El Picacho del Diablo
By: Greg Roach
This was a private trip. We did a five-day backpack up Canyon Del Diablo. Our schedule allowed for swimming in the stream and time to enjoy the beautiful Canyon surroundings. We spent two days Inking to Uampo Noclie, a day to climb the peak and two days back to the cars. Our group consisted of Linda McDermott, Jim Hinkley, Dave Boyle, Linda Roman, Ken Barr, Patty Rambert, Elaine and Dave Baldwin, and last but not least my better half Mirna. We were an enthusiastic group and a good time was had by all.
The group met at the Chevron Station at the intersection of Interstate 10 and Highway 86 just a block north of the freeway in El Centro California. Meeting time was 9:30 a. m. and by 10:00 we were back on the freeway headed for Mexico. We followed the D.P.S. Guide driving instructions south on Mexican Highway 5 to Mexican Highway 3. After stopping for lunch in the Mexican desert off Highway 3 we arrived at the dirt road turn off 20.4 miles west of the intersection of Highways 5 and 3. The guides driving instructions are good to this point. The spot were you turn off the paved Highway 3 is marked by two old rusty, barely readable signs. This intersection is at an easily recognizable spot in the road where Highway 3 makes a right turn and starts to climb up hill. From this intersection you can see the Sierra San Pedro Matir Mountains clearly and the dry lake, Laguna Picacho, which you will soon be driving across to reach Rancho Santa Clara. The roads are also shown on the Automobile Club Baja California map. However, the following changes to the driving instructions should be helpful.
From Highway 3 turn left on the dirt road and drive about 4 miles to a fork. (We didn't see an abandoned rancho here as the guide mentions). Stay left here on the main road and continue for about 2.6 miles to the edge of the dry lake. There is an intersection here. Turn right and proceed south on the dry lake following the main track. In about 8.8 miles you will come to a fork. Take the right fork, which leads up and out of the dry lake. In about a mile you will see a fence and soon the corral at Rancho Santa Clara. Past the Rancho follow the fence line and stay to the right at a fork. In 4 miles you will come to another fork. The left fork goes to Canon Diablito the right fork goes to the trailhead at Canon Del Diablo.
We stopped at the Rancho and were greeted by many children. Mirna spoke with the family in Spanish and told them of our plans to climb the peak. We brought food and clothing for the family and the kids were especially happy to see the cake that Linda Roman brought for them. After asking permission to leave two vehicles at the ranch we drove up to the Canon Del Diablo trailhead, dropped off all the gear and shuttled two cars back to the Rancho. We left two cars at the trailhead and had no problems with vandalism.
The best map of the area is Jerry Schads map of Parque Nacional San Pedro Martir from Centra Publications. This topo maps shows all the climbing routes on the mountain. We followed route 8 up Canon Del Dialbo to Campo Nache.
The water level in the Canyon was very low this year. I had seen pictures of the cables at the entrance waterfall where there is usually a large pool of water right below the falls. One uses the cables to get up and over the falls by holding on to the slings attached to the cable and walking up the step rock wall. I had heard stories of having to use a long stick or swimming in the pool to reach the cable but this year you could walk right over on stepping stones and grab the cable without getting your feet wet. There are many other waterfalls, swimming holes and obstacles to get around in this magnificent canyon. We found a couple of slings to be useful in some situations. The canyon is rugged and wild there is much boulder hopping on this route. We camped the first night at a very comfortable sandy beach just above 1100 meters. This was about 7 miles in from the trailhead and about 1500 ft elevation gain. The first day we started about 7:45 a.m. and were in camp by 3:30 p.m. this included time for swimming which some thought was the best part of the trip.
The next day we left camp at 7:45 a.m. and explored a side canyon coming in from the east which had a beautiful little waterfall in it. At about 1250 meters there is a large canyon coming in from the west (route 17 on Jerry Shad's map). Above this canyon at about 1300 meters the canyon enters a beautiful area of red metamorphic rocks with pools and falls. Which of course meant more swimming. Above 1500 meters the tail gets into some heavy brush and more boulder hopping. It is a challenge to find the path of least resistance. There are places in the upper canyon were the stream goes underground but there is water at Campo Noche. We got to Campo Nache the second day at about 5:00 p.m. after traveling another 7 miles and 2500ft gain.
The third day we left camp at 6:30 a.m. to climb the peak. There are many ducks all over this mountain. Some mark the correct route and some were probably put there by someone else who was lost. We followed a steep ducked route up Night Wash and had a good view of the canyon at the top of Night Wash as well as the route up lower Slot Wash. The summit is not in view from here. It is off to the left out of sight. Here you can see the rock mass that divides Slot Wash at an elevation of about 2500 meters. Take the left gully at the rock mass and climb on slabs on the left side of the canyon to bypass waterfalls in the gully. Then stay on the left side of the gully and follow the ducked route heading north toward Wall Street. We didn't stay on the left side and ended up too high on the ridge before I realized my mistake. Then we had to find a way back down to Wall Street. This was rough terrain but we found a way back over to Wall Street and discovered a plaque in memorial of Joe Darrow, a climber who died on the peak and was buried there. The summit was finally reached at 2:00 p.m. There was a great view of the Gulf of California, the canyon we came up, and the plateau to the west from the top. We returned to camp by 7:00 p.m. just before it got dark and some hearty souls took a dip in the ice cold waters of the pool at camp.
The fourth day we retraced out steps back down the canyon at a leisurely pace stopping to take pictures and swim and enjoy the canyon. It was easier finding a route that avoided the brush coming back down canyon except for one place where I took a wrong turn and we ended up in terrible brush. It actually looked more like the tropics than a desert canyon with tall ferns and little sunlight. At lunch that day Dave Boyle, from Maine, had his picture taken surrounded by California girls in bathing suits to show his buddies back home. Wish they all could be California girls. Right Dave? That afternoon we were back at the same sandy beach campsite we stayed in the first night.
The last day we were out at the cars by 2:00 p.m. after stopping for swimming as usual. Ken and Dave Boyle put on a good show for us sliding down a waterfall into a pool. We were glad to see no one had broken into our cars when we got back. We got back to El Centro that night about 9:00 p.m. after an hour wait in traffic to cross the border. We had dinner at the Denny's restaurant there and the food was surprisingly good. We said goodbye after dinner to a great group of people. Glad you could all join us. Mirna and I reached home about 1:00 a.m. that night. It was a great trip.
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