Quail Mountain • Highpoint: Joshua Tree National Park
• Range Highpoint: Little San Bernardino Mountains

Date Climbed
April 13, 2003

5,820 feet

10 miles

7 hours

2,300 feet

Cool, brisk winds

2,293 feet

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Quail Mountain

The peak as we come closer

Beth comes up
the final grade

Me at the top

Beth on the descent.

Beth juxtaposed with a
cool Joshua tree and
the peak behind her

A parting shot


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Quail Mountain is the highest peak within Joshua Tree National Park, but not necessarily a common destination for hikers nor climbers. The park is well-known for its rock climbing with its myriad of granite rockpiles, so that brand of climber will likely want those rocks, and not a long, trail-less hike up an "easy" mountain. For hikers, the mountain is set back from the main roads and does not feature a developed trail. Although not difficult, a hike does require a lot of cross-country hiking and route-finding, so the casual hikers will usually avoid this peak as well. As a result, it's not uncommon for this peak to have no visitors, even though the Park will be crawling with climbers everywhere else.

Beth and I were heading to Southern California to visit my brother's family plus my old college, U.C. Riverside, firsts for her. The visits went well, but only took up a few hours. Our "main" goal was this peak, so we backtracked east, following CA-62 through Yucca Valley, getting a simple hotel for the night near the north entrance of the National Park. The next morning, we drove into the park and down the main road about 7.5 miles to a parking pullout near a giant set of slabs, one of the many popular rock climbing spots. From here, Quail Mountain stood about 4 air-miles away to the southwest. We started our hike from here.

We walked cross-country acxross the desert for about a mile, dropping slowly to a low-point then up again, ever so slowly, until we came upon an old road paralleling the base of the range near Johnny Lang Canyon. This road actually meets with the main road we were on, but adds distance. We walked the road a little bit west, then entered into Johnny Lang Canyon itself.

Apparently Johnny Lang was an old prospector, as there is a "Lang Mine" noted on the map in the canyon. The road in started as a two-track, then degenerated into a footpath at a wash. The uphill gradient was very gentle. The footpath grew weaker and often braided in and out with the sandy wash bottom. After about a mile along this path, and just south of where the map shows the "road" to turn into a single-dashed "trail", we decided to start directly up the slopes and make our way into the actual mountains. We hiked up a moderately steep slope on the southeast flanks of peak 5,405, eventually coming to a main saddle just south of that peak. This stretch included some steep gains but there were no technical sections. The wind was now stronger and we often took refuge behind intermittent rock outcrops along the route.

From this saddle (which had a cairn and is evidently a waypoint of the "main" route to the top), we traversed along the southwest ridge from peak 5,405, eventually losing about 420 feet of elevation to come out to a low point at just below 5,000 feet. From here we simply walked up the main southeast ridge of Quail Mountain, arriving at the top at about 1 p.m. in partly cloudy and windy conditions. We took refuge inside a large rock shelter on the elongated summit's south end, where we relaxed, snacked, snapped photos, and even kissed and hugged a few times. After about 20 minutes we trekked north along the top to another rock outcrop, where we found the benchmark and a wood/wire thing leaning nearby. The map has this at 5,813 feet; the southern area is clearly higher by about 10 feet. From here we started down to my truck.

We decided to take a chance and descend via the drainage that comes off the summit's northeast, as mentioned in one of the guide books. Normally I wouldn't chance descending via an unknown route but I figured we'd be okay. At first the descent was merely steep, then we found ourselves in the heart of the rocky drainage. For the next 90 minutes we were regularly descending moderate rock slabs and battling vegetation. The downclimbing involved some easy class-3 boulder hopping and scrambling. After a while, and passing by a nearly complete Bighorn Ram skeleton, we finally found ourselves at the mouth of this canyon, back on the desert flats. It had been a very enjoyable, interesting descent. From here we beelined across the desert back to my truck, arriving at 4 p.m., the big rocky slabs helping us navigate. Six hours later we were back home in Chandler, both a little sore and feeling the buzz of a successful ascent and trip overall.

(c) 2003 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.