Every time I sat on top of Queen Mtn I found myself gazing toward the Wonderland of Rocks on the other side, and thinking, "Wouldn't it be GREAT to come up from Indian Cove & cross that mess to climb here?" It looked feasible from the topo, but several veteran hikers told me the same thing, "Don't EVER try that." Apparently people have tried it and run into a lot of difficulty.
One of the examiners working a navigation noodle (Dave Schuman) heard me mention this and told me he had a route across there that "goes pretty well", and was kind enough to draw it on my map. Frank Goodykoontz, of course, was as excited as I was about the route, and I immediately wrote it up and submitted it to the schedule.
On December 14, 1994, I picked up Frank at 0400 and he and I drove to the traditional trailhead for Queen to meet Austin and Betty Stirratt, who joined us for a car shuttle. From there, we took their car to Indian Cove.
At very few points, from here to Queen, was anything obvious to us without the use of a compass. We found Dave's suggested ravine from a bearing taken from a road junction, and proceeded to take it to the top. The higher we climbed, the more spectacular view we had of the valley around Indian Cove, and the rugged rocks around it. When we reached the top of this canyon, we paused at a small saddle and found, on the other side, a wild canyon with several ridges above it. Another bearing told us which of these led to X5189, our next goal, which was not visible from this point. We accessed this ridge from a small canyon which led up to a point where the terrain was flatter, and it was easier to reach the ridge line.
This was a great ridge, winding back and forth and covered at many points with big piles of rocks, which either had to be climbed over or scrambled around. Between these rocky areas were spectacular cactus gardens, the healthiest cacti I've seen yet. The view from this ridge also grew more and more beautiful as we ascended, with views of Rattlesnake Canyon, Indian Cove, and countless rugged rock pinnacles. As we looked around, we could see that this was, indeed, a great route, all the ridges and valleys to the sides of us looked much harder to climb. There were no signs of anyone having been there before us, no footprints, etc, etc. I began to be even more thankful for such a good route suggestion.
When we finally topped X5189, the view caught my breath. What a valley that is! - and like a maze for mice!! So many huge rocks and watercourses. We actually had no idea which one was Queen itself until we made use of a compass, because it was surrounded by rock pinnacles and its shape was not recognizable from that direction. Who has seen it from there?
At this point, we dropped down to a saddle that seemed like a good place for a focal point, stood in the middle of it, and transferred a bearing from the map to the field, toward a watercourse, our next destination. This watercourse was one we had traveled before, on a trip led by local leaders. It was, of course, completely invisible to us from this point. It travels around behind Queen and climbs up beside it. We could see no part of it. Frank and I make a good team with a compass. It's exciting to head across such a wild, forbidding place with the comforting knowledge that no matter how impossible it seems, that destination really is where it is supposed to be, and the compass knows for sure. At the saddle, Frank and I chose landmarks along that bearing which should be obvious enough to be able to find along the way, and headed out. Both he and I climbed on piles of rocks along the way to take a bearing to the saddle we had just left, because, of course, the landmarks looked different from the valley floor, and we wanted to make sure we were on course. I had chosen a transverse section of the watercourse allowing for a few degrees error, as added precaution. We found an arrowhead along the way - Indians inhabited this valley once. It is very unique, very different from the rest of Joshua Tree NP.
All of a sudden, the ground dropped down in front of us, and there was our watercourse!!!! We confirmed it because, as we walked along it, it really did make a 90° turn to the proper bearing. I really came unglued! We did it!!
I have not yet mentioned the Stirratts! They are such good sports, such fun on a hike. We laughed a lot with them. They are excellent rock scramblers, as they live near there and do that almost every day. Along the way, I mentioned to Betty that I thought this hike was quite an adventure, and she disagreed with me! She said, no, an adventure is when something happens that you don't expect, and you have to deal with that in discomfort.
The watercourse to be followed up the side of Queen is a lot of fun, requiring 3rd class skills, but nothing dangerous. Along the way is a wonderful Indian petroglyph, which will be one of the highlights of the trip when we lead it. This is a very unique, very beautiful canyon. At the top of it is a saddle, and from this saddle we had to ascend to the level of the second saddle between Queen and "the one that isn't Queen" next to it, traverse across at this level, and when we reached it, climb the final summit block of Queen itself.
Betty and Austin had decided to descend to my car via the traditional route in the HPS writeup (the canyon) and Frank and I went down his favorite route from Queen to the parking area below. On the jeep road on the desert floor, as the sun was setting after our 9 hour hike, Frank and I were walking along toward my car to meet the Stirratts for the final part of the shuttle when I had a terrible thought MY KEYS WERE IN MY JACKET IN THE TRUNK OF THE STIRRATT'S CAR IN INDIAN COVE!! The Stirratts were merciful enough not only not to kill me but to actually laugh, pat me on the back, and tell me about other key problems they had had through the years as we hiked the three miles out to the highway in the dark. Frank was also incredibly nice about it, especially as it got very cold - we ended up wearing all we had with us - and he had been sick with a bad cold all through the hike.
Betty had a hitchhiking strategy plan, thinking no one would pick us up at night on the highway through Joshua Tree. But, as it turned out, we were picked up right away by the first car that came along. The people were rock climbers, and took us all the way to Indian Cove to the Stirratt's car. The only problem was that it was a truck with a camper, and Austin sat in front to give directions while Frank, Betty and I rode on our backs in the camper in the knee chest position, because we could not straighten out our legs, and were amongst all the rock climbing gear, and had to struggle for balance on our backs around every curve, and it was dark and cold back there, and we could not see much, etc., etc. We were in this position all the way to Indian Cove, but didn't complain because we were too grateful for a ride. During this half hour ride, Betty told me, "Now, THIS, Diane, is an adventure!" All the way along, Betty would say things like, "Hey, I recognize this curve! We're on our way out of the park." or "Aren't those the lights of the city?" guessing because we could see very little. She even figured out that we had turned the wrong way in Indian Cove, but of course, we could do nothing about it until we stopped and got out and figured out how to direct them back to the car.
Later, after a welcome bowl of hot soup in a Mexican restaurant the Stirratts took us back to my car, and we parted with amazing good spirits.
In the morning, Frank realized that his wallet was missing, and the Stirratts were gallant enough to go searching. They found it right next to where my car had been parked below Queen Mtn. When Hazel Goodykoontz called Betty to thank her for mailing it to them, she asked Betty if she was sorry she had gone along with us, and Betty said, no, she had really enjoyed the hike...
If you are in good physical condition and have good cross-country skills, DO NOT MISS THIS HIKE March 18th!!! See if you think this is the most spectacular area Joshua Tree NP has to offer. It is, in case you haven't guessed, extremely strenuous. And don't worry, I have lots of extra keys now...