El Picacho del Diablo

14-May-99 (private trip)

By: John Cheslick


Big Picacho. I was told this was one of the hardest peaks on the DPS List but also a really fun climb, at least once you are finished with the climb. Big Picacho is a challenge for many reasons. Among them are: plenty of elevation gain - 8,400', long dirt road drive, 60+ miles, and the challenge of travelling to Mexico. Well since I still "needed" the peak and I didn't know anyone who was going to lead a trip, I decided to organize my own trip.

We did this trip from the west side up the standard route as a three day backpack. I thought this would be the easiest way to climb the peak. Originally, it was just going to be five of us but a week before the trip I found another three willing participants. So we were a group of eight with three cars. The participants were Richard Whitcomb, Judy Hummerich, Lori Beck, Phil Reher, Rich Gnagy, Bruce Hope from Portland, Oregon and my wife, Donna.

In researching this trip I found details lacking as to a good route description and the times it took parties to do the climb. Hopefully, this write-up will help. I also included GPS way points at the end of the write-up to assist with the navigation. I would like to thank Dean Acheson for providing me with some of the listed way points and also with some navigational hints.

We drove down Friday during the day. I got mixed messages on whether a tourist card was needed for Mexico so I had everyone get them. They weren't needed. No one asked for them at the border or on the drive south of Ensenada. However, I just read in the paper that they will be required after July 1st and that there will be a $15 fee. The drive from LA (LAX) to the trailhead took 10 hours. That includes about 20 minutes to change a flat on the dirt road but no meal stops. A breakdown of the time: 2 1/4 hours to San Diego, 2 hours to Ensenada, 2 1/4 hours to the dirt road turnoff to the park and 3 1/2 hours to the four wheel drive trailhead. The drive home took almost 11 hours, including a 1/2 hour at the border. If you return on a weekend allow more time to cross the border.

We drove all the way to the 4WD trailhead. However, I am not sure that it is permitted. There is now a sign that reads ("Hikers only") at the beginning of the road. I was told that you can get a permit to drive this road at the ranger station. I asked whether I could drive to Los Llanitos but the ranger didn't understand my Spanish. (The 4WD trailhead is not always called Los Llanitos on all maps, which may have added to the confusion.) So we risked it and drove in to the trailhead.

The driving directions in the DPS Guidebook (3rd edition) are fine. Two changes though, Lazaro Cardenas Blvd doesn't end at Calle General Sangines, so look for a street sign. To find Calle Sangines on the return trip home look both for the Pemex station on the NW comer and a huge (no pun intended) Gigante supermarket sign on the SW comer. (There are a couple of Pernex stations on the west side of Hwy I coming into Ensenada so the Gigante sign is a helpful landmark.)

Saturday morning we began our hike from the shack heading for Blue Bottle saddle. The start of the hike is the wash just north of the saddle. You follow this main wash (ignoring minor forks) till you come to the main trail south of Scout Peak. Another option, which avoids some boulder-hopping and bushwacking through the wash, is to find a use trail on the north side of the wash that avoids the wash for about a third the distance to the waterfall. We didn't find this trail going to Blue Bottle but we did find it on our way back.

We took a break at Blue Bottle saddle and Bruce and Phil climbed Blue Bottle Peak. The group then hiked towards Pinnacle Ridge until we found a ducked trail going down into Diablo Canyon. This use trail is very good but it is easy to lose if you don't pay attention - the use trail wanders down the west side of the canyon and the closer you follow it, the fewer dry waterfalls you encounter. A couple of dry waterfalls require some scrambling but nothing too difficult. Once at the bottom of the canyon the ducked trail meets up with Goring Gully. The use trail then follows the west side of the canyon bottom through some thick brush until it widens. From that point follow the wash and look for Campo Noche on the east side of the canyon.

Sunday we started up for the peak at 7 am. I found the route up Night Wash to be straight forward and well ducked. However, there are many different options, all ducked going up the first part of Night Wash. We found going up the middle of the wash to be the best. Before the end of Night Wash, you climb a low ridge, climb over that ridge and bear right up a steeper and narrower gully. Once you reach the top of the narrow gully, the end of Night Wash, I believe you will be at the beginning of Slot Wash. We stayed high on the south side of Slot Wash again following ducks and red cloth markers put in the trees. (These red markers were found all along the route and tended to be the most reliable indicators of the route.)

We followed Slot Wash for approximately 700 feet until we got to a fork in the Wash. This fork is where a large granite knob is located on the rock ridge between the fork in the wash. Go north (left) and continue up the wash to about 9000' (or the top of the P class friction slope mentioned below) where a brush-covered slope opens to the left. Turn (following good ducks) and go up (first north, then east) to where a low-angle granite slab leads up into a narrow gully. This is the beginning of Wall Street. The narrowest part of can be climbed via easy ledges on its right side. Follow Wall Street up to the main summit ridge and turn left to the summit.

I never did notice a sharp left turn which is noted in Jerry Schad's write up nor did I notice a "unavoidable long, steeply inclined slab of rock." Bruce, who was leading the group for the day, climbed up a rock slab on the left side of Slot Wash. This is presumably the 3 d class friction slope talked about in some guides - it can be avoided by either 2 nd class climbing immediately to the right of it or by staying in the center of Slot Wash. The rest of the group avoided the slab by climbing up the talus slopes on the right.

We spent about a half hour on the summit enjoying the views and reading the register. It was a clear day and we could see the Gulf of California and the route we had climbed over the last two days. It was some of the most rugged and remote desert terrain I had ever seen.

The climb down was uneventful and we were back down to Campo Noche by 4:30 pm.

Monday morning we left camp at 5:30 am to avoid the heat and to make it back to LA before midnight. It was slow going up the canyon with a full pack but the group made pretty good time and we were back to the cars by noon. We stopped at the ranger station to buy t-shirts and I was home by 11:30 pm that night.

It was a great successful weekend and now I am that much closer to finishing the List with Picacho being number 94. Thanks goes to all the participants, especially Bruce for leading most of the trip and to Bruce and Richard for assisting with my flat tire.

Hiking Times

Day 1: Los Llanitos ("the shack") to Blue Bottle Saddle: 2-3/4 hours. Saddle to Campo Noche: 3-1/2 hours
Day 2: Campo Noche to the Summit: 4-3/4 hours. Back to Campo Noche: 4 hours
Day 3: Campo Noche to Blue Bottle Saddle: 4-1/2 hours. Half hour break at the saddle. Saddle to Los Llanitos ("the shack"): 1-1/2 hours

I believe these times are reasonable for a moderately paced small group.

Picacho del Diablo GPS Waypoints

These waypoints are UTM coordinates and are useful in locating some key landmarks and trail junctions. However, paying attention to the map and physical landmarks is more useful. UTM, Zone 11R

0650655/3425942 - Shack at Los Llanitos
0651454/3426763. - Following the trail from the trail towards Blue Bottle, the trail splits (just past the "circle 3" on Schad's map)
0652156/3427638 - Use trail junction with main trail from Vallecitos
0653336/3427542 - Blue Bottle Peak
0653654/3427763 - Spot just north of the ridge east of Blue Bottle approximately where trail heads down into Diablo Canyon
0653118/3429462 - Campo Noche
0653549/3429312 - Low ridge crossed in Night Wash
0654006/3429508 - Beginning of Slot Wash
0654872/3429680 - Beginning of Wall Street (fork in wash, take South fork)
0655116/3429933 - North Peak (Big Picacho)

Detailed information for visiting one or more peaks mentioned in this article can be found in the
Desert Peak Section Road and Peak Guides

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