El Picacho del Diablo
By: Dean Acheson
Ted Brasket and I arranged to meet in Tecate, where we gassed up, had a great breakfast just over the border, and made a final stop at the Big Giant (market) in Ensenada for a week's supply of gourmet supplements which included plenty of Tecate and 4 large New York steaks.
Our plan was to: Sunday - drive in; Monday - climb Scout and explore the area and view the main route we'd take to north and south peaks; Tuesday - lay back; Wednesday - climb Blue Bottle stashing food, water and sleeping gear in case we needed it on the way back from the big climb Friday; Thursday - lay back; Friday - leave at 2:00 a.m. under full moon to attempt a round trip from the shack to Blue Bottle, down to Diablo Canyon, up Teapot to Slot Wash to south peak, traverse to north peak, down Wall Street to Slot Wash and back to the shack via Teapot and Blue Bottle.
It was a lesson in how to do a long, strenuous climb mixed with sufficient relaxation time to "recharge the batteries" as Ted likes to say. Sunday was travel time and camp setup. The Parque has a whole new set of fresh wood carved signs telling you where to and where not to camp, make fires and drive. A new controlled park entrance gate and registration system hints of the encroachment of civilization.
Monday morning we hiked to Scout Peak and explored the area. The views of Canon Diablo and the Diablo summits are not only striking, but surprisingly close. We tried to figure where the Teapot route was via Ted's small monocular and chose a large gully running from the lower end of Boulder Wash diagonally up and to the north towards Slot Wash, and hoped we could still see it from the bottom.
Tuesday was "kick back" day. Wednesday was warm up hike to Blue Bottle, continuing another half mile or so east along the ridge towards Pinnacle Ridge, dropping down 700' to locate the place where we'd start down towards Boulder Wash Friday. Coming back we found a way to bypass the 3rd class climb over the very top of Blue Bottle (not that difficult ' but irritating with any kind of pack), passing down and to the south of the peak. We stashed sleeping bags, tent and food in a large crevasse pretending that no critters were there to jump our food stash.
Thursday was like Tuesday, except that clouds rolled over, presenting the only exception to bright clear blue skies for the week. By 1: 15 a.m. Friday our internal clocks were turned around sufficiently that we thought it was time to get up. We carried little weight, picking up water and food after gaining Blue Bottle's elevation by 4:00 a.m. We hardly turned on the headlamps, which may have been a mistake as we passed our point to turn left down the canyon, getting into more rocky and slower down climbing closer to the east wall of Diablo Canyon's south reaches, slowing us down quite a bit. I filled and pilled water bottles while Ted went looking for Teapot. It looked like Teapot was the first huge rock high on the left of Boulder Wash. Turns out the easiest way to find the route is to simply take the first gully you come to on the left after starting up Bolder Wash. This is more like a few hundred yards up the wash rather than a few hundred feet.
The drop into Slot Wash was a bushwack. We had decided to take the "seldom used" route to South Peak which branches to the right from Slot Wash at 8200', and take that route around and up to the ridge to Pinnacle Ridge, then north to the south peak. This is described by Robinson as "easiest way to south peak" which proves Robinson didn't personally climb to south peak via this "easiest" route. It took several hours of 3rd and 4th class scrambling to get to a place where we could cut left to the ridge top - this was almost all the way to the junction of the Pinnacle Peaks route. We found that when we were at this point we could look right down into Slot Wash to the left - would have been easier to simply go up Slot Wash and take a turn to the right to get to the same place.
The traverse from South to North Peak took about 40 minutes. Ted had said he didn't remember the exposure others have talked about when he made the traverse 2 years ago. As we were walking the narrow (2") ledge with the very high drop to the left, Ted said "Maybe this is what they meant." We heard voices echoing up Wall Street as we approached North Summit. As we were leaving North 4 hikers from Ensenada arrived. This would add 4 more names to the 25 names we counted which had been entered in the register that day. Total including us would be 31.
We decided due to the hour that, we'd go back via the normal route through Wall Street, Slot Wash and ,Night Wash. Turns out that Campo .Noche was pretty full (another group who had arrived to climb the next day had gone on up to Cedar Oaks to find camping space.) The four from Ensenada who hiked down the hill with us cleared more space and insisted we camp with them. The fire, hot food and cozy space was too inviting to refuse (also the opportunity to make some good hiking friends South of the border - we are now exchanging email on peaks in our respective countries.)
After a restful night we hiked back up to Blue Bottle and on to our trucks. We drove a couple hours down the road to a camp-spot Ted had earlier scouted, and after a relaxing night headed on back to California via Tecate, avoiding the crowd through Tijuana. Picacho del Diablo is still rugged and challenging - but it looks like there'll be more and more company from the locals as time goes on. Thanks to Ted for a most strenuous relaxing week!
NOTE TO ANYONE WANTING TO 4 WHEEL TO THE SHACK: new "ZONA RESTRINGA" AND "SOLO HIKING" signs decorate the entrance to the 4wheel drive section of the road. We went in anyway (we don't speak Spanish), but checked with the gate person as we left at the end of our trip. We think he said we might be able to get a permit to drive that section (he didn't speak English), but be prepared to hike from the 2wheel drive trailhead just in case.
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