Not a scheduled outing
It was Friday, 28 April, 5:30 p.m., when I picked up Wendy Thacker and Todd Taylor at the Del Mar entrance to the San Bernardino Freeway. Our plans for this one day venture were predicated on reaching the trailhead at an early enough hour to allow for a backpack part way in that night in order to lessen the unknown rigors of the next day's climb. Since there was to be an almost full moon on the 28th, this part of our plan seemed reasonable as well as feasible.
However, the San Bernardino Freeway had more than its usual share of congestion that night. This, coupled with a steady rain that lasted most of the way to Indio, served to put us an hour or so behind schedule. A short stop for dinner contributed further to the delay. Beyond Indio, we missed the turnoff at Ave. 78 and it was not until 11:30 p.m. that we arrived at the trailhead. The short drive through the dump to the parking area would not have been possible without Todd walking point for me, and guiding my low clearance Dodge Dart between the rocks.
Although the rain had ceased, the skies were still threatening and there was not a glimmer (or hope) of moonlight. Inasmuch as the area was completely unknown to us, prudence demanded that we go no further that night, but make up the mileage lost by an early start the next morning.
We were up slightly before 4 a.m. and, after a quick breakfast, started out for the distant peak with summit packs only. It was exactly 5 a.m. Uppermost in our minds was the question of the weather. For the previous week the temperature in Indio had varied between 90 and 97 degrees. As it turned out, however, Saturday was to be a very cool day and at no time was there to be any discomfort due to heat. As a matter of fact, down sweaters were to be required on top of the peak. It seemed as if this was to be our recompense for the misfortunes of the previous day.
The beginning of the trail was well marked with ducks and easily followed. The subsequent turn-off, marked by a yellow arrow, was located and our progress was steady until we reached what we took to be the forward ridge of the Rabbit massif. At this point, we had run out of ducks or any other signs of a previous passage. Dropping down to cross a wash, we ascended the more shallow of two gullies to a low point on the ridge. At one time, while working our way along what we presumed to be the main ridge, we did go astray of a proper route, a mishap only overcome by means of some diligent rock scrambling and brush whacking. This off-route excursion probably cost us about an hour of lost time. Fortunately, however, we soon located some ducks and other evidence that we were following the path of an earlier party, and were, in all probability, on the right trail.
It was soon evident that were on the main ridge, and after what seemed to be an interminable number of false summits, each demanding a psychological rest, we arrived at the Rabbit Peak bench mark. The register was located on a rock about fifty yards away, the difference in elevation between this high point and the bench mark being something on the order of ten feet.
It was just about noon, and quite cold, when we signed the register. Hauling out down sweaters and jackets, we sought shelter from the wind and spent about an hour on the peak, lunching, resting, and enjoying the view, especially that of snow-capped San Gorgonio.
The trip out would been uneventful except for the fact that we again lost our way and left the main ridge too soon. It was too late when we found ourselves committed to the descent of a wide, steep gully which added at least an hour to the return trip. Had we known sooner what lay ahead of us, we would have climbed back to the ridge, despite the steepness and the dislike of retracing one's steps - upwards. In leaving the ridge at the point we did, we thought we were correcting our error of the morning on the way up. We also thought we could see our path back to the car. However, we directed our way to a rather extensive flat prominence (elevation 3000', approximately), which lies at the foot of the Rabbit massif. Here we found a fire circle and what seemed to be evidence that the spot had been used as a camp site. Could this have been the camp of the Van Allen party of the previous December?
From here it was a simple matter retracing our steps to the trail which would lead us to the car.
Our problems of route finding, as well as the lack of sufficient sleep the night before, only served to aggravate a climb difficult enough for one day. We were indeed a footsore and weary trio when we finally arrived at the car. This time I was not so fortunate coming out of the dump. Despite Todd's guidance, my car suffered a bashed front fender in going over a boulder. A short rest, coupled with a dinner in Indio, provided sufficient relaxation for the trip home. While an allowance of two days for Rabbit would appear to be excessive, one day is probably too enervating for the average hiker. Our original intention, that of backpacking part way in on Friday night, seems to be a good alternative - if a suitable campsite could be located.