Saturday, January 4

Villager & Rabbit Peaks - Anza Borrego Desert

| Anza Borrego Desert |

Edward Abbey has said pretty much everything that needs to be conveyed about the American Southwest, the remote stillness that seeps from the vast unobstructed desert landscape will never be experienced any other place than standing amongst the dirt & rocks of this desolate beauty.

| Heading towards Rabbit Ridge in the morning glow |

It was hard when the alarm went off at 5am at the Oasis Motel. We'd slept a mere four hours after driving from Los Angeles & now were looking down the barrel of potentially one of our hardest overnights yet. Later in the reading you'll discover we should have woken at 3:45am, but let's not get ahead with boring details.

Carlos & I had come to meet our two good friends Kyle & Dave to tackle there number one nemesis in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Rabbit Peak via Rabbit Ridge & Villager Peak. Parking the cars at a small turn out off Hwy 22, the sun was just beginning to peak on the horizon.

| Following straight up the ridge |

The first mile of the hike is across the sandy flat of the desert floor to meet the base of Rabbit Ridge. With the high adrenaline & constant photo opportunities the morning glow offered, I barely noticed the oppressive amount of water (8 liters myself) we were all carrying to make this trip happen. There are no springs, or seasonal water sources on this trip (suffice snow at times). With more than 5,000ft elevation change from the desert floor... we were going to work for it.

| Precious apple we all shared, Kyle in the distance on left |

At the base of the ridge the camera went away & the uphill slog was imminent. Sharp crumbly switchbacks took us to the ridge proper & the assault on the ultimate 'false summit' roller coaster ride began. Gentle slopes at first with times of quad busting uphill to vanquish the next semi-plateau section, with views of more staggering ridgeline.

| Anza Borrego Desert looking West |

After a couple hours our legs were getting into the flow, spirits were high & jokes were flying in all directions. The weight was still a burden, but the views out to the desert floor & the Indian Head region were absolutely magnificent & only getting better the higher we climbed.

There is a point in, shall we say around 3 or so miles, where the travel changes to a much more direct ascent over boulders & much closer to the exposed ridgeline. Again, the views were like no other place I'd backpacked before. Past this section of steep boulders the hike plateaus & we get a good first look at the jagged rocks that make up our next section of hiking leading to Villager Peak, our camp for the night.

| Plateau section in front of us on right. Good camping if travelers are burned out. |

After a good rest we dawned our packs & began what became my favorite part of the hike. There was something about the experience that was so different than other trips in the past. I was falling in love with the barren landscape & fresh look of the ridge we were traversing.

| Upper ridge between Plateau & Villager Peak. Super fun! |

There was nothing more than a few Class 3 moves & mostly Class 2 with our trekking poles. Often times we'd find ourselves in different places than the cairns & having a blast in the process. There didn't seem to be any true route through this section, just don't fall to the left. Topping out on another known false summit we could see Villager Peak close at hand, it was a bit after twelve noon at this point & back on desert terrain.

| More ridgeline scrambling |

Some more roller coaster style ups & down brought us to our first goal, Carlos & I's first peak in the Anza Borrego. It felt good, actually, it felt good to drop all that water weight & set up camp on Villager Peak. I had carried roughly 17.6 lbs of water & all my gear weighed something close to only 9 lbs, minus food. Without too much lethargy we still had another goal to achieve today, Rabbit Peak.

| Known 'false summit' on the way to Villager Peak |

Gathering only the necessary food & water for a bit over six more miles of hiking, Kyle, Dave & I set out across the deceivingly long undulating ridge that leads from Villager to Rabbit Peak. After dropping down & up several times over rock strew hill tops, it was clear this was going to be a very steep hike back to camp, possibly in the dark.

| Rabbit Peak (right foreground) - Desert Crown - El Toro Peak farthest (back left) |

Closing in on two miles away from the camp, one-ish mile to Rabbit Peak, the perfect storm of small woes began to crop up. Our 5am start was hurting us with waning sunlight, we had headlamps, but the route was much more challenging than the entire previous part of the day. One person had mentioned not bringing enough food if we really pushed hard, mixed with the intensely exhausting campaign of carrying water earlier, would we have the energy to summit & get back to camp in the dark?

Finding a breath taking spot to call it quits early wasn't hard, we just walked ten feet to the ridgeline & sat for a good while reviling in the magnificence of our defeat. Heading back to camp we arrived just as the sun was going to drop behind the far west side of the Anza Borrego skyline. A tough, but smart choice was made we all decided.

| Sunset |

The usual nighttime chores ensued, food was eaten, stories were traded & the stars were gawked at. Becoming far enough removed from the burdens of light pollution I get to experience a 'Top 5 Favorite' moment I don't get often, seeing a the ghostly appearance of the Milky Way Galaxy in the night sky above. Abbey's calm desert night had me entranced.

| Mid ridgeline heading down |

The sunrise was a brilliant orange, washing over a blanket of clouds that hide the Salton Sea far below to the east of us. There was no rush that morning, warming hot tea & hot breakfasts are a welcome start to the day. After repacking our small necessities for living out in this beautiful land we marched off in search of our cars, thousands & thousands of feet below us on the desert floor.

| Fantastic views to the desert floor at all times |

Quickly reaching the boulder ridgline that leads off the main summits, I was in heaven, snapping more photos than were ever needed, bouncing from one beautiful perspective to the next. After consuming most of the water & food, our packs allowed great travel down Rabbit Ridge on day two.

| Hard to tell, but that yellow ledge drops about a 1,000 sheer ft on the other side |

Reaching the plateau section, roughly 4,300ft, we were all riding a high of uncompromising views & fantastic camaraderie amongst us all. The most exciting moment of our controlled downhill slide was when a low questionable rumble became a military F-16 (of some sort) blasting over the peak we had camped on, barrel-rolling into the valley below us, then screaming up the other side of the valley. Hoots & howlers were let out to try & match the body shaking sound that just overwhelmed us all.

| Couple thousand more feet down |

The desire for a cold beer gauged how fast each of us walked the last couple miles down the hogback to the desert floor. Finally tackling those crumbly switchbacks we landed in the desert sand. The previous mornings adrenaline was no where in sight, but we all felt good, still carrying some water & we hadn't lost our car keys. We were going to make it to beer.

| Barrel Cactus with fault scarp in background |

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