Leaders: Alan Coles, Frank Goodykoontz
The Santa Rosa Mountains are a beautiful range with spectacular views in many directions. They rise abruptly from a very harsh desert floor filled with prickly chollas and agave to a landscape with surprisingly serene islands of green on the taller summits. One of the most remote places left in an ever crowded Southern California, there are few signs of human interference and bighorn sheep are masters of the terrain.
Many people climb Rabbit Peak but few ever seem to enjoy it. Often labeled as the most difficult peak on the list, most climbers do a long, tedious one day death march starting from below sea level to the 6600+' summit plateau. There is little time or inclination to take in the scenery since it usually takes well over half a day to do it.
My first time on Rabbit was that way. I did it alone and most of the time all I thought about was how nice it would be to get back to the car. I really didn't care much about the peak.
It wasn't until my second trip, an HPS outing with Martin Feather, that I finally got to see the true Santa Rosa's. We did the "dry" backpack up Villager and hiked over to Rabbit the next morning before packing out the same day. The thought of carrying all your water up 4000' with no trail seemed difficult but turned out to be much easier than expected. The really tough part was getting down to the cars before dark.
This trip was essentially a repeat of the second with Frank taking on the duties of assistant. Meeting time was 7 am Sat morning at the Villager, Rosa Pt "trailhead". Besides Frank, Janet and me, the other participants were Jean Nelson, Hoda Shalaby, Roy Stewart, Gary Murta, Marcy Dyment, Jim Fujimoto, Daniel Bleiberg and Paul Backer.
With the oversized pack finally mounted on Frank's back, the group set off over the desert floor towards the familiar Villager Ridge. This route is very well marked now due to the footsteps of numerous hikers which have etched a very distinct trail nearly all the way to the peak. The group stayed impressively close together up the first steep sections of the ridge under a sunny warm day in the 70's that was bearable without being too warm. A slight cool breeze made rest stops very pleasant although few were needed. We passed along the precipitous west face where fissures in the ground seem to imply imminent danger (although they have been there for as many years as I can remember). The breathtaking view seemed to make the ascent easier and we were well over 4500' and nearly to the Rosa Pt ridge when we broke for lunch.
By 1:30 all had reached camp which was the flat saddle just south of the summit. There are several decent camping areas on either side of the peak but this spot seems nicer to me because there are more Pinyon trees and manzanita bushes. Sadly, the lasting effects of the drought could be seen as virtually every plant was severely stressed.
There was plenty of time in the afternoon to relax, enjoy the view from the top of Villager and even take a short nap in the warm sun which felt very nice. Hunger, of course, always stirs action and the bountiful community salad was started just after 4. By 5, most dinners were already finished and the last of the popcorn kernels was crunched down. Since campfires are illegal and a bad idea for many reasons obvious to even the most casual observer, we opted for a spot out of the wind and watched the setting sun. The hard core HPSers (Jim, Roy, Gary and Daniel) sat around talking about the usual peaks and politics while Marcy seem entranced by the mystic change of colors and deep textures of the endless desert landscape. Seven didn't seem too early a time to crawl into a warm sleeping bag with the sound of whistling pinyons lulling us to sleep.
We were up just before the first light of dawn and the wind had calmed down enough to make the task of cooking breakfast (for those who had some) a little easier. Most had slept out without a tent making the task of getting started a little easier. The idea was to pack up and eat lunch after returning from Rabbit. By 6 there was enough light to hike by and the anxious group soon set off along the ridge as the deep hues of the early sun began to warm us up.
The walk along the roller coaster ridge seemed deceivingly easy and it wasn't long until we were going up the last steep climb to the high plateau of Rabbit. By 9 we were signing the register and munching on trail food.
Twenty minutes later we were retracing our steps back to Villager which seemed harder than the hike to Rabbit despite less gain. It took about 30 minutes less to get back and once there we quickly began eating lunch and packing up.
By 12:30 we set off down the ridge and passed another couple who had also climbed Rabbit that day (it always surprises me to find other people camping up there). Ironically, the most difficult part of this trip is the long descent with its tortuous punishment on knees and feet. By the time the end of the ridge at the mouth of Rattlesnake Canyon was reached there was an overwhelming feeling of relief. The final march along the alluvial fan back to the cars seemed like a pleasure walk in comparison. We were all back by 4:30 pm, well before sunset.
Thanks, of course, to all participants and especially Frank who made this trip about as easy as it could be.
One final note: With such a strong group we had a little extra time during the hikes. A number of fire rings, unnecessary ducks (such as those on an obvious ridge) and a hideous cairn on top of Villager were removed. If you are up there and have any extra time, please take a moment to erase the traces of a careless hiker. This is one of the most pristine places left in Southern California and I hope that those who visit it can help keep it that way.
Oh yes, the contents of the "mystery" coffee can that I hauled out. In it were a few coffee grounds, 3 sugar cubes, 2 mini Morton salt shakers and a book of matches from Sam Stuart's El Paseo Fancy Food Market, 816 No. Canyon Dr., Palm Springs (Fine Liquors, Selected Groceries, Top Quality Meats, Fancy Fruits & Vegetables, Delicatessen & Bakery). Apparently from the late 50's or early 60's. Any claimers?