S-22 Trailhead to Villager Peak to Rabbit Peak to Villager Peak
(14 miles, +8,300/-3,300 feet).
Modern Hiker calls this one of the most challenging hikes in Southern California — maybe even more so than Cactus to Clouds. At 14 miles it’s not that long, but 8,300 feet of elevation gain in one day is a lot, especially since the days are still relatively short. The last time I came close to this kind of elevation gain was a 7,800 foot day with my buddy Chris, and that was in June when we had an extra 3 hours of daylight.
Needless to say I was a little nervous about attempting the hike to Rabbit Peak, especially when my buddy MixMaster and I looked at the weather forecast. Santa Anas were blowing in from the desert, warming the air to fifteen degrees above normal for this time of year (a high temperature of about 85 degrees at the trailhead).
On the other hand, my most recent day hike in Anza-Borrego made me eager to get back out here. It’s been a big rain year here and biologists have said that the conditions are the best they’ve seen in 20 years for a wildflower superbloom, and even though we planned this trip a few weeks ago, we just happen to be hitting the desert right at the peak of the season.
So we left San Diego at 4am hoping for the best. By 6:30am we were at the trailhead and ready to go. The morning light was just starting to hit the long ramp-like ridge that would take us to our campsite at Villager Peak.
Just as we had expected, the flowers were spectacular.
After a mile or two we crossed the wash out of Rattlesnake Canyon and started climbing. There were fewer flowers and the terrain became more rocky and arid.
The trail became more distinct here, which was great because many of the climbs were quite steep and needed well-defined switchbacks.
About halfway up I ripped my pants on a spiny bush and had to stop for repairs
We had to break about once an hour (every thousand feet or so) to catch our breath and let the sweat cool our skin. By noon we made it to Villager Peak, set up camp, ate lunch, and took a brief nap.
Then the real fun started. We loaded up day packs with water and snacks and headed for Rabbit Peak. Although the path follows the ridge line, it is a crazy roller coaster of ups and downs to get there and back.
The views don’t really get too much better than they are at Villager Peak, and I was focussed on getting the hike done before sunset, so I didn’t take as many photos.
By 3:30pm we made it to the summit. But the setting sun kept us from lingering.
The descent was accompanied by some beautiful light on our surroundings, helping us to muster the energy needed to scale the last few climbs back to Villager.
We made it back to camp at about thirty minutes after sundown and nearly twelve hours since we started this morning. We were pooped, but what an amazing day!
After dinner, sleep came easy under the moonlit sky.