Leaders: Alan Coles, Martin Feather
Timing is one of the critical factors when doing these two peaks together on a dry backpack. When the weather is too warm, a lot of precious water is consumed on the tough 4800 feet gain to the top of Villager. Cloudy and rainy weather makes it difficult to navigate and to traverse on the steep slopes. And always you are in a battle with the sun to get done before it does.
I could have asked for but would never have gotten a better weekend to do this trip. The temperature was just about perfect the entire weekend; sunny with a slightly cool breeze. The heavy winds that preceded the weekend had subsided leaving the ideal conditions we enjoyed.
Fourteen hardy backpackers met along San Diego County Road S22 at the not so early (for this kind of trip) time of 7:30AM to begin the long haul up the slopes of the Santa Rosa Mountains. There is a decent use trail along parts of the journey that make the otherwise difficult cross-country route a little more tolerable. Starting off in the Sonoran Desert terrain of various cacti and succulants including our favorite Teddy Bear chollas, we ascended the famous ridge and soon started gaining elevation. By noon, after doing two thirds of the distance and gain we broke for lunch and gained two more participants who started out a little earlier.
After lunch Martin took over the lead and guided the group up to the saddle just before the summit of Villager. There are several nice camping spots here in the shelter of Pinyon Trees and Manzanita bushes. The last of the weary participants strolled into camp about 3:00PM leaving us with ample time to get the usual chores done before the sun went down.
As is our tradition, we had a community salad that was greatly appreciated at the end of a hard day. There was more than enough to go around. After eating our dinners we relaxed and watched the sun go down over Borrego Springs. Martin had brought a lightweight lantern along and it served as our group "campfire" (our minimal impact camping and lack of water is a good reason not to have a real one).
Larry Allen and Jim Kilberg provided the evening entertainment with their comedy act. With the good camraderie and humor of the group, we lasted well past 6:00PM when the cold wind started to pick up before retiring for the night.
The wind lasted through most of the night but it was never too strong or cold. At the first sign of daylight just before 6:00AM we were up and getting our breakfast ready.
We left the tents standing and took off with our packs at 6:30AM on our way to Rabbit. Most of us had signed the Register on Villager on Saturday, but a few who didn't took a moment to do so before heading down the ridge.
The winds calmed down a little as the sun rose and most of us put on shorts for the climb up the peak. We enjoyed the beautiful desert sunrise along the way with the pink and magenta shades on the dry sunbaked slopes. It took almost all of three hours for the 3+ mile traverse, but we finally gained the summit plateau of Rabbit where Wes Veit led the way to his List Completion. No one brought Champagne which was just as well since none of us would have had any. We had a lot of walking to do so we quickly signed the Register, took our pictures and in 15 minutes started back. We returned to our camp shortly after noon and began packing right away while eating our lunch. Luella Martin and three others left early with our blessings while the rest of the group departed before 1:00PM.
It was then a race between us and the sun to get down first - as our bodies began to feel the pressure that had been put on them during the weekend. Although it was mostly downhill, legs and feet began hurting and the rather brisk pace that had been maintained during the trip began to slow a little. We crossed Rattlesnake Canyon just as the sun sank behind the mountains and the last participants struggled to their cars aided by the lights on Erich's truck.
Back at the cars we enjoyed a festive gathering of food and drink courtesy of Wes. Of the 16 participants, the 14 who came to do both peaks accomplished their goals. We were lucky in both respects in that the weather was great and the group better still. We managed to do the peaks and enjoyed them as well.
Many thanks to all participants: Larry Allen, Jim Kilberg, Luella Martin, Evan Samuels, Jim Fujimoto, Karen Nikisher, Mickey Sharpsteen, David Jensen, Erich Fickle, Harland Anderson, Wes Veit, Larry Shumway, Cristy Bird, Janet Phun and especially to Martin for sharing the leading.
Postnote: This trip coincided with a memorial climb of San Gabriel Peak in honor of John Backus. We all know that John would have wanted us to continue our planned activities for the weekend. As a tribute to the man who has meant so much to all of us, a moment of silence was observed on top of Rabbit Peak.