can be found sprinkled throughout the pages. We took a longer break on Spectre's summit, Iris even finding time for a short nap. Rather than repeat the route Tom B and I had used to reach Dyadic, I suggested a quicker way would probably be to drop all the way down to the wash between the three peaks and then reclimb the elevation to Dyadic from the north. This would bypass a lot of slow scrambling we experienced on that first visit when trying to follow the ridgeline more directly.
The indirect route worked nicely, certainly faster than the high route, but it didn't go exactly as planned. The location that I had on my GPSr for Dyadic was the same as shown on PB and LoJ (since updated). That location was based on the 7.5' topo map which has numerous errors in this convoluted terrain. So after descending the wash a short distance, we started reclimbing lost elevation, only realizing we were off by several hundred feet as we neared the top with clearer views. Luckily the terrain between where we found ourselves and the notch on the west side of Dyadic where we wanted to be was not all that difficult. Without too much time and effort lost, Tom G and I found our way to the notch first, the others joining us about 5min later. Tom G had already gone up an alternate way by the time the others had joined us. He reported more difficulties above, so the rest of us decided to go up the familiar chimney which is probably the crux of the whole route. Once above the chimney, it would take less than 10min to finish the route to the summit, even with some confusion when the ridge we followed ended in sharp drops and no obvious way up. The key was a short downclimb onto the sunny west side where two different routes offered class 3 ways the final 50ft to the summit. The old register that once graced the summit in a steel tube was gone, leaving only a more recent one in a large ammo box someone had kindly carried to the summit. We spent about 20min relaxing again atop Dyadic before motivating to start our return.
We reversed our routes down Dyadic through the chimney and from there a more direct descent into the wash system below. We opted for the longer return via the standard route that avoids going nearly back up and over Tensor a second time. The wash descends ENE for almost a mile before hitting a junction with a NW-SE trending wash. Much of this intial mile is down the boulder-choked wash, lots of class 3 scrambling, some vestiges of a use trail, and a modest pace. In an effort to shorten the distance, we made a traverse high above the wash before reaching the junction, dropping into the NW wash near its head at a low saddle. Once here, the rest of the return is very easy, though still long, another 5.5mi back to the car. Tom had dropped one of his gloves soon after our morning encounter with the other party, so we made a short detour to see if we could find it somewhere before the start of the climb up the gully. As we approached their camp, one of them called out, "Hey, did someone lose a glove?" Seems they had found it while wandering about during the day, saving us some searching. We thanked them after another brief discussion, then left them to continued back down the broader wash. The sun would set before we got back to the highway and our cars, but not so dark that we needed headlamps. Back by 5:15p, our roundtrip time had been 9hr20min, no record to be sure, but a rather fun day.
I had planned that we'd drive about 40min closer to the next day's hike, but Tom B in particular was not so eager to start driving, worried he might fall asleep. So after considering several possibilities, we decided to camp right there at the trailhead. We had a fine BBQ, if not in the finest Matt tradition, at least in spirit, had a campfire and birthday cake and adult beverages and a very nice time, right there next to the highway. The trucks in particular could make quite a rush of noise as they went by, but they became fewer and fewer as the evening went on. It worked out much better than I'd have expected for a roadside camp...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Spectre Point
This page last updated: Thu Nov 21 15:09:19 2019
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