Leaders: Frank Goodykoontz, Carleton Shay, Diane Dunbar
This trip was a celebration of 3 list finishes, Carleton's 8th time list finish, Frank's 9th list finish, and Frank's 3rd time leading the list.
As I sit, pen in hand, ready to write about this trip, the strong impressions made upon me by the area are still clear in my mind. I am relating it to verses in a wonderful work of classical music, Handel's Messiah which I happened to be listening to in my car on the way there, and which set the stage for me for the whole trip. I will relate these prior descriptions and impressions before I tell the story, so all readers can picture what we went through and were feeling.
"Get thee up unto the high mountain...", "The crooked - the rough places..." I can picture the ridge to Villager, rugged, never-ending steep slopes. Shapes stand out around us, an artistic collage of jagged rocks, spindly, fanned-out groups of long Ocotillo branches, covered with big rose-thorns reaching out to grab at our backpacks; bushy, hostile but beautiful Cholla, so thickly covered with thorns that, with the sun behind it, a halo effect forms, calling to our boots; graceful, curving, puncture-loving Agave, nestled invitingly between the rocks to jab our ankles; rounded clumps of spiky Nolina at the end of short trunks, just waiting to jab somebody in the arm; short, neat rounds of Barrel Cacti, with red thorns in swirls; clumps of Beavertail Cacti, with many flat, round segments, all sporting bright yellow thorns. Such an abundance of cruel beauty!! And, glancing up as we climb, hundreds and hundreds of miles of vast desert views, all the way to Mexico! "Every valley shall be exalted..." The Salton Sea looked so big at the top! Nothing compared to the sight of the desert sunsets and dawn that we saw from the top and the ridge coming down. "The glory...", "Rejoice greatly...", "Shout, oh daughter .. " (I actually did shout while we all rock-hopped across to Rabbit the next morning, while the golden light of dawn bathed the entire landscape and all of us marveled at the beauty of the view.) And there is nothing like stepping or jumping from one rock to another with Cholla waiting expectantly below you for a place to attach. We ended up with a multitude of almosts and a lot of disappointed plants. One unfortunate fellow was caught in the same Ocotillo twice before he escaped. That and a few Cholla punctures was all we suffered.
The stage thus set for the story, I proceed: After greeting some DPS hikers there to climb Rosa Point that day, including Frank Dobos, we began our hike at ten minutes to eight on the morning of Dec 2. 18 hikers and the 3 leaders set out across the desert for an adventure of a lifetime. On and on across the desert floor, led by me at this point, down into ravines and up again, we trekked, onward to the foot of the vast endless ridge leading up to Villager Peak. After a brief rest the climb began, led by Carleton at this point. The trail?? up this ridge is interminably steep, then gradual, then interminably steep forever. The experience of carrying so much weight (most of us took 8 quarts of water plus gear) up such a steep slope for so long is grueling, character building and exhilarating.
Toward the top were the rockier areas, up, over, around and between the rocks constantly, constantly climbing all the time. All of us were in good condition for this trip - if we hadn't been we never could have handled it, but some of us moved faster than others - thus the first group reached the top in 6 hours and 10 minutes, then came 2 more groups 1 hour apart; the last group reached the top in 9 hours and 5 minutes. Carleton led the first group up to Villager when they arrived, taking them 15 minutes round trip, and then they waited for the others. The evening was spent under a starry sky, some of us retiring with the sun and others staying up a while to enjoy the ridge and sky and to joke a little. The weather up there was comfortably cool with very little wind.
Morning saw us all getting up under a starry sky and dressing in the dark. We left just as the sun was coming up at ten after six, and I have already described that wonderful sunrise across the ridge. The trip across to Rabbit was a brisk one, the last slope up to the peak being one where it was hard to see each other because of the rocks and terrain, and we kept in touch with each other by voice, "YOOOO...", and "YOOOO..." back and forth to make sure we were taking the same route. It took us 3 hours and 10 minutes to reach Rabbit Peak, and what a celebration we had at the top!! What a glorious and beautiful place for an event like that, and it was fitting that this is definitely the hardest backpack on the HPS List for the List finishers, because it is definitely a hard thing to do to finish the List that many times!!! We all congratulated Carleton and Frank, and took their pictures shaking hands and grinning on top of the summit block. We in the HPS are very fortunate to have leaders like these two among us. The trip back to Villager was just as brisk, those of us those of us who had not climbed it the day before signing in as we passed over the top of the peak. A few people checked out at this point to start down the ridge early, and the rest of us, after breaking camp and packing, set out for the return descent down the ridge at five after two o'clock, with a very careful attempt to keep very close together because we knew we would be traveling in the dark. The return trip went well, everybody's strength holding up remarkably well, until we started down the last steep portion of the ridge, at which point Carleton somehow stepped on a crumbly portion of trail and tumbled, actually fell, about 25 feet to the switchback below. There had been so much joking that when I first heard that he fell, I quipped, "Oh, sure..." because he was walking around unperturbed. However, by the time we reached the desert floor, I realized it was the truth and hurried over to him to see if he was hurt. Some said that they had checked him out and he was OK but I wanted to see for myself. I said, "Did you hit your head?" and he said, "Well, I just bumped my cheek a little bit." I said, "Carleton, close your eyes!" and when I shined the flashlight on his face, I saw two very nasty little cuts that were already very swollen and black and blue under them. He ended up with a black eye and 2 cuts on his face, a very lucky man.
The rest of the trip, across the desert floor directly to the cars in the dark led by Carleton, was another fun case of keeping in touch by voice, and in this case, by following a distant flashlight beam when you yelled for it. If you have never been a leader, you don't realize how hard it is to know where everyone is behind you and still navigate forwards. Carleton did this well, as he and Frank moved forward. I was in the back rounding up people up and counting in the dark, and yelling for a flashlight beam once in a while, and it was a great, a fun game of tag, let me tell you. All of this, believe it or not, is my very favorite thing to do.... The total trip down took us 5 hours and 16 minutes. It can be summed up by one statement, given by David Coons before he left. He meant it when he came up to Frank, Carleton, and me and said, "I LOVED this hike." So did all of us. CONGRATULATIONS FRANK AND CARLETON!.
Participants: David Coons, Chuck Sale, Maggie Wilson, Mike Wilson, Sondra Johnson, Ron Zappen, Howard Eyerly, Barbara Eyerly, Harriet Edwards, David Jensen, Betsy Horgan, Delores Holladay, Tom Hill, Peter Doggett, Judy Hummerich, Barney Bartelle, Alice Tseng, Richard Whitcomb.