Villager Peak in Santa Rosa
Villager Peak! One of the desert hikes one can enjoy (or challenge) him/herself in Santa Rosa Mountain.
Our start time was 4 am. Due to the driving distance of about 3 1/2 hours, I decided to join some of the group members for camping Friday night at Arroyo Salado Campground (33.279865, -116.145086). It is a few miles east from the trailhead for Villager and Rabbit Peaks. Because the Friday evening traffic to get out of LA was pretty bad, it took longer than 4 hours, and it was almost 11 pm when we found our campground in the dark, which was off of S22, Borrego Salton Seaway. After driving down the dirt road for less than a quarter mile, there was the campground with restrooms. Once the car lights were turned off, the night sky was literally lit up with millions of stars sparkling. The temperature was perfect. Not too cold. It was great to be out there under the stars.
The distance from the trailhead to Villager Peak is slightly over 6.5 miles with a 5,600 feet elevation gain, and another 4 miles or so will take one to Rabbit Peak. For that, one can expect another 2,000 feet elevation gain. Because it was pitch black in the middle of Rattlesnake Canyon, it was quite easy to get lost, and although I had had a gpx file downloaded to my Gaia, I decided to trust the leader of the pack to lead us in the dark. However, by the time when I checked my GPS, we were at least over a half hour off the trail. Due to many dips and rocky bumps in the dark, it was not quite easy to just traverse, say, north, hoping that we could make up the lost mileage, so, we decided to backtrack to the trail instead. When we finally made back to the trail and then reached the bottom of the ridge where a real ascent began after crossing Rattlesnake Canyon, we had already lost close to 1 1/2 hours. At this point we sort of decided to see how fast we make our way up to Villager Peak first.
In spite of getting lost and backtracking, the glow of the sunrise was quite mesmerizing and magical.
As the sunrise glow looms brighter and brighter, we started having a better sense of surroundings. All the short but abundant cacti and shrubs and the tall ocotillos were the only life forms actually living and thriving in this rough terrain. The soil was as dry as a bone, and there was no sign of water nor trees. Totally exposed. And it was the moment when it truly hit me that we were doing a desert hike.
Of course, I loved other desert hikes in Joshua Tree NP or Mohave Preserve NP, but Villager and Rabbit Peaks are quite notorious for its elevation gains in such a harsh environment. Every post about hiking Villager and Rabbit Peaks emphasizes carrying a lot of water and some more. We were prepared with it by carrying at least 6 liters of water, but thankfully, a constant flow of breeze was with us for the whole time. So, the elevation gain didn’t seem like much of a challenge in the very slowly rising temperature.
As we slowly made our way up the ridge, the sun eventually came up over the hill in the east and painted all of us in orange. Somehow we were not in a hurry. It was probably because all of us knew that Villager Peak might be our final destination.
The view of the San Ysidro and Hot Springs Mountains in Los Coyotes Reservation across Clark Valley was quite spectacular. The stretches of mountains beyond them were just jaw dropping.
As we were gaining more elevation, yuccas started appearing, and soon they were everywhere. The trail was definitely not packed down filled with from small to big rocks. This rocky terrain hid some parts of the trail and made the climb more like a cross-country style off trail hike. It was not uncommon to hop from a rock to a rock. And also some parts were quite sandy.
Once we reached 2/3 of the distance to Villager Peak, we were high enough to enjoy the close to 360 degree views. Because the trail was going up along the ridge, some parts of the trail inevitably had narrow sections where both sides of the trail drop hundred feet, and some were a couple of thousand. It was quite exciting as well as thrilling. However, the erosion was obvious at some parts, and caution was required in these sections.
When the west side the ridge faced the Clark Valley and the other mountains behind it, the east side had the view of Salton Sea. It was quite amusing to listen to the background stories of Salton Sea, which at one point in the past was a lot bigger. As the temperature rose and it got drier and drier, the size of the lake got shrunk, and once what was popular for fishing now is surrounded by the communities that are sort of fleeing their town, except for the casinos.
After climbing several false Villager peaks, we eventually reached a point where Villager Peak was only a half hour away. However the consensus of the group was that they wanted to take a lunch break there and didn’t want to go any further. Besides, by this time, the pleasant breeze that shielded us from the heat turned into gusty wind, and a couple of more layers we put on didn’t seem to keep us warm at all. We literally had to hunkered down by knee high rocks to stay warm while munching on our snacks.
We started descending after taking a few group photos. Part of me was a bit disappointed by the fact that not only did we not attempt to hike up Rabbit Peak but also didn’t even reach Villager Peak, where I suspected that we might’ve been able to see Mt. San Jacinto. However, I was also encouraged by the words that it is quite nice when the tall ocotillos bloom in the Spring. So, for now, it’ll have to be next April to come back and hike Rabbit Peak. All in all, it was a great experience in desert hiking, and I really appreciated more of these quite different atmosphere of the area from Mt. San Gorgonio and Mt. San Jacinto.