Sierra las Flores, Sierra las Animas, Sierra los Paredones
By: Mark Adrian
Always in search of new areas to climb in and explore, I and three friends headed south into Baja for the Thanksgiving weekend. Our destination was Bahia de Los Angeles, about 420 driving miles south of San Diego. The drive from San Diego is slow, yet entertaining as you progress at first along the Pacific Coast and then inland through the vast and bleak Baja desert. Numerous road repairs, contraband checkpoints and small towns make for an eventful drive. I spent a day and a half enroute to Bahia de Los Angeles driving alone along the narrow and often-bumpy Mexican Hwy 1. At first I was apprehensive about driving alone, but found the drivers and traffic along the way to be more "cooperative" than on roads here in the U.S. Armed with numerous topographical maps and no set itinerary, we met and camped on the beach at Bay of L.A. Thursday evening. Friday morning provided a spectacularly-colored sunrise as a breaking cloud cover flowed eastwards over the Gulf as it created rainbows, occasional sprinkles and gusty winds. Nevertheless, we unfolded several maps and set the day's agenda, to climb the highpoint of the Sierra las Flores (620 meters) which appeared to be a simple and short hike, just what we needed to get an overview of the area. Driving an incredibly washboarded dirt road out of Bahia de Los Angeles, we headed south for several miles on the road to Bahia San Francisquito and discovered a spur road that ended about two miles from the range's highpoint. After a couple of hours of relatively easy hiking we were atop, enjoying expansive views of many "new' mountains and unexplored and undocumented terrain. Since we found no register, we concluded this was a first ascent. The wind had really begun to blow and it was cold, despite the fact we were only a few thousand feet high near the Sea in central Baja. This being the case, we found wind shelter and pondered over several maps to consider the next day's plan. Since many options existed, we chose to climb the highpoint of the nearby Sierra las Animas (1190 meters) which would give us exceptional views into the archipelago and beyond, hopefully to mainland Mexico. Returning to the trucks, we continued driving south until dusk where we camped alongside the sometimes-sandy-but-otherwise-good dirt road beading north into Bahia de las Animas. Saturday morning, after a casual breakfast and brief visits by a friendly coyote, we continued driving several more miles north and discovered a spur road that headed west across an alluvial fan towards the highpoint. From here, it was three air miles (maybe four hiking) and a 3,700' gain climb to the highpoint of the Sierra las Animas (Mountains of the Ghosts/Spirits) which is a well-defined and sizeable range that juts into the Gulf and separates Bahia de Los Angeles from Bahia de las Animas. It was an eleven hour day of hiking through rugged desert terrain. The cactus and plant life there are interesting variations of similar low-desert vegetation seen on many DPS peaks. Unique though, are the huge and ancient-looking cardon cactus. During the climb, the views into the archipelago, across Valle las Animas and the Gulf of California were breathtaking and beyond our expectations. There was no register or cairn on the summit, so we concluded that this was a first ascent. We made a loop and hiked two hours in complete darkness on return. The sunset was a stunning display of shadows as it set across the landscape and Sea of Cortez. A very rewarding hike and a challenging route made for an exceptional day of hiking. That evening after a few cervezas, under clear sky and the "roar" of distant wave-crashing, we agreed that this was OPSing (Obscure Peaks Section) at its finest and awarded the Sierra las Animas highpoint "our" coveted "emblem" status.
Sunday morning just couldn't have been any nicer. It was a glorious day. So, after a casual breakfast, we again pondered over several maps and decided to climb the highpoint of the Sierra los Paredones (890 meters) which was on the way back to Bahia de los Angeles. By all evidence this appeared to be a simple bike and we anticipated an early return to the trucks and then to drive several hours towards home before camping. However, when the route unfolded, we were confronted with several very narrow pitches of exposed class three which forced a tedious route around steep talus slopes. Nevertheless, the summit was attained in good time but we again returned in the dark due to unexpected route detours. It seems you shouldn't underestimate even the easiest-looking climbs from a distance. That night, we drove back towards Bahia de los Angeles to camp. Monday morning, we departed camp and began the long drive towards home. I stopped at sunset and camped near Maneadero at Arbohtos, which is a spectacular bluff perched a couple hundred feet above the Pacific shoreline south of Ensenada. Barking seals and crashing waves were the perfect backdrops to the setting sun and a breezy evening. Tuesday morning, I refueled at Ensenada and returned on Mexico Hwy 3 via Tecate, then home to San Diego.
Undoubtedly, Baja has some of the most rugged and pristine desert to offer the adventurous peak bagger. Not to mention the rough access roads! It was also refreshing not to deal with permits, park fees, dirt road fees, locked gates, or see any red stakes, powerlines, railroads, gas pipelines, interstates, or other significant manmade structures. I thought Cabeza Prieta was remote, but Baja is a near-frontier when you leave the paved roads.
Notes on Driving
At this writing (December 1996), the last reliable gas was at Catavina and the price was about $1.30 per gallon for (Magna Sin) unleaded (N$ 25.6 [pesos] per litre). PEMEX stations are not self-serve. Expect attendants to fill your tank and possibly wash your windows for a fee.
The PEMEX station at the junction with the road to Bahia de los Angeles is abandoned. Gas can be purchased for $2.00/gallon at Bahia de los Angeles. Expect to pay $1.55 at each of three toll stations on Mexico Hwy 1 between Tijuana and Ensenada. Alternatively, you can take the slower Mexico Hwy 3 which emanates from Tecate, just east of San Diego via Hwy 94.
Expect to stop for road repair crews and Any checkpoints. I had to stop about ten times total. The Army checkpoints can range from a simple "wave through" to a thorough search. My "worst" experience was having a soldier pick through my daypack, several cargo containers and inspect my truck's cab, especially under and behind the seat. They are specifically looking for "arms" and "marijuana" (their words).
I took a day and a half to do this drive alone. I departed the border crossing at 9:30 A.M., stopping as necessary, refueling at El Rosario and camping several miles down the dirt road heading to Santa Catarina. The next morning I refueled at Catavina then proceeded to Bahia de los Angeles. I was able to get from Catavina, tour around and return to Catavina on a tank of gas. In Bahia de los Angeles, Las Hamacas restaurant is a good place to eat in town.
We found the Mexican 1:50,000 maps to be very accurate for topography, but road information wasn't as good. Several road junctions had "moved" since the maps were printed and other roads added.
Plan to be totally self-contained with adequate water, a reliable high clearance 4WD vehicle and (preferably) two-way radio between vehicles.
We found GPS to be of significant assistance to help identify road junctions and to record our route. Other essentials we used were gloves, binoculars, headlamps and a small strobe light to facilitate precise vehicle location after dark.
Prior to our Thanksgiving weekend expedition to Baja, a group of OPSers (Obscure Peaks Section) ventured to Tijuana to visit the government publications office there. This is the place to go to purchase Mexican 1:50,000 and 1:250,000 scale topographic maps. They cost N$ 20 (pesos) ($2.56/per) which is much cheaper than buying them locally here at the Map Centre in San Diego where the last reported price was $9.00 (per map).
Our venture started by taking the San Diego Trolley from Old Town to the International Border, then walking for about half an hour into downtown Tijuana. The office is officially called Instituto Nacional de Estadistica, Geografia e Informatica (INEGI).
Their address is: Calle 2da. y Constitucion #8083 Antiguo Palacio Municipal Zona Centro C.P. 22000 Calle 2da. Also known as Benito Juarez.
Office hours are from 7 A.M. to 7 P.M. Monday through Friday. Tel. 85-15-70 Tel/Fax 85-67-86 Tijuana, B.C. The building is on the southwest corner of the intersection across the street from a Calimax store and the small office is in the northeastern corner of the two-story structure.
We were assisted by senorita Maria de los Angeles Cuautle T., a very patient lady.
Their collection of maps for Baja was fairly complete and maps they didn't have could be ordered. It would be a good idea to know some Spanish and to bring shipping materials in case they have to forward ordered maps to your home address. I would presume you could order maps for the mainland (anyone going to Orizaba?) as well.
For more information, their home page is:
or you can Email the main office (somewhere else in Mexico)
We found their 1:50,000 scale maps to have accurate topo information, but several of the roads were outdated and some were not even shown. Nevertheless, this added to our adventure. We spent several days climbing range highpoints around Bahia de los Angeles, about 370+ air miles south of San Diego. I will eventually write a complete trip report on this expedition.
The following write up is for the highpoint of the Sierra las Animas, which we thought was the best climb we did and surely the one with the best scenery and challenge. The accompanying map reveals two routes (one for ascent, the other descent). We concluded the descent route would work best for both directions and is the route described below.
SIERRA LAS ANIMAS
DRIVE : From San Diego, CA, U.S.A., cross the International Border at Tijuana, Mexico and drive Mexican Hwy 1 south for about 380 miles to its junction with Bahia de los Angeles Junction. Turn left (east) and drive 42 miles to the village of Bahia de los Angeles. Reset your odometer. From the center of the town of Bahia de los Angeles at the end of the paved road, go south on a graded dirt road that heads toward the south end of the bay. At close to 5 miles pass a small ranch on your left called El Porvenir and continue straight ahead. At 9.9 miles pass the diggings at Las Flores. Continue south through the broad Vale las Flores and through a low pass after which the road curves east around the south end of the Sierra las Animas. After 26.7 miles turn left at a junction with a sign on the main road indicating San Francisquito is another 65 km. UTM at this junction is: 269160E, 3174110N. Reset your odometer and head north toward Las Anirnas camp on a sandy road which may require 4WD in some spots. At 6.9 miles go left at a fork and then at 8.8 miles look for a faint track on your left. UTM where this starts is: 279750E, 31 85740N. Turn left and follow this little-used track to its end in 0.9 miles. There is limited parking here for three vehicles. CLIMB : The highpoint is visible 3.0 miles (4.81cm) west on a bearing of 271 degrees. Hike west for about 400 meters and then go NW up a canyon and then over a ridge into a large wash that goes west. Follow this wash for about 2 km to a point at about UTM 266700E, 31 86120N, where you want to ascend a steep slope to the west between two canyons. This slope is somewhat less rocky and offers a route to a higher ridge that leads generally west to the north side of the summit.
RT STATS : 3,700' gain, 8 miles, 10-li hours. NOTE: In the winter months allow enough time for the hike since navigation at night is difficult in this terrain. Recommended topos : Bahia de los Angeles, H12C52, 1:50,000 Isla San Esteban, H12C52, 1:250,000 The UTM zone for the area is 12R.
Suggested Maps : AAA Baja California Suggested Books : AAA Baja California ($8.95) Exploring Baja by RV (Wilderness Press $18.95)
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