El Picacho del Diablo

April 1979

By: Larry Tidball


In April of 1979 I had never climbed a Desert Peak, nor had I seen one closer than from the interstate, and I knew nothing about the DPS. The only thing I knew about Big Picacho was the story I heard told a couple of years prior at the LTC lecture; 100 people strung-out in the canyon, broken limbs, returning days later than planned, etc.

None-the-less, I found myself accompanying Kathy Quinn and Stan Icen south to Baja in Kathy's old Toyota. I don't recall what we had in the way of directions, but I know that they didn't help much after we turned south off of Mexican Highway #3. After spending most of the day going up and down the wrong dirt roads we finally found the dry lake, but in the maze of tracks on the lakebed missed the turn to Rancho Santa Clara and ended up in a canyon a mile or 2 to the south, where we proceeded to bury the car in the sand up to the axles.

The next morning we dug the car out, returned to the dry lake, and found the correct turn to the rancho. However, not knowing that we should have taken the sharp right turn just past the rancho, we continued on to more dead-end wrong roads. We finally found the trailhead and were able to start the hike by mid-day on the second day of the trip.

Hiking up the canyon we soon came to the pool beneath the waterfall. The water was high and there seemed to be no way past on the polished rocks. We knew that their should be a bolt on the face next to the waterfall. With Stan and Kathy standing neck deep in the water and me standing on their shoulders, I still couldn't reach the bolt to attach a sling for us to climb up on.

We then hiked up and over the ridge to the right of the stream and back down to the canyon so we were above the waterfall ( My recollection is that this was about 1000' of gain to make 20' of net gain.) We had left our backpacks down below expecting to haul them up on a rope. But before doing that we took stock of our situation, and realizing that it was now late in the afternoon of the 2nd day of the trip, and there was 4 more days of this to do the peak, and that we were due back at work in 2 days...so we decided to go home. We took off our boots and sitting down in the stream were swept over the falls into the pool below.

Arriving at the boarder crossing in the middle of a holiday weekend, in a car that was rather worse from the wear of the trip, the 3 rather scruffy looking climbers must have caught the attention of the Customs Officers. After some hours of going through the packs, removing door panels, dissembling the Seva stove, they must have decided that we weren't importing anything but dirt, because they let us pack it all up so we could continue on home.

I haven't been back to climb Big Picacho yet, but I did end up with a nice sketch map of all the wrong dirt roads that don't lead to the trailhead.

Detailed information for visiting one or more peaks mentioned in this article can be found in the
Desert Peak Section Road and Peak Guides

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