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Backpacking Trip Reports

Wallowa Mountains, OR – Eagle Cap Wilderness 3 Day Hike

calm as glass reflection on glacier lake oregon

Wallowa Mountains, Oregon – Eagle Cap Wilderness 3 Day, 40 Mile Hike

sunset view over glacier lake, wallowa mountains, eagle cap wilderness, oregon

  • Hike Location – Wallowa Mountains – Eagle Cap Wilderness
  • Land Administration – Wallowa National Forest
  • Hike Type – Point to Point
  • Fees & Permits – No fees or permits needed
  • Start Trailhead – Wallowa Lake
  • End Trailhead – Two Pan
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 3 days
  • Miles Hiked – 39
  • Route Difficulty – 7.5
  • Scenic Beauty – 8.5
  • Solitude – 8

Maps

Here’s the caltopo map of the 3 Day Eagle Cap Wilderness Hike: 

Elevation gain/loss chart for the 3 day Wallowa Mountains hike:wallowa mountains oregon 3 day backpacking hike route elevation chart

Video: Wallowa Mountains, Oregon – Eagle Cap Wilderness 3 Day PNW Hike

Pre-Hike Planning Notes

If you are driving a long ways to the Wallowa Mountains for your hike, you may want to camp near the trailhead to get an early start the next day. There are plenty of paid campsites at Wallowa Lake State Park and in the variety of campgrounds in the area, but The Wallowa Mountains, outside of Joseph and Enterprise, do not offer much for those looking to do any boondocking or dispersed camping on public land. We drove up Hurricane Creek, the drainage west of Wallowa Lake, and found a few crappy spots alongside the road suitable for an overnight stay in the camper van. Tent camping would be harder here. 

Joseph and Enterprise, the two gateway towns to the Wallowa Lake area, are very touristy. The Market Place grocery store offers a decent selection, probably enough for most hikers to pick up 3 days worth of food. However, if you are in doubt, get your food at a larger grocery store on your way. 

There is plenty of parking at the Wallowa Lake trailhead. Nearly all of the license plates were Oregon or Washington, which ought to tell you what a hidden gem this place. It’s an out-of-the way place, but worth the drive. 

We hiked this route in mid July. The snow had almost entirely melted out, and the mosquitoes were terrible. A mosquito head net would be a good thing to have, and perhaps bug spray.

The system of hiking trails in the Wallowa Mountains are very good. There are trails leading up just about every valley and over every saddle, so there should be little need for off-trail bushwhacking here. Besides that, the trails seem to be pretty well maintained. We encountered very few blow downs. 

The Wallowa Mountains are not very well suited for any kind of continuous ridgewalking, or high routes. Instead, the Wallowas are a series of deep valleys separating segments of high country with huge climbs. As much as I wanted to put together a more dedicated high route here, it just wasn’t possible without climbs of 7,000ft daily. The valleys are pretty incredible here, though!

After your hike, there are showers at the Wallowa Lake State Park campground. They are for campers only, but it’s a busy park and you will likely go unnoticed. 

 

Wallowa Mountains/Eagle Cap Wilderness 3 Day Backpacking Trip (July 2021)

Day 1 – July 9th – West Fork Wallowa River, Lake Basin, Mirror Lake, Glacier Lake

Miles Hiked – 18

hiking through pine forest near the wallowa lake trailhead oregon

Leaving the Wallowa Lake Trailhead

Sam and I left the Wallowa Lake trailhead sometime after 8am. Right away, huge pines towered above us and quickly caught our attention. The trail is wide and well beaten here as it begins a continuous climb uphill along West Fork Wallowa River.

We passed several groups of people in the first few miles. There were a lot of cars at the trailhead, but often times, the majority of these people are only hiking a few miles. We encountered a group of horseback riders, and and couple of guys who look like they had quite an adventure… one guy had blown out his show, the sole was gone. He had rigged it up with some tape the best he could, but it didn’t look like a fun walk.

eagle cap wilderness hiking west fork wallowa river trail

Hiking along West Fork Wallowa River

eagle cap wilderness hiking west fork wallowa river trail

West Fork Wallowa River

The roar of the driver grows louder when we near it. Soon we get our first view of the water, and a view up the canyon. I saw a mink running across the trail, which was a cool thing to see. I’ve only seen a couple of other mink in my life. It could also have been a pine marten, but after comparing the two animals after the hike, I think it was a mink. 

hiking through sixmile emadow in the wallowa mountains oregon

Sixmile Meadow

At Sixmile Meadow is where the scenery really starts to get good. Across this big green meadow, the high country began to show itself. We begin to notice how green and lush our surrounding are. The mountains are steep, and heavily forested. No beetle kill here, just a healthy green wonderland. 

eagle cap wilderness hiking west fork wallowa river trail

Blue waters of West Fork Wallowa River

eagle cap wilderness hiking west fork wallowa river trail

eagle cap wilderness hiking west fork wallowa river trail

View down West Fork Wallowa River from Sixmile Meadow

eagle cap wilderness hiking west fork wallowa river trail

Fording West Fork Wallowa River

We hike across Sixmile Meadow and cross West Fork Wallowa River. Here, it’s only a foot deep. A beautiful scene, too. The water is a deep turquoise blue with outstanding clarity. The river here reminded me of a past hike in Glacier National Park. 

eagle cap wilderness hiking west fork wallowa river trail

View up the valley. That’s forest fire smoke rolling in

eagle cap wilderness hiking west fork wallowa river trail

View of Peters Point ridgeline, to the east

Next the trail begins to ascend towards Lake Basin. The views open up now as we gain elevation. A sea of healthy green pines cover the entire basin, up to the treeline. 

eagle cap wilderness backpacking along horseshoe lake

Horseshoe Lake

eagle cap wilderness backpacking along horseshoe lake

Views along Horseshoe Lake

After an 1100ft climb up to the Lake Basin, we find ourselves on a flat shelf with a view of Horseshoe Lake. Very nice. The trail follows the shoreline, offering great views of this beautiful lake. 

hiking lake basin wallowa mountains oregon

hiking along deep turquoise blue alpine alke wallowa mountains oregon

hiking lake basin wallowa mountains oregon

The next segment of hiking is an enjoyable one. We hike by Lee Lake, and then Douglas Lake. The trail alternates between segments of flat ground and climbing 200ft or so. Good trail, good views.

hiking lake basin wallowa mountains oregon

Moccasin Lake

moccasin lake view hiking the wallowa mountains oregon

Upper Moccasin Lake

The trail then follows the shores of Moccasin Lake as it continues up higher into Lake Basin. The crest of the Wallowa Range is now in sight, it’s peaks and ridgelines capped in patches of snow. The upper Moccasin Lake area was really beautiful!

hiking lakes basin trail to mirror lake in wallowa mountains oregon

Trail to Mirror Lake

hiking lake basin wallowa mountains oregon

Looking back down on Moccasin Lake

We decided to take a short detour to check out Mirror Lake, since we are so close to it. Good views looking back down on Moccasin Lake from the saddle above Mirror Lake. 

hikers view of mirror lake, wallowa mountains, eagle cap wilderness oregon

Wildflowers at Mirror Lake

hikers view of mirror lake, wallowa mountains, eagle cap wilderness oregon

Eagle Cap and Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake was definitely worth the side trip. This is a top notch alpine lake with outstanding scenery. The north face of Eagle Cap peak, which we’ll summit tomorrow, provides the perfect backdrop. Indeed, this will make a fine lunch spot. 

Our lunch spot along Mirror Lake was a great place to stop, for the scenery, but perhaps the worst place we’ve been so far along our hike for bugs. The mosquitoes were thick here, and we could hardly eat a snack without also eating mosquitoes. I put on my rain gear for long sleeve protection while we ate, but really, it was one of those times where you’re just constantly swatting at the air in front of your face, just to keep the bugs at bay. Slack for a few seconds, and they’re on you again. Bastards. 

mirror alke hiking trail wallwoa lake oregon

hiking lakes basin wallowa mountians

We left Mirror Lake and hiked back downhill to Moccasin Lake, where we take a trail that will lead us to Glacier Pass. I really enjoyed this area here.

trail of rocks across water for hierk to cross stream in wallowa mountains oregon

Crossing the inlet at upper Moccasin Lake

hikers dive and swim in moccasin lake, wallowa mountains, oregon

Instant refreshment swimming in Moccasin Lake

We hopped rocks to cross the inlet stream leading into Moccasin Lake. On the other wise, we found a nice spot along the lake with some rocks at the edge of a deep section of water. Perfect place to stop for a swim! We jumped in the water and enjoyed the brisk refreshment that comes from a dip in a freezing alpine lake. 

hiking up glacier pass in wallowa mountains long couloir filled with snow and water

Ravine along the trail up to Glacier Pass

hiking across snow in eagle cap wildenress, wallowa mountains backpacking trip

The hike to Glacier Pass

The trail begins climbing up to Glacier Pass steeply now along a deep ravine. There are patches of snow still lingering and a stream of water flowing downhill. 

hiking trail to glacier pass in wallowa mountains, oregon

View north from the trail to Glacier Pass

hiking below glacier pass, eagle cap wilderness oregon

Glacier Pass in view, Glacier Peak beyond

backpacking trail to glacier pass in wallowa mountains, oregon

Above the ravine, the views open up and Glacier Pass is in sight. The Eagle Cap peak begins to come into sight, just barely, over the ridge. Also in sight now along the ridgeline is Glacier Peak, and this one is much more prominent looking from this angle than Eagle Cap itself.

backpacker on glacier pass in eagle cap wilderness oregon

Sam enjoying the view from Glacier Pass

hikers view from glacier pass, wallowa mountains oregon

View down to Glacier Lake and Glacier Peak

The view from the top of Glacier Pass initially isn’t that great. That is, until you drop down slightly from the pass, and Glacier Lake comes into view. Wow! This basin was pretty stunning. Glacier Peak provides an impressive backdrop behind the distant waters of Glacier Lake. There are multiple small islands in the lake, with a few pines trees growing on them. This reminded me of the Sawtooths in Idaho, while the mountains themselves were reminiscent of the Sierras. In other words, excellent views.

backpacking trip to glacier lake oregon

Hiking down to Glacier Lake

hikers view of turquoise blue glacier lake in wallowa mountains

Glacier Lake and Glacier Peak

glacier lake view in the wallowa moutnains

That peninsula jetting out into Glacier Lake is where we’d like to camp

As we dropped lower in elevation from Glacier Pass, we could get a decent view of the lake from above and scope out potential campsite locations. We settled on a spot, and noticed a curious scene playing out just 40 yards away… a mountain goat kicking up a ton of dirt as he digs and rolls around. He’s probably just as annoyed with the mosquitoes as we are.

hiker eating dinner at glacier lake in wallowa mountains oregon

Dinner at Glacier Lake

hikers view from cap at glacier lake, eagle cap wilderness oregon

Glacier Lake at sunset

reflection on glacier lake at sunset with wildflowers and glacier peak

The magic hour at Glacier Lake

We find a spot for our tents and eat dinner, swatting mosquitoes the entire time. It was a challenge not to eat any of the mosquitoes too, there were so many swarming my face. Besides that, we enjoyed an outstanding view of Glacier Peak with a nice reflection on Glacier Lake as the sun set. 

tarptent notch li campsite at glacier lake, eagle cap wilderness oregon

Campsite at Glacier Lake

Soon enough, we retreated to our tents, where we could be safe from the bugs. That’s always a great feeling, the moment you are able to lie down after a long day of hiking and breathe that first sigh of relief as your head hits the air mattress. About 18 miles on the day today. Tomorrow, we summit Eagle Cap peak. 

 

Day 2 – July 10th – Eagle Cap Peak, Horton pass, Frazier Pass, Minam River, Minam Lake

Miles Hiked – 10

glacier lake sunrise reflection eagle cap wilderness oregon

Glacier Lake reflection at sunrise

The sunrise over Glacier Lake was a great way to start the morning. We enjoyed the same beautiful reflection of Glacier Peak over the water as we witnessed for last night’s sunset. We ate breakfast by the water and filtered our water for the morning. Sam and I had just hiked a awesome 81 mile route across Dinosaur National Monument last week, where water was often an issue (except when we rafted the Green River for 6 miles!). So all this water in the Wallowa Mountains was a luxury to us.

view of glacier peak with alrge boulders in foreground and glacier lake

Scouting the route up to the saddle between Glacier Peak and Eagle Cap (not pictured)

Today we will climb Eagle Cap peak, the second highest peak in the Wallowa Mountains. The standard route to summit Eagle Cap is along the northwest ridgeline, where there is a trail to the summit. However, we wanted to hit Glacier Lake, and so we’ll approach from the east slope below the saddle directly south of Eagle Cap. 

calm as glass reflection on glacier lake oregon

Incredible reflection on Glacier Lake

hiker climbs boulder field in wallowa mountains

Looking up at Sam as he traverses the steep slopes of Glacier Lake’s northwest side

view down into alpine lake from hike across steep talus slope in wallowa mountains oregon

Steep slopes

hikers view of glacier lake from wallowa mountains backpacking trip

Looking back down on Glacier Lake

From camp we studied the mountainside in the upper basin and compared that to the route we have planned up it to Eagle Cap. We choose a line a begin working our way around the steep slopes above the northwest side of Glacier Lake. It’s steep and rocky, but we make it across. The reflection on Glacier Lake, and the color of the water, was incredible form this angle. 

purple wildflowers below eagle cap peak in wallowa mountains oregon

Wildflowers below Eagle Cap peak

hiker climbing boulder field along flowing waterfall cascades in wallowa mountains oregon

Good flow of water through this boulder field

After traversing the steep scree slope, we meet the slopes of Eagle Cap’s east face. The terrain flattens briefly, and there’s a small green meadow with colorful wildflowers. A small stream trickle through from the patches of snow lingering higher up the ridgeline. 

two hikers below wallowa mountains crest on summit hike to eagle cap peak

Up we go

hiker scrambling qbove alpine lake in wallowa mountains oregon

Now it’s a 900ft climb to the top of the ridgeline. Some mountains might be solid boulder fields now at this elevation, but here the boulders are thin enough that we are also walking in-between patches of soil. This made the going a little easier. 

eagle cap peak summit hike through boulder fields non standard route

This is NOT the standard route to summit Eagle Cap peak. But it’s a relatively easy class 2 hike up

eagle cap peak summit hike through boulder fields non standard route

Ridgeline leading to Glacier Peak

wallowa mountains peak bagging eagle cap view down to glacier lake

View down to Glacier Lake

Yesterday we noticed a bit of forest fire smoke rolling in, but the skies were predominantly blue. Today though, the smoke is winning. And it’s really starting to build up. Bummer, because we want that distant summit view.  

 

 
hiker walking through snow and boulders on off trail non standard climbing approach to eagle cap peak

Traversing the final snow patches below the crest

hiker traverses snowfield in eagle cap wilderness on summit hike

Sam traversing the snowfield

hiker traversing snow in eagle cap widlerness oregon summit hike

Sam cresting the ridgeline at the top of the snowfield

Towards the top of the climb, we encounter snow patches. Fortunately they weren’t incredibly steep, and we picked our line up. These snow patches are like mine fields though. Sam did punch through and posthole a couple of times, but I lucked out. We spotted a couple of Big Horn Sheep going up to the pass themselves, above us. 

hikers view of ridgelong along crest of the wallowa mountains, oregon

Crest of the Wallowa Mountains, view southeast to Glacier Peak

hiking trail to the summit of eagle cap peak wallowa mountains oregon

Trail to summit of Eagle Cap from the south face

At the top of the crest below Eagle Cap, the terrain becomes a very manageable walk. Not only because the boulders have mostly given way to a mostly dirt landscape, but because we’ve also stumbled upon a game trail leading up to the summit. It’s also possible that this is a social trail, perhaps from others taking a similar approach as we did from the east slopes. However, we did not see any other evidence of some sort of route up to the crest along the way… no cairns, no faint paths, nothing. 

hiker walking the crest of the wallowa mountains with forest fire smoke

Easy walking now on the crest of the Wallowas. But, that forest fire smoke!!

It’s a 350ft climb up the game trail now to the summit. An easy walk. Excellent views along the ridgeline to the south, towards Glacier Peak. 

eagle cap peak summit view by wallowa mountains hiker

View north from the Eagle Cap summit

eagle cap peak summit view by wallowa mountains hiker

eagle cap peak summit view by wallowa mountains hiker

Sam measuring the vastness of the Wallowa Mountains

The summit of Eagle Cap (9,577′) is broad and flat, but with a big drop off on the north face. The view overlooking the Eagle Cap Wilderness to the north is massive. We spent some time here soaking up the summit views, despite the thick forest fire smoke limiting the distance. 

hiker stands on trail overlooking vast poregon wilderness in wallowa mountains

Sam enjoying the view as we begin the descent down from Eagle Cap

view of hiking trail in wallowa mountains high country, eagle cap wilderness

Excellent hiking along this trail

stunning mountain views in wallowa mountains oregon

Wow!

As soon as we began our decent down the northeast slope of Eagle Cap, we picked up on a trail. It was a steep descent down a series of switchbacks, but an easy trail to follow nonetheless. We passed a few people hiking up to the summit.

hiking the ridgeline down to horton pass from eagle cap peak, wallowa mountains oregon hiking the ridgeline down to horton pass from eagle cap peak, wallowa mountains oregon

hiking the ridgeline down to horton pass from eagle cap peak, wallowa mountains oregon

Horton Pass

The trail we follow now will take us to Horton pass. We enjoy excellent views here as well, and we’re very much enjoying what the Wallowa Mountains have to offer thus far. Some really excellent high mountain scenery here.

backpackers view of hiking trail in wallowa mountains east fork eagle creek

Hiking down Horton Pass into East Fork Eagle Creek

backpackers view of hiking trail in wallowa mountains east fork eagle creek

Hiking below Horton Pass

backpackers view of hiking trail in wallowa mountains east fork eagle creek

Well this is pretty nice

At Horton Pass, we take the trail leading west/south down East Fork Eagle Creek. A series of switchbacks lead down from the summit and seem to go on for a while. The trail is rougher here though, it’s rocky and there is a tiny stream occasionally flowing through it.

hiker filtering water sawyer filter and smart water bottle with wildflowers in oregon mountains

At around 7,660′, we reach a small but beautiful meadow. East Fork Eagle Creek flows through it, and we stop here to filter some water. It’s a beautiful spot, lush and green, lots of colorful wildflowers.

hiking trail in lush green mountain forest landscape oregon wallowa mountains

Good hiking down East Fork Eagle Creek, once you get below the pass

We continue downhill along the trail, which now is a bit more of a solid path. The hiking is easier now and we’re finding the walk to be quite enjoyable. It’s another heavily forest valley filled with healthy pines. I have grown accustomed to the beetle kill in the Rockies, but that seems to be much less of an issue here. 

off trail hiking in the wallowa mountains oregon

Sam crossing East Fork Eagle Creek

off trail hiking in the wallowa mountains oregon

Traversing the slope to Frazier Pass

off trail hiking in the wallowa mountains oregon

Views of the ridgeline above East Fork Eagle Creek

off trail hiking in the wallowa mountains oregon

Looking back at the slope we’ve traversed. Not terribly steep, but enough to be an obstacle

We leave the trail around the 7,425′ mark and begin contouring around the mountainside over to Frazier Pass. This will save us 2 miles and 900ft of elevation loss/gain, but we’ll have to traverse some steep slopes. We cross a creek and enter what looks to be easy-going grassy slopes. However, the grass hides a multitude of rocks to trip over and twist an ankle. Some sections of the slope were quite steep, but we could have easily dropped downhill to cope. We just didn’t want to lose any elevation.

hiker on trail up to frazier pass wallowa mountains oregon

Trail up to Frazier Pass

Eventually we regained the trail leading up to Frazier Pass. It’s patchy pine forest here, and the path leads up a dusty ravine. The steepest section is right before the top.

hiekrs view from frazier pass wallowa moutnains oregon

View from Frazier Pass

hiker walking trail in forest in eagle cap wilderness oregon

Sam hiking the switchbacks down from Frazier Pass to Minam River

hiking through downed trees in oregon wallowa mountains

Some downed trees here as we enter Minam River valley

Frazier Pass itself didn’t really offer a view, there were just too many trees. We began the descent down the west side of Frazier Pass. The trail here is really dusty, with that finer dirt that gets over everything and into your shoes so easily. The forest is thick here, and more downed trees than pretty much anywhere else we’ve been so far in the Wallowas. For a moment, I felt like I was back on the CDT. Still, the blowdowns had been cleared from the trial mostly, and wasn’t an issue.

hiker fording minam river in the wallowa mountains on a backpacking trip

Sam crossing Minam River

hiking trail running through minam river valley eagle cap wilderness oregon

View west down Minam River valley

hiker walking through wildflwoers in wallowa mountains oregon

A nice walk here

At the bottom of the descent we reach Minam River. This is the upper reaches of the river, though, and it’s pretty small here. We hop rocks across and enter a big, green valley with many wildflowers. 

purple wildflowers in minam valley, wallowa mountains, oregon

Wildflowers in Minam Valley

hiker walking trail in minam valley oregon in the eagle cap wilderness

Hiking Minam Valley below peak 8543

The hike along Minam River just north of Frazier Pass was excellent. At first, the view of the valley is simply “pleasant”. However, as we progressed up the valley towards Minam Lake, the scenery became incredible. What an amazing valley to walk through. Peak 8543′ is the high point along the ridge, which rises sharply nearly 2000′ from the valley floor. There are many colorful wildflowers here as well. 

view from the south shore of minam lake oregon

View north from the south shore of Minam Lake

The trail below Minam Lake passes through trees, and obscures the view. That is, until the trees break and we get our first view of Minam Lake. It’s nice, but nothing like Glacier Lake or Mirror Lake. Minam Lake is at 7373′ elevation, and although some lakes at this elevation are quite impressive, this really isn’t one of them. The backdrop of the mountains are less impressive, heavily forested and more rolling hills than the imposing mountain peaks and rock faces we like to see surrounding an alpine lake. 

One interesting feature of Minam Lake is that it basically sits on top of a saddle separating two valleys. The south side of the lake drains out and forms Minam River, while the north side drains out and forms Lostine River. It’s a strange feeling to hike up a valley, get to this lake at the top, and descend down another river valley. Typically, these high lakes are nestled in the upper basins, and only flow into ONE valley. 

backpacker view along east shore of minam lake oregon

Hiking along the east shore of Minam Lake

minam lake view

View west across the middle of Minam Lake

The hike around the east shore of Minam Lake mostly stays away from the shoreline, and slightly elevated. We’re looking for a place to camp now, but we’re really not seeing much.

hikers view from minam lake shoreline

Minam Lake north shore, view south

hiker crossing logjam at alpine lake outlet in wallowa mountains oregon

Sam crossing the outlet of Minam Lake

tarptent notch li at minam lake oregon campsite

Minam Lake campsite view

We hike down to the southern end of the lake, and the views are better. We find a nice campsite along the lake, with good protection from the trees. This will do.

minam lake oregon campsite view

Not a bad place to spend the evening

purple wildflowers and sunset view over minam lake with reflection on water

View of Minam Lake at sunset

We had a few hours of sunlight left today, and enjoyed our time along the lake. We soak our feet in the water and soak up the views. The sunlight fades and another great day in the Wallowa Mountains is behind us. 

 

Day 3 – July 11th – Minam Lake, Lostine River

Miles Hiked  – 11

sunrise view with reflection over minam lakem wallowa mountains

Minam Lake at sunrise

hiking the lostine river trail oregon

Sam crossing the Lostine River below Minam Lake

After leaving camp, we cross a network of braided streams below Minam Lake’s outlet. It’s clear animals like this area, too. There were many tracks and piles of scat here. We could hear animals moving around near the lake last night, too. We have seen no signs of bear though along our hike in the Wallowa Mountains, which always seems to be the question a hiker is asked. 

hiking trail upper lostine river wallowa mountains oregon

Hiking upper Lostine River

We’re now hiking along Lostine Creek as we leave Minam Lake. The valley is deep, and it seems to take forever for the sun rays to reach us. The forest fire smoke hasn’t built up yet for the day, and bluebird skies prevail. The upper section of Lostine River was nice, before it drops down into the forest.

boulder field along lostine river mountainside

lsotine river trail hiking

Hiking through the forest along Lostine River

hiking views along the lostine river backpacking the wallowas

Lostine River

The trail enters a thick forest, drops 400ft and Copper Creek pours into Lostine River. Many streams will pour into the Lostine as we drop down lower into the valley. We watch the river grow as the trail descends. It’s a 2200′ descent for us. and it’s a real knee buster to begin the day like this. 

hikers view from trail along the llostine river, wallowa mountains, oregon

Lostine River

hikers view from trail along the llostine river, wallowa mountains, oregon

Whitewater along the Lostine River

Lostine River continues to grow in size, and with the steep grades, is now whitewater. The roar of the river is nice to hear. Big pines, stray rays of sunlight finding their way down to the forest floor. It’s a really pleasant walk.  

two pan trailhead hiking lostine river

Hiking trail along Lostine River, near Two Pan Trailhead

spider web with sunlight behind it in oregon wallowa mountains forest

Spider web near the end of our hike

We reach Two Pan Trailhead, which has plenty of cars parked here. We really didn’t see that many people though, both along Lostine River/Minam Lake and in general throughout our Eagle Caps Wilderness hike. We kept walking down hill, passing Shady Campground, French Camp Picnic Area, before getting a hitch near the Lillyville Picnic Area. 

When we reached WHY 82 in the small town of Lostine, our ride was going north, and we need to go south. So, we stuck out our thumbs again and within 15 minutes, got our ride. She was a local on the way into Joseph to get groceries, but ended up driving us all the way up to the Wallowa Lake trailhead, where my van is parked. 

The Wallowa Mountains were awesome. I was very impressed with the scenery here. Despite the trails being good, it’s hard hiking. There is a lot of elevation gain needed to see the high country here. Otherwise, it’s all valley walks, which is still pretty nice. I would love to return to the Wallowa Mountains, and do a longer backpacking trip in the Eagle Caps Wilderness. Someday!

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Basin and Range Trail Thru Hike Complete!

hiker walks ridgeline in great basin national park on thru hike of the basin and range trail in nevada
Pioneering America’s newest long distance hike: The 1000+ mile Basin and Range Trail in Nevada

Woohoo!! 1000+ mile Basin and Range Trail thru-hike complete!

The BRT is a brand new long distance thru hike route that I created and hiked over 67 days through Nevada this summer.  Nevada is the most mountainous state in the country, outside of Alaska, with over 310 separate mountain ranges. The BRT aims to combine as many of the best mountain ranges in the state as possible in one long loop-style thru hike route. In  much of the Great Basin, specifically central Nevada, the term “Basin and Range” is used to describe the topography… an alternating landscape of parallel mountain ranges and valleys. Hence, the name Basin and Range Trail. 

I created the Basin and Range Trail to satisfy my curiosities about Nevada. For a chance to explore a mysterious region almost entirely untouched by the backpacking community. I never knew what to expect, whether or not the route down this mountain or canyon would pan out. Whether or not I would find water. With so little available information about the area, water sources etc, every single day was a real adventure. Every single day, I felt like I was walking into the unknown.

Nevada is crazy wild. The majority of the state sees extremely little human use. Mostly hunters and ATV riders, and exponentially less use by hikers. You will seldom be the “first person to walk here”, but you will often feel like it. There aren’t many places left like that. The towns are small and isolated, often around 100 miles from the nearest/next anything. Many towns don’t even have a grocery store, and rural Nevadans routinely drive 200 miles for food. Things are spread out here on a scale that you must see to comprehend. That is one of the things that brought my attention to Nevada, and a big part of the draw to hiking here. 

Along my 1000+ mile walk on the BRT, I encountered hundreds of wild horses, many elk, deer, big horn sheep, badgers, and only two rattlesnakes. I discovered numerous caves, countless creeks, waterfalls, and summitted the high points of several mountain ranges. I dodged lightning strikes, saw the oldest living things on earth (Bristlecone Pine trees), swam in hot springs, walked the pony express trail, cowboy camped under the starriest night skies imaginable, visited a nuclear test site, found arrowheads and Indian artifacts, had 6am wake up calls from the sonic boom of military aircraft, explored forgotten mine shafts, battled 102 degree temperatures and crossed dried lake beds, bushwhacked my way to hell and back, collected rocks along the way including many garnets, cowboy camped in a cave, and nearly got swept off a cliff by a dislodged boulder. I feel incredibly lucky to have seen and experienced what I have, and to have returned relatively unscathed. 

I ended my 67 day BRT journey in the town of Baker, NV which has a population of 68. Ending alone, in a small town like this, is rather anti-climatic. It’s a quasi-loop route, with no definitive start/end points like the CDT, PCT, AT etc. No monument to celebrate at. I stretched out the miles on my final day walking into town, giving myself a little time to process the completion of my most ambitious adventure yet. The array of emotions one feels at the end of such a journey are varied and quite intense. All the trials and triumphs of a months-long expedition have passed, and suddenly, your goal is complete. It’s a great feeling, a relieving feeling, to be done and to be able to relax. On the other hand, it’s difficult to comes to terms with… is it possible this may have been my greatest adventure, never again to be topped? What does the future hold? Indeed, much to ponder, an entirely different topic on it’s own. It’s been a real privilege to spend a summer roaming here.

**I’ve filmed the entire hike (carried 6lbs of camera gear, roughly 1/3 my baseweight) with the intent of producing a movie, as well as a vlog-style video series for YouTube. ๐’๐ฎ๐›๐ฌ๐œ๐ซ๐ข๐›๐ž ๐ก๐ž๐ซ๐ž ๐ญ๐จ ๐ฌ๐ญ๐š๐ฒ ๐ข๐ง ๐ญ๐จ๐ฎ๐œ๐ก:

๐Ÿ‘‰ https://www.youtube.com/c/SeekingLost

I also plan to release detailed info on the route (website/guidebook) for anyone who would like to take on the Basin and Range Trail themselves. And finally, I plan to write a book about my journey, as it has been just too powerful of an experience not to share in greater detail!

Stay tuned for more updates throughout the fall. Happy trails! 

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Glacier National Park 95 Mile Hike (Sep 2019) – Wateron Lakes CDT Finish

6 day, 95 Mile Hike in Glacier National Park – Glacier Highline Trail (Modified Route)

In 2018 I thru hiked the Continental Divide Trail, and the last section (NOBO) goes through Glacier National Park on the Glacier Highline Trail. It’s one of the best sections of trail on the entire CDT, and a fitting way to end a 3000 mile hike. However, it was the end of September when I reached East Glacier, and heavy snow in the high mountains forced me to bail down to the road and walk the highway to the border of Canada, finishing at the Port of Piegan. Yuk! I still completed the CDT, but not at the monument at Waterton Lakes. This was a bit crushing to end my 5.5 month hike in such a way. So, this year I came back out to Glacier to hike the Highline Trail again, and get the finish I missed last year at Wateron. This is my second chance at a true CDT finish. This is my redemption!

Check out my CDT finish video for the backstory:

Unfortunately we couldn’t get permits for the exact Glacier Highline Trail route. Instead, we started at Cut Bank (already did most of everything south of here anyways last year on the CDT up to Old Man Lake), hiked north to Many Glacier, then had to detour from the Highline Trail by going through the Ptarmigan Tunnel. From here we follow Cosley Lake to Stoney Indian Pass and into Waterton. Finally, some closure to such a long and grand journey! 

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Sawtooth Wilderness, ID High Route – 8 Day Solo Hike Aug 2017

clear lake refelction of jagged mountain peaks

Sawtooth Wilderness High Route – 8 Day Solo Hike August 2017

 

 View All Sawtooth Wilderness Photos | Watch the Sawtooth Wilderness Hike Video On Youtube 

  • Park Administration – National Forest Service
  • Fees & Permits – No fees to access the Sawtooth Wilderness. You need a permit which is FREE. Permits are available via self-registration at the trailheads.
  • Trailhead – Tin Cup Trailhead at Pettit Lake
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 8 Days, 7 NIghts
  • Miles Hiked – 67
  • Route Difficulty – On marked trails, 6. Off trail sections, 9
  • Fires Allowed – Yes, on a fire pan or fire blanket. Campfires are not allowed: Off-trail from July 1st through Labor Day. In the following drainages: Alice/Twin Lakes, Toxaway/Farley Lakes, Goat Creek (tributary of the South Fork of the Payette River), or Alpine Creek. Within 200 yards of Sawtooth Lake, Goat Lake and Alpine Lake near Iron Creek, Alpine and Saddleback Lakes in the Redfish drainage, and Scenic Lakes.
  • Scenic Beauty – 9
  • Solitude – 4 on Trail, 9 Off Trail 

Sawtooth Wilderness Pre-Hike Planning Notes

Actually, the route I set out to hike was much longer, closer to 90 miles and over 25k feet of elevation gain. Averaging 8517′ over 89 miles, I called it “The Ultimate Sawtooths High Route”. Over 50 miles of the 89 mile route was off trail. A route like this would have a lot higher chance for successful completion if one had firsthand knowledge of what to expect in key sections. I didn’t have that luxury though, this will be my first visit to the Sawtooths, and first to the sate of Idaho. I will be sharing more info on the Ultimate Sawtooths High Route later on. 

My goal with the route was to to stay as high as possible, while hitting as many of the places I could that were on my “must see” list. As far as planning a hike goes in the Sawtooths, you’ll find information from scattered sources online but there is no dedicated forum or “go-to” resource for the Sawtooths. I gathered what info I could about my route between trip reports and pictures, google earth, and studying the topo maps to create the route. 

Sawtooth Wilderness Weather Forecasts

For weather in the Sawtooth Wilderness, I was using mountain-forecast.com for Mount Cramer:

https://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Mount-Cramer/forecasts/2500

Sawtooth Wilderness Backpacking Maps & Route Information 

Here’s my caltopo map I used to plan my route:

Download GPX file of this hike

 

Day 1 – Friday August 18th, 2017

Miles Hiked – 6.35
Elevation Gain – 2090′
Route Hiked – Pettit Lake to Alice Lake

The road to Pettit Lake from ID-75 was well graded and in great shape for a dirt road. I was driving a Chevy Cruze, and wouldn’t hesitate to take the smallest car. High clearance not need whatsoever. I arrived at the Tin Cup Trailhead (located at Pettit Lake) around 6pm, and man was it packed. I was able to find a spot, but there were’t many left if any at all. I changed clothes and did my final packing, and was on the trail at 6:30pm. 

My destination tonight is Alice Lake, hopefully. I have 2.5 hours of daylight max to work with, better get moving. I quickly passed several groups of hikers, walked past the lake and hit the Wilderness Boundary sign. Here is where you self register for your permit. 

The trail is mostly forested for the first few miles. Eventually, it emerges into a couple of open areas where boulders and talus have spilled down the slopes above. Hiking is still easy through these sections because this is such a well traveled trail, and in great shape. Once the first set of switchbacks are encountered, roughly half the way there to Alice, you start to get some nice elevated views. The Sun was already going down fast at this point.

Hiking to Alice Lake

sawtooths wilderness hiking near alice lake

The hike to Alice Lake was pretty nice for a day 1 hike. Normally, the trail taking you to the high country is in a low valley, long and rather uneventful. I would say the trail to Alice Lake is much more interesting, and if nothing else, shorter than many of the approach hikes I’m used to. 

Dusk near Alice Lake

Alice Lake at sundown

Right before I reached Alice Lake is a couple of small ponds, with great views and lots of people already camped there. Farther up the trail, at Alice Lake proper, I was again out of luck finding a campsite in a prime location such as the outlet. With the Sun fading quickly I hurried on farther along the lake. The trail starts to climb above the lake offering no viable campsites.

Towards the center of the lake, at a point where the trail had veered farther from the water, I found a place to hang my hammock. Not the most scenic spot, but who cares, it was already time to bust out the headlamp. Nothin’ to see here tonight. No need to use the tarp over my hammock, skies are looking clear and will remain so for the next couple of days according to the weather forecast.

I arrived at camp around 9pm, and after setting up headed to bed at 10. I’ve got a long week ahead of me!

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Eagles Nest Wilderness (Gore Mountains), CO – 4 Day, 25 Mile Hike July 2017

Eagles Nest Wilderness, CO – Gore Mountains 4 Day Backpacking Trip July 2017

panoramic view of the gore mountains in eagles nest wilderness colorado

 View All Eagles Nest Wilderness Photos | Watch the Eagles Nest Wilderness Hike Video On Youtube

  • Park Administration – US Forest Service – White River National Forest
  • Fees & Permits – No fees to access the Eagles Nest Wilderness. Register at trailhead (although I didn’t see where!)
  • Trailhead – Gore Creek Trailhead
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 4 days, 3 nights
  • Miles Hiked – 25
  • Route Difficulty – 7.5
  • Fires Allowed – Yes
  • Scenic Beauty – 9
  • Solitude – 7, less within 4-5 miles of trailhead

Eagles Nest Wilderness Pre-Hike Planning Notes

Gore Mountains Weather Forecast

– https://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Buffalo-Mountain/forecasts/3894

Gore Mountains Road & Trail Condition Reports

– https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd542981.pdf

The Eagles Nest Wilderness is a 133,496 acre tract of land located within the White River National Forest. The Gore Mountains are the backbone of this wilderness area. It’s right off I-70, giving you the impression that it’s going to be a popular, well known hiking destination, but it’s not. Apparently, this area doesn’t get much use in comparison to other Colorado backpacking hotspots. One reason for this is the fact that there are no 14ers in the Gore Mountains. Don’t let the lack of notoriety fool you, as the Gore Mountains are definitely a hidden gem.

The first thing you need to realize about hiking the Gore Mountains is that it’s a rugged place with a lot of steep terrain. Because of this, many of the valleys are “dead ends” for the average hiker, and some are completely unpassable by all except the most skilled climbers. Stringing together a long hiking route that stays high is pretty difficult here. To make long loops, you either have to be OK with spending a lot of time in the lower valleys or be a really good climber. 

Access to the Eagles Nest Wilderness is said to be easier on the west side near Vail. See this map for trailhead locations in the Eagles Nest Wilderness. I parked at the Gore Creek trailhead, 2.3 miles east of Exit #180 off I-70 on Bighorn Road. This road to this trailhead is completely paved, so you can access it in any vehicle. Watch out for all the bikers on the road, there’s a tons of ’em here. Coloradans are probably used to seeing this many cyclists, but here in southeast Michigan the only people riding bicycles on the road are doing so because they have a DUI! The Gore Creek trailhead was pretty packed but many of them were bikers, not hikers. 

Nearby towns of Vail, Silverthorne and Frisco should have everything you need for last minute stops. Also note that you can get a shower after your hike for $5 at the Silverthorne Rec Center if needed. The address for the Silverthorne Rec Center is 430 Rainbow Dr, Silverthorne, CO 80498. 

 

Eagles Nest Wilderness Backpacking Maps

Download GPX file of this hike

Here’s my caltopo map of the route I hiked:

Day 1 – Saturday July 8th, 2017

Miles Hiked – 6.54
Elevation Gain – 3058′
Route Hiked – Gore Creek Trailhead to Gore Lake

I started my hike at the Gore Creek trailhead (8688′ elevation) around 10:15 am, just in time for a few clouds to start brewing. The trail immediately begins to climb after leaving the trailhead. The trail itself is pretty well maintained here. There’s a sign marking the entry to the Eagles Nest Wilderness after about 1 mile. Once you pass the sign, the trail goes over the top of a small hill where you lose sight of I-70. The sound from the road is also gone, and replaced with that of Gore Creek. The trail winds through a few patches of aspens before the evergreens become the dominate tree with increased elevation. 

Gore Creek Trail near Gore Creek trailhead

On the Gore Creek trail

The crowds of people started to thin out about two miles from the trailhead. Most of the people on the trail were older folks, and seemed to be locals coming out to get a few miles in for exercise. I stopped along a slow bend in Gore Creek after an hour to eat a little food. I didn’t see any fish, but it looked like there would be potential if one were to walk the bank looking for deeper holes. 

view of gore creek from the gore creek trail in the eagles nest wilderness of colorado

Gore Creek

There were few sweeping views of the valley, and the trail only occasionally swings alongside Gore Creek. The trail maintains a pretty manageable incline much of the way to the intersection with Gore Lake trail, with occasional steeper bursts. I passed a guy who said he’d just seen a large bear at the intersection, which I arrived at about 10 minutes later. No bear, fine with me. 

At the intersection of Gore Creek trail & Gore Lake trail, the elevation is 10,180′. AT this point, the elevation gain is roughly 1800′ (with the ups and downs of the trail) over 4.15 miles. Now on the Gore Creek trail, I’ll climb 600’+ in about a half mile. There’s a little view of the valley below after gaining a little elevation. The trail then overlooks a creek, although don’t believe it’s the main creek flowing out of Gore Lake. I saw my first patch of snow around 10,700′.

mountain peaks beyond the meadow in eagles nest wilderness below gore lake

At the top of the 600′ push I was rewarded with a nice meadow. It was flat, open and green, the first of the hike. It sprinkled a little now, but not heavy enough to be a bother. The views were definitely improving now. In the meadow, jagged peaks and snow capped mountain sides loom in the distance. There were some small patches of colorful flowers here and there, still a ways off from peak bloom though. 

hiking trail just below gore lake in eagles nest wilderness colorado

Approaching Gore Lake

hiking trail near gore lakecolorado

After passing through the meadow, the trail then climbs another 500′ in .6 mile along the final stretch to Gore Lake. I enjoyed the final approach to the lake, where your view of a nearby peak is hidden and then revealed as you crest the top of the final slope. A somewhat “dramatic” way to arrive at such a beautiful lake!

ice on small pond next to gore lake colorado

First view of Gore Lake

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Pinto Valley Wilderness, NV (LMNRA) – 3 Day 25 Mile Loop Hike March 2017

Backpacking The Pinto Valley Wilderness, Nevada (Lake Mead National Recreation Area)

Pinto Valley Wilderness Viewed From Hamblin Mountain

 View All Pinto Valley Wilderness Photos | Watch the Pinto Valley Wilderness Hike Video On Youtube 

  • Park Administration – National Park Service (Lake Mead National Recreation Area)
  • Fees & Permits – No fees or permits to access the Pinto Valley Wilderness, but there IS a fee to enter the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (in which the Pinto Valley Wilderness is located)
  • Trailhead – Northshore Summit Trail parking lot off Northshore Rd.
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 3 days, 2 nights
  • Miles Hiked – 25
  • Route Difficulty – 6.5, except where on descent into Pinto Valley near the “choke point” on my GPS file where it’s an 8.5
  • Fires Allowed – Yes, but only if you bring your own, or use driftwood below the high water line of Lake Mead (which is not nearby)
  • Scenic Beauty – 9
  • Solitude – 8

Pinto Valley Wilderness Pre-Hike Planning Notes

The Pinto Valley Wilderness is relatively new, only being designated a wilderness in 2002. Therefore there are not a whole lot of references to this wilderness online. Many people just refer to the area as the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which is technically also correct since the Pinto Valley Wilderness is located within the LMNRA. 

The northern boundary of the Pinto Valley Wilderness is Northshore Rd, and this is pretty much the only place to park unless you have a 4×4. Here, there are several pull-offs along the road where you can park for a day hike. But what about overnight hikes? Well, you aren’t supposed to park in the pull-offs overnight, and even that was OK with the park service, would you want to leave your car there? Probably not. For me, the only real option was parking in the Northshore Summit Trail parking lot. It’s located approximately a half mile east of mile marker 20 on Northshore Rd. The southern boundary of the wilderness is Lake Mead, the western border is Callville Wash Rd and the eastern boundary is Boathouse Cove Rd. Also not that Boathouse Cove Rd separates the Pinto Valley Wilderness (39,173 acres) from the Jimbilnan Wilderness (18,879 acres) to the east. You can access the Pinto Valley Wilderness from the east, west and southern boundaries, but by far the easiest is Northshore Rd.

Water sources in the Pinto Valley Wilderness are limited. While there are likely other water sources located in the Pinto Valley Wilderness, the two most prominent sources (from my pre-hike research) are Sandstone Spring and Cottonwood Spring. I did not make it to Sandstone Spring to check if it was flowing. I passed by Cottonwood Spring, but did not search for the source. I did see that an animal had dug down into the wash near Cottonwood Spring and there was a pool of water about 6 inches down. Neither one of these springs are reliable enough to count on as a easy water source (you might have to dig for water). Pack in all water you will need for this hike and assume you will not find any!

It does not appear that backcountry camping is very popular in the Pinto Valley Wilderness. The lack of trail heads with overnight parking, marked trails and water sources seem to indicate that most people use the area for day hikes. However, the off-trail enthusiast will find that the Pinto Valley Wilderness provides some excellent 2-3 day hikes to those willing to haul their own water. 

Pinto Valley Wilderness Backpacking Maps

Download GPX file of this hike

Here’s my caltopo map I used to plan my route:

Day 1 – Saturday March 25th, 2017

Miles Hiked – 8.26
Elevation Gain – 1228′
Route Hiked – Northshore Summit Trail parking lot to Pinto Valley near Sentinel Peak

lake mead national recreation area from northshore rd

Driving along Northshore Rd

Dan and I spent the previous day in the nearby Valley of Fire State Park, and camped in the Arch Rock campground. From here, it was about a 30 minute drive to the Northshore Summit trail head. It was cloudy this morning and was sprinkling when we were packing up our gear, but that quickly faded away. The drive along Northshore Rd was very scenic, and worthy of spending some time here by itself. However, we did not have the extra time, and drove directly to the parking lot.

When we arrived at the Northshore Summit Trail parking lot, we were the only ones there. Good sign. Yesterday, Valley of Fire State Park was packed. There’s a bathroom and garbage cans here, but that’s it. We left the parking lot around 9:30am and started walking east on Northshore Rd. While road walks are never ideal, this was the best route I could come up with that fit together a starting point, the destinations I wanted to hit and the time frame. Despite walking this paved road for 2 miles, it was beautiful country. Big views to the north, looking across Bitter Spring Valley. 

entering the pinto valley wilderness from northshore rd

Leaving Northshore Rd behind

Climbing up Pinto Ridge

dead turtle shell found in the pinto valley wilderness

We found this turtle shell hiking up Pinto Ridge

After 2 miles, we reached a pull-off where another vehicle was parked. Here, we leave the road and head south towards the Pinto Ridge. We hiked up over a small ridge to start the climb up. The terrain is pretty jagged here, with lots of sharp rocks. As we climbed up the ridge, I came across a turtle shell. The turtle itself was long gone, but the shell was an interesting find. A few hundred feet farther and I saw a second shell.

On the “pass” at the top of Pinto Ridge

Farther up the ridge, the path narrows as we reached the top of the “pass”. The vegetation was a little greener, thicker, and thornier here. Lots of wildflowers in bloom, and some of the cacti as well. There’s not much of a view form the high point, but this changes as you descend into Pinto Valley.

Descending into Pinto Valley

descending a steep rock slab in the pinto valley wilderness

Looking back up the way we came. Very steep!

The descent from the top is pretty gradual at first. We could tell there was a steeper section ahead, which I anticipated. Now the views of Pinto Valley were materializing, and they were impressive. However, the immediate problem was the terrain that lies between us and the valley below. The steepness would have been enough to worry about, but of course, loose rocks and debris compounded the difficulty. The angle was such that you could grip decently walking down slowly, but only just. Any steeper and this would have been questionable. I crab crawled in a few spots after watching Dan fall a couple of times. 

The chute funnels you to this choke point

It took a good amount of time to safely work our way down this steep slab, only to be led to a choke point… a couple of boulders wedged between the steep, narrow canyon walls. There’s no easy way to climb down it, but there’s a route around it. Backtrack about 50 feet from the boulders and go up a ridge on your left (to the east). Here, there’s a more manageable route down and the rest of the way is less frightening. 

pinto valley wilderness upheaval

Them rocks ain’t supposed to be angled like that!

Now down off the worst of Pinto Ridge, jumped down into one of the two washes, which merge, and headed out into the valley. It’s a whole new landscape here. In the wash we could see chunk of earth pushed upright, with a variety of layers visible. This isn’t solid rock like granite, though. It’s made up of compacted, crumbly dirt and smaller rocks. 

prickly pear cactus flowers in bloom in the pinto valley wilderness

Sentinel Peak behind a blooming Prickly Pear cactus

pinto ridge

Vibrant colors of Pinto Ridge

Looking west into Pinto Valley. Pinto Ridge on the right

After emerging from the wash, we found ourselves in the expansive Pinto Valley. Sentinel Peak was in front of us, dominating the view with shades of orange and red. We decided to camp here, on the north side of the valley, so we could have a good view of Sentinel. 

pinto valley campsite near sentinel peak

My campsite in Pinto Valley. That’s Sentinel Peak in the background

flowers in front of sentinel peak - pinto valley wilderness

Sentinel Peak from Pinto Valley

We found a couple of flati-ish spots and cleared the sharp rocks to make way for our tents. The view was great, but there’s no shade anywhere nearby. After setting up camp, we took a break for lunch. Afterwards, Dan rested while I took some pictures.

Approaching Sentinel Peak

After our break, we headed over towards Sentinel in an attempt to climb to it’s summit at around 2:30pm. The path to Sentinel from our camp involved dropping down into and climbing out of several washes along the way, before finding the main wash that runs through Pinto Valley. We took this to the Base of Sentinel where the route I had planned begins. The path up to the top was not very obvious from here, so I was hoping the track I created in Caltopo, based off someone else’s route up Sentinel, was accurate. 

At the base of Sentinel Peak

Climbing up Sentinel Peak

We started climbing up Sentinel, and quickly found the most promising route to be blocked by a huge boulder. We moved farther east and started uphill here. Dan wanted to go right up the mountainside whichever place looked easiest from his point of view, while I wanted to try and stick to the GPS route I created ahead of time. We both pursued various route options but keep finding ourselves in tough spots. I ended up breaking one of my Gossamer Gear LT4 trekking poles, again. Looking back, I think I’ve broken more of these poles than I have completed hikes with them. I don’t think I can use those poles anymore, need something beefier. 

Dan carefully walking across a rock face with a healthy fall below

Coming own Sentinel Peak looking north towards Pinto Ridge

The climb was a lot harder than we anticipated. While we probably could have made it to the top and back to camp if we continued, we decided that it was getting late in the afternoon and didn’t really want to be getting back right at dark or after if the route continued to be as challenging. We turned around and headed back to camp, somewhat defeated. At least there’s Hamblin Mountain tomorrow, which should have an easier route up. 

Main wash running through Pinto Valley

hiking the main wash in pinto valley

While we walked back to camp in one of the washes, we saw what looked to be bobcat tracks and poop. We saw lots of similar tracks throughout our hike, but of course, never saw anything.

pinto valley wilderness from from camp in pinto valley

When we got back to camp we still had no shade. Dan set up his emergency blanket (he was using it as a footprint under his tent) as a lean-to, and we had a nice shaded spot to escape the sun for a while. 

There was a TON of plane and helicopter traffic overhead in this region. Commercial planes I understand as we’re not that far from Las Vegas. The helicopter though, I don’t understand why there were so many. Throughout the day we saw a couple per hour. Right before nightfall, I saw 6 in row, flying the same flight path spaced about 1 minute apart. Maybe some sort of training exercise? 

pinto valley

View to the west before sunset

Looking to the east, the views of Sentinel and the mountains beyond were colorfully illuminated by the sun now. To the west, the distant landscape looked lush and green as the sun shined on it, although it in reality the vegetation is much more sparse up close. Dan said it looked like Jurassic Park. I watched the sun set and headed to bed shortly after.

 

Day 2 – Sunday March 26th, 2017

Miles Hiked – 9.88
Elevation Gain – 2173′
Route Hiked – Pinto Valley near Sentinel Peak to Pinto Valley Castle

It was a calm night with no animal sounds or high winds. The only sound I could hear was Dan snoring, as we set up our tents a little too close together. I got up around 6:30 to watch the sunrise, and tried to wake Dan. Of course, Dan continued to sleep and didn’t get up until 7:30 or later. 

pinto valley wilderness sunrise

Sunrise in Pinto Valley

While Dan wrestled with the agony of leaving his tent, I sat on a small hill near camp and took some pictures. The sunrise was not very impressive from this spot though as it was so high in the sky by the time it peaked out over the top of Sentinel Peak. I was already packed and ready to go by the time the sun rose and Dan finally left his tent. 

View of Hamblin Mountain from our camp in Pinto Valley

We broke camp around 8:30, following the nearest wash to the main wash running through Pinto Valley. Walking in the washes is the easiest route through Pinto Valley. This is not because the terrain outside of the washes is difficult, but because the washes are cut steeply and often deep into the surrounding earth. Hiking in and out of them gets old after a while. 

Hiking west through the main wash through Pinto Valley

Hiking the main wash was very easy. We made good time as we traveled west through Pinto Valley. We passed an outcrop of rocks and boulders that people have been signing their names on for years, dating back to the 1920s. Even though some of the writing is nearly 100 years old, it still looks brand new. Is is really that old then? Surely they would have been weathered somewhat in 100 years, right?

Wash leading to Pinto Valley Castle (the tallest point in the very center of the horizon) 

interesting geology in the pinto valley wilderness

What a mad place!

West of the rocks with writing along the main wash, we could start to see the colors of Pinto Valley Castle in the distance. Soon we left the main wash, and headed up another wash towards Pinto Valley Castle. This is a really interesting area, visually and geologically. Lots of upheaval going on, exposing many different layers of sediment. Small patches of “badlands” can be found all over here too. 

backpacker in front of pinto valley castle

“And behind me is Pinto Valley Castle…”

pinto valley castle panorama

View south near Pinto Valley Castle

Pinto Valley Castle

Pinto Valley Castle was impressive. Erosion has shaped the walls of PVC in an unusual way, with sharp edges and symmetry. The top is made up of some lighter colored sediment, while the bottom is comprised of a contrasting red color. 

sunflowers near pinto valley castle

colorful badlands

Looking northeast from the small pass, where we just came from

pinto valley wilderness badlands

Looking southwest from the small pass, towards Hamblin Mountain

After heading general north for a while through the Pinto Valley Castle area, we abruptly turned west after passing by PVC. After hiking through a small patch of badlands, we noticed an obvious path up one of the ridges, which led us to the top of a small pass. This is the general area I wanted to camp, since it looked so colorful from the satellite maps I studied before coming out here. It certainly lived up to the hype I had in my mind. Now, we just needed to find a place to set up camp. 

pinto valley wilderness best campsite

Campsite 1/4 mile west of Pinto Valley Castle

sunflowers in front of colorful mountain background

pinto valley wilderness

colorful mountain scenery pinto valley wilderness

Coming down from the little pass, we followed an obvious path down and along the side of the high ground. This path appeared to be an old mining road or something. We followed it a short ways before find a couple of small flat areas for our tents. Excellent views, and enough space to spread out more than we did last night. 

After setting up camp and eating lunch, we headed out to climb Hamblin Mountain. From camp, it appeared that there was a high and low path to take. We opted to take the high ground since we were already up here. This path led us generally where we wanted to go, but then started curving south. We backtracked a little and realized we had to go over a ridge to get to where we wanted to go. We should have taken the low ground from camp as it would have gone around this ridge, but I didn’t realize that at the time.

pinto valley wilderness

Wow!

Still not on the trail yet

We followed the ridge for a while looking for a weakness. After a short but steep climb over it, we still didn’t see an obvious route to follow. We headed down hill and along the top of a very deep cut wash below. On the other side we could see a trail, but we needed to cross this wash. We found a spot to descend, and even saw a cairn in the wash. We figured we were on the right path now. 

A faint path led up hill

Looking back the way we came

view of pinto valley wilderness from hike up hamblin mountain

The land was changing from red washes and badlands to green, rocky mountainous terrain. We followed our new trail up a ridge and along the mountainside. The path was very narrow and barely cut into the steep slopes. Eventually this path merged with a larger one, and it was much easier to follow from here on out. We hiked a short ways before seeing a path that led down into  the wash below, which looked easier and more direct than the route we took up here. We noted this and decided to go this was on the descent. 

hamblin mountain trail

Next we encountered are first humans of the trip, a couple from Henderson, NV who a had just left the summit of Hamblin Mountain. We chatted for a few minutes and parted ways, knowing they had only been hiking 25 minutes from the top. I was really looking forward to this view!

 

The hike up was not technically challenging or particularly steep, but there were a few false summits. Really great views as your near the top. Not far from the summit, we passed an older couple from Colorado making their way down. The woman seemed bewildered that we had “large” backpacks on, and asked if we were camping at the top. Ha, nope. Just carrying our water, snacks, camera gear, etc.

hamblin mountain summit view southwest

View southwest over Lake Mead from Hamblin Mountain

view from hamblin mountain summit south/southeast

View south/southeast from Hamblin Mountain summit

Lake Mead from Hamblin Mountain. The narrows is just out of frame to the left (east)

Hamblin Mountain Panorama

view of sentinel peak from hamblin mountain

Sentinel Peak from summit of Hamblin Mountain

 

We had the summit of Hamblin Mountain to ourselves when we made it up here at 2:30. It had taken us 2 hours from camp. From the top I could see Lake Mead, Bowl of Fire, Sentinel Peak, Pinto Valley and all the other landmarks for many miles. Las Vegas lies hidden from view in a valley, but beyond that the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Charleston can been seen. Several USGS markers dot the summit as well as a summit log/register. 

view of the pinto valley wilderness from the summit of hamblin mountain

Hamblin Mountain Summit View

view of the muddy mountains from hamblin mountain

Muddy Mountains to the north

view of the pinto valley wilderness from hamblin mountain summit

Pinto Valley & Sentinel Peak Viewed From Hamblin Mountain Summit

View northeast from Hamblin Mountain

We stayed on the summit for about an hour taking pictures and soaking in the view. However, we were also soaking in quite a bit of sun, and with no shade, it was time to head back to camp. 

hamblin mountain hike

Trail down Hamblin Mountain

Dan went ahead of me as I snapped a bunch of pictures on the way down. For some reason, I enjoyed the view better going down than up. 

Before we knew it, we reached the path that leads down into the wash that we noted on the way up. We headed down here and found this route to be quite obvious, and in fact, the actual route. The first trail we found on our way up was actually an alternate route the just happened to meet up with this main trail. This was confirmed by passing the same cairn that we passed in the wash on our way up. We originally thought the cairn marked the way to the main path that we took, instead, it marks the main path which we crossed right over without realizing. 

pinto valley wilderness hiking in a wash

Almost back to camp

Our path in the wash was leading us directly back to camp now. We passed the junction of the old 4×4 road that passes by Cottonwood Spring and heads out to Northshore Rd. This would be the route the day hikers would have taken, parking at a pull-off along the highway. We walked past this junction and the path led us right back to camp in a very direct way, much more so than the way we took up the mountain. We made it back to camp in only 1 hour from the top of Hamblin, half the time it took to reach the top. 

Back at camp, we sought out the only shade around and exploited it for a while. Having not eaten anything since noon, which was just some snacks, I devoured my bacon & cheese wrap for dinner. Dan was running lower on water than I, so I gave him a half liter. That’s about all I had left myself when I went to bed.

sunset in the pinto valley wilderness

Sunset at camp

Dan was whooped and went to bed at 6pm. With another hour and a half of daylight left, I couldn’t do that. I found a decent spot to sit and wait for sundown. Several bats were out at dusk, and flying closely overhead too. 

Day 3 – Monday March 27th, 2017

Miles Hiked – 4.99
Elevation Gain – 531′
Route Hiked – Pinto Valley Castle to Northshore Summit Trail parking lot

I woke up at 5:45 this morning. From my tent I yelled, “Hey Dan, time to get up”. To my surprise, he actually did get up without any additional prodding. That’s good, because I have a plane to catch at 12:45pm this afternoon, and we need to hike back to the car, drive back to Vegas, get some food and clean up. Originally I planned to hike an off-trail route back to the car, but worried about time, we opted to take the route the Hamblin Mountain day hikers use to get to Northshore Rd, then road walk a few miles back to the car. This would be the safest route from a time perspective.

We packed up quickly this morning and were moving by 6:30. We took the low ground this time for a direct route to the junction with the old 4×4 road, now called the Cottonwood Wash Trail. 

Cottonwood Wash Trail

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash trail was easy. Some spots were more narrow than others, and made you wonder how a vehicle passed through. Much of it is wider though. This road would have been in use up until 2002 or prior, when the area was designated as the Pinto Valley Wilderness. 

Lone tree at Cottonwood Spring

dense green shrubbery at cottonwood spring

Cottonwood Spring

A lone Cottonwood tree stands in the middle of the wash at Cottonwood Spring, hence the name. I did not see an obvious source, but I didn’t look around much either. There were lots of thick, green shrubs and bushes in some areas, an indicator of water, but I had no desire to wade through them looking for water. We did see a small hole dug in the middle of the wash with water about 6 inches down, but no natural emergence of water to the surface. 

Cottonwood Wash Trail

After leaving Cottonwood Spring, we headed down the home stretch. This was offered the same interesting geological features as others, a variety of rock and sediment layers exposed by upheaval.

backpacker walking along northshore rd in the lake mead national recreation area

Road walk along Northshore Rd

When we reached Northshore Rd, we headed east. We still had about 3 miles to cover before getting back to the parking lot. I didn’t even mind walking the road so much since the views were so great. It was a steady incline the rest of the hike back.

We reached the Northshore Summit trailhead at 8:30, plenty of time to take care of my pre-flight needs. Another successful adventure under the belt. 

 

Final Thoughts About Hiking The Pinto Valley Wilderness

This place exceeded my expectations. It’s uniquely colorful, and an all around cool place. Access is tough and some of the off trail segments can be challenging. Lots of aerial traffic remind you of how close this place is to civilization, yet we still felt solitude. Especially at night. The nights were calm and silent, with no animal sounds. We saw few animals the entire trip, just a couple of chipmunks and birds. The vegetation wasn’t too thick or thorny overall, only a few short spots where we encountered that. We saw no snakes or spiders, just a couple of butterflies and a beetle. I was expecting wildlife to be a little more active this time of year. 

Camp on our second night was my favorite. You can’t go wrong pitching your tent anywhere near Pinto Valley Castle in my opinion. Hamblin Mountain is an easy hike with a great view, and would make a great day hike (as the two couples we passed had done). 

 

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Coxcomb Mountains 3 Day Hike – Joshua Tree NP, CA – Dec 2016

Joshua Tree National Park – Coxcomb Mountains 3 Day Hike

sunrise over the coxcomb mountains

View All Coxcomb Mountains Photos | Watch the Coxcomb Mountains Hike Video On Youtube 

  • Park Administration – Joshua Tree National Park
  • Fees & Permits – Free permit, self register at one of 12 backcountry registration boards (none near the Coxcomb Mountains) or at one of the Joshua Tree national park visitor centers
  • Travel Logistics – Flew into Ontario, CA airport, drove (with a local friend) to Joshua Tree NP
  • Trailhead – There is no dedicated trailhead to access the Coxcombs. However, you can park along Hwy 62 (TwentyNine Palms Rd) at 34.095135, -115.420799. This is 11.9 miles west of the Hwy 62/Hwy 177  junction. This starting point is recognized by the park though as the main point of access to the Coxcombs. BEWARE of deep sand here at the parking area! We found another place to park (north side of hwy 62) a half mile or so east of the designated spot if you don’t have a 4×4. 
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 3 days, 2 nights
  • Miles Hiked – 25
  • Route Difficulty – 7.5 
  • Fires Allowed – No
  • Scenic Beauty – 7
  • Solitude – 9.5

Coxcomb Mountains Pre-Hike Planning Notes

The Coxcomb Mountains are situated in the northeast corner of Joshua Tree National Park. This region is seldom visited, and considered the most rugged area of Joshua Tree with many jagged peaks. The highest peak in the Coxcombs is Aqua Peak. Although most maps label the high point as Aqua Peak, Aqua actually refers to 3 separate peaks… Spectre, Tensor and Dyadic. Tensor Peak is the lowest, and Aqua is the tallest at 4,416′. 

There are no dedicated campsites in the Coxcomb Mountains.

There are no reliable water sources in the Coxcombs. We hauled our own water in for this 3 day hike.  

The Inner Basin and Aqua Peaks are day-use only, but I could not find any official information on this within the Joshua Tree National park website. There’s no signs telling you where you can/can’t camp, and there’s nobody around to enforce it, but still you should try and honor these regulations as the are set in place to protect the local population of Big Horn Sheep. When I arrived at the park to get my permit, I asked the ranger to show me on the map the boundaries of the day use area. His map was a Trails Illustration/Nat Geo map of Joshua Tree National Park, and it the boundary was clearly marked on it. Later at home, I created this image to show the boundary of the day use area in the Inner Basin of the Coxcomb Mountains:

inner basin day use area boundary lines marked on a map

The day use boundary for the Inner Basin area of the Coxcomb Mountains can be seen on this map

Coxcomb Mountains Hike Maps

Download GPX file of this hike

 

This is the caltopo map of the route I hiked. I’ve highlighted the Inner Basin day use are for your convenience.

 

 

Day 1 – Friday December 2nd, 2016

Miles Hiked – 7
Elevation Gain – 1704′

Dan’s Mustang stuck in the sand

When it came time to park at the trailhead, we tried to drive on some sand that was way too soft for my friend’s Mustang, and the car got stuck. Very stuck. We had to call a tow truck to pull it out, which was a 4 hour ordeal. The only reason we we able to call that tow truck is due to a passing motorist, who stopped and drove Dan to an intersection several miles away that had cell service. 

We didn’t start hiking today until around 2pm. I was hoping to make it past the Inner Basin today, but was also considering camping before the Inner Basin if it didn’t look like we could make it before sundown. 

We parked about .85 miles east of the “designated” spot. From here, it would be slightly out of the way to walk back towards the standard route. which runs west of the outcrop of small mountains (marked 806T on my caltopo map). Instead, we started hiking south and aimed east of the 806T benchmark. This wash appeared to be easy and take us to the same place, so we felt confident about of choice and headed out into the desert. 

distant view of the coxcomb mountains in joshuia tree national park

Coxcomb Mountains from the wash near Hwy 62

The desert floor consisted of soft sand in the washes, and slightly firmer sand elsewhere. Not the hard-packed desert soil I’ve hiked in much of the time in the past, in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. Vegetation consisted of low brush, much of it very thorny. No Joshua Trees here on this side of the park. We saw an occasional Prickly Pear and even a Sotol plant. Along the washes were some larger trees, at least compared to the rest of the scrub. 

a tarantula in the coxcomb mountains

Not 10 minutes into the hike, and we saw a tarantula walking around, making it’s way back into it’s hole. This was the first time either Dan or myself had seen one in the wild. It was only about 55 degrees today, and being December I thought most of the snakes and spiders would be laying low somewhere. Cool to see!

coxcomb mountains approach from a sandy wash

 I’m not sure it would have been any easier had we taken the standard route, but walking along the wash east of the outcrop was really easy. We made great time through here. Looking back towards the car, we couldn’t see hwy 62 running through the desert. Pretty quickly you feel isolated here. The mountains around us were really rugged looking, especially compared to the rounded boulders of the iconic Joshua Tree landscape. 

When we reached the point along our route where it intersects with the standard route, right before it heads uphill to Inner Basin Pass, we had a decision to make: camp here, or push on and hope we make it out of the Inner Basin before dark. We’d made great time so far, so we decided to chance it and keep moving. The terrain here remains easy, hiking up a sandy wash as the canyon narrows. I saw a jackrabbit darting through the wash, just about the only wildlife wee’d see this whole trip. 

coxcomb mountains inner basin pass

inner basin view at dusk in the coxcomb mountains

Hiking down the pass into the Inner Basin

Eventually, our route in the sandy wash becomes a boulder climb. Not terribly difficult or long, but a bit of a scramble in spots. Once at the top, it’s actually a bit of a flat plateau. Our first views of the Inner Basin were impressive, but the view is best right before the trail drops down in elevation. 

hiking a sandy wash in the inner basin of the coxcomb mountains

After dropping down into Inner Basin, it was back to an easy walk in a sandy wash. There’s a lot of thorny bushes around to snag clothing, but nothing too thick. The sun was really disappearing now, and the entire basin was shaded at this point. 

When we reached the end of the Inner Basin, there were cairns leading southwest. I was expecting the route to continue southeast and up hill. I could have taken the route I had marked on the map, but I just followed the cairns. The route winded through some narrow canyons and involved a little more boulders. Eventually, we popped out into the large flat area nestled in the heart of the mountains seen from my map. I originally thought this was the Inner Basin, based on the look of it on the map and the piss-poor descriptions available on the web. To be clear, I am talking about the open area on the map at these coordinates: 34.0195, -115.3733. Since this area is not part of the day use area, we started to look for a campsite. It was really windy, so we walked to several outcrops of rocks to see if they provided ample wind break. Wind always seemed to be hitting us no matter where we stood, so we just picked a spot. I had to use my headlamp to finish setting up my tent. The sandy soil was so soft, I had to weigh down my stakes with rocks to keep the tent from blowing over. 

After setting up camp, Dan and I ate dinner. It was 5:30 now and the stars were shining bright already. In fact, we could clearly see the milky way despite competing with the moon’s light. It was also getting pretty cold. Tonight was supposed to get down to near freezing. After shivering in the wind for a while, Dan and I decided to turn in around 6:30. Nights in the desert are long in the winter! 

 

Day 2 – Saturday December 3rd, 2016

Miles Hiked – 10
Elevation Gain – 1671′
I woke up at 5:50 this morning, hoping to get in position for the sunrise. I walked over to Dan’s tent and woke him, but he didn’t get out of his tent by the time I was ready. In fact. he was snoring again. So, I let him sleep while I climbed up rocks behind our camp. 

first light over the coxcomb mountains

Sunrise in the Coxcomb Mountains

coxcomb mountains mountaintop view at sunrise

huge open basin in the coxcomb mountains

My camp is along the base of the rocks I’m on

From my spot on top of the rocks, I had a pretty good view of the large flat basin in which we’re camped. I could tell the sun wasn’t going to be directly in view, but I had had a good spot to capture the glow of light in the distance.

mosaic of colors at sunrise in the coxcomb mountains

coxcomb mountains sunrise

I spent a good while up here taking pictures of the sunrise and enjoying the excellent scenery. This was one of the better views of the whole trip. 

cholla cactus in the coxcomb mountains

Some variety of Cholla Cactus

sun peaking over mountain in the desert

sun shines behind tree on rock in desert

When I returned to camp, Dan was still snoring. Again, I let him be and continued with my search for some good early morning photo ops. Next, I headed southwest from camp to the edge of this flat open area. Here, the map shows a large drop off down to Pinto Basin below. 

view of pinto basin from the coxcomb mountains

View of Pinto Basin and the Pinto Mountains beyond

Once at my destination, I realized most of it lies within the shade currently. maybe this would be better to return to this evening. I took a few pictures here before moving around some, trying to get to a higher vantage point. I bounced around from spot to spot along the tops of the nearby hills, but eventually I gave up on the area and decided to head back to camp. 

Dan still wasn’t up when I returned after 8am now, so I tried waking him again. This time, it worked. After Dan ate breakfast and got ready, we headed out to do some exploring. Today, our plan is to go wherever we feel like going! 

A small cave in the Coxcomb Mountains

sitting inside a small cave in the coxcombs

First, Dan wanted to check out a small cave we saw last night as we exited the Inner Basin area and entered the flat open area we camped in. The cave was a rounded cavity in a rock face, sitting about 8-10ft above the ground. With some effort, it’s possible to climb into it from below.

vibrant sun shines down over the coxcomb mountains

hiking off trail in the coxcomb mountains

Dropping down into the wash below

After this, we headed south across the open flat area. We hiked up over some boulders and dropped down into a wash below. We followed this was downhill for a ways. I had this marked on my map as a potential spot of interest, as the canyon looks like it narrows further down and is flanked by some cliffs ranging from 400′-1200′ plus. Might be worth checking out.

The hike down this wash was pretty easy at first. There were some occasional boulders that needed to be climbed in order to continue along our path. We had no intentions of following this canyon out into the desert, just to follow it for a ways. We didn’t see much of interest here, so we decided to turn back at our first real obstacle. There was a short drop off along the wash that might have been hard to get back up if we had continued down past it, so we figured this was a good turn around point. 

We hiked back uphill and eventually made it back to the spot where we had originally entered the wash. From here, I suggested hiking higher up the same wash. On the satellite maps I saw at home, I saw a sizable patch of green here, which might indicate a spring or seep. Since thee was nothing marked on the map and no info on natural water sources in the Coxcombs online, we decided it might be an interesting destination. 

a class 3 boulder scramble in the coxcomb mountains

Climbing up the rock chute

View north from the rock chute

Dan enjoying himself

At first, our hike was again easy, winding through a sandy wash. Soon enough though, it turned into a boulder climb. This was a fairly long and sometimes challenging scramble, too. There were large boulders here, stacked on top of each other creating huge spaces in between them in which to fall. Sometimes, traversing the boulders meant walking along steep faces of the boulder with little or nothing to grip. A slip could result in a slide down the boulder and then a fall of up to 25ft onto various size and shapes of boulders below. Not exactly a high exposure type danger, but a real risk of injury if one step is out of place. 

green trees in the coxcomb mountains

Lots of green around. I didn’t see water, but this is the closest to it I’ve seen out here

After a tough scramble to the top, there wasn’t much to see. The vegetation was thicker up here, and this meant mostly more thorn bushes. We had already been cut up pretty good during the rest of today’s hike, but the worst of it seemed to be up here. We pushed through the thorn bushes and headed for the spot of green I saw on the satellite map. Once at the spot, we did see a high concentration of some coniferous trees, the exact species, I’m not sure. They were so thick that I couldn’t penetrate them to check for existence of water, either.  

We took a break here in the sun and relaxed for a while. We debated taking another route down, but that would require traversing some steep territory. Who knows what that will look like when we get there. It was early afternoon now and we end to start thinking about heading back to camp. We ultimately decided to take the same route back as we know it’s traversable already. 

Descending the chute

Red rocks. Yup

skull of a big horn sheep sits on boulder in the coxcomb mountains

Big Horn Sheep skull

rugged landscape of the coxcomb mountains

The jagged peaks that surrounded us looked more impressive going down than it did when we went up. It was hard work, but offered up some of the best views of the day. We also saw a big horn sheep skull that we didn’t see on our way up. It had both horns intact. 

campsite in the coxcomb mountains

My campsite

Coming down was a little easier. Before long we were in the sandy wash again and headed back to the place where we entered this wash. We could go over the little ridge we did this morning, or take another route, running northeast from benchmark 927T. We opted for the second choice. This took us back to camp, where we relaxed and rehydrated.

cholla cactus at sunset in the coxcomb mountains

Sunset over the Pinto Basin

It wasn’t long before the sun was on it’s way down again, and fast. We decided to head back to the spot I visited this morning, on the southeast corner of the large open area. It was aonly a 10 minute walk to get there, but when we did the sun was just going down over the Pinto Mountains. It wasn’t the best vantage point base don the angle of the sun, but I snapped a few photos I was happy with. We ate dinner here as we watched the glow of the sun disappear. 

Back at camp, we pretty much mirrored last night: sit on the rocks, watch the stars and chat. By 7pm we were both in bed again, seeking the relative comfort of the tent and the warm it provides. 

 

Day 3 – Sunday December 4th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 7
Elevation Gain – 375′
I woke at 6am this morning, and Dan even woke on the first try. My original plan for today was to bag Tensor and Spectre peaks today on the way back to the car. However, Dan was not really wanting to do that after the climbing we did yesterday. He’d rather get back to the car early and spend the rest of the day driving through Joshua Tree or other areas nearby. While I was really looking forward to the great views from Aqua Peak (the name for Spectre, Tensor and Didiac Peaks), you really can’t go wrong with his plan either. So, I went along with the idea and started packing up my gear. 

Hiking through the Inner Basin

We started hiking at 7am. It was a little warmer last night, and so this morning was easier to get moving. He hiked back towards the elevated cave, then down into the narrow wash leading into the Inner Basin. 

We were able to follow our tracks back through most of the wash, not that that was necessary. The route is very straight forward, just follow the wash through the canyon. There is one large side canyon running northeast, but it’s obviously not the main path. This is the alternate route that’s marked on my caltopo map. I know nothing about this alternate route though, and skipped it because it looked like it would involve more climbing and steeper terrain that we won’t have to deal with if we continue the way we came. 

inner basin coxcomb mountains photography

Looking south into the Inner Basin

coxcomb mountains inner basin pass view

Inner Basin Pass, looking south

shadows of hikers in the coxcomb mountains

Heading out of the Coxcomb Mountains

We made it to the top of Inner Basin pass in good time, and had some nice views of the basin. We continued on down hill through a couple of patches of boulders, but the rest is pretty much sandy wash from here on out. 

Back down in the main wash, we followed it out of the canyon and took the same path we took in two days earlier. We followed our own footsteps on and off as we hiked through the small canyon. I saw another jackrabbit through here, and wondered if it was the same one I saw Friday. It was practically the same area. 

walking through the desert near the coxcomb mountains california

The landscape looked unfamiliar as we returned, as we now had a huge open desert in front of us. On Friday, all that was at our back and we only saw it as we turned back. It was nice to have this contrast as we left the mountains and now entered the desert. 

desert hiking panorama in the coxcomb mountains joshua tree national park

The final stretch of desert had us talking about our dreams of a hot lunch. It took a while to actually spot hwy 62. The car was parked behind some boulders along side the road where others had clearly camped, and we headed for a graffitied rock that marked the spot. We were relieved to see that the car had not been broken into. The time was just before 10am, so almost a 3 hour hike from our camp. 

From here, we headed back into 29 Palms and ate ate the Andreas restaurant. Good burgers, they really hit the spot! After this, we headed into Joshua Tree National Park on Utah Drive road to explore the park by car. 

 

Final Thoughts About Hiking In The Coxcomb Mountains

The Coxcomb Mountains are a great place for a weekend hike, provided you’re OK with hauling in all the water you’ll need. Without a reliable water source though, longer trips aren’t really possible here. It doesn’t look like this place gets much use. The access probably keeps many people away, as well as the day use restriction in what might otherwise be the best camping spot.

 

As always, questions and comments are welcome!

If you found my trip report useful, please donโ€™t hesitate to leave a comment! Alternatively, if you feel you have any information youโ€™d like to share with others regarding this hike, please feel free to leave that below in a comment as well.

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10 Day Sierra Loop Hike – Kings Canyon NP & John Muir Wilderness – Aug 2016

bear basin panorama from dancing bear pass

Kings Canyon National Park & John Muir Wilderness 10 Day Loop Hike Starting From Florence Lake

All Photos From This hikeWatch the HD video of my Sierra hike on Youtube

 

Kings Canyon/John Muir Wilderness Loop Hike Maps & GPS Files