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Rabbit Peak #2

4 March 1996 (Private adventure)

By: Carleton Shay

Hanna wanted to climb Rabbit #2 from the Indio side (6600'+ gain and 16+ miles) to avoid the backpack on the Borrego side, so we picked a day with a favorable weather report (60s, breezy) and a full moon. I knew she could do it since this would be her 266th peak, having polished off the likes of Ross (twice) and Big Iron. But I also knew that she would take more than the Guide time, and estimated about 14-15 hours round trip. We took several flashlights with extra batteries, a bivvy sack, extra food, and plenty of water, Gatorade and Clif bars, etc. so were prepared for most any contingency. This would be my 9th ascent of Rabbit, the 2nd by this route.

We started at 6:05 am on Monday morning, and made good progress across the desert floor heading for the ridge leading up the peak. Despite the recent rain there were no cacti or wildflowers in bloom. We arrived at the plateau where the backpackers camp (3235') about lunchtime, but did not tarry long. I thought we were not making good time and should eat in snatches during rest breaks rather than take a long lunch. Meanwhile it was clouding up and getting rather windy. We encountered snow on the rocks at about 5600' which slowed us down somewhat. Fortunately, this was the only section on the entire route with snow. The wind velocity increased, the temperature decreased, and me were in the clouds most of the time.

The last 1000' is not particularly steep, but it was rough because the wind was blowing strongly, it was icy cold, there were occasional rain splatters, and we were almost in a whiteout. Fortunately I had no trouble route finding. The further we got the more it was obvious that we were going to take more time than we had anticipated, but being so close pressed on. We were not about to back off now. We finally reached one of the false summits with a register (6623'), but it didn't have a pencil so we didn't sign it. The true summit was nearby, but because of the weather conditions and the time we just touched the rock and took off downhill. The time was 3:45 pm. At around 5:00 pm, and at about the 5000' level, Hanna slipped or tripped and turned her ankle. At first she couldn't stand up, but after a brief rest could shuffle slowly when the terrain was not too steep by standing behind me and holding my pack straps for support. She said that she felt no pain as long as she didn't twist her foot to one side. But the going was very, very slow. We were over the worst part, but it was still steep and most of the next 1000' or so she sat on the ground and slid down on her butt.

We never consciously considered bivouacking, just wanting to keep moving. The weather improved as we descended although it was still cold and breezy, and we had occasional rain splatters. The clouds obscured the moon, so we had to use our flashlights. At one point I was timing our descent, and found to my consternation that we were taking 20 minutes to go down 100' - and we had 4000' to go!

We got to the plateau at 1:30 am. I knew that it would take well into the next night to reach the car if we stopped to bivouac, so again we just kept moving. The weather improved as we descended, and we had periods of bright moonlight. Hanna was sure we could make it by dawn from the plateau. Surprisingly, neither of us was particularly tired or hungry. Hanna even said she thought it was quite an adventure, and was pleasantly surprised that we were in such good shape. She was in no pain, and sure that she had only twisted her ankle badly.

Her optimism never ceased: she was sure we would make it by noon, then by 2:00, then by 3:00, etc. I was hoping we would make it before dark, and thought we could.

The last few hours were the worst, since it is a grind over the almost-flat desert floor for an interminable distance. We were getting tired by then, and resting a few minutes each half hour. We finally made it to the car at 4:40 pm on Tuesday afternoon after hiking more or less continuously 34 hours and 35 minutes since we started. Hanna took off her boot and her ankle was scarcely swollen, so she remained convinced that she had only sprained it. My worry was getting home without falling asleep at the wheel of the car. By the time we got home, her ankle and lower leg had swollen mightily, but we just crashed on the bed and slept until the next morning.

I took her to Kaiser emergency walk-in the next day, and sure enough - you guessed it, her fibula was broken just above the ankle and she was outfitted with a thigh-high cast. She had hiked almost 24 hours, covered six miles and lost about 5000' altitude on a broken leg! It sounds like a nightmarish ordeal, but it wasn't that at all. Still feeling little or no pain, she thinks of the trip as an adventure, and having to get around on crutches is far worse than the hike.

The thing that makes this tale so scary is that there are numerous "What ifs" that would have changed the outcome drastically. But the bottom line is that none of them happened. The experience remains a successful adventure and not a grievous calamity.

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