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Joshua Tree Dec 2010
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Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
Joshua Tree Dec 2010 on 01/03/2011 12:50:33 MST Print View

Respect for Joshua Tree (Dec 29-31, 2010)
Wednesday morning, A couple miles in from Joshua Tree’s West Entrance, I pull over, grab my bucket, rope and water bottle from the truck, and put my first footprint on Joshua Tree sand. Water Cache. This will be the perfect opportunity to test my compass skills. So instead of picking a conspicuous boulder pile, I walk away from any obvious features and into the sea of Joshua Trees. Lash the rope to the bucket’s handle, go twice around the base of a tree, pull hard, and make it fast to the bucket’s other handle with three half hitches. Drag a fallen Joshua over and lift the heavy side onto the bucket. Done. (Thanks to Thom for tips on caching my water)

Water cache

Now to make sure I can find my water tomorrow. I pull out my trusty compass, point the arrow at the big pyramid-shaped peak to the south and spin the compass dial until the “Red is in the Shed”. 168 degrees. I found two more obvious peaks and took compass bearings on them as well, triangulation. Then, I double-checked everything by starting over and repeating the whole process. At this point I should have been done and heading to the trailhead, but no. All of my readings were different the second time around. Where did I go wrong? Okay, slow down, start over. Wow, in three attempts I got three different bearings on a single target! Then it hit me…magnetic interference! I removed my wristwatch, got the compass measurements that I needed and with renewed excitement, ran for the truck. Lost a lot of time, gained a little wisdom.

168 Degrees

Two hours late, I pull into the backcountry parking lot near Ryan campground and snap the mandatory kick-off photo. Boots on the ground baby, boots on the ground.

Boots on the ground

Heading north on the California Riding and Hiking Trail, it’s like 9-something miles to Upper Covington Flats. I should be able to make it up there and explore a bit before coming back down to camp near the base of Quail Mountain. By noon I started noticing the wind seemed very shifty and unstable, but I enjoyed the brisk air, passing showers, and fast-moving cloud highway above.


What I did not know was that later in the evening the National Weather Service would be posting a weather advisory: “URGENT...FREEZE WARNING IN EFFECT…WINDS BETWEEN 30 AND 40 MPH…ESPECIALLY ACROSS JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK…GUSTS BETWEEN 40 AND 58 MPH...15 TO 20 DEGREES IN THE MOUNTAINS…”

Past Stubby Springs, showers came faster, winds pushed harder. No rain gear on this one, so sustained rain will cut my hike short and force an early camp. A couple miles later and it was clear, the rain is in my baselayer now and not slowing, the wind is clearly too much for my tarp in open ground. I Hustled up a rocky point and saw good looking boulder cover down slope to the north, this marks the end of trail hiking for this trip. Running got me there faster and served to keep me warm in the freezing 30 mile wind. Bright sunny patches were quickly chased out of the broad open valley below by cloud shadows that came barreling over the ridge.



Boulder piles looked like great wind blocks, but I found this not to be the case. In rivers, boulders cause acceleration of water except for a small pocket just downstream, but wind doesn’t flow in one direction like a river. I found the sheltered side of a good boulder pile and sat low, only to get sandblasted from another side by a fierce, howling gale.


The Junipers offered some shelter, so I picked a tucked-in spot and began the fun process of fighting the wind while pitching a storm worthy shelter out of flat piece of sil on soft desert soil. During winter I sometimes carry a small notepad to pass the long winter nights, here’s a piece from that night: [12am The wind is unrelenting. Whipping the tarp, beating it like a drum, filling it with pressurized air, pulling hard at the guy loops, then suddenly smashing it down onto me. I look up and I don’t know why the tarp is still there after seven hours of gails.]

This went on all night. Lulls in the wind were occupied with the pitter patter of freezing rain and I started shivering around 4:30. I told myself that by 5 I need to get moving to warm up and to keep from losing more time, but the wind boomed and threatened to rip the tarp through the Junipers if I start pulling stakes. At 7, I couldn’t wait anymore and managed to get the tarp safely into my pack by laying on it as I pulled stakes. I laughed a bit at how stupid I must have looked until the cold bit me in the ass and I made a run for it, without even noticing I missed my morning coffee. 21 degrees.

Low pitch

Looking back along the wash, up to the little green knoll where I almost blew away.


Thursday was windy and cold all day, but skies were blue. I used every shred of clothing at some point in the day, my bandana kept my lips and nose from stinging. The rest of my trip would be cross country through paradise.


NE route


Old ride

Later that day I arrived back at Quail Springs. Along the way I rambled well up into the rocky gullies and flushed a lot of rabbit and quail, but luckily for them I had plenty of instant potatoes to eat. It was time to see if I could indeed find my water. I set my compass to 168 degrees, pointed the arrow at that same peak to the south and walked west across the valley until the peak was again at 168 degrees. Then I added 180 to 168 for my back bearing, 348 degrees. I swung my compass northward to exactly 348 degrees, now my arrow was pointing directly at my water. Following my compass arrow, I walked until my two other cross-bearings also came into line, and I stopped. 100 feet away I spotted my water. Searching a 100 foot radius is not bad when you’re thirsty and your water is lost in a one-mile haystack!

East, cross-country, past the Boy Scout Trail


East route


Clear skies all day, the wind finally calmed in the evening. I knew this meant it would be colder but at least no chance of rain so I wont need my tarp. I picked a sheltered cove tucked into the Wonderland of Rocks area by 6pm, ate a big potato and sausage supper and slid into my bivy. Mid 20’s by 6pm, I hunkered down for a long night.


At 10pm, I woke up shivering harder than ever, and found that the bivy had somehow flopped over onto my face. I curled my toes back and forth to warm them up but they feel stiff and don’t move easily. When I tried doing crunches, a thin sheet of ice flaked off my bivy and gradually slipped onto my face. My arms were locked away inside my bivy with my Ultra20 buttoned and cinched tight around my neck, so I was unable to stop the ice from sliding down my neck and having its way with me. I must have breathed into my bivy for hours because there was ice inside my bivy on all sides, down to about my elbows. To stay warm now would take extraordinary measures, crunches all night or maybe tuck into a slot in the boulders and build a fire. Instead, I calculated the miles back to my truck, maybe 2 miles of bush and 6 miles of road. It took two minutes to get up, force my feet into my stiff frozen shoes, stuff the bivy, polycro, and foam into my pack and rip the food from the pinyon tree. A moment later my headlight was searching the spiny brush ahead for a path west. My gauge read 16 degrees. It sucks I had to bail out, but it was exciting too. I took in the cold mountain air, dazzling stars, and coyote songs. This turned out to be one of my favorite sections of the whole hike. I found the road, turned my headlight off and finished the 8 miles back to my truck by 1am, pretty much elated. The adventure I’d hoped for was delivered in full measure.

Edited by Lopez on 01/03/2011 12:57:19 MST.

Edward Z
(Fuzz) - MLife

Locale: Sunny San Diego
Fantastic Report on 01/03/2011 13:05:41 MST Print View

Felt like I was there. Funny how some adversity usually leads to the best memories... maybe adrenaline enhancement syndrome, or something equally scientific sounding. Great report thank you.


Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
Memories on 01/03/2011 13:48:40 MST Print View

AES, has a ring to it!

Thom Darrah
(thomdarrah) - MLife

Locale: Southern Oregon
Joshua Tree Dec 2010 on 01/03/2011 13:51:10 MST Print View

I enjoyed your trip report. Happy to help with the cache, great to read it worked out well.


Edited by thomdarrah on 01/03/2011 15:00:02 MST.

Joseph Reeves

Locale: Southeast Alaska
Re: Joshua Tree Dec 2010 on 01/03/2011 14:44:00 MST Print View

We spent 9 days in and around Joshua Tree leaving the day you arrived. Ours were day hikes, with one of the longest to Quail Springs. That area and the Willow Hole Trail were the most memorable. Will hope to get back there next fall for a real trip, but I must say going back to the rented house each night for a soak in the hot tub had its advantages.

Congratulations on finding the water cache and not freezing.

Taking a bearing, Quail Springs in Joshua Tree


K ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Nice Adan! on 01/03/2011 14:53:24 MST Print View

Good to see pictures of you out there. Nice report and pictures, thanks. Frankie didn't get to go this time?

Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
Thanks Kat on 01/03/2011 15:00:39 MST Print View

No kids on the hike but the family met me up there Friday and we rang in the new year around the fire at Jumbo Rock campground. It was awesome. I froze again and ended up sleeping only about 3 hours Friday. On Saturday afternoon, my body revolted against the constant exposure and lack of sleep for 3 days. I shivered uncontrollably for the remainder of the day, even though I was on my way home with the heater on! Turns out sleep is important, go figure.

Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
Joseph on 01/03/2011 15:09:21 MST Print View

You left just in time then. Did you get to enjoy the mild weather that I saw in the forecast when I headed out there? I dont know why I didnt find the weather advisory the day before but apparently it was pretty unexpected. The folks at Joshua Tree Bar and Grill were all talking about the severe weather out of nowhere. I told them I was out sleeping in the bush and they all called me crazy, even the Marine that just finished two tours in Afganistan! Then they bought me a couple Fat Tires on draft and the rest is a bit hazy.

Joseph Reeves

Locale: Southeast Alaska
Re: Joseph on 01/03/2011 15:28:13 MST Print View

Weather was fine for us -- about 45 degrees warmer than at home. I was concerned with the cold on our way out of town and left the water dripping in the faucet at the house.

It seems like a great place to trek in the winter. Just not so sure about having to cache water along the route. I guess we are spoiled here in Southeast Alaska. Nothing by bears to worry about, and we really don't worry too much about them.

Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
Weather on 01/03/2011 15:33:35 MST Print View

The weather was actually quite good for hiking, but my sleeping setup is good to about 25 degrees for me so I suffered a bit at night. Next time I'll check weather advisories before going. If I would have know about the wind advisory, I would have brought my Golite pyramid.

Patrick S
(xpatrickxad) - F

Locale: Upper East TN
Re: Joshua tree on 01/03/2011 16:12:01 MST Print View

Great trip report and some nice photos. Its kinda of lame that the weather didn't turn out the way you expected, but from the sounds of it you had the right attitude and knowledge to deal with it and make it enjoyable. Thats what made it such a great read for me.

Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
Thanks Patrick on 01/03/2011 21:55:15 MST Print View

Thank you for the compliments. Even though I was not well prepared for the conditions, I find that adversity usually makes the trek more interesting for me and enhances the experience. My confidence gets a boost after as well. Easy, comfortable hikes can be boring. Ive tried explaining this to my friends and family, but at least BPLers can relate. I'll be working on improving/replacing my UL20, adding a 1/4 inch evazote pad to my existing 1/4 inch pad and water-proofing my bivy. Also, my feet get cold often so I need a cheap solution for that. better gloves and a down hat I'm gonna have to get a second job! I wonder if a vbl would have helped?

Dylan Snodgrass

Locale: San Francisco, CA
Joshua Tree Dec 2010 on 01/03/2011 22:00:00 MST Print View

What a great story! Fantastic writing Adan, I felt like I was there. The orienteering challenge to find your water, very cool. Looking forward to the next one.

Kendall Clement
(socalpacker) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
RE: Joshua Tree Dec 2010 on 01/04/2011 01:19:39 MST Print View

That was an awesome report. What a great adventure! Thanks for posting it.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Joshua Tree Dec 2010" on 01/04/2011 07:34:22 MST Print View

Great account Adan, loved reading your words and enjoying your photographs!

Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
Thanks Dylan, Kendall and Eugene on 01/04/2011 08:30:19 MST Print View

Funny thing about the navigation bit, I wasnt thinking about a trip report at all when I photographed the compass. I forgot to take my pencil with me to deposit my water cache. So I had an idea to take photos of the compass and the landmark so that I could refer to that when I came back for my water. It worked great, lucky the camera battery didnt die though since I'm quite certain without my compass I'd have no chance of finding the bucket. At home when putting the report together, the pictures were so fun to look at I decided to add that bit to the report.

Glad yall enjoyed it. Solo hikes are an addiction and trip reports are an awesome way of sharing them when friends and family just dont get it.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Joshua Tree Dec 2010 on 01/07/2011 07:28:35 MST Print View

I enjoyed your report...always fun to hear about trips that don't work out quite as planned.

Paul Bright
(HikeNC) - F
Re: Re: Joshua Tree Dec 2010 on 01/07/2011 07:56:21 MST Print View

This was a great report Adan. I really enjoyed all the pictures and details. I've never been to Joshua Tree NP; hopefully I'll get to visit within a couple of years!

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Joshua Tree Dec 2010 on 01/10/2011 13:08:54 MST Print View


Great trip and report. I have always liked that part of the park. Wind is often something to contend with in deserts. It can get really cold there in winter, as you found out. And now you have the desert bug. What really caught me on my first desert hiking many years ago was how "clean" the desert is. Not much vegetation to decay.

Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
Re: Re: Joshua Tree Dec 2010 on 01/10/2011 13:56:09 MST Print View



Actually I've had the desert bug since way back. In fact, you may not remember this, but you were very helpful with my Mojave NP hike last December. That was my first solo and my first desert backpack. This time I carried like a 8lb base instead of the 18lbs I had then.

It's obvious now that my quilt was not up to the job this time, if you hold it up to the light you can see dark areas all over it where there is no down. Also maybe 1/4 inch foam is not enough for sub 20f. I'll do something about that and try to get back there one or two more times before the Sierra season starts. The wind was alot of fun, it was only a challenge at night because I have not been successfull with an 8x10 tarp in windy conditions in the past. Had I known that the rain would stop and be replaced with freezing rain at night, then I would have skipped the tarp and used my bivy. I'm glad though because I got to see that I have in fact gotten alot better with a tarp, big confidence builder for sure.

Your description of how "clean" the desert is is right on. The desert gives the impression of walking on mother earth's bare skin. Makes it seem even more ancient to me, especially places away from the trails where one rarely sees footprints.

Thanks for reading!