Was this a visit to a menagerie or the desert? After all, we climbed Rabbit, Coyote, and Whale. Shortly after Richard Stover and I left the S-22 highway to begin our walk across the desert toward the long ridge leading to Rabbit Peak, we were passed by a speedy couple with camelback water packs and little gear. They announced they were climbing Rabbit as a dayhike and sped past.
We trudged along with our heavy packs containing 2 1/2 gallons of water apiece. Since we hike slowly, and the days were short, we had decided to take 2 1/2 days to climb Rabbit (20 miles, 8300' elevation gain). We would camp for two nights on top of Villager. As we ascended the ridge, the words of one of Robert Louis Stevenson's verses kept running through my mind: "Dark brown is the river/Golden is the sand/The stream goes on forever . . . " Substitute the word "ridge" for "stream," and you get the picture.
The day before, we had climbed Coyote Mountain as a warm up. An entry in its register had given me a chuckle. Fed up with climbers boasting about the speed of the ascent and how many bighorn they had spotted, one writer had written something like, "Made the climb in 23 minutes and saw 2,741 bighorn." At about the 2500 foot level, we met a backpacker descending. He had climbed Villager but had backed off Rabbit because the "terrain was so rough." Actually it's not rough at all. There's a use trail the entire way. It's just a LONG, LONG way with a lot of elevation gain and loss between Rabbit and Villager.
At about 4800 feet, we met the speedy couple coming down. "Wow," I enthused, "I'm really impressed."
"Don't be," the man responded. "We decided not to do Rabbit."
Shortly thereafter, as we hiked the ridge which dropped away sharply on each side, a formation of cormorants flew directly overhead. I took it as a good sign.
When we reached the summit of Villager, we found comfortable camping among the pinion pines complete with attractive views of the Salton Sea. The trek from Villager to Rabbit and back took us longer than the DPS estimate of 6 hours. But when we crawled into our bivy sacks that night, we smiled with the knowledge that many parties had signed the register on Villager that month, but only two had made it to Rabbit.
On the way down we picked up the first of the two liters of water that we had stashed on the ascent but were unable to locate the second liter. Apparently there are multiple use trails; we were on a different trail than on the way up. The errant bottle was left about 2000' from the desert floor at a place where the trail passes between two large rocks. I remember a blooming ocotillo to the west of the trail. If you find the bottle, enjoy. It's behind the eastmost rock. We also found a pair of men's blue jeans, but alas, no cowpoke in just his skivvies! We packed them out.
Back on the desert floor we enjoyed the next day hiking between several palm oases. Each could be reached by car, but it was much more enjoyable to hike across the open desert. The geology was fantastic, and it felt both scary and good to drop out of sight of notable landmarks and be totally surrounded by similar-looking low brown hills. We also visited the "Pumpkin Patch" an interesting geologic area with weathered-out concretions which resemble the Halloween vegetable.
Whale Peak, which we climbed on December 29, is far more interesting, albeit easier than Rabbit. The jumble of rocks and mature trees and yucca afford enjoyable terrain and exploring. Some of the native junipers touted sprigs of mistletoe in their branches. Since it was the Christmas season, I made good use of the parasite. A 4WD vehicle is needed to get to the trailhead off the Pinyon Mountain Road as described in Afoot and Afield in San Diego County.
Be sure to stop by Carrizo Bikes in Borrego Springs and talk to owner Dan Cain. He has done some extreme "hiking" and also sells local topographic maps. We originally went there since the Park Visitor Center doesn't sell topo maps! Go figure.
And, yes, for those of you who saw our slides at the PCS Christmas party, we found 6 balloons.