Juniper Flats to Quail Mountain and back
(12 miles, +1,500/-1,500 feet).
BarnFinder, Karpo, and I signed up for a Wilderness Basics Course with the Sierra Club this winter, and it has lots of great information. Unfortunately, most of it is information we already know—the course is really oriented towards people who have never been backpacking before.
This weekend BarnFinder and I did one of the required trips for the course, a group trip to Joshua Tree. We met our trip leader and the other students at Juniper Flats and did an orientation before we started.
BarnFinder and I have both really worked to get our gear base weight down, so when we weighed in at the trailhead, we had the two lightest packs of anyone in the group! It’s funny because the assistant leader told us not to put our packs on until the leader put his on, but we didn’t mind since we both had well under 20 pounds on our backs (even though we were each carrying over a gallon of water!).
Eventually we got started. This was BarnFinder’s first trip to Joshua Tree and he seemed to really enjoy these unusual plants.
Large groups go really slow and take lots of breaks, so we hardly broke a sweat.
We eventually made it to flats below Quail Mountain where we set up camp.
After all the tents were in place, we left our gear behind to do a cross country day hike up Quail Mountain. We discussed different strategies for summiting, like following a drainage vs. following a ridge. Interestingly, the point where we wanted to head to before climbing straight up to the top was marked by three red balloons that must have drifted over from San Diego. (We find mylar balloons in the desert all the time — it’s kind of sad).
BarnFinder got to the balloons first, but he generously passed them on to a fellow hiker who was keen to carry them.
We continued making our way up the mountain. I was really surprised how out of shape some of the 20-something hikers were. I’m not Mr. Universe or anything, but I think in my 20s I could have done this hike pretty easily, in spite of my aversion to exercise back then.
Eventually we made it to the top, and the views were pretty amazing. I told BarnFinder that we should come back here with our wives some time and camp on the summit.
We spent about an hour at the summit and then headed back down to our campsite. Both the sunset and the twilight shadows with the crazy Joshua Trees were really pretty.
BarnFinder and I asked the camp leader what time he planned to leave in the morning. In a large group, there are always at least a few people who need more time getting up and packing, so he said “Maybe 9:30?” We didn’t want to hang around doing nothing for three hours in the morning, so we asked if we could head back to the trailhead on our own, and he said that was fine as long as we left him a note on his car that we made it!
So we got up before sunrise, poured out most of our water, and made it back to our car by 7am. I think we were actually all the way back to San Diego before the group might have even gotten started!
I would definitely do this trip again. It was a really nice and easy hike, and the climb up Quail Mountain was fun. But I would have added some miles to the days. It’s totally understandable that the WBC slows it way down to make sure everyone is comfortable, but I feel like BarnFinder and I are ready to move on….