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Villager Peak (5,756') & Rabbit Peak #2 (6,640+)

March 4-6, 2011

By: Mat Kelliher

Leaders: Mat Kelliher, Jim Fleming

Baldy from Big Iron
Working our way down the ridgeline from Rabbit and Villager Peaks. From bottom to top: Tanya Roton, Bruce Craig, Stella Cheung, Winnette Bulter, Jim Fleming. Photo by Mat Kelliher.

There really isn't an easy way to climb these two peaks in the Santa Rosa Mountains. To bag both of them via the standard approach you've got to cover 21 round trip, cross-country miles with 8,700' of elevation change across steep, loose, rocky, brushy, and thorny desert terrain. The peaks are located in the Anza Borrego Desert, so for a good chunk of the year its way too hot out there to even consider making the attempt. Plus there isn't any water anywhere along the way, so everything you're going to need to drink, you're going to have to carry along with you.

A couple of different strategies are employed by hearty peak baggers to add these two to their "been there, done that" lists. Some opt for nailing the peaks in one intense, grueling, very long single-day push that can take anywhere between 14 to 30 hours to complete, and which requires at least some portion of the "dayhike" to be done in the dark. Others try spreading the effort out over a couple of days. They'll take the first day to pack all their gear up to a spot just below Villager, where they'll set up camp. At first light the next morning they'll set off on a tough 8.0 mile round trip mission over steep, loose, rocky, and thorny desert terrain to get first Villager, then Rabbit, then return to Villager and camp. They'll have gone up and down, up and down, up and down, an agonizing number of bumps along the way for a total 4,000' of gain; 2,500' of it on the way out, the other 1,500' of it on the way back. Arriving back at camp they'll quickly pack up and head out for the 6.5 mile, 4,700' descent back down to the trailhead; likely spending some portion of the trip out in the dark.

On March 4, 2011 Tanya Roton, Stella Cheung, Winnette Butler, Bruce Craig, Jim Fleming, and I set out to try a slightly different strategy for getting those peaks that we hoped would be slightly less grueling and would allow us the opportunity to do a little relaxing while there to enjoy the spectacular scenery high above the desert floor. We planned to extend the journey into a three day, two night stay. This trip would also serve as my I-provisional backpacking trip with Jim Fleming acting as my evaluator. Our plan was to take the first day to pack all our gear and water up to base camp, spend the second day going after the peaks and then get back to camp for a little happy hour revelry, and then after a leisurely cup of coffee and a little breakfast take the third day to work our way down off of the hill to finish up at the trailhead.

At the trailhead Friday morning we weighed our packs with Winnette's new luggage scale and confessed about how many liters (L) of water we were each carrying. At exactly 7:00 am Tanya (40 lbs/8L), Stella (35 lbs/7L), Winnette (38 lbs/7L), Bruce (didn't weigh in/10L), Jim (65 lbs/14L), and I (60 lbs/12L) set off to the north across the desert floor. Our pace was slow due to all the weight we were carrying, but the weather was perfect with cool temperatures throughout the day, and we made steady progress up the ridgeline. The Ocotillo cacti were in full bloom and at the lower elevations a few of the barrel cactus had just begun to bud and flower. About 3 miles up we cached a little of our water; enough to get us through this last stretch on Sunday as we descended. As we continued our ascent up along that ridgeline, the views of the Anza Borrego began to unfold and spread out below us; the Lute Ridge, once so dominant on our flank was now just a little ripple marking our starting point way, way below; the badlands far to the south could just barely be made out through the haze of the desert floor. Working our way up through the rocky sections, the dry Clark Lake opened up to our west.

We got up to the saddle (5,567') beneath Villager Friday evening in plenty of time to set up our tents and make dinner before dark. Strong winds had been blowing in from the east for the last hour or so of our ascent and they cooled the temps down quite a bit. It had gotten cold enough up there that after eating we all just hopped into our tents and sleeping bags to stay warm and then quickly drifted off to sleep. The wind stayed with us, blowing pretty hard sometimes, until about midnight. Saturday morning we had coffee and breakfast and headed off for the peaks. Villager Peak (5,756') was only ΒΌ mile away, so we got up onto it right away. After signing in to the register, we headed off to get Rabbit. We worked our way through the rocky sections along the ridgelines across seemingly endless bumps along the way to our peak - up, over, down - up, over, down - up, over, down; all while we quietly absorbed the scenery of the Coachella Valley and Salton Sea to the east, the stark ruggedness of the Anza Borrego and dry Clark Lake to our south and west. The weather was pleasant again all day; cool but not cold, gently breezy. Finally we got to the last of the steep uphill; we worked our way up through the Class 2 rock and found ourselves on the summit of Rabbit Peak #2 (6,640+). After eating lunch and lounging up there for a bit we headed back to base camp, passing one group of two hikers who were planning on sleeping on Rabbit that night, and running into a group of six who were planning on sleeping on Villager that night.

Saturday evening the winds stayed calm long enough to allow us to enjoy happy hour, and linger over our dinners illuminated by a gorgeous sunset. We were camped under New Moon skies, so once it got dark we were treated to a spectacular night sky filled by beautiful twinkling stars. The winds came up again around midnight, this time from the west, and they blew pretty hard all night long.

Sunday morning we woke up early, had coffee and breakfast, packed up our gear and headed out right at 8:00 am. Temperatures steadily climbed as we descended, and as they did, we began to get close to depleting our water supplies. We noticed as we picked our route down through the rocky sections of ridgeline that someone had come through and torn down the numerous ducks that helped mark our route up; the ducks we had placed near our water cache had also been removed, but we were able to find our stash without them. We came down along the ridge line and marveled as the tremendous view of the desert below began to close in around us; soon the Lute Ridge dominated the skyline directly ahead of us, and we came out onto the desert floor for that last 1-mile stretch before reaching the trailhead. Once at the cars we took note that we'd each brought just enough water to complete the trip comfortably and well hydrated; the weight we'd each carried was significant but not too wearying, and that we were all in good spirits and felt that we'd treated ourselves to a pretty good weekend out in that beautiful desert.

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