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Ascent of Spectre Peak on 2019-05-04

Climber: Marcus Lostracco

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, May 4, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Spectre Peak
    Location:USA-California
    Elevation:4482 ft / 1366 m

Ascent Trip Report

I had been thinking about Spectre Peak since the start of the year and had always considered it on trips as an "on the way home" peak, but I never really found the time or energy, so I decided for once to actually give it a full day's attention. The night before, I cowboy-camped out off the side of the road on the 29 Palms Highway. It was a pleasant and quiet night, so comfortable all I needed was an air mattress a pillow and a blanket. I wasn't too far from the road, but I swear I didn't hear a single car go by all night. I was up around 6am and it was really bright out. I "hit snooze" and got maybe another half hour of sleep until I forced myself to get going.

I loaded my pack with a 1.8L bladder, two 20oz water bottles, and an additional 1L metal canteen. I figured I should abide by the desert rule of 1 liter an hour - I was carrying 4 liters, so I guess I was ambitious for this 14-mile attempt. I finally got started around 7:45am at a slow jog up the wash towards the Coxcomb Mountains - the range sits on the North-Eastern extreme of Joshua Tree National Park, and is one of the least ventured areas of the park due to there being no access roads or any easy way to approach them. It was not overbearingly hot yet and with a good sun hat and a lightweight white long-sleeve shirt, I felt comfortable.

Along the way up the wash I came across a tortoise shell with the diameter at about the same as a medicine ball. My immediate thought was "I hope I get to see a live tortoise around here". Then, 5 minutes up the wash, there's a little tortoise making his way across the desert. It was a smaller one and the first time I had seen a desert tortoise. Seems like a peaceful creature. I hung out with the tortoise for a good 10 minutes. I would get the odd blink from the little guy, looking back at me, partially withdrawn into the safety of his shell.

I said farewell to the tortoise and carried on up the wash. At the 1 hour mark I was ready to head into the first drainage which I had loaded the GPS track from Richard Hensley to my Peakbagger app. I liked his approach, taking a more direct route than the standard approach. I was being pretty efficient with the boulder hopping. At one point I heard a loud hissing rattle directed at me. I didn't move and was scanning all around me to see where the heck this snake was rattling at me from. I didn't see it anywhere so I cautiously continued onward. The rock was very firm and I never came across any that moved underneath me. As I came close to the top of this gully I noticed some pine trees scattered about - what a surprise! I did not know there were pine trees in Joshua Tree National Park. They were beautiful trees, seemed to be very old, slow-growing. I am unaware of the species of pine they are. I reached the top of the gully at about 10am. I could finally see the summit of Spectre Peak and Aqua Point.

I decided not to do Aqua and maybe save it for the return. There is a small area of elevation loss before the final climb to the top of Spectre Peak, and as I made my initial steps down, I got caught staring at the summit at the least opportune moment. Suddenly the rock I was on started sliding downwards. I had the slowest and most awkward fall I've ever had. These were the steps:
1. Oh no I'm sliding!
2. Oh no I'm going to fall!
3. Oh no my left pole is stuck in this crack!
4. Oh no I bent my pole!
5. Oh no I'm falling headfirst!
6. Ok I landed on my shoulder and right hand - was able to save myself
7. Oh damn my foot came down hard... ouch
I popped up immediately hopping around on one foot - I had slammed my big toe really hard right into a rock (it's nothing but rocks up in this range). Cursing for a few seconds seemed to help with the pain. I walked it off and decided it would be a slow hobble the rest of the hike. The final approach would have normally taken me 20 minutes, I would guess... but it took a solid 45 minutes at my slower pace. I reached the top at 11am. I tried to enjoy the summit but there was a swarm of flies on top that just didn't let me relax. I still managed to spend 30 minutes on top and then began my descent.

I nixed the idea of doing Aqua peak after having that stupid fall and continued down the standard DPS route. On the way down I came across this massive boulder, sitting majestically in the center of a surrounding valley. Its size and sheer flat angles made it reminiscent of some of the world's most challenging climbing boulders. I wonder if some routes have been established on it since this is such a remote area. The rest of the descent was uneventful and just very long. I was moving slow and getting dehydrated, despite the fact that I was constantly drinking water. Very warm water at this point.

I reached my car at 3:45pm... a full 8 hours later. Desert peakbagging season is officially over for me. Too hot out and now I have to let this foot heal! The Coxcomb Mountains are overall a super rugged and exhilarating range. I enjoyed the boulder hopping and the route finding and being alone among the birds, bees, tortoises, hares, lizards, and snakes.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3140 ft / 957 m
    Total Elevation Loss:3140 ft / 957 m
    Round-Trip Distance:14 mi / 22.5 km
    Grade/Class:Class 3
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Open Country, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Hot, Calm, Clear
Comfortable in the morning and hot on the descent
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3140 ft / 957 m
    Distance:6 mi / 9.7 km
    Route:Non- DPS route
    Start Trailhead:29 Palms Hwy  1342 ft / 409 m
    Time:3 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:3140 ft / 957 m
    Distance:8 mi / 12.9 km
    Route:DPS route
    End Trailhead:29 Palms Hwy  1342 ft / 409 m
    Time:4 Hours 30 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Marcus Lostracco
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. Peakbagger.com accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file




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