Rabbit Peak is considered the most difficult peak on the Sierra Club's Hundred Peak List and Desert Peak List. The usual route is over 20 miles and 8000 feet elevation gain. We wanted to try it from and "easier" route, but it wasn't any easier.
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Early Morning Drive
It is 3:15 am on Sunday 2/17/08 and I am rushing to get ready. I ask myself "why am I doing this?" I only get 2/7th of my days off and even fewer chances to sleep in and I am getting ready to drive 3 hours so I can punish myself on a grueling hike of Rabbit and Villager peaks (possibly even Rosa Point). Then I will have to drive back in traffic so I can get to bed for work tomorrow. Unlike some, I do not get the luxury of having President’s day off of work. I always seem to question myself like this before a hike, but as usual I have made a commitment to hike and in this case Tom is already at the trailhead having arrive last night.
So I load up my stuff and hit the highway just after 3:30 am. I figure that traffic should be very light at this hour, but of course I am surprised with an accident and the I10 East is shut down. My detour (which involved detouring yet another accident on the 60E) puts me behind schedule by 30 minutes. Other than that, the drive out is uneventful. The sun is rising as I drive along the Salton Sea. For some reason this area really intrigues me. The whole reason why this body of water is here is due to environmental blunders, and the sea is dying due to increasing salinity. The communities along its shores dwindling away. I can smell something fishy in the air. But yet, a new Casino has been built. Maybe there is hope for these communities yet? Either through gambling revenue or from what appears to be a very popular activity of off road driving. There are hundreds of these RVs with OHV carriers built into them all over the desert in what resembles a community.
Ascent of Rabbit Peak via West Rib
I continue on away from the Salton Sea west down SR22, past all of the OHV camps and on towards the trailhead. I meet Tom at 6:30 am and we quickly drop off my car and drive on some dirt roads, over Dry Clark Lake to Clark Well since we are planning on tackling Rabbit from the west. I had read that you can get ticketed for parking in this area, and there are plenty of Private Property signs, however the OHV camps are all over the place so we assume that the private property is not enforced and continue on with little worry. We head towards the waypoint I have in my GPS for Clark Well until the road gets too narrow and sand filled to continue. We did not quite make it all the way to the well but pretty close. We start hiking by 7 am. Already behind schedule if we have any hope of being able to include Rosa Point in this hike. We head straight towards Rabbit Peak, passing the remains of Clark Well. At some point in the not-too-distant past this area looked to be inhabited and we were surprised to see the well had new valves and piping, giving us the impression that it was still operational. We passed an upside-down Volkswagen van and joked that they were the last ones who dared park here in order hike Rabbit Peak. From Clark Well to the start of the main ridge leading to Rabbit was approx. 3 miles of tedious desert travel involving going in and out of many ravines, dodging Ocotillo and cacti, and navigating between large boulders. We had planned on this desert travel being much easier. Then to top it off we have to navigate a huge wash right before gaining the main ridge. From the bottom of the wash we climbed onto this steep ridge and started gaining elevation. Once on the ridge the route was marked fairly well with rock cairns and other than dealing with the steepness we proceeded without issues. There were a couple of saddles that required losing some elevation we had gained, which I always hate to do. At one point we looked at the ribs descending down from the main ridges between Villager and Rabbit peaks and tried to determine our route. The closest rib looked very intimidating; very steep, rocky and long! I figured we were going to continue along the ridge to the smaller rib, however Tom correctly pointed out that we would then be to the north of Rabbit. I used the "goto" function of my GPS to determine that indeed we needed to climb the very steep, long ridge directly ahead of us. We continued along our current ridge past a couple more saddles and previous camp spots until we were at the base of this rocky rib looking up. I made a point that it doesn’t look any steep or longer than the ridge we had climbed last weekend to gain Iron Mountain’s southwest ridge. But that was not overly encouraging either, as that ridge kicked our asses just as this one was about to do. Well, up we went. The ridge stayed at class 2 however I would say that it was a very steep class 2, and unrelenting as well. If you look at the topo map you will see that we climbed over 3000 ft in about ¾ of a mile (starting at mile 5). That is steep! We were both not climbing at our best either. I figure lack of sleep was effecting me. Tom was not sure what ailed him. But we both felt light headed and made slow work of the ridge. Once we reached the main ridge we could see a group ahead of us. It was the Sierra Club group that Tom indicated left just after 6 am. I was disappointed that they were ahead of us, I was sure that our "shorter" route would get us ahead of them. At this point Tom and I packed some snow (there were patches everywhere) into our hydration bladders since we had been drinking a lot of water and started up the final ridge to Rabbit. It was nice that we now had trail to follow, however this final ridge was still steep and we were both struggling. Once at the summit I met the Sierra club group and saw who was leading them. I then did not feel as bad that we had not beat them to the summit. I had hiked with the leader before and he was extremely fast. And it looks like he had a very fast group with him as well. We made it to the summit in 5.5 hours. It took them 6 hours. At this point Tom and I realized that these shorter, steep routes typically are not any faster than the longer, more gradual routes. The route finding and off trail navigation combined with slow ascent up precarious ridges consumes any timesavings you might have gained going the shorter (less mileage) route.