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Dotted with weather-beaten pinyon pines, Villager Peak in the southern Santa Rosa Mountains rises nearly a mile above the lowlands of Anza-Borrego Desert. Serious "peak baggers" from around the state are drawn to its summit which, due to its remoteness from any road and its high elevation, steadfastly resists any easy approach.

Some people take a full two days to backpack the waterless and mostly trail-less, 13-mile-round-trip standard route described here; others like to zip up and down in a single day. As daylight periods increase into the spring season, the latter option is more tenable, but only for those who are in top physical shape and who are willing to hit the trail by dawn's first light. Others are invited to try just the first part of the trek. Simply climb upward until you are "half-tired" and save the other half of your strength for the trip back down. The higher you go, the more rewarding the view.

By late April, high temperatures on some days will be approaching the triple-digit mark, and the practical season for climbing Villager will be over. Don't forget to take along a gallon or so of drinking water -- even on a cooler February or March day.

Park in the north-side turnout at mile 31.8 on Borrego-Salton Seaway, 13 miles northeast of Borrego Springs. On foot, proceed north toward the east end of a long, sandy ridge 0.5 mile away. North of this ridge, flash floods spilling out of the Santa Rosa Mountains have cut a series of braided washes in a swath about 0.6 mile wide. A faint path marked by small piles of stones takes you over this dissected terrain to the base of the long, ramplike ridge that trends north all the way to Villager Peak. The initial climb is very steep, but the route soon levels off to a rather steady gradient averaging about 1000 feet of elevation per mile. Stay on the highest part of the ridge to remain on route, which is at times traced by a rough, informal trail.

Glistening specimens of barrel cactus, hedgehog cactus, and silver, golden, and teddy-bear cholla cactus grace the slopes below 3000 feet elevation. A spiny gauntlet of agave thorns at the 3000 to 4000 feet may hinder your progress a bit. At 4100 feet (4.3 miles), you walk along the brink of a spectacular dropoff overlooking Clark Valley.

Thereafter, the ridgeline you're following becomes quite jagged. Pinyon, juniper, and nolina -- typical "high desert" vegetation -- appear. At 6.5 miles, you finally reach the rounded, 5756-foot summit of Villager Peak, and clear-day views extend 100 miles or more in many directions.

A clear, calm, moonless night spent camping on the summit is an unforgettable experience. Despite the horizon glows of cities from Los Angeles to Mexicali, the stars above shine fiercely in a charcoal sky. At dawn, the silvery surface of the Salton Sea mirrors the red glow spreading across the east horizon.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any detrimental experience.

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