Sheephole Mountains, Bernard Peak, Little Berdoo Peak

12-Jan-02

By: Gary Craig

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I've had a run of bad luck recently on the weather for trips that I've led, but the elements were kind to us this weekend. Saturday morning dawned clear and calm on nineteen hikers at the start of the "A" route on Sheephole, just off of the Amboy Road. The group consisted of myself (Gary Craig) and co-leader Sue Holloway, Patty Rambert, Ann and Dave Perkins, Dan Clark, Lynne Buckner, Eve Laeger, Lois Grunwald, Spencer Berman, Jan Brahms, David Reneric, Julie Rush, John Strauch, Mirna and Greg Roach, Jim Conley, Ken Barr, and Phil Reher. We advertised this as a joint DPS/HPS hike and it was nice to see some DPS "old hands" as well as some first-timers, and everything in between.

The plan was to go up the "A" route and down the "B" route on Sheephole, the bottom of which is just above the antenna installation at the top of Sheephole Pass. A mile dirt road connects the two trailheads. This route worked fine and was more workable for a large group than the reverse route would have been, since there is very little parking at the bottom of the B route. We more or less followed the A route up as described in the Peaks Guide, reaching the summit in plenty of time for lunch. Sheephole is a very rocky peak, and the boulders seem to increase in size as one nears the summit, but everyone did fine and enjoyed a well-deserved break on top. Very clear skies allowed for far-ranging views in all directions.

The talus remained unrelenting along the NW ridge on the descent from the summit along route B. There are several inviting tops-of-canyons that one passes along the ridge, and having not come up that way, it was not immediately obvious which gully we should descend as we proceeded along the ridge. This minor quandary lasted until we could peer down one of the gullies all the way to the antenna installation. This was obviously the correct route, and we made our way down (about 1500' worth) in good time.

We had a brief break at the cars after our 7-hour round trip, and then drove to a nice camp spot suggested by David Renenc a bit north of Sheephole Pass, well away from the Amboy Road. This was of course followed by a happy hour and potluck dinner, with wine and after-dinner dessert treats, and a nice campfire.

A few members of the group signed out before the hike started on Sunday, but a dozen or so of us drove into Joshua Tree National Park, heading for the HPS peaks Bernard Peak and Little Berdoo Peak. These are both about 5400', south of the loop section of the Geology Tour road. This road is passable to any vehicle as far as the trailhead, although it is about 12 miles off the pavement with annoying washboard for long stretches. The driving directions in the version of the HPS Peaks Guide that I was using had a rather serious error. At the 7.9 mile mark, it said to "go right (south) across a dry lake", when in fact at this point you have just finished crossing a dry lake, and the correct direction to turn is left! It was obvious that the writeup was wrong, so I ignored it and found the trailhead anyway. I've since notified the HPS of the error.

Anyway, the hiking directions were fine from the trailhead. We walked NW up a gentle wash for less than a mile to a shallow saddle, where we veered more north and gradually made our way to the top of the ridge that continued N to the summit of Bernard. The wind had come up this morning and was moderate while hiking the ridge, but not too bad once we reached the summit. We had a snack break here and once again had clear views under sunny skies. There were many nice outcrops of quartz along the ridge, and the walking was easy the whole way.

It's a very short hike along a connecting ridge west to the summit of Little Berdoo, with one short steep section. We had a longer break there for lunch and photos. The views here are fantastic, all the way down into the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs to the SW, with Mt. San Jacinto and the Santa Rosas forming a backdrop. To the south we could see well into Mexico, and we were able to pick out Cerro Pescadores and Pico Risco.

For our descent we did not retrace our steps back to Bernard, but followed the east ridge more directly toward the shallow saddle we had passed through early in the day. This ridge was a bit brushy and bouldery up high, but not too bad and the lower part was easy. We continued meandering eastward through some low hills until we reached the shallow saddle, from which the cars were visible. We all got back to the vehicles in a roundtrip time of about four hours. This was a much easier hike than the day before, but it was in an interesting and remote area of Joshua Tree, and everyone enjoyed it.

We had a nice mini-happy-hour back at the cars after getting cleaned up and parted company at this point. Several of us exited the park by continuing south along the road past the trailhead. The road descends Berdoo Canyon all the way to meet Dillon Road near I-10 in the Coachella Valley. The road starts downward soon after leaving the traithead, and there are several fairly rough spots. The DPS Peaks Guide would call this road "poor", but not 4wd. It is not very steep or sandy, but there are plenty of spots where high clearance is required. It is about 10 miles from the trailhead until reaching intermittent pavement near Dillon Road. The last mile or two of the road are marred by a large quantity of debris about, a sure sign of the proximity of "civilization". The remnants of the group said good-byes here, and we drove home. My thanks to everyone for a nice weekend; see you "out there" again soon.


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