Tuesday, March 15, 2011

WBC: Villager Peak

We interrupt this irregularly scheduled blog posting (it's been a while since I've posted, hasn't it?) to let you know that there is some good news coming on the injury front, but really to tell the world of the ass whoopin' I received this past weekend!

First a little background.  I'm doing the San Diego Sierra Club Wilderness Basics Course, and there are 4 camping weekends.  This past weekend was the third: Desert and Mountain Backpacking.  The prior one in J-Tree gets its own mention (we got snowed on), but since the shellacking is so fresh in me, I am inspired to write.

After hearing lots of tales and urban lore of this guy Steve and his crazy ass hikes, we thought we'd see what all the fuss is about.  Steve is a 10 year old in a 40-something year old body, and is crazy, hilarious and a little "cuckoo". This says a lot.  Trust me.

The hike was advertised as a 7 mile hike up to Villager Peak (5750 ft), but all of that elevation gain would be in "about 5 or 6 miles" after scramble across the desert floor.  After doing the math, that's an average 16-18% grade for a long time.  Most of you fit athletes reading that are probably barely raising an eye at grades like that that you eat for breakfast.  The challenge however lies in things like couple pound, higher-than-ankle hiking boots, and about 40 lbs of backpacking gear resting on your hips & back.  For the endurance-athlete-learning-mountaineering, it's an adjustment (but much welcomed)!  Additionally, it was a game time decision early Saturday morning (4:30am) since I left work early on Friday due to illness and was unsure if I could be "up" to the challenge.

Note: All pictures don't even come close to doing the justice.

The main ridge line (not including the summit), as seen from Borrego Springs:

... and from the base:

While there is no path in this Google Earth image, if you follow the little green icons from my car, to the one in the top left (the peak), that's pretty much the path we took:

Relentless is a great way to describe the hike.  It's like being on the most scenic stairmaster for about 7 hours.  It's pretty much straight up, with a few flatter spots for recovery, and a few spots well into the 25% grade range.  Hands were used a few times to get up.  Kind of like this:

One funny moment from the hike, I overheard this one woman say "... it takes them about 9 days to finish the thing, and they usually sleep about 2 hours a night...".  I immediately jumped in and said "Oh, you must be talking about those crazy solo guys doing the Race Across America."  Of course she was!  She was reading a book about RAAM, and that led to a pretty fun conversation about strategy, pacing, not sleeping, and how doing RAAM on a team any less than 8 is psychotic! :)

By the time we stopped for lunch, I knew I was in trouble.  It was 80 degrees in the desert, I wasn't thirsty, I wasn't really hungry, and I had cold sweats.  I got kinda quiet, brooded and just kinda slipped into my own little pain cave.  Right after lunch, we tackled this gnarly climb, and were greeted with some serious drops off to the left.  This was right around the time the wind went from a nice, gentle cooling breeze to 20mph gusts. Perfect timing.

The terrain just kept on going up and up, and it is such where you can't actually see the peak until you are about 45 minutes away (mind you, 45 minutes looks like a stones throw, so its deceptive and teasing).  We finally got to camp, and with a group of 18, I immediately scoured the area for a good camp spot that was sheltered from the wind.  It also happened to provide some sweet views of rabbit peak as well, along with snow covered El Toro, San Jacinto, and San Gorgornio in the distance.  Most importantly, we were away from the group and potential snore-ers (there's always one, right)?

Night fell, and I finally got to use some of my new GoLite gear.  I picked up some new jackets recently with Toby's recommendations, and a great sale over at the clymb.  We had some food, and I was starting to feel alright, and of course people had "stories" to share around the campfire.  The night was perfect.  Surprisingly warm (upper 40's), and the sky was hosting a shooting star show that nearly everyone got to see.  It also was great to chat with people and hear about their adventures while not huffing and puffing.

The next morning, the group went on and did the 5 hour hike to Rabbit peak and back, but feeling like crap, I opted out of the hike and we decided to take off down the mountain.

Our cars are somewhere down there:

6 hours of quad pounding descent, and a few pics later...

We shall call this next one: "Don't Slip"

we made it back to the car and pointed it west.  As of Tuesday morning, there is some serious DOMS in the legs.  Already looking forward to the next trip!

Notes and Lessons learned:
Mummy (sleeping) bag: I don't think I'm a fan - legs feel too restricted.

On hikes like these: Ultra-lite gear is the way to go, and trekking polls would have been really nice.

Cherish the friends who can let you borrow cool stuff like little portable stoves & dishes.

2 gallons of water (the recommended minimum) was barely enough.

Although I am sure there are plenty of similarly challenging hikes, if anyone is training for a hilly event and wants to do a long, hard ass day hike (without the sleep over), do this hike, but be careful, as the trail can disappear at times!

I brought an uncharged Garmin.  The lesson learned is obvious!


Matt Simpson said...


Looks like quite the adventure!

MichelleG said...

couldn't have written it better myself babe, yet another painful, but fun weekend :-)

jameson said...

what you guys are doing is pretty rad. when i stop all the this racing nonsense this is the kind of stuff i want to do... and some adventure racing!... well i guess that's still racing...

erinrist said...

So let's hit the Sierras, and get used to the mummy bag. Loved reading the breakdown!

Andrew Danly said...

Nice write up, so much so, I am not going to make any derisive comments about bike-fails. I recall hiking downhill being worse than ascent for all the pulling on the anterior quads. No break really and the Pack Mule thing wears you down.


Ulyana said...

Absolutely gorgeous! Looks like so much fun!