El Picacho del Diablo


By: Gene Gail



Headlines read: RECORD 42 CLIMB BAJA CALIFORNIA'S HIGHEST MTN Nov 24-27" This holiday weekend saw the largest crowd ever assembled on the top of Big Picacho(Cerro de la Encantada), 42 triumphant souls. The weather was perfect, no one got hurt, we had a little time to rest and got out early enough to get home by midnight Sunday.

People kept drifting into the meeting place all night Wed, and the caravan moved out at 7AM the next morn for the Santa Clara Ranch roadhead. We paused a few minutes for one tire change and a picture-taking session when the mountain with a little scarf of clouds stood up so proudly above the dry lake bed. 46 of us began the hike across the desert at 10AM and were soon at the canyon mouth, shortly to be greeted by the first waterfall. The stream ran well. Here, the two tragedies of the trip occurred. One hapless fellow set his pack down too hard and broke a bottle of 150 proof run in it. This proved most tantalizing, as the lovely smell persisted almost the whole trip. But even worse, Bill Banks discovered that in his pack was a broken jar of honey! Ugh! Imagine that! Bill Clifton came in a day earlier, and had placed a climbing rope for us over the waterfall-good man. Here we were able to quickly negotiate this most vexing obstacle quickly and we got about half way up the canyon by nightfall.

We started hiking at dawn and established a new campsite, a quarter mile below Cedar Camp(the traditional take-off point), arriving about 2PM Fri. The leaders climbed a western ridge high enough to see the peak, and a more direct route avoiding Teapot Ridge, was selected. This is the so-called "night route" and was used once before as a descent that took place at night, hence the term. It comes directly dawn from the slot Wash, and hugs the north slope of Teapot Ridge all the way. Resting the remainder or the day made tigers out of the party and the next morning all contenders were standing in line at 5:30(still dark) ready to march, Graham Stephenson, Eric Schumacher, and Bill Banks were not AWOL as they had gone ahead of the group on Thursday clear up to Cedar Camp, in order to climb Blue Bottle Peak on the southwest rim of Canyon Diablo on Friday. Bill Clifton had climbed up Slot Wash Friday and slept there among the icicles. The good group was there on the North Summit (two feet higher) of C de la E at 10AM Sat to view the Sea of Cortez, the entire Sari Pedro Martir Range, the Pacific Ocean, and the mainland of Mexico! All spread out in a spectacular panorama. John led a group of 15 over to the South summit, where Bill Clifton was intercepted for the first time while Gene commended the rest down to camp plus another 1-1/2 hour hike down the canyon to a lower camp. About dark the entire party was once again unified!

Sun morn we all jumped off at 6 o'clock on the double for the long stumble down the canyon. One follow hooked on statistics, counted the group crossing the ever loving stream 208 times! This is, indeed, a measure of its difficulty. We arrived back at our cars about 2 PM Sunday. From here it was 42 miles of dirt road back to the main pavement of the Mexicali-San Felipe highway.

I think the grand success of this event was primarily due to these factors: 1. Bill Clifton' s rope-placing. 2. Pilot Abe Siemens taking Gene Gail for reconnaissance photos of area some time back. 3. Scouting of the route within recent years by the leaders. 4. The considerable physical conditioning of the party members, that made them suited to carry packs up this tremendous canyon for two days, and then top it off by the 4,000 ft climb to the summit in just about 4-1/2 hours.

Let no one underestimate the difficulty of this climb. It should be led by the Section at least every other year, and those who wish to climb it in private parties should seriously consider the greater safety and more reliable route finding by waiting to join a scheduled event to this Emblem of all Emblem peaks.

Co-Leader John Robinson has prepared a map of the area and is probably one of the most accurate ones known. There are no topo sheets here. He adds: " I have received a communication from the Departmento de Geografia Secretaria de Agricultura y Ganaderia, Mexico, DF to the effect that CERRO de la ENCANTADA(hill of the enchanted lady) is the proper name for this peak, highest in Baja California. El PICACHO del DIABLO seems to be a Sierra Club colloquialism, even though climbers agree that the latter is the more fitting name for the thing, La PROVIDENCIA, the original Spanish name for the peak, is now seldom used."

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