Canon del Diablo

Nov 1991

By: Bill Oliver


It was on US 10 west of Indio that CB radio contact was finally established with Larry Tidball and Barbee Hoffmann. "Hola! Scot Jamison y Bill Oliver están aqui - comprende?" [I have translated the rest of the story into English. You want the unexpurgated Spanish version? Send me a sase with $50!] All right! We're getting serious now. Insurance was purchased for the two cars in Calexico, and about 11 pm Wed. we crossed into Mexicali. After an inadvertent diversion east on Mex 2, we zoomed south on Mex 5, then west on Mex 3, pulling over for the night about 1:30 am. Upon awakening, we were sorely perplexed as to the significance of the long line of short, 3-4-foot-diameter rock piles found along the road.

Other than Larry about a dozen years ago having approached the canyon entrance (rf. Desert Sag. 1/91, #211), none of us had been near our southern-most DPS-Listed peak. For all those years Larry had been carrying his carefully crafted preliminary map for the trailhead. Back and forth he drove now. Back and forth - taking careful note of every discarded tire, stick and post. With Barbie's help, the final version would be truly magnifico [awesome). The Rancho (Santa Clara) was rather inelaborate - we first drove past it without stopping. The solitary jefe [boss] was content to accept $10 from us - no questions asked. [Note: our trailhead is farther north, and on a separate road, than the one at Cañon Diabilito cited in the DPS Peak Guide.)

We started off down the ducked trail at 10 am in slightly breezy but pleasant weather. The (in)famous pair of cables was soon at hand, which dispelled any possible lingering doubt as to the correctness of our canyon. We hauled our packs across separately here rather than risk too much weight on the webbing which attached the cables to the two hangers (a pulley would be useful). Having skillfully overcome the fiendish entrance guardian, the canyon was now ours - far out!

The subsequent first part of the gorge is comparatively wide with slow gain upstream. About 1-1/2 hours in, we were surprised to spot four hunters moving rapidly up-canyon in our direction. We were soon also surprised to note that they were attired like militia and were advancing with large automatic weapons in hand. The solution was evidente [obvious): Barbee would distract/charm them long enough for the rest of us to bravely escape and go for help. Somehow, she failed to perceive this as the ideal solution - and the encounter was at hand. I fired the first salvo with a disarming. Buenos dies, Señores. This evidently had the desired soothing effect as they quickly perceived that we intended no harm to them. We got the notion across that we were just climbers and were not involved in hunting, which is forbidden in the national park, nor in drugs- and then we took a hike. How they were alerted to our presence remains a mystery. [Perhaps our CB radio use somehow attracted them.)

As we had made good progress, and in view of the short day, we established campo numero uno at 3:30 against the west wall in a broad stretch of the canyon at about the 1000-m (3300-ft) level. It was clear and calm. Having assured Barbee that we had just been kidding earlier, we eagerly set about readying for our Thanksgiving feast. Beside a blithe, warm campfire in a majestic, cool setting, four thankful souls irreverently stuffed themselves with Barbie's diligently prepared and orchestrated fete: appetizers, wine, mashed potatoes, roast turkey and gravy and cranberry sauce, dressing with apples, more wine, veggies, etc.. all set to candles and appropriately decorated plates and napkins. Later, already past full, Barbee then sprang the pecan and apple pies on us. It was agreed by all that, no matter whet might later ensue our expedition was already a great success - and we christened the campsite forevermore as Campo Turkey. Way to go, Barbee!

Friday we broke camp about 6:45 and headed up canyon in good if somewhat cool weather. This late in the year, we were mostly in shade. Cat's Claw regularly savaged any who failed to give it a wide berth. At one point the stream banks narrowed to zero at a small waterfall. I suppose that in warmer conditions one simply wades through it. However, we traversed directly across an inset ledge poised high up the steep left wall. This was a little awkward with our packs but a rope was not needed. We reached Campo Noche at 2:30, such arrival being aided by large rock cairns near the stream. (There were no orange-colored markings.) A CMC outing lad by Dale Van Dalsem arrived from the west side a couple of hours later, and they camped below us. The early evening was not suitable for a campfire due to then breezy [Mach 1.3) conditions.

The crystal flakes began their quiet, lazy (and uninvited) descent into our camp about 1:30 am. By the time of our 4:30 wakeup, however, the dark scene was fully blanketed up to an inch. Ratas! [Rats!] We were now unexpectedly confronted by una sierra nevada [a snowy range). Our game plan for the day required that we climb the N and S summits, break camp and pack part way out. With fresh snow our progress higher up would be significantly less than required. Had we the whole day to invest in the effort, we would have attempted the climb. A small group of Europeans was going for it as we departed back north at 8 am. The CMC group had headed home earlier.

By 10:30 we had gradually left the white-washed wintry wonderland behind us, and at noon we were back at the narrow little waterfall. I was able to manage the high exposed traverse, partly crawling on hands and knees, but it was very awkward and I cautioned the others thus. They vainly tried to skirt the falls by climbing high around it on either side back upstream. Eventually, they accepted the chilling, inevitable alternative, however, and scantily waded through it, while I shot photos and offered warm encouragement. We set up camp about 3:15 in a primo (primo] narrow part of the canyon with a small cave Campo Cuevita. It was calm, we were calm, and the little fire quietly blazed as we happy-houred on fresh popcorn, salmon fillet, cool beer and warm camaraderie.

Sunday we ware off at 7:30 and reached the cables a little past noon. Although anchored, both of them were lying on the downstream side and unreachable. Eventually one of us succeeded in frictioning up the steep, slick rock to reclaim the lines, and the way was clear. {A cable should be left in place for each direction.) Just below the cables, Scot went into a fit of unrestrained ecstasy, having reclaimed our undisturbed beer cache. It doesn't take a whole lot to keep Scot happy. A short ways out of the canyon we stopped at a sunny pristine pool so that I could Ice my knee, which I had bumped the day before. Having stripped for this action, I was soon beset upon by three other naked, frenzied bodies and we all reached the cars exceedingly clean in body and spirit.

The route in general was often ducked, and we all had a hand/foot in leading- the second or third person usually taking over when the lead lost it. The one-way distance /gain to Campo Noche is about 14 mi./4500 feet. Warning: the border crossing at Mexicali going N is a different road than when entering S - keep a lookout for border signs. Special thanks to Graham Breakwell for his trusty cañon insights. We were also aided by the John Robinson book [Camping and Climbing in Baja, 19831 and the Jerry Schad topo [Parque Nacional San Pedro Martir, 1988].

Our Cañon del Diablo reconnaissance had been a great success - for this, and more, we had much to be thankful. But, Devil beware - someday we'll be back!

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