Eagle Mountains #1
By: Gary Craig
FLY LIKE AN EAGLE
This was my second "DPS meets HPS” trip in Joshua Tree in as many years. The hikes this year were DPS Eagle #1 on Saturday, and HPS Ryan, Lost Horse, and Inspiration on Sunday. A forecast for foul weather in LA for the weekend scared off a couple of participants, but nothing less than fine conditions greeted those who chose to hike, rather than cower in their dens, this weekend. Hiking were Gary Craig and Sue Holloway (leaders), Cliff Jones, Annemarie Schober, Larry Campbell, Debbie Protho, Ramesh Raghavan, Viorel Udrica, Claire Jordan, Gary Bowen, and Fred Smith.
On Eagle, we made a loop out of the Peaks Guide B and C routes starting from the Lost Palms trailhead near the Cottonwood Springs campground. There was some high overcast but nice temperatures when we met at the parking area... at this time of year, I was afraid that we might get broiled by the sun, but the weather cooperated. Our route up went pretty much as described by the guide: along the trail for a mile or so, then bending to the left through and across gentle washes towards what could be loosely called the west ridge of the peak. We were aiming for the first notch north (left) of the prominent bump (4678’) at the end of the ridge. The tromp up the steeper portion of the ridge to the saddle involved some tiring class 2 boulders and careful avoidance of prickly vegetation, but all arrived on top of the ridge no worse for the wear and hungry for our second rest stop. We encountered a stiff breeze atop the ridge that chased us away from the fine views from our perch, but actually made for a nice tailwind pushing us up and along the easy ridge toward the summit. Of course, anyone who’s climbed this route knows that there is a loss of a few hundred feet involved at one point on the ridge, but the terrain is easy and we took another short break at the bottom to regroup.
All three routes from the Peaks Guide join in this area, and this is my favorite part of the climb. For 20 minutes or so one the route sneaks across ridges, through gullies, and up and down through a boulder park toward the summit to the south-east. A faint use trail appears on the final summit climb, and the breeze rejoined us as well. Everybody made it to the top about four hours after leaving the trailhead.
We took a nice break on the top for some photos under somewhat clearing skies and nice views. About 10 minutes after summitting, one of our missing hikers, our friend Brian Smith appeared on the last section of use trail. It seems he’d spent the night in town and miscomputed how long it would take to drive to the trailhead. Well, we were glad to see him anyway and he joined us on top and for the hike back to the cars.
After suitable summit photos and revelry, we made our way down the B route, which avoids regaining that several hundred feet along the ridge. This route follows a more northerly route down a steeper gully after leaving the “boulder park”. There is one spot that demands attention near the bottom of the gully to get around a dry waterfall, but the hike remains class 2 at most all the way to the flats. The normal B route heads directly for the Cottonwood Springs campground, but we headed more to the left (south) across the occasional gully, towards the right side of Mastodon Peak, which comes into view after a mile or so. When we got to Mastodon we found the trail that leads from the campground to the peak, which we followed to the west (right) looking for a way through to the pavement and the cars. We had to veer a bit farther than expected out of the way to the right, but after leaving the trail and a bit of “follow your nose” hiking, the road appeared and we were only a hundred yards or so from the cars. We had a nice camp that night on the aqueduct road that parallels the park boundary just a mile or so north of I-10. A few members of the group had other camping/ lodging arrangements and would re-join with us Sunday, but eight of us had a potluck featuring several different salads, a wine tasting (hastily conceived), soups, desserts, and other goodies. Thanks to everyone who brought a meal contribution! A cozy campfire followed using Cliffs handy fire pan. This campsite is a reasonable alternative in an area where legal camping is in short supply, even though it meant backtracking a few miles.
Sunday morning we regrouped at the Cottonwood ranger station to car-caravan up to the more heavily populated areas of western Joshua Tree for the day’s HPS hikes. We passed the Pinto Mountain trailhead along the way and made a brief stop to admire the Ocotillo patch nearby.
The trailhead for Ryan Mountain is a signed, paved turnout east of the Keys View road junction. The hike is along a maintained, well-traveled trail all the way. The skies were mostly clear (as they would remain all day), but a stiff breeze was buffeting areas with a western exposure. This peak commands a fine view of the region and is frequently climbed, with the round trip taking no more than an hour and a half or so.
After the Ryan climb, Fred left for home and the rest of the group prepared for our second peak of the day, Lost Horse Mountain. From the Ryan trailhead, we drove to the Keys View junction the south a couple of miles to the signed dirt road leading to Lost Horse. This road is about a mile long, ends at a small parking area, and is fine for all vehicles. The hike is mainly along a dirt road that continues from the locked gate at the parking area. One passes below the Lose Horse Mine, then along a fainter trail to a saddle where you turn right and follow a use trail up more steeply for a few minutes to the summit. Again, fine views await at the top, which is much less frequently visited than Ryan Mountain. We took a longer break on top to scarf down an early lunch. The hike was about two hours round trip, and we encountered a few other parties on their way up to the mine on our return.
Upon returning to the cars, we said goodbye to Gary Bowen, and the remainder of the group drove south a few more miles to the large parking area at Keys View. A use trail leads steeply up the hill to the north, and fades somewhat upon reaching the top of this first hill. The route to Mt. Inspiration continues NW, down to a saddle, and up and down over two more bumps before reaching the named summit where the benchmark is placed. It was quite windy for most of this hike but we were again rewarded with fine views and a summit register that went back almost 30 years, which was a surprise to all of us. Our return to the cars went quickly, where after a brief snack and some cleaning up, we said our good-byes and headed for home.
This was a very enjoyable outing with a wide range of participants, from “old hands” to newly-minted WTC graduates. Thanks to Sue for co-leading and to all the participants; I hope you enjoyed the trip as much as I did.
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