Pico Risco

3-Feb-96 (Private trip)

By: Mark Adrian


Despite a week's worth of rain and snow here in Southern California and a less-than-ideal weekend weather forecast, our group of four, including one determined soon-to-be-DPS-list-finisher, headed south into Baja for an attempt on Pico Risco, Parque Nacional Constitucion de 1857.

Departing at a comfortable 8 AM Saturday morning under cloudy skies in San Diego, we passed through Tijuana about 9 AM enjoying lite traffic and scenic ocean views as we sped south along Mexico Hwy 1 towards Ensenada. Arriving there about 11 AM we decided to sample the local cuisine at La Casa de Tortilla where we found a tasty menu and reasonable prices. Still early in the day, and only one peak scheduled for the weekend, we casually followed the updated Guide's directions (see Sage #240, pp 54-56) and flawlessly snaked our way through the back streets of Ensenada and were soon once again en route on Mexico Hwy 3 headed for Ojos Negros. Just before (west of) the road turning north off Mex 3 to Ojos Negros is where we found the last Pemex station until La Rumorosa. From Ojos Negros, the paved road becomes dirt. A few mud puddles merely slowed our progress and made a mess on the truck. Nevertheless, the road even then is passable to two wheel passenger vehicles as was evidenced by several passenger cars and vans at Laguna Hansen. The Guide's 1991 9.2 Pico Risco Drive "stick" map is impeccable as numerous spurs, forks and intersections attempt to lure you the wrong way. Arriving at Rancho San Luis about 3 PM, we were greeted by a barking, but friendly dog, as we approached the Ranch House. Since Terry knew enough Spanish he introduced us to Chato, his daughter Ophilia and her husband. Terry had also been there in 1991 on an ill-fated trip via Canyon Guadalupe and was familiar with residents at the Rancho. Terry chatted with the ailing Chato (now 78 years old/young) and we flipped through Chato's photo album that revealed Terry had indeed been there before.

Fortunately, we had only a couple of sprinkles as the weather had began to clear Saturday afternoon. We drove back just outside the Rancho's gate and found a great camping spot in a sandy wash. It had been a long drive in, so most were in bed early despite a roaring fire, clearing sky and near-full moon. Maybe it was the '93 Ensenada Cabernet having its way.

Awake by 6:30 AM Sunday morning, we were more than thankful for a gloriously clear sky and no winds. It could not have been better hiking weather. Since the hike was short, we took our time drying dew-soaked bags and blankets, enjoying breakfast and the beautiful pinyon pine and boulder strewn terrain being painted by the rising sun.

We didn't depart the Rancho until 8:30 AM following the Guide through washes and low saddles up to the saddle south of the summit boulders, somewhat startled at the immense view as we peered down into Canyon Guadalupe and Laguna Salada. The Sierra de Juarez escarpment is a miniature version of the Sierra Nevada. From here, the route can be a little elusive, so we hit a few dead ends traversing north towards the summit block. This, though annoying, always seems to enhance the adventure. After passing through the keyhole we finally found the route up to the "loosely termed" knife edge traverse and to the bottom of the step-across. A little perplexing, this obstacle was easily maneuvered by all in the party, some twice for pictures and posterity. The summit's register only went back to 1993, canister and tablet in excellent condition, ours the first ascent for 1996. We noted though that the register indicated the summit's altitude at 1,575 meters which is nearly two-hundred feet higher than the Guide's 4,987'. The old register(s) had been removed by a Tijuana mountaineering club and put in their archives.

Since it was only 11 AM we lunched on the summit blocks while taking in the views of the raw and expansive desert lands in the "great beyond". We finally departed the summit about noon. However, using Terry's GPS, we took a more direct route back to the Rancho, attempting to make a loop trip. While there was more up and down, we did find an alternate route and once again proved the viability of GPS in a homogeneous and sometimes confusing terrain.

Arriving back at the Rancho about 2 PM, Ophilia had prepared a wonderful vegetarian Mexican lunch for us, including a spicey vegetable broth soup and tostados, all home/hand made. Since they don't have refrigeration, meat, chicken and fish are luxury items they can rarely afford. It's more than educational to see how these folks rely on and work with their environment for sustenance. Ophilia and her husband have been nursing her ailing father Chato for nearly two years now. She works a seasonal garden, has hens for eggs and a variety of fruit trees plus she harvests pinyon nuts. They filter water from a nearby spring and charge car batteries from a manually rotated set of solar panels that feed a DC-to-AC converter. Pot belly stoves heat the house which she claims can get "mucho frio!". In fact it had snowed earlier in the week since they are at about 5,000'. We brought "gifts" of fresh fruits and clothes. Any DPSers traveling to this trail head should consider the same in addition to any building supplies or furniture items. It looked like they could use just about anything you'd bring them and they're more than grateful.

After lunch and conversation, we departed about 3:15 PM, this time heading north towards La Rumorosa, making a loop trip. Again, the Guide's "stick" map was impeccable. One minor correction, though, the "worst spot on entire road" has been cemented and is not a problem. We even saw a "lowered" two-door sedan heading south past this point. We hit pavement just at sunset heading west towards Tecate on Mex Hwy 2, passing through a drug checkpoint just outside town. Of course, we had to stop at a bakery and stuff our faces full. From here a quick and easy border crossing had us back in the U.S., westbound on 94 and arriving back in San Diego about 7:30 PM. Great adventure, great weather, great peak, and great friends made this a memorable weekend in Baja. Participants : Carol Snyder (this was her 95th DPS peak!), Mary McLain, Terry Flood and myself, Mark Adrian

P.S. Thanks to Carol for driving the entire way. Her truck got several layers of mud and probably a few new scratches, which now, she takes in stride.

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