Fri, Dec 28, 2007
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I parked alongside S-22, a county road that skirts the Santa Rosa Range on the south side. The turnout is not marked for trails of any sort, but is commonly used for climbs of the three mentioned peaks. Though short on daylight so close to the winter solstice, the tempertures were quite pleasant for hiking, around 40F when I started and warming up to the 50s as the day progressed. Unlike the previous visit, there were no significant clouds until the very end of the day, and no rain at all.
I chose to take the standard DPS route up Palo Verde Canyon, heading northeast from the parking area to the mouth of the wash. After the first mile or so up the canyon that was pleasant enough but fairly tame, I began to wonder if it was possible to keep in the canyon well past the climb-out indicated in the DPS guide. Of course I was likely to find an impasse if I continued on, but that seemed to add to the adventure. And so it was, less than half a mile past the departure point, I found the cliffs that were to be avoided. Naturally I tried to see if I could find a way up and past, and initially I had some success, but in the end I decided it would be foolhardy to continue without better equipment, better rock, and better skills. Not wanting to backtrack down the canyon, I explored ways to climb out of the canyon in the vicinity of the cliffs, eventually finding a class 3 way up to the left.
It was only after I had climbed onto the ridge above me that I could see I had been trying to climb the wrong cliff below, as the canyon actually continued on my left instead of the right as I had presumed. Little matter, as I would have been unable to climb the cliff on that side anyway even if I had known earlier. Though the hiking along the ridge was steep, it was relatively straightforward with the exception of some particularly nasty cacti I encountered. Most cactus are of little consequence while wearing hiking boots, but this variety had particularly tough needles that could penetrate into the boots. To make it worse, the tips had tiny barbs that made extraction very difficult. I had to remove the boot that had made the initial contact, pricking several toes, and found I could not remove the needles from my boot. The best I could do was break them all off at the outside of the boot and hope they didn't penetrate further. I made the mistake of trying to extract some with my gloves removed, and almost immediately had two barbs in my fingers. The barb tips would remain in my skin for several weeks. After this first encounter, I noticed that much of the hillside above me was covered in this same cactus, and I was very careful to avoid them for the remainder of the day.
I continued upwards, over several intervening bumps on my way to Rosa Point. The ridgeline had seen little traffic, judging by the lack of boot prints on the ground. At one saddle I came across an old campsite with a dozen or so rusty tins littering the ground, probably from the 1970s or earlier. I got my first view of the Salton Sea to the east - it was easy to see why this made a fine campsite, even if there was no water to be found. Eventually I joined up with one of the DPS guide options and followed an ascending ridge up to the main summit ridge. At this juncture, I was a little confused. To the east was a small highpoint that might be Rosa Point, but there was an obviously much higher point to the northwest some half mile distance. A careful perusal of the map suggested it ought to be the lower bump to the east, so off I went to check it out. It was only a few minutes away, and happily I found the register indicating I was on the correct point. It had taken me nearly four hours to reach the summit, a good hour longer than I had initially estimated - this was no easy peak.
Along with the familiar cans holding the HPS register was an old 1950s (or earlier) era canteen, something one might see strapped to the back of a WWII soldier. The register went back to 1972, and among the many names from the first entry was Doug Mantle's, his first of more than half a dozen entries in the intervening years (and still going strong). Mars Bonfire appears to hold the record with some 18 recorded ascents (also still going strong). A fairly popular peak, the previous visit had been only six days earlier. The views of the surrounding desert region were quite fine, particularly of the Salton Sea to the east, one of the lowest points in California after Badwater, Death Valley. Almost all of the Anza-Borrego Desert region was visible to the south and southwest, with haze slightly marring the views as hills faded out in the distance towards the Mexican border.
I had intended from the beginning to link up Rosa Point with the much higher Villager Peak to the northwest, so with this plan in mind I left the summit and followed the ridgeline in that direction. I climbed up to the higher point I had briefly mistook for Rosa Point, then continued down the other side, up and over another bump [this bump is Mile High Mountain, whose identity and SDC listing I did not know until a later date], then down more than 1,000ft to the saddle with Villager Peak at the head of Rattlesnake Canyon. Even before I reached the saddle I had some doubts about the "fun" of ascending 1,500ft up to a peak I had already climbed, and by the time I had descended to the saddle I had given up on the idea. Instead, I became intrigued with the possibility of descending Rattlesnake Canyon its entire length. That I had been unsuccessful on Palo Verde Canyon earlier did nothing to dissuade me. And altough the unknown factor was certainly a draw, the main factor that led me down that path was the possibility of being able to return to the car without gaining any more elevation (I had to admit that after more than 5,000ft of gain already, I had had my fill).
And so I turned south and started down the canyon, easy at first but soon becoming a twisty little maze with so many turns that I could never tell just how far along the canyon I was. The canyon was about four miles in length but seemed a good deal longer, taking more than two hours to navigate the whole route. Around each of several dozen corners I kept expecting to find an impasse, but each time was pleasantly surprised to find easy going. There were no footprints at all in the first two miles, making me somewhat apprehensive that I had yet to come across the Big Drop. In all there were three sections that I would have to rate as class 3, and these were not trivial. But with careful route selection I was able to negotiate these drops anywhere from 20-30 feet in height. Two of them could be downclimbed directly, the other required a bit of manuevering off to the side to avoid the sheer drop. After the second section, I began to observe bootprints in the sand, greatly relaxing my anxiety of what lay ahead.
At one point I came across a pair of old jeans that were half-buried in the sand found in the dry streambed. How someone came to exit the canyon without a pair of pants at some point in the past had me perplexed. Eventually I started seeing more and more prints, and after the third (and last) obstacle it looked like a regular freeway - people appeared to hike up the canyon for the lower two miles on a regular basis with a fair use trail beat into the sand. As I exited the canyon I shortly came across the well-ducked use trail leading to the primary ridge used to climb Villager Peak. Following this on the return made the going much easier through the rocky wash that would have been somewhat painful otherwise. With about a mile to go I came across a trio of hikers that were even more surprised to see me than I was to see them. In our conversation we found that all of us had been hiking in Rattlesnake Canyon. They had gone to visit an old Indian site (they had found nothing but a flat spot at the location) but were curious about the portion of Rattlesnake Canyon above where they turned back. After exchanging some information and more pleasantries I left them to continue my return at a quicker pace.
It was 2:30p when I made my way back to the car, just as the sun was dipping behind the oncoming clouds, out of sight for the rest of the day. It had been a long drive from San Diego and I still had several hours of driving ahead of me to return, but it had been well worth it for a fine day of hiking in the deserts of eastern California.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Rosa Point - Mile High Mountain
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