Villager and Rabbit Peaks – Peak #28 – Steep Desert Ridge with a View


Ocotillo on the way to Villager Peak

Villager Peak:
Elevation: 5,756′
Miles: ~13.78

Rabbit Peak:
Elevation: 6,640′
Miles: ~8.9

Trail head

This was my first peak summiting with a group (Gut Check Fitness with Joe Decker) and the first overnight trip, as well. I have been wanting to do this hike for a long time, since the epic scope of it seems unlike any other hike in San Diego. Although I summited two peaks on this trip, only Villager Peak counts, since Rabbit Peak is in Riverside County. Both peaks, however, are on the Hundred Peaks Section of the Angeles Sierra Club.

Unless you camp the night before in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which we didn’t, you are bound to get a somewhat late start on the trail, since the trail head is nearly two hours from almost anywhere in San Diego. We strapped our packs on and immediately headed across the desert floor to the ridge that rose up in front of us, like a ramp into the mountains.


On the way to the ridge

It was pretty warm for a late January morning, so I begun to wonder if I was wearing too much, specifically my Ex Officio Borocade Pant, which seemed like they might be a little thick. However, after people started getting punctured by cacti and the temperature plummeted as we gained elevation, I realized that the pants were a good choice.

The first mile was pretty flat and it was pretty evident which ridge line led up into the sky. We were immediately welcomed by various cacti, including cholla, ocotillo, prickly pear and barrel cacti. The trail was hard to see and from time to time I found myself struggling to get back on it. Several members of the group stopped for an early lunch, but since the pack felt pretty heavy and I wasn’t quite hungry yet, I decided to press on.

This definitely felt different than my typical day hikes with a lumbar pack. I was carrying 6 liters of water which translates to over 13 pounds. My pack weighed about 40 pounds total, which is a far cry from my heavy pack (~70lbs) of the eighties that carried a week’s worth of food and steel pots and pans, but it was a shock to my muscles, which weren’t used to carrying the weight.


Toro Peak on the way to Villager Peak

The trail keep climbing upward, gaining nearly 5,000′ of elevation, most of it in about 5 miles. Sometimes the trail was mere feet away from a several thousand foot cliff. The views to the valley floor and to the Santa Rosa Mountains before us were amazing. I could see Toro Peak in the distance, covered in snow.

My pace started to slow down and I took more frequent breaks when I finally stopped for lunch. About an hour after lunch, I could feel the effects of the food and I got my second wind, making my way up and over the many knobs on the way to Villager Peak.


Sunset behind the Villager Peak cairn


The view north from Villager Peak

When I reached the campsite. I was pretty tired. The extra weight of the pack, the tremendous elevation gain, and the constant vigilance while looking for the trail had worn me out.

We had a great time socializing at the campsite and watched as an amazing orange moon rose over the Salton Sea, but when it was time for sleep, we all enthusiastically dove into our sleeping bags. When I woke up in the morning, my pack was completely covered in frost. It was hard to get out of my warm sleeping bag, but I was encouraged by the lure of Rabbit Peak. And Joe’s persistence.


Frosty backpack on Villager Peak

The sunrise the next morning was beautiful as many of us strapped on our day packs and continued on the ridge line north to Rabbit Peak. Most reports indicate mileage is 3.5 miles to Rabbit Peak, but my GPS showed that it was 4.45 miles each way. And it felt like it. We followed the ridge line up and down until we got to the base of Rabbit Peak. From there, it is a one mile climb, gaining more than 1,000 feet. The top of Rabbit Peak was covered in snow and we had a snack, took some pictures and headed on down. We needed to make good time, since we still had over 11 miles to go before the sun went back down on the other side of us.

Moon in the Sunrise-on-the-way-to-Rabbit-Peak

Moon in the Sunrise on the way to Rabbit Peak

Sunrise over Salton Sea on-the-way-to-Rabbit-Peak

Sunrise over Salton Sea on the way to Rabbit Peak


Toro Peak on the way to Rabbit Peak

Several hours later, a small group of us made it back to Villager Peak and quickly packed our camp up and headed back down the mountain. The good news is that our packs were lighter due to having drank a lot of our water. The bad news was that we drank a lot of our water. All three of us thought we had more water than we had. We decided to ration our water and a couple of us scooped up some snow into our water bottles as an emergency supply. One of us had a water cache many miles down the mountain, but the PD and I had to watch our intake.


Snow on Rabbit Peak


Villager Peak from Rabbit Peak

I continued down the mountain, noticing that the trail was much easier to follow on the way down, and my trekking poles saved my knees a lot of fatigue. Much of the trail I did not recognize, since I took a slightly different path on the way up, having lost the trail many times. We found the water cache and were delighted that Joe had left a gallon of water with the other cache. We rehydrated and had some reserve water, so our morale was boosted.

I sped down the mountain, racing the sun as it dropped to our right. I reached the desert floor and could see the car at the trail head in the distance. After countless minutes of trudging in the sand, it seemed we would never arrive at the car.

We finally made it, and our comrades had left us some liquids at the car, which we quickly drank. We had some food in Julian and made our way home.

Overall, it was an exhausting but incredible trip. Some things that I learned:

– Most of my gear is pretty solid.
– Wearing my trail running shoes was sufficient. The last couple of times I wore hiking boots left my feet tore up.
– Trekking poles are a lifesaver. These weren’t really around when I was backpacking as a child.
– Never underestimate the amount of water you will need in the desert.
– You can never get up too early to complete this hike. The treacherous ridge, the elevation gain/loss and the sheer mileage takes a lot of time.
– I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Villager and Rabbit Peak Trail Map

Villager and Rabbit Peak Trail Map (Click to Enlarge)

Update: JAN 26, 2012: I will work on getting a map up for this hike. This appears to be a popular page. Cheers!

Update: March 11, 2012: Trail Map Posted!


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  1. says

    Thanks for the comments.

    I’d have to say that this was the most difficult trip that I’ve done so far in the 100 Peaks quest. Other multi-day backpacking trips through the Sierras have been more difficult, but this one is the winner of my modern era of being outdoors.

    On the way up, I kept imagining this as a day trip to Villager Peak, as all of the peaks in my book are to be accessible via day hikes, and I know it will be grueling. I am going to go back and do just Villager Peak in a day soon, just to get my trip notes as accurate as they can be for the book.

    Reason for difficulty (as noted above):
    – Wearing a full backpack (over 40 lbs)
    – Nearly 5,000 feet of elevation gain in ~5 miles (not counting soft sandy mile+ near the trail head).
    – Harsh, unforgiving landscape of loose rocks, sharp plants and extremely steep portions of the trail
    – Psychological letdown of many knobs and “false” summits

    My summary: Epic, but totally worth it.

  2. says

    Great write up and a great time Derek! I totally agree and will do it again myself. Absolutely wonderful time. Let me know when you do it again. May have to join ya. Oh, no 100lb pack this time!haha..Still sore!

  3. Mike H says

    Great post Derek! You totally encapsulated the whole trip. As much of a b**** as it was, I’d totally do it again too!

  4. says

    This is my goal hike. I hopefully will get it done with year. I figure after I lose a total of 100 pounds, I might be ready.

    We’ll see…

  5. Charlotte says


    I’m thinking to do it soon. It’s possible to join the trailhead with a “normal” car or do I need a SUV ?
    Some people told me that it can be easy to be lost at the beginning: what is your opinion? Any advice ?

    Thank you very much for your great job and your articles, really usefull

  6. says

    Hi Charlotte, the trailhead is right off the highway, a wide spot with a little sign. If you watch my video, you can see the ridge that I point to on the way up. That’s the way to go and you don’t really lose sight of it. As long as you head toward that, you should be OK. I remember there not really being an obvious trail until you get to that ridge. You should be able to find some cairns at the base of it, on the other side of a wash and look for a worn use trail in the dirt. Sometimes it is lined with rocks.

    Once you get to the ridge, if you have a choice, stick to the highest point on the ridge. That is generally the easiest way and most visible trail. Bring lots of water and be prepared for steep travel. Also, be very very mindful of cactus. Bring a comb and some needle-nosed pliers, just in case, to help remove cactus accidents from legs and elsewhere.

    Trekking poles can be helpful, due to the steepness and sometimes rocky nature of the trail. Good luck!

  7. Cory says

    Hey Derek,

    Great work on the blog. It has been my guide for the last few hikes I have done. Thank you so much for putting this together.


  8. Von says

    Hi guys a few of did the king of the hill race 22 miles on Saturday, DAM! that was by far the hardest 22 miles I have ever done. Ive done a few 50 milers but this one took the cake! extremely challenging. Epic BADASS. Everyone should do it at least once in their lifetime. 6hrs 17 minutes an hr slower than first place! Thats insane! Cannt wait to do it again :) See ya in the mtns.

  9. Julius says

    Finished the Rabbit Peak hike from S-22 just recently with Joe Decker’s group and I gotta say it almost destroyed me. This 22-miler felt like a 50-mile ultramarathon. 8,000 ft of climbing in 22 miles, enough said. Hardest thing I ever done next to Grand Canyon R-R-R. Great review Derek. Now I see why only 20 hikers on average do this trail annually.

  10. Webman says

    Heading out to do this Saturday. Camping at the side of SR 22 and starting off at first light. Might make both Villager and Rabbit. Went up there a couple months ago but started out at night and didn’t find the trail head. Started up the hills to the right – very steep and lots of jumping :) cactus. Needle-nosed pliers for sure! I was pulling out stickers for 3 days!

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