El Picacho del Diablo

May 1988

By: Julie King


This trip came about because Carolyn West and I were not able to get on any trip going to Big Picacho. Everybody wanted to keep his group small.

We decided we didn't need to go with anyone that had been there before; we would just get all the maps and information and go. We asked several other people that we thought might be interested. Before we knew it, we had 7 people anxious to go and several that wanted to go but couldn't. Our group consisted of we two instigators, Bob Ferguson (good with ropes), George Tucker (strong hiker and 'I' rated), Steve Crooks (strong hiker and good with ropes.), Bob Sumner (strong hiker) and Dick Agnos (experienced hiker).

As time went by, the group started getting smaller. The first dropout was Bob Ferguson who fell off his bike and goofed up a knee, eventually needing surgery. The second one to bow out was Bob Sumner, who had his vacation cancelled because of heavy work load. Next was Agnos, unspecified reason, but I suspect it was lack of confidence in organizers!? Well, we still had four, we didn't need any more, 2 to a 4 WD vehicle (mine and George's). We had a rope man, an 'I' rated leader, a good navigator (Carolyn) and me.

Less than a week before we were to leave, Carolyn decided it would be foolhardy to go since her back was bothering her from an accident she had experienced. At this point, I must admit I was having some doubts. However, George and Steve were still anxious to go.

At about 7:00 p.m. Friday, May 6, 1988, we left Steve's house in Huntington Beach. We arranged to get together with George by the side of the road going into Calexico. We waited two hours in Calexico and could not find him. We even checked with the highway patrol to see if there had been any accidents.

We finally left; George had maps and writeups and all the information. About 3 a.m. we stopped and slept at the turnoff of Highway 3 and dirt road to dry lake bed. At 7 a.m. we left and for a couple of hours wandered back and forth on the west side of the lake looking for the road to the Santa Clara ranch. Eventually we blundered into a side road that led to the road and through the herd of cattle to the house. The road was further south than we could make out from the sketch in Gene 0lsen's writeup.

The man who owns the ranch was very nice. I told him what we were planning and asked him if the truck was going to be o.k. He said yes, - just lock it, and asked how long we would be gone. He was appreciative that we let him know, since he owns all the land right up to the canyon mouth. I told him George may be coming, that we had lost him, and described his vehicle. We gave him a lot of stuff we'd brought: beer, fresh corn, etc. and he seemed happy about that since it was very hot and I'm sure they don't get to town often. We left the truck at noon at parking area and got to the trailhead and after a while to the lousy 4' waterfall. Since there were only 2 of us now, we had to figure out how to handle It. Steve had his long rope, short rope, biners and slings. There was a 1" post and some other artificial aid on the sloping rock on the left side about 15 ft up. He managed to loop the rope on the 1" post. With me standing on one end of it he climbed the rope he had knotted. He then pulled the 2 packs up and anchored them. I went up next with Steve anchored with slings and belaying me. I descended the same way above the waterfall, changed to tennis shoes, stood in the water and Steve lowered the packs to me. He then walked down, pulled the rope free and we were on our way without getting wet.

At 3 p.m. we stopped for about an hour by a pool and got in the water and rested since we hadn't had very much sleep the night before. At 6 p.m. we found a nice sandy protected area for camping. Steve went to look for firewood and there was George (passing us by!). We were happy to see him and he was happy to find us.

He explained he'd missed the turnoff road to Calexico and drove up and down on the main Street in Calexico but couldn't find us. He'd found the ranch after a fashion and negotiated the waterfall by rolling stones on the left of the hole and climbing up the waterfall with his pack on his back!

On Sunday we had a 12 hour day from 7 to 7, boulder hopping, crossing the stream countless times and fighting the brush. When we got to Campo Noche, Ron Bartell and his party of 4 were already there. They had just gotten back from climbing the peak, after having come in from the west. He and his group left at 5:30 am the next day and we left at 7:00 to climb Picacho del Diablo. The route is well ducked but somehow we went off route about 1/3 of way up and it was an hour before we got back on after looking for a shortcut. Eventually we made the top and were back at camp after 10 1/2 hours.

Tuesday we left at 6:30 a.m. to reverse our trip. I lost my down jacket; it pulled loose somewhere in the brush. Since I was last, with my 2 speedy companions ahead, I didn't notice it was missing until the red rock area. Steve went back to look for it, but couldn't find it. While he was gone, I changed socks having stepped into foot deep water. George took the opportunity to apply a couple of band aids to his toes.

We had another grueling, long day, stopping just short of 12 hours at the "big bend" area. It was a balmy, warm night and we were serenaded by the frogs. As we were getting short of food we shared and had quite a respectable dinner. Steve contributed onion soup and a limp carrot, George cooked an herb noodle dinner into which we put in a can of tuna that I had. We drank tea and each had 3 large M&Ms. George provided breakfast of granola the next morning. Wednesday we left at maybe 7:30 a.m. and were at the cars by 10:00. We again used the rope to get our packs around the waterfall without getting them wet. We all jumped in the pool afterwards, cooled off and relaxed for a while.

We drove to San Felipe for lunch after stopping at the Santa Clara ranch to let them know we were out and to thank them. I gave the man (I wish I'd gotten his name) $10.00. Our vehicles had not been disturbed. He even asked us when we'd be coming back!

Going north on highway 5 from San Felipe, would you believe, we were flagged down by the military who were standing in the middle of the road. We thought it was a check point of some sort, but all they wanted was a ride to Mexicali. There were 4 of them - an officer and 3 enlisted men with their duffel bags. I made room in the back for 1, being careful to take Steve's camera that fell out of his pack up front. Steve gave him a cold can of something since it was scorching hot. George took the other 3 and we gave them the 100 mile ride. There was no traffic at the border on this Wednesday and we drove right through after dropping off the soldiers.

I could not have had better companions than George and Steve. I want to thank Steve for his rope work and both of them for route finding since they were always ahead of me; also for the occasional helping hand. We followed the John Robinson book on the trail and Gene Olsen's directions from a write-up to get to the trailhead.

Suggestions: It would be helpful that someone in the party speaks Spanish and always stop at ranch and let them know you are going to be climbing and how long you expect to be gone. I would recommend something else in addition to beer (maybe a sack of California oranges or apples). Stop afterwards and let them know you are out - maybe giving them some money.

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