El Aguja


By: Bill Hauser


Baja California is the land of giant cactus, elephant trees, cholla and other sorts of unusual vegetation. It is the land of good beer and good tacos with hot sauce. After spending a week in La Pat sleeping late and tuning in to the cactus world, I heard about the Sierra Laguna mountains south of La Pat and about 20 miles from Todos Santos. Rancho La Barrera was the place to enter the Sierra and the high point, La Aguja would be a 5000 foot gain. Louise and I arrived in the town of Todos Santos which lies almost exactly on the Tropic of Cancer at 23 1/2 degrees north latitude. We got information at a local cantina on how to find the roadhead at Rancho Barrera.

The first night was spent in the cactus forest with a few tinkling cowbells around to give a sort of "alpine" feeling the lower Sonoran Zone of Mexico. The next morning we took a wrong turn and our road dwindled down to a tiny stream bed of sand. I almost got stuck backing out of this trap. We continued on to our roadhead through thousands of acres of cactus and elephant trees being bulldozed out. This was to be planted with "Buffalo Grass", a perennial grass to feed cattle. It was sad to see but the growing population of Mexico needs "carne" (meat).

We arrived at La Barrera, the end of the road. It was an opening in the cactus forest with some pretty palm thatched-roofed huts around it. The ranch families were very friendly and relaxed. They seemed very content, even without electricity and paved roads; quite content to do hard work and go to bed early. This must have been similar in appearance to the mission era in California, 200 years ago. We talked with the ranchers and after a while everyone was all smiles. We were given a guide, Manuel Salvador Salvatirra.

He suggested we all go by horseback but I really needed the exercise. The price of a horse would have been only 12 dollars and the other ranchers though we were "cheap gringos". I think they understood later that we wanted to hike, especially after I showed them my boots and knapsack.

The next morning on December 31st, the final day of 1975, we got up at 5am. We gathered in the ranch kitchen around a nice warm fires listening to the roosters, pigs and dogs waking up. About 5:30 Salvador arrived on a while stallion and off we went.

Louise and I followed our guide. Hundreds of switch backs took us from 1800 feet to about 5000 feet. Above this on the north facing slopes there are mostly yuccas and two species of oaks. Above 5500 feet we saw Apache Pines in shaded glens. Above 6000 feet there were nice meadows but we saw no running water. Our guide pointed to a small pool, 10 feet by 4 feet, and exclaimed, "La Laguna", or the lake, in a jesting manner. He knew it wasn't much of a lake but in Baja even this is something to rave about!

We made a big circular route to the summit. I actually saw a stunted fan palm at 6500 feet. The summit area is well watered but it all soaks into the granite sands. Temperatures were ideal. Salvador stopped just below the summit and waited for me. I had the "turistas" and had to go to the bathroom 4 times en route and I was somewhat weakened. That ranch food doesn't stick with you!

We were on top in 7 hours from the ranch. Only 25 people have signed in the register since it was placed on April 17, 1973 by Jon Inskeep and Steve Rogero (see accompanying story by Jon Inskeep...editor)

The sun, clear skies and views from the top were astounding. Views of both the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez and the curved coastline of Cabo San Lucas and the tip of Baja were astounding! What a fantastic peak! How about adding it to the DPS list and schedule it as a private or a CMC trip? What a great Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter vacation trip this would make.

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