Spectre Point, Quail Mountain


By: Gary Craig


“Spectre": the very word conjures foreboding images of evil and despair. Nevertheless, mention this word to most DPS folks and the response is something like, “Cool. When can I sign up?”

Spectre Point is the high point of the remote Coxcomb Range, in eastern Joshua Tree National Park. Sue Holloway and I led a joint DPS/HPS outing to climb Spectre and Quail Mountain (the Joshua Tree high point) in December. We’ve run similar trips over the last several years to foster some “cross-pollination” between the two climbing sections, with varying degrees of success. In addition to we two leaders, this year the group consisted of Bob Hoeven, Anne Rolls, Gloria Miladin, Chris Spisak, Don Cwik, Cliff Jones, Dave and Elaine Baldwin, Ann and Dave Perkins, Gary Schenk, and Mary Jo Dungfelder. We had some participants climbing only one day or the other, and several climbing both days.

The weather was excellent both days, with clear skies and light winds. We met very early at the traithead adjacent to Route 62 for the long hike in to Spectre on Saturday morning. It takes about 1:15 to walk the now-closed dirt road to the original trailhead. From this point we veered right and climbed Route B, as described in the Peaks Guide, to the summit. The hiking directions in the Guide are accurate, and the terrain is generally interesting and fun. When the peak itself fmally comes into view, a noticeable vertical drop must first be overcome to a saddle between you and the peak. Then, as you move generally toward the left (east) side of the peak, one has the option of making the fmal push along the left (eastern) or right (northeastern) side of the peak. We moved to the left and encountered some steep slabby sections before reaching the top. I think it is generally easier to get to the top via the right-hand side of the eastern slope; this was our descent route and caused no problems on the way down.

We spent 45 minutes or so on top having lunch and taking in the view. We had fun picking out many other DPS peaks visible in the distance. More interesting to me, at least, were the many peaks farther south along the spine of the Coxcomb Range. This is a remote and no doubt, seldom-visited area. Road access is difficult and the terrain is challenging. It would not surprise me if there are significant areas of the Coxcomb that have not seen human presence in modern times, if ever.

Upon our noontime departure from Spectre’s summit, we made the diversion described above at first but then generally retraced our steps all the way back to the cars via Route B. Our round-trip time was 9.5 hours, not bad for a group of 11 summiteers.

Our camp spot for the evening was very close to the Spectre trailhead. Proceed about 3/4 mile east on Route 62 just past some low hills on the left (north) side of the highway. Here a good dirt road leaves the pavement to the left and leads a few tenths of a mile to a nice secluded spot behind the aforementioned hills. This spot is level with room for plenty of cars, and is a legal spot — a BLM red stake can be seen closing one fork of the road a short distance beyond the main camping area.

A few participants had signed out from the trip by Sunday morning, and the rest of us returned to Twentynine Palms, regrouping at the turnoff to the south that leads to the Joshua Tree entrance. We consolidated into fewer vehicles and drove into the Park to the trailhead for “Route 4” as described in the HPS Peaks Guide. There is a good pullout, with marked parking for at least 8 cars, just a few tenths of a mile north of the Keys View road junction, along the west side of the main park road. There are no other good parking areas for an even medium-sized group between here and the Hidden Valley campground (we checked).

We had a later hiking start this morning, closer to 9am. However, Quail is much shorter and more straightforward than Spectre. Still, it is non-trivial, starting with a long walk across Lost Horse Valley (23/4 miles or so), with some convoluted country beyond to deal with. Still, the eight of us made the trip to the summit and back in about 5-1/2 hours, following the directions in the HPS Guide. The summit is a large flat area, and there are several relics of aircraft wreckage collected near the summit rock-walls and cairn. On the return, the main challenge is to determine the correct bearing to walk along through Lost Horse Valley so as to intersect the highway near the vehicles. Hopefully you took a bearing, or noted a landmark, or cheated with the GPS, at the start of the hike to ease this quandary. At any rate we picked a good route and were all back at the cars well before 3pm.

Thanks to everyone who joined this outing; I hope you enjoyed it. If so, tell your friends.

Detailed information for visiting one or more peaks mentioned in this article can be found in the
Desert Peak Section Road and Peak Guides

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