El Picacho del Diablo


By: John McCully


Big Picacho from Blue Bottle

The text on the new Big Picacho map mentions that in 1987 one Edward Gerety day hiked this monster from his car in 17 hours. I suppose Edward is some kind of world class athlete who does such things to entertain himself between marathons. After several months of pondering whether my 49 year old body would survive such an ordeal I finally let Wendy prod me into a more modest backpack to Blue Bottle with a day hike of the peak from there.

It's easier than it looks.

On the 13th Wendy and I packed in to the saddle just North of Blue Bottle. Acting on a suggestion from Dale Van Dalsem we used the following road head: from the park entrance we drove 10.2 miles to the far side of the Vallecitos meadow and made a sharp right turn. 2.3 miles further we came to the usual trailhead in a wide sandy wash marked by a large duck. One mile later was a huge tree lying across the road, the 2WD limit. 100 yards past the tree we turned left off the road for 50 yards into a hollow where we hid the car. At this point we were 200 yards of easy cross country from the normal trail along the bottom of the wide sandy wash, and about a mile closer to Blue Bottle than the usual starting point for this trail. The trail leaves the sandy wash on the left within 300 yards to the East of where we joined it and is well ducked and fairly easy to follow all the way to Blue Bottle, especially with the new map (which also shows another shorter trail starting further down the road).

The only water (apparently seasonal) we saw from the trail was about a 20 minute walk from the campsite just above a large rock formation.

Because it was cold at night and hot during the day I decided to forgo the usual extra clothes and foul weather gear in favor of a sleeping bag and bivvy sack. Thus the only option available in case of bad weather would be going to bed. The bright side of this approach would be that I wouldn't have to stay up all night tending a fire, the usual result when I overreach.

On the 14th I left camp (9400 feet) at 6:05 AM and reached Campo Noche (6300) at 7:40 and the summit (10,154) at 11:10. Nobody was more surprised than me at the 5 hours it took to get to the top of Big Picacho from Blue Bottle. The original plan called for turning around at 1:30 PM if the summit hadn't been reached. I carried a CB walkie talkie and was able to continuously reassure Wendy as to my health. Since we could talk while I was on the top (which is 2 miles from Blue Bottle) Wendy was able to make me out on the summit block. The only time we weren't able to communicate was for the 1000 feet above Cedar Oak Camp. I got back to Campo Noche at 2 PM, spent an hour and a half sleeping and otherwise wasting time and got back to camp site at 6:40, one tired puppy.

A couple of hours were spent walking out on the 15th and we were home by 8PM.

The map is by Jerry Schad and is available from some book stores and perhaps from Centra Publications 4705 Laurel Street San Diego, CA 92015

Detailed information for visiting one or more peaks mentioned in this article can be found in the
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