Distance: 1.7 miles round trip cross country
Summit Elevation: 4280'
Elevation Gain: 570'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.45
Round trip time: 1 hour
Recommended water: 16 oz.
Parking/Fees: $15 National Parks (one vehicle, good for a week)
Malapai Hill is #23 on the Lower Peaks list and another very short hike. The trailhead is seven miles down Geology Tour road, a dirt road in the middle of Joshua Tree National Park. The road is in mostly good shape and despite a warning sign, it can be driven without high clearance or 4WD. The best place to park is at mile marker #7 where there is a small turnout. The hike is all cross country, but very easy going. The cactus and shrubs are sparse making it easy to pick your way through without unwanted contact. Malapai Hill looks dark from a distance and is covered in places with dark brown basalt talus. While the ascent is somewhat steep, you shouldn't need to use your hands. The only trick is to navigate the loose talus without slipping or twisting an ankle. I headed toward the saddle, then climbed a little right of center, though any path is as good as another. I found a register on top and signed in, but once again no benchmark. There is a lower bump to the south that Caltopo named Malapai BM, so after taking some pictures from the summit, I headed over to Malapai BM, where I still didn't find a benchmark. A few small cairns had been tossed together, but otherwise, there was nothing to see. I headed down more directly from the saddle across more talus and was back at my car in an hour. Even though it is in the middle of Joshua Tree, I never quite got the same feeling of being in the wild that I do in Anza-Borrego. I don't mean to diminish the charm of Joshua Tree. I've never seen any place better for bouldering and rock climbing.
Photosphere from the summit of Malapai Hill