El Picacho del Diablo


By: Ron Jones



The three day weekend of February 21-23 was chosen by seven Sierra Clubbers for a second attempt on Cerro de la Encantada, highest peak in Baja California. Arky Erb, Ruth Karimi, Gordon MacLeod, Milke McNicholas, and I had decided to renew our acquaintance with Canyon del Diablo and we had two newcomers to the area along, Pat Donegan and Jim Powers. In this account of our trip, time on the trail will be mentioned when deemed important, in order that others who might follow the route can adjust their climbing times and know where they are in the canyon.

Because of mechanical difficulties with one car, we did not begin our climb until 10:00 A.M. of the 21st. The waterfall near the mouth of Canyon del Diablo was reached in 35 minutes. During the time since the scheduled Club trip last November, three bolts have been placed up the left side of the falls, but we weren't able to use them because we didn't have hangers. One man without his pack made a detour over the ridge to the north and was at the upper end of the falls in 20 minutes. After leaving a fixed rope over the falls we were soon on our way.

One hour later we reached a point where the canyon makes a sharp turn to the south. Look for ducks at this point which lead away from the stream and up the canyon wall to the left. We crossed a low ridge and descended several hundred yards upstream. An hour and a half more climbing found us at the junction with a large canyon to our right, at about 3600 feet elevation. We went left and in another hour of climbing reached what appeared to us to be the largest side canyon leading into Canyon del Diablo. This canyon was to our right and had no water in it. One half hour later we reached the second largest fork in the canyon, also to the right but with a small stream. In both instances we stayed to the left. Just beyond this side canyon one finds the first cedar trees. After another thirty minutes of climbing, at about 4800 feet elevation, the canyon walls narrow and one must scramble up the water-worn rock slopes to the left of the stream. The overnight camp of our November attempt on the peak was passed one hour and 16 minutes later, and 25 minutes beyond we made our camp at about 5850 feet.

We were in Cedar Camp the next morning after a 40 minute scramble. Actual time spent traveling from the falls to Cedar Camp was six hours and 45 minutes. All things considered - boulder scrambling, brush-wacking, and almost innumerable stream crossings - meant that we could not have been making more than one and a half miles per hour. Therefore Cedar Camp must lie about 10 or 11 miles above the entrance falls. Our previous try at the peak saw us make two attempts up wrong washes which headed toward the Pinnacle Ridge. It is the consensus of opinion among ourseleves that Canyon del Diablo does not extend more than two miles beyond Cedar Camp, making the total length of the canyon probably not more than 13 miles.

From Cedar Camp we followed the Bernhard Route description which appeared in the December 1963 issue of SUMMIT MAGAZINE. A brief synopsis of this description in incorporated in the following material. Cedar Camp is rather easy to locate when you keep one major feature of Bed Bernard's route in mind. The camp lies at the intersection of Canyon del Diablo and a rocky wash leading in from the north. A prominent bald rock dome known as the Teapot is located on the ridge to the left of the rock wash. In fact, there are several bald prominences to be seen up this rock wash but the Teapot is the closest. This is the only canyon we noticed with the obvious domes. Cedar Camp can also be located 50 yards to the north of rock cairns on either side of the stream in the canyon. If one goes beyond Cedar Camp, the canyon forks and the north fork gets steeper and has several rapids and small falls.

Starting up the rock wash leading NE from Cedar Camp, we first located the Teapot. We stayed in the wash no longer than necessary, and one hour later crossed over the ridge a 7150 feet, directly above and behind the Teapot. The Club attempt in November made the mistake of contouring the ridge too low and crossed just below the Teapot. After crossing, we contoured toward a bald ridge which had an eight foot tall dead pine stump on it. Crossing the ridge 100 yards above the stump, in an area of scrubby trees, we saw another rock wash running to our left and ahead of us. This is the Slot Wash, up which we traveled.

The Slot Wash is actually a sort of "hanging canyon", not visible from Canyon del Diablo, and tributary to the large canyon up which Andy Smatko and two others climbed in November. It "hangs" above this large canyon and would be extremely difficult to enter from below.

Memorize the spot on the ridge from which you descend into the Slot Wash in order to locate it on your return. This is the only place on the route up where you loose elevation. Several ducks were seen in the Slot Wash as we proceeded toward the peak. 55 minutes after starting our descent into the Slot Wash, at about 8500 feet, we came to a rocky prominence which divided the wash. Our directions stated that we should avoid sharp turns to the left or to the right out of the wash, but this was neither, so we chose the right or south fork. This later proved to be a departure from the Bernhard route, which we discovered goes up the left fork.

15 minutes up the south fork we ascended the ridge to the north (this ridge of which the rocky prominence was a part) and saw a pinnacle on the skyline ridge with the north summit of Cerro de la Encantada visible to the left, and the south summit hidden behind the pinnacle. This was the first time since before Cedar Camp that we saw these peaks. The pinnacle is mentioned in the Bernhard route description, and one is supposed to climb around it to either side and then on to the peak. We followed the ridge between the two forks of the Slot Wash and one hour and tem minutes later crossed in back of the pinnacle, from the south, at an elevation of 9840 feet. A few minutes later the seven of us were on the south summit, the first party to ascend since April 17, 1962. Including ourseleves, there has been a total of 162 ascents recorded in the register since 1932. It took three hours and 40 minutes of climbing to gain the south summit from Cedar Camp.

After making a 30 minute traverse of the ridge between the south and north summits, and negotiating several nice third class pitches en route, six of us stood on the north summit, which is 20 inches higher than the south. We left one man in the saddle between the summits. The north summit has last been climbed January 28, 1964 by a party of three. The register on the north summit was damaged by ice and water several years ago and now is not as complete as the register on the south summit.

In descending the peak we dropped into a chute leading directly from the north summit and were slowed by third and fourth class pitches which necessitated belaying several members of the party. This was the first time since the waterfall that we used a rope. Our descent definitely is not a recommended one and we were slowed up 30 minutes or more. We dropped into the north fork of the Slot Wash, which upon descending appeared to be the route described by Bud Bernhard. We thought it would be more difficult to ascend than our route on the ridge and therefore we would recommend the ridge. Three hours and 40 minutes from the north summit we were back in camp below Cedar Camp. Rather than descending over the Teapot and down to Cedar Camp, we went down a short rocky wash (see accompanying map) which the group on the Club trip of 1958 had used and called the "right route". The next morning, five hours and 50 minutes after shouldering our packs, we passed the falls at the mouth of Canyon del Diablo. Thirty minutes later we reached the road head and completed a successful weekend.

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