El Picacho del Diablo


By: R J Secor


This trip got off to a sad start with the death of Ron Jones' father-in-law. Ron remained home to comfort his family, but he made generous use of his limited time to give details of the route to Jim Hinckley, Kent Santleman, Graham Breakwell, and me. We piled into Jim's van and drove to Mexicali, and on to sleep in the desert that night, north of the dry lake in the Valle de San Felipe.

Once we were on the dry lake bed we found some bright orange stakes. Closer investigation revealed that they were the route markers for an off-road race. We had seen some support crews along Mexican Highway 3 the night before, and we wondered if this was the route of the Baja 1000. We soon left the lake and visited the small ranch at the base of the peak. Nazio told us that the trailhead was six miles away, and the safest place for Jim's van would be at the ranch itself. We gave him a tip, drove the remaining distance to the trailhead, and decided to leave the van there.

Hawks flew over us as we approached the entrance to Canon del Diablo, a wild place with beautiful rock walls. The cable at the first falls was most sporting, and the four of us swung across the polished rock slabs without incident. We proceeded up the canyon to a camp at 3,600' that night; the campsite featured spent Mexican-made Bleust cannisters and mountain lion tracks. The next day we hiked up to Campo Noche, made obvious by the words carved into a fallen log, highlighted with fluorescent orange spray paint.

It was a great relief to shoulder day packs on our third day. We followed Night Wash, Slot Wash, and Wall Street to the summit of the north peak of Big Picacho. We weren't able to see the Pacific Ocean, but the Sea of Cortez was visible, and I swear that I could see the mouth of the Colorado River. Eleven hours of daylight forced us to move quickly, however, and we soon left the summit, descended to Campo Noche (I suffered a tick bite along the way) and hurried down the canyon to a camp at 4,000' with minutes of daylight to spare.

We continued to hurry down the canyon the next morning, and didn't pause to take a real rest until beneath the first falls. Swimming in the pool beneath the falls was delightful, and we soon marched on to the van, relieved to find it unmolested.

We stopped at the ranch on the way back. Nazio wasn't there, but another ranch hand asked us for some beer. Evidently the staff of the ranch has come to expect beer from peak baggers! Then back to the dry lake, where we made our big mistake. We got on the wrong road after leaving the lake. The road was loose, sandy, and probably had been torn up from too many off-road racers. There was no stopping now, unless we wanted to get stuck for a long time! Jim ordered everyone over the rear axle, and he lugged the van what seemed an eternity until reaching the safety of the pavement of Highway 3 at sunset. Another highlight of the trip home was crossing into the United States. Immigration officials neglected to ask Graham Breakwell, a proud member of the British empire, which country he was a citizen of!

El Picacho del Diablo is one of the great peaks of North America. It has great vertical relief, surrounded by desert on one side and a forested plateau on the other. I hope the CMC makes this an annual trip.

Six or seven years ago a San Diego climbing group led by Will Tapp climbed Big Picacho and found the register notebooks in a sad, soaked and bedraggled state because of a leaky register container. They brought the register papers down and Jane Rausch took the notebooks and papers home where she dried and straightened them. Shortly after I led a group including Jane and Lou Brecheen to the peak and afterwards Jane told me about the papers in her possession. I was going up again soon on a Memorial day climb and she offered to get them to me for returning.

Joe McCosker heard of this register, asked Jane if he could look at it and afterwards pass it on to me at the DPS Banquet. Well, I didn't attend the Banquet and Joe didn't get them to me until after my climb. I went down again later that year with Paul Freiman, Jim Hinkley, Doug Mantle and others and I brought my bundle (several bedraggled notebooks and a clutter of many loose papers, scraps, business cards, 2"x2" gauze pad wrappers, and a label from a can of Fed Mart Hawaiian Pineapples) up to Campo Noche. Paul wanted to look at the registers in camp so I passed them to him to read and asked that he put them afterwards in his summit pack and carry them up the next day. The next day after reaching the top I asked Paul for the papers and as I asked, a look of consternation crossed his face. He had forgotten and left the notebooks in his backpack below.

Moving on in time I organized yet another trip to climb El Picacho with Karen Leonard, Ron Hudson and others and this time I left the papers with my clean clothes at the roadhead!

Finally I organized a climb of Big Picacho with the CMC for November 1990. I transcribed many of the pertinent entries for this SAGE writeup, my youngest son, Keith, joined the CMC just for this climb and then early in the very morning that Jim Hinkley, R J Secor, Graham Breakwell, Kent Santleman, my son and I were to leave, Leora's father died ( read RJ's account of the climb on page 43 ).

So the notebooks, Keith and I stayed behind and I hope to finish the job on a fast climb with a small group this April. Anyway, here are selected register entries from 1966 through 1984. Not all climbs have entries as some pages are illegible or missing from the collection. Incidentally I found my signature from 6 of my prior climbs. Ironically, all the subsequent registers now reside in the safe-keeping of the Alpinistas de Tijuana who took all the prior registers down when they left their fine new register box and book.

There are 3 categories of memorabilia to go through: The oldest is a 6 ring leather binder with a sticker on front reading "Desert Rats Uninhibited - Dedicated to the principles of absolute & total unusualism". This probably was placed on 11/26/66 by Gene Gail (John Robinson - verbal ) which is the oldest loose page entry I found. Entries from this I have cited with a #. There is also a fabric flower print vertical spiral bound notebook placed on 12/27/73. This citation is *. Finally there are many loose scraps the oldest of which is 11/29/69 although there is an earlier entry dated only 1969. This citation is @.

* 11/26/66 Gene Gail & John Robinson, Ldrs. 42 people summited. Bill Clifton climbed one day ahead of the group & placed all ropes. Bill Banks broke a quart of honey in his pack & --- broke a bottle of 151 rum. There were 208 stream crossings. Graham Stevenson, Eric Schumacher & Bill Banks also climbed up to Blue Bottle. Others: Steve Smith, Bob Greenawalt, Leon Pimple, Wally Henry, Bob Van Allen Froy Tiscareno, Ed Stork, Joe McCosker, Jerry Keating, Jerry Haven & Wayne Inman who carried out for the 1st time a wet register book (Steve Smith verbal - maybe the loose papers that were there before this- Ron J). Robinson took a group of 15 to the South summit.

* 2/13/67 The book is back. A long account of a 3 day climb from the north (Diablito?) with 360 ft waterfalls & a "Hell's Canyon" traverse. Signature lost but maybe from Claremont CA.

* 11/25/67 "Signing in memory of Joe Darrow who lost his life on this ascent" Ldr- Ed Lane , Asst- Dick Beach. Others- Dennis Burge, Carl Heller, Art DeGoede, Norm Rohn, Alice Lewis, John Castel, Guyon

* 2/10/68 - name illegible, claimed to fly in via helicopter

* 4/6/68 Howard Stevens, Abe & Helen Siemens, Jim Jenkins, Horace Ory, Dick Searle, Mac Terrell, Bill Rausch, Lew Hill

* 4/20/68 Steve Roper, Rod Dornan, Janet Niece

* 8/13/68 After walking since 6/17 from Tecate with 3 burros and a long story-David Roderick, Los Altos & Howard Briettgenbach, Torrance

*11/30/68 Paul Nelson (after 4 tries) Bob Herlihy, Bill Wickmer, Art Rich, Bill Schuller, Dan Brother, Bob Mason, George Davis, etc

* 4 other 1968 enties including 3 by the San Diego S & R Group.

* 3/20, 3/25, 3/27 Outward Bound with 30 sign-ins including Art Mcars who climbed the peak 3 x (from C. Noche?) in 6 days.

*3/27/69 Desert Rats Unlimited up from Canon Diablito, 3 days with full Keltys to the top. John Wolfe, Howard Weaver.

* 4/1/69 Loma Prieta Chapt. trip with 10 climbers led by Bill Rausch

* 4/24/69 Helen Kilner & Jene Crenshaw- founders of Summit Magazine

* A few other parties with 11 persons total

* 11/29/69 Bernard Mallet, Jon Fredlund, Ed Held, Don Austin, Frank, Mike & Jon Reisly.

* 4/30/70 Vagmarken group with Jon otter, Jerry Martens, Brian M. (10 y) & Chris Martens ( 8 yrs & the youngest climber I found)

* 11/28/70 Will Tapp with 5 in the 1st of Will's many ascents.

* 4/6/71 San Gorgonio Chapt. Cal & Letty French + 10

* 5/19/71 Sierra Club knapsack trip - Phil Marten + 9

* 5/26/71 Sierra Club knapsack trip - Tom Amneus, asst, + 9

* 11/26/71 U of AZ Ramblers saw big horn tracks in snow between the two summits

* 11/27/71 Chuck Harmon signed in on the back of a La Bella Classical Guitar strings label when he got his DPS emblem

*11/27/71 John Robinson led a group of 29 (?) on a DPS climb including Duane McRuer, Harry Brumer, L. Machieder, Dick Akawie, Bernie & Jon Petitjean, Gary James, John Backus, Sue Lynch, Al Campbell, John Linden, Phil Bruce, Joan Hack, Eric S. Ron & Lois Fracisco, Ch Youngberg & Fredrick A Bodie Jr. at 72 the oldest ever. 1971 was a very popular year with more than 125 signatures. @ 4/1/72 Paul Lipsohn, Jon Hardt (emblem), Doug Mantle, George Hubbard, Ann Wianecki, Steve Rogero + 4

* 11/25/72 DPS Ron Jones, 4th ascent, Jim Jones, Roy Ward, May Heishi, Betty & Steve Dessert, Delores Holladay, Sue Lynch, Ken McNutt, Tom McNicholas, Cuno Ranschau, Ron Webber + 17 more.

* 9/2/73 San Diego Rescue -13 climbers. Saw a bighorn above C. Noche.

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