Eagle Mountain • Range Highpoint: Eagle Mountains
• Joshua Tree National Park
• Riverside County

The Eagle Mountains as seen from Interstate-10 near the Joshua Tree Exit

The approach canyon. The summit is not yet visible

Closer to the mouth of the canyon

Now well up into this canyon

I ascend out of the canyon onto a subridge, looking back. The Cottonwood Campground is off to the left in this photo

Looking west, now from the main range crest...

...and turning around, there's the summit ridge!

A few of the rocks that line the ridge on the way to the top. The big spire is not the summit

Now from the summit ridge, looking west. There's the spire again

There's the top!

Shot from the summit, looking southeast at the Chuckwallas and to the ends of the world!

Mathematician at home in his wild habitat

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Date: December 25, 2009 • Elevation: 5,350 feet • Prominence: 2,230 feet • Distance: 10 miles • Time: 8 hours • Gain: 2,400 feet • Conditions: Cold and breezy, but clear • Teammates: Just me, then a chance meeting with Scott Casterlin and John Hamann

The Eagle Mountains are located in Riverside County, partially within Joshua Tree National Park. The actual highpoint of the Eagle Mountains is located in the southwest section of the range, visible from Interstate-10 near the Cottonwood Springs Exit. From below, the ridge tops look smooth and even, but in reality, there are many rock outcrops nearby the summit. However, the climb bypasses these obstacles, and is rated easy class-2.

Other hiking plans I had lined up fell apart at the last moment, so I found myself with a few free days. I left home Christmas Eve and covered 250 miles to the Cottonwood Springs exit, and camped at the Cottonwood campground within the Park. I would climb the peak the next day, Christmas day.

The Sierra Club Desert Peaks Section guidebook lists three approach routes to the summit, two that head southeast first via Mastodon Mine then cut north to the range, and one that starts way north and approaches from a canyon west of the summit. I figured I'd rather head up the canyon closest to the summit so I chose a variation of the latter route, starting my trek from the campground. I got a good night's sleep in the back of my truck, although the wind blew heavy all night. The next morning started cold and clear. The wind still blew steadily but lighter than at night. I locked everything up and started my hike at 6:30 a.m., just as the sun was rising in the east.

From the campground, I walked a sandy path north (the one that starts at campspace B-17). I stayed on this path for a mile, gaining a little elevation and trying to line myself up with the approach canyon, still a long way off to the northeast. When the sandy path started to braid and connect in and out with other sandy paths, I started to angle on a bee-line toward the canyon, still two miles away across the desert plain.

Large rocky "boulder" outcrops sit in this plain, and at first I made excellent time on this cross-country portion. Then I came upon a maze of arroyos. I was forced into and out of these little mini-canyons a number of times, trying to navigate this maze. They were simple to manage, but this added extra time to my journey. I finally got close to the mouth of the canyon, now on rockier higher ground, where the brush was extremely thick. I had been hiking 90 minutes and I took a break here.

I didn't stop for long as I was still in the shade and it was still cold with a steady breeze, so I got moving again, walking up the rocks into this canyon. The going was tedious, but there were no obstacles to stop me. The grade steepened more, and I was surprised how much I had gained when I would turn around to look out the canyon into the desert. In time, I had gained onto a small level portion inside this canyon at elevation 4,500 feet, where I had an unobstructed view of the main canyon headwall and range crest for the first time. This gave me a chance to plot a course from here.

My concern was if I hiked too far toward the headwall, I'd get boxed in or blocked by cliffs, so I opted to exit the canyon by angling to my right (as I looked up into the canyon) and ascending a sloppy rock and scree slope to gain a small side ridge. It looked to be no more than 200 feet of gain, so I went for it. It worked but it was a lot looser than I had anticipated and it was treacherous in spots. Large boulders would groan under my weight and some slid right out from under me. But shortly I had made the side ridge and from here it was another steep gain of about 250 feet to gain the main range crest. This part went well as the rocks were set solidly. I took a break once on the main ridge, now having hiked for about 3 hours. The sun was nice but the wind was heavy. The summit was now visible about a half-mile to the east. More rock outcrops and pillars lined the ridge between the top and me.

The route sidehills past a couple easy ridge points, then drops about 100 feet toward the first of the big rock outcrops. Despite the quantity of rock outcrops, most of the route-finding in this section is logical. Occasionally I'd see a lone cairn or 10 feet of path, but often I would explore up one way, hit a dead-end, then return and try another way. Nothing was too bad and it was all very pretty. The route essentially zig-zags through the gauntlet of large rock outcrops, often dropping low to one side before re-ascending again to meet up with the next obstacle.

Past the last large outcrop, I came upon a beaten path that worked its way up the last main slope toward the summit ridge. The summit itself was a little farther east along the ridge, a gentle hump with a USGS benchmark. I signed into the log book and stayed a few minutes to take in the views. There were some signatures in the log from about 3 weeks ago, and about 10 for all of 2009. The skies were clear and bright blue. I could see a lot of the Salton Sea behind the foreground ranges. Other ranges fanned out in all directions. Big Mounts San Jacinto and San Gorgonio were covered in snow to the west, and nearby Toro Peak had a dusting that I could see. It was beautiful, but also cold in the wind. It had taken me about 4 hours to make the top, but I only stayed five minutes before starting down.

The walk back through the outcrops went well since I knew where to go and I was back to the top of the descent ridge after not too long. I descended the ridge quickly to the point above the sloppy rock section I had come up earlier, not looking forward to this part. It looked a lot nastier coming down, and I had to be extremely careful at each step so as not dislodge big rocks. I used the five points of contact technique with good success. At one point I felt a big rock, easily 300 lbs, move under me, and knowing I'd be under it soon and not wanting it above me, I "nudged" it and watched it careen violently into canyon below. One less widow-maker to worry about. That's how precarious it was set against the slope.

I had scooted myself into the canyon when I heard voices. For a peak that gets climbed at most a dozen times in a year, who else could be up here, on Christmas Day no less? Why, it was Scott Casterlin and John Hamann, partners of mine on many Arizona peaks. Imagine our surprise to be seeing one another up here. I had known they were doing some California desert summits but did not know their itinerary or which peaks exactly, so to meet them where I did and when I did was quite remarkable and amusing. We spent a few minutes chatting, but as usual, it got cold and we were all interested to keep moving, them up and me down. We said our goodbyes and I continued down the canyon.

The downward trek out of the canyon went quickly since I could see paths that were not evident coming up, and I exited the canyon not too long afterward. Instead of retracing my exact route from this morning across the desert flats, I trekked more westerly, following paths of least resistance and trying to mitigate the arroyo crossings I would need to make. When I would need to cross an arroyo I would descend into one and walk its sandy path for a while until some obstacle would force me out. There were many neat slot canyons and even hidden pools of water.

Eventually, I had crossed all the big arroyos and was just now on the open portion of the hike, hiking south toward a big water tank set on a hill near the campground, which I used as a navigation reference. I came across some of my footprints from the morning hike and soon, upon the well-traveled sandy path that led back to the campground and my truck. I arrived at 2:30, for a total time of 8 hours. After I changed into drier clothes I noticed a few more cactus spines that needed yanking.

I exited back to the visitor's center where I paid my entrance fee since I arrived too late the day before. From there it was just a 250-mile journey east along Interstate-10 back home, where I arrived about 7 p.m. It was nice to be back home for Christmas with my wife and our furry floor monsters. Eagle Mountain turned out to be a nice, moderately challenging day hike, with marvelous views and well worth the effort to come all this way for the experience. It was a nice Christmas present (from my wife to me, to let me go on this journey) and a good way to close out the year.

(c) 2009, 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.