Joshua Tree National Park High Point Trip Report
Quail Mountain (5,813 ft)
Date: April 13, 2003
Author: Scott Surgent
Beth Cousland and I entered the park from the town of Joshua Tree and drove 7.7 miles south (from CA-62) to a pullout on the north (left) side of the main park road. This is located just east of BM 3871. I keyed in the summit's coordinates and the GPS showed us to be 3.75 miles away (straight line). We could easily see the summit. Our starting point was suggested to us by two separate people in town working at the visitor's center and sporting goods store. It required cross country but cut off about 2 miles that we would have had to do if we had parked at the Quail Springs Picnic/Parking area.
Walking: We set out about 9 a.m. in cool and very windy conditions, walking by dead reckoning to the southwest, coming upon Quail Springs Road after about 30 minutes, just east of the junction (at spot elevation 3812) with Johnny Lang Canyon Road. We hiked southeasterly into Johnny Lang Canyon, following the road, which soon degenerated into a trail. After roughly a mile, and just south of where the map shows the double-dashed road ending, we started cross-country up the slopes. The trail by this time had become faint and braided with the sandy wash bottom.
We climbed up and to the south of peak 5405, staying high and mainly on its south and east faces. The wind has blowing hard with sustained 20 mph and gusts above 30 mph; we took shelter behind intermittent rock outcrops fairly often. We achieved a saddle just to the southwest of peak 5405, and walked southwest down to a low point at roughly 5,180 ft. This put us at the base of Quail Mountain's prominent southeast ridge, which we followed up to the top. We immediately took shelter behind the large rock cairn and windbreaks at the highpoint. We stayed here to lunch and relax. It had taken us about 3.5 hours to gain the summit, with perhaps just under 5 miles of one-way hiking.
For our hike down, we took a chance and decided to descend a canyon tending off from Quail's northeast side. A guidebook I'd seen mentioned this as a route up, and I was told a recent fire had removed a lot of the underbrush. The canyon became narrow and steep in many places, often requiring us to negotiate 5-7 foot sections of slab scrambling. At no time, however, did we come upon a truly technical section. I would say, though, that two or three sections were definitely class-3. Lower down heavy brush became a problem, including a stand of cattails amid a pleasant little oasis. We eventually emerged onto the desert flats and walked pretty much directly back to my truck.
Trip Statistics: 7 hours duration, 9 miles round-trip and about 2,200 feet of gross gain one-way.