Rabbit Peak, Villager Peak
By: Gary Craig
I scheduled this overnight backpack back in June to give myself a deadline for' completing the "classwork" portion of the Leadership Training Program. I wanted to do this hike as one of my provisional "I" rating leads, as I'd heard others in the section say such great things about the route. I enlisted John McCully, who has climbed Rabbit a dozen or so times, and from nearly every direction, to be my assistant and evaluator. The other participants on the trip were John Connelly, Linda Roman, Suzanne Mulzet, and Todd Givler.
Our group of six strong hikers met under perfectly clear skies at 7am on November 14th at the normal starting place for Rosa Point for the hike up the south ridge of HPS's Villager Peak. An intricate web of use trails cross the desert floor to the wash emerging from Rattlesnake Canyon. There's a bit of up, down, and around in the wash as you cross it to the very toe of the South ridge of Villager; a cairn marks the start of a use trail leading up the ridge. The trail ascends steeply at first, but the angle eases after a bit and is remarkably easy to follow as it ascends toward the summit. One interesting thing to note is the change in vegetation as one ascends: at the start (1000'), there's plenty of ocotillo and agave to avoid. Higher, various chollas and yuccas predominate, and just before Villager's summit you enter a sparse pinyon woodland. High on the ridge there are a few rocky humps to deal with, and a final false summit. Crossing a shallow saddle just beyond, we found a great campsite within 100 yards of the summit of Villager. We had taken about 7 hours to ascend 4700' with full packs and about two gallons of water each.
After unpacking a bit and a rest, we strolled up to the summit to sign in. The view was fantastic on this clear and pleasant day. As we relaxed, "taking it all in", we noticed a small plane pass by to the east. It turned back south, passing back past us on the west. Another turn, and another pass to the east. Then, a big looping turn and one more pass, low and close by, heading westward. At this point we could read the words "Ranger Patrol" on the underside of the wings, and suddenly, there was a voice from a loudspeaker: "Everybody OK down there?" We waved and gave "thumbs up", and he flew off with a "Have a nice day!".
After dinner, most of the group turned in early to rest up for the long day ahead. We were a couple days too early for the peak of the Leonid meteor shower, but we did see a few precursors as we lay in our sleeping bags under an incredibly starry sky.
Suzanne awoke Sunday morning with a sore knee from the long hike up on Saturday. She opted not to run the ridge out and back to Rabbit, so she and Todd slept in before returning to their car, while John, John, Linda, and I started for Rabbit. This ridge goes very nicely, being class I with few route-finding problems and little brush. It was about 1500' gain on the way to Rabbit and 1000' returning to Villager. We travelled light and did the round trip in under six hours, including, 20 minutes or so on the boulder pile marking the summit of Rabbit. John Connelly was particularly pleased to summit on Rabbit as he is close to finishing the HPS list, and Rabbit was his only "straggler" in the area. The return to camp went smoothly, with McCully entertaining us with stories from his recent long trip to Southeast Asia. We got back to camp about I pm.
After a quick lunch break, we packed up by 1:30 and retraced our steps from the day before down Villager's south ridge to the cars. This is quite a long ridge, but we thought we could do it in about 4 hours - it had taken 7 to come up. It turns out we were just about right, but sunset is early in mid-November! We made it down off the ridge and partway across the flat desert floor before we broke out the headlamps, which were handy for the last 10 minutes or so. My previous experience on Rabbit was quite different, having summited five years ago with Bill Eschenbruecher on a marathon dayhike up from the east. I wanted this time to be different, and it was. Thanks to John for assisting and to all participants for a great trip.
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