El Picacho del Diablo


By: Patty Kline


On Saturday May 27 I got Big Picacho. It was fantastic, one of the highlights of my life.

Two years ago I asked John McCully to take Steve Nardi and me up Picacho. The time, was set for Memorial Day, Weekend 1993. The group grew to about 25 people. I didn't get the peak as most of my friends including Steve had. This was a major disappointment and headache for me. How would I ever do the list now? Last March Steve Nardi said he would take me up Big Picacho 2 months later on Memorial Day Weekend. Here was my chance to climb "the big one". Steve wanted me to be able to do the list. If anyone could get me up he could with his outstanding navigational abilities, cool head and patience.

We left Steve's place in Palmdale at 12:45 pm on Thursday May 25 to drive to a camping spot just below the entrance to San Pedro Martir National Park in Mexico. We got there at midnight. The next morning, on Friday, after breaking camp at 6:45 am we got to the National Park locked gate about 7:15 am. The ranger, who has been the guard for 12 years, let us through into the park. We arrived at the "shack" at the end of the road at 8:30 am. There we had a leisurely breakfast of bagels and cream cheese and started backpacking at 9:45 am. The plateau of 4 miles to Blue Bottle Saddle was just as I had remembered it 2 years before. This year the aspen trees weren't fully leaved yet with their 1/2 curled fresh green leaves. There were several bright red snow plants. After a brief lunch at the saddle and peering down Canyon del Diablo, we descended the 3000 feet to Campo Noche, arriving about 7:00 pm. This time I didn't need to have people take 1/2 the weight out of my pack, but carried the whole thing. Steve did a stellar job of taking me down the canyon, avoiding the dry water falls and dense stands of brush. On the way down a little above Goren's Wash we saw one of the much spoken about ring tail cats. It was the bushiest tail I had ever seen with horizontal black bands on it. He had such a tiny head that it looked out of proportion to his body. He looked at us for a while and posed again before disappearing into the bushes.

The next morning was Saturday summit day. We left camp at 5:55 am and headed up Night Wash. Steve skillfully transferred into Slot Wash, then taking me up the "slippery water fall" route and on up to Wall Street. Steve had done this initially 2 years ago and never needed to look at his map once on this summit day. As we neared the top I recognized the summit area from John Robinson's pictures. Steve was pulling my leg and said we had 400 more feet on a ridge to go. He had me started on the "ridge" so I could be first. I was the first one up and didn't know it until seconds after I got there. Nardi started jumping up and down and shouting "You got the peak!" It was now 12:20 pm. We had lunch, looked at the blue plaque and posed for pictures. It is quite a large flat summit with the same yellow granite of Pescadores. I climbed on the highest block of the mountain and struck a victory pose for the camera.

All of these days of striving for 25 short minutes on top of the Baja world. We then retraced our steps down to Campo Noche descending a different route on the other side of the "slippery waterfall."

No rope was used during the entire climb, but Steve had one in his pack. At 8:10 pm, just before dark we walked into camp to Carl Johnson's group from San Diego. He had a party of 13 people, many of whom I knew. We declined an invitation to the campfire so we could fix our dinner and get some rest. While we were eating dinner a ring tailed cat hauled off about 10 ounces of Gallo Italian salami. I had taken this fresh 13 ounce salami up Big Picacho with me. It is one of my favorite backpacking treats and was savoring it by only eating a little on the climb. Too bad.

Sunday the morning after saying good-bye to Carl's group who left at 7:00 am for the peak, we got a leisurely start at 8:40 am. About one third of the way up the canyon as I was about to rest my hand on a log I saw a semi coiled rattle snake 3 inches from my right hand. It never rattled, but it got the adrenaline going for while. My backpack seemed much heavier on the way out even though I dumped all the creature food in my backpack under some thick bushes for the critters to eat. On my first backpack out of the canyon McCully had me take everything out of my pack so I would be weightless going out. Well this time Steve didn't have to carry anything of mine. My water filter had broken the night before. Carl had graciously loaned me his for a couple a quarts but I still ran out, so chanced it at the water at Goren's Gully. I glanced back longingly at the steep v-shaped Canyon del Diablo we were leaving until the bottom was lost to view. To me it is a magical forbidden canyon that is the heart and soul of wilderness. There were tears in my eyes as I was.. leaving this beautiful spot, but I already have plans some time in the future to go back. There is something that seems to draw me back and most everyone who does this peak to return.

It was hot going out! I felt that was the most energy expended on the entire trip. We didn't pause at Blue Bottle Saddle after the many rests I needed on the way up. The goal was to get out by dark.

We just missed it. Inky darkness closed in with one mile to go through featureless terrain. I told Steve my legs were so sore I couldn't do anymore boulders so he performed a miracle. The regular route is down a boulder filled stream, so instead of following the stream he went out until we hit the road, finding the way miraculously through hill and dale only 250 feet below the truck. Navigational skill par excellence on Steve's part.

Back at Steve's 4x4 truck I was too trashed to do anything for about 20 minutes. Then I revived to make an outrageous lettuce salad with shrimp, croutons, fetta cheese, olives and Girard's champagne salad dressing for our dinner.

We camped right by the truck that night. The next morning on Monday we started to head home, enjoying a bath in the river after several days of dirt and sweat in our pores. I loved the drive through the Mexican country side. Everything was spring green. Quaint ranches dotted Santo Tomas Valley as we headed north to Ensenada. One very good restaurant I can recommend for a great lobster meal for $14.80 is Ortegas's in Puerto Nuevo. This restaurant overlooks the Pacific Ocean and you can eat inside or outside.

I just want to say in closing that Steve Nardi is a prince of a guy for getting me Big Picacho. Thank you so much Steve.

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