El Picacho del Diablo
By: John McCully
Tanya, Igor (her father) and I got off to a brisk start at 5:10 AM, just before dawn. Igor's training for this monster hike had consisted of laying kitchen tiles the previous three weekends. I trained by doing Big Iron, Inyo and then Snow Creek as day hikes. Tanya trains by going to ballet three times a week. Igor had shown some foresight by making Tanya wear her heaviest winter boots, but still couldn't keep up. One of life's defining moments, I suppose, is having a daughter leave you in the dust. With Igor disposed of, it became my turn to have these 52 year old bones ground into the dirt by a 17 year old young woman.
After making me promise repeatedly to not leave Tanya and warning us to avoid Gorem's Gully, Igor turned back at Blue Bottle Saddle and we dropped into the the canyon. The first water appeared just above where Gorem's Gully joins the main canyon. I discovered that the top to my iodine bottle had rusted shut and couldn't be removed despite herculean efforts. Tanya pointed out a mysterious looking foam in the stream. It turned out she was carrying two quarts of Orange County's finest tap water so I relieved her of a couple of pounds and we continued on to Campo Noche, arriving at 8:30 AM.
Tanya had done Big Picacho up Diablo Canyon a couple of years ago, contributing to the sensational "buns" photo at the 1991 DPS banquet so now we were on familiar territory. The game thus switched from my leading the way to increasingly vain attempts on my part to keep up with Tanya. Every once in a while she would pause until I heaved into sight before she went shooting on ahead. At 11:45 she summitted, 6 hours and 45 minutes after leaving the car at Los Llanitos. I arrived five minutes later. We got out the walkie talkie and spent half an hour chatting with Wendy, Igor and Suzanne, who were at the saddle North of Blue Bottle.
On the way down I began to feel nauseous. Having to wait for me to finish gagging was really cramping Tanya's style so when we got to Campo Noche at 3:00 I suggested a nap. The bugs were out in force and every time I nodded off, a nightmare vision of darkness falling while we were still a thousand feet below Blue Bottle kept bobbing into my head, so at 3:30 we started off again. I decided that a caffeine pill would be just the ticket to get me going. This experiment proved quite disastrous and the nausea got worse than ever. At 6:35 we finally made the saddle and after chatting some more over the walkie talkie with Wendy and Mom and Pop, who were having an early celebration of our triumph back at base camp, Tanya and I chugged on, returning fifteen hours and fifteen minutes after having left, just after dark. Igor met us a half mile or so from the car and was happy to carry my pack the rest of the way.
On the way out we tried to drive the road from near Meling Ranch up to Mike's Sky Ranch. It appears that it has been several years since the road has seen any maintenance, in fact there's a house on it which is partly built using old road signs. After nine miles we decided that continuing down a road where the slightest error would result in a tipped truck was not worth it. Besides we had already suffered disaster: the back window of my camper shell had broken out and the battery had come loose and broken a cable. A park attendant used a lime to clean the battery poles and then rewired the cable. He refused to take the five dollars I proffered. The woman at the glass repair shop suggested that someone shot out the back window, paranoia apparently being in style these days.
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