Volcan Mountain, Las Tres Virgenes


By: Wes Shelberg


Volcan Las Tres Virgenes is the name given to three completely separate volcanoes north of Mexico Highway #1 between San Ignacio and Santa Rosalia in Baja California Sur. The AAA Baja California Map gives elevations of 6547, 5670 and 4600 for the south, middle and north peak respectively, and the National Geographic Society Map of Mexico and Central America (Oct. 1961) lists the name and the 6547 ft. elevation. In my opinion, a view worthy of the view of Mt. Shasta from a distance (delete the glaciers) is presented as one drives eastward from San Ignacio and eventually views the south volcano (Volcan Sur by my terminology) from a rise. Last Winter the temptation was too strong to resist as I passed Volcan Sur on my way home from Cabo San Lucas, so I chanced a solo climb the next day.

Mexico Highway #1 generally trends east and west as it passes within a few miles of Volcan Sur on the south side. When roughly south of Volcan Sur it passes a "Rancho" (No es Rancho Grande) on the road's south side. South of the Highway in this area are extensive black surface lava flows. To the west of the Rancho (perhaps a mile or so) where the road bends to the west (maybe 45 degrees) as it points to San Ignacio, there is a major entrada (arroyo) on the north side. It is flat, maybe 1/4 to 1/2 mile wide, trends north, and is filled with the dense, arboreal, cordon-cholla cactus jungle characteristic of that region of Baja. Faint vehicle tracks enter the entrada and the vehicle was parked a few hundred yards within where it was hidden from view. I offer my apologies for these sparse directions, but I have lost my field notes containing exact distances and elevations.

If there are no obstructions, views of Volcan Sur from the general area encompassing the entrada reveal two enormous, extensive "shoulders" reaching perhaps half-way to its summit. These must have been formed as subsidiary volcanoes, pumice cones and/or lava flows. These are estimated to be a few miles away from the parking area in the entrada. As one looks north, the left (westernmost) shoulder is singularly spectacular, being truncated to form a long relatively flat plateau which is declined away from Volcan Sur to a considerable degree. It resembles a loaf with the top sliced off or else a shield and will be referred to herein as the Shield. The two shoulders are separated by a major drainage (arroyo) which ascends between then towards Volcan Sur and finally bends to the left (westward) to a shallow saddle between the Shield and Volcan Sur.

I started north ( 8 A.M.) through the entrada jungle and soon reached a line of lava cliffs (perhaps 100 ft. high) which were easily climbed. The full volcano was in sight at the top of the cliffs at select peek-a-boo places among the cactus. I proceeded up the aforementioned drainage to the shallow saddle between the Shield and Volcan Sur, turned right, and climbed (2000 ft. ?) of pumice and rotten rock directly to what appeared to be the summit. I gained the summit to discover (the same old story) that it was one of about four close-together elevations surrounding a depression whose floor was perhaps 500 ft. below the west summit I had gained and was perhaps 1/4 mile wide. An east summit among these elevations is perhaps 500 higher than my west one and looked like nice rocky class 2-3 climbing. Vast panoramas are seen from the west summit including views SE to the Gulf of California and what might be Cerro Don Carlos, 4424 ft.

Alas, I had already used up seven hours, it was already 3 P.M., the sun would set about 5 P.M., and I would accordingly have to pass through the cactus jungle at night or simply stay out all night. Accordingly, the idea of reaching the slightly higher eastern elevation was abandoned in favor of a retreat which involved going directly down Volcan Sur's slope to the lower part of the drainage between the two shoulders, thus shortcutting past the Shield-Volcan Sur saddle. This shortcutting descent is not recommended since the pumice, rotten rock and (later) the sticky plants along this route are treacherous, and it was impossible to "scree-ski". The cactus jungle was negotiated by compass, stars, sense (?) of direction, silhouettes of distant peaks, and flashlight (it was necessary to tip-toe a crooked path and cross sharp lava flows), and the lava cliffs by the entrada were finally reached. After much searching, a safe way down the cliffs into the inky depths was found and the relatively short entrada cactus jungle was negotiated to the vehicle (10 P.M.).

The climbing day and subsequent night were clear with salubrious temperatures, and being "stuck" out in the cactus or being rim-rocked at the entrada cliffs all night would not have imposed discomfort or danger. However, a weather warning is imperative with respect to Volcan Sur. It is capable of fogging and clouding-up really fast, and I have frequently seen it immersed in vast clouds around Christmas. The day after my climb dawned absolutely clear, but while I turned my back on Volcan Sur during breakfast it started to cloud-up, and very shortly the top half was covered and remained so all day. Sometimes temperatures may be exceedingly cold in the winter. I don't know anything about the snow situation with respect to Volcan Sur.

Oh well, on to the east elevation sometime, using an overnight backpack to provide more time.

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