Leaders: Byron Prinzmetal and Mars Bonfire
Brian and I had spent a lot of time and energy convincing ourselves that we'd have to be totally nuts to even think of attempting Byron's birthday treat: Villager Peak, Rabbit Peak, and Rosa Point. But then Byron threw us a curve ball -- rather than three days and three peaks, the hike was to be two days and two peaks. Two gallons of water to lug up that hill instead of three. Hmmm, maybe, just maybe we could do this? Hmmmm...
Well, obviously common sense isn't my strongest suit. Come 7AM that Saturday, and there we were, booted, hatted, 40# packs on our backs, the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park at our feet, the long ramp of a ridge up to Villager beckoning us from the north. I'd heard on the TV that nearby Borrego Springs had been the hottest spot in the United States the previous day, a cheery fact I chose not to share with our companions. Would we have enough water? Would we gain enough altitude early that we wouldn't melt? Would I be warm enough that night, since I'd opted not to bring a tent? I didn't need Byron's usual litany of potential terrors to be worried, I was spooking myself quite adequately all on my own.
We started out an unlucky thirteen -- leaders Byron Prinzmetal and Mars Bonfire plus Keith and Sandy Burnside, Dave Comerzan, Dave Coons, Barbara Guerin, Brian and Karen Leverich, Edith Liu, Linda Roman, Kent Schwitkis, and Joe Whyte.
Joe displayed by far the most common sense -- after lugging his heavy pack up the first long steep hill, he knew no sane person would continue to do something like this and headed back. Twelve of us and counting.
4800' of elevation gain -- that's almost a mile! At least there was no scree, and most of the slope was at a reasonably low angle, with good footing. The vegetation, luckily quite scant, looked uniformly hazardous -- spiny cacti, very spiny cholla, needle sharp something else snaking out to grab at our ankles. Sandy spotted some ocotillo in bloom, but spring would be a better time for flowers. We'll just have to come back.
Kent was convalescent from a bad cold, and realized halfway up that doing this backpack at this time was a really bad idea. He turned back, but generously shared his Gatorade with those of us who were continuing on. We set up a cache in a cracked boulder, with an elaborate, almost pagoda-like, duck. Saying our sad farewells (two down already, how many of us would make it?), he headed down, while the remaining eleven of us on up.
And up. And up. Would that endless ramp never end? Seemingly not, although eventually it would surely would have to. Unfortunately, it didn't end with our reaching a summit, instead ... the slope steepened, the ground roughened, and we found ourselves lurching (still lugging those heavy packs!) up and over boulders.
As we neared a summit (not the summit, just one of those de rigueur HPS false summits), Dave espied another hiker. Who could it be? we wondered. George Wysup? The ubiquitous Ron Zappen? We always seem to run into one or the other (or both of them) on random mountain tops. But this hiker was neither George nor Ron. Nor was he especially thrilled to have his solitude shattered by a noisy crew of peak baggers. We said our how do's and continued on our separate ways.
Junipers and piñon pines and cooler temperatures -- climbing 4800' is a lot of work, but it does make a difference. The summit of Villager is a very different place than its base, and (except for the absence of water) a very pleasant place to camp. We arrived with quite a bit of daylight left, signed the register, and happily bustled about setting up camp. We all carefully avoided the spot Sandy Sperling had slept the previous fall -- it might be hexed! None of us wanted a hand full of cholla, for sure. A loud roar from the east surprised us. Most of us looked up in time to see the fighter that buzzed our peak, doing a barrel roll as it disappeared into the west.
Early to bed (but 6PM? were we maybe a teensy bit tired?) meant we theoretically could be early to rise. Some of us intended being up at 2AM, to see the Leonid meteor shower. And all of us would up by 4AM -- Byron knew Sunday would be a very long day and wanted to use every precious second of daylight hiking, not sleeping.
I am tremendously near sighted without my glasses, so when I checked out the sky at 2AM, all I saw was a blur. Unfortunately, the others fared little better -- clouds! Not very thick, so Brian could tell there was quite a show in progress, but thick enough it was hard to see. By 4AM, though, the sky was clearer, and we saw some amazing meteors as we bustled about getting ready for our trip to Rabbit. (Maybe rather than accidentally having a campout during a meteor shower, we could do it deliberately sometime? I volunteer to look up some dates.)
Suddenly, it was 4AM and Byron was stalking through camp, shining a light in our faces. "Get up! Get up!" Only, um, an hour and twenty minutes until there'd be light enough to hike. Time to start moving!
I had read somewhere that getting to Rabbit from Villager would be a nit. Only a mile or so, maybe 1000' elevation gain. Ha! Byron soon set me straight -- it would be more like three or four miles each way, and we'd be doing quite a bit more climbing, both coming and going. Lots and lots of intermediate bumps...
Byron, maybe halfway there: "Three more bumps!"
And, a bit later: "Four more bumps!"
Karen, plaintively: "Are we going the wrong way?"
For the final climb up to the summit itself, we ended up in two groups: Byron's faster group, with all the women except me, and Mars' slower group with all the guys except Byron and one of the Daves. Byron headed up the use trail, Mars up the adjacent ridge, but soon enough we were all on Rabbit celebrating Byron's birthday by dining on sardines and crackers.
Byron was worried we'd not make it out to the cars while it was still light (we didn't) so attempted to hurry us along, first back to Villager, then to pack up, and then to hike out. But these had been two very strenuous days, and not all of us were as, um, cooperative as we might have been about scurrying. Dark had fallen when the sweep (Mars) and the swept (Brian and I) arrived at the switchbacks that would take us off the ridge and into the wash. One of the women below, catching sight of our headlamps, let out a whoop. Sandy, Mars and I decided, not being quite able to envision (enhear?) Barbara or Edith making such a noise.
I didn't see him use his compass, and I know he didn't use a GPS (although Dave Comerzan had his out and quietly monitored our progress), but Mars walked us out unerringly through the gullies and cholla and washes, straight to the cars. Dark -- not a problem. Damn, he's good!