El Picacho del Diablo


By: Bob Michael


Eight very fortunate Desert Peakers accompanied Ron Fracisco last Thanksgiving in surely the mellowest ascent of Big Picacho ever made, In weather so perfect it was almost too perfect; any warmer and it would have been too hot.

We met Thursday morning at the curve on Mexico highway 5 just NW of the San Felipe "city limits" where a dirt road turns W to Valle San Felipe. On the drive down the previous day, Ron and I checked out the northern entrance to Valle San Felipe via the paved Valle Trinidad road which heads toward Ensenada 30 miles north of San Felipe. While this route may seem to have the advantage of pavement partway, it is not nearly as good; once one leaves the pavement, it is very hard to keep one's bearings, We drove to the Canon Diablo roadhead in axle-deep dust at times, trying to keep momentum so Mark Hurst's little two-wheel-drive Toyota pickup wouldn't sink out of sight in the brown talcum powder.

We set off backpacking at 11 under that passionate Baja sun which shines through your very bane marrow, and made the famous entrance waterfall with little trouble. The only problem was a few folks who tried to climb high around the fall, ran into a 5th class pitch, and had to back-track. Really, it's easier to go over the fall.

Up ahead, the canyon was a vista of destruction from the hurricanes of the past few years. It looked very much like the Big Thompson Canyon in Colorado, which, you remember, flushed in summer 1976 and killed many people. Brush was totally gone; it was replaced by stacks of huge, polished boulders with stretches of clean gray sand. The bush-whack of earlier years is now a boulder-hop. First night's camp was made in a cozy room-sized bed of sand tucked into the boulders.

Next night we thrashed our way into Campo Noche (?); the brush is largely intact for the last couple miles, and makes you thank the Lord for hurricanes. The climb next day paced by Ron's slow but careful route-finding, was enjoyable as it was uneventful, and at 1:00 we were enjoying the sun-drenched summit, hot even at 10,000'! The view stretched from the Pinacate mountains in Sonora to the white flashes of Pacific surf, and south into Terra Incognito - Cerro Matomi and beyond, "a great good country" (E. Abbey). By the time we were feeling our way down Night Wash, we fully appreciated the circumstances of its naming.

The pack out was made in one and a half days. We paused at the waterfall to shoot-the-chute, end then it was over - maybe the finest Desert Peaks trip I will ever experience, one where the people, the weather, and the mountain combined into one of those rare and precious times in life when you are totally happy and know exactly what you're here' for.

NOTES: 1) For real Mexican soul food in spotless surroundings, try the Hotel Lucerne on Calzado Justo Sierra, which is the main N-S business drag on the east side of Mexicali. Get the Swiss Enchiladas. 2) Good grub may be held in San Felipe at a motel-restaurant (I forget the name) which faces on the Gulf at the far south end of the main business street.

Bob Michael
Brown Bear Mountaineering Club
Grand Junction, Colorado

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