Picacho del Diablo In Baja Mexico

  • Updated: May 18, 2014
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

  Picacho del Diablo (10,154')
When: May 16th to 17th, 2014
Where: Baja, Mexico
Who: Matthew Hengst, Jen Blackie, Gracia Delavida, Kristen Lindbergh, Neal Robbins
Pictures: [Matt]
GPS Track: [Map]
Mexican GPS Maps:  [Harlan]

The last Mexico trip had been on the memorable side if slightly traumatic for all parties.  We'd hit both Pescadores and Pico Risco over two days and due to a variety of factors ended up with only about 4 hours of sleep for the entire weekend by the time we arrived back in OC at 5 am Monday morning.

But this was going to be different!  Since Picacho del Diablo (aka Big Picacho of the Sierra Club Desert Peaks Section) was located a fair way down Baja we were looking at 4 days with two of those taken up just be driving surrounding a two day backpack.

And yes of course any visit into Mexico or even just into the border region has some inherent risk.  But never fear!  We had a plan B.  (For Blondie)  (As in needs of the many > survival of the Blondie)


The trip also was a bust before we even left as a heatwave hit the entire region that week.  Turns out you probably want to do this peak a month or so earlier but hey live and learn.

The trip got off to a distressingly relaxed start as we all met at 9 am in Orange County and loaded into two vehicles before meandering towards San Diego.

Fortunately for us life got more interesting rather quickly.  We had stopped for gas in San Yisidro planning to fill up right before crossing in to Mexico when Gracia's jeep started making a rather hideous screeching sound.

A debate was had over just how awful the screeching of the damned coming from underneath Gracias car really was and if we could risk taking it as far as Ensenada, dropping it at a repair shop, and continuing in Jack's truck slightly overloaded.

Caution and possibly sanity won out and we ended up taking it to a shop which insisted we couldn't be driving it like that.

Ok, so plan B.  We started looking for rental cars.

Turns out rental cars can be a bit hard to come by on a Thursday morning near the border.

After a scramble we found an Avis in Chula Vista that had a Santa Fe for rent and after dropping Gracia's jeep off at her brothers we were soon off again in a slightly reconfigured carpool.

It was with some relief that we finally crossed the border a little before 2 pm.

Of course all cell phones are turned off at the border and no sooner had we crossed but our vehicle made it through and Jack's truck was stopped.  And we were in a spot we couldn't just stop and wait.  Fortunately we reconnected a bit down the road.

(This is the point of course I realized I'd forgotten to bring the walkie talkies I'd intended to distribute between the vehicles.  DOH!)

We'd planned to stop and check out the great Boobie House of kilometer marker 50 -ish but due to a miscommunication issue this didn't happen.  I was bitter the rest of the trip.  And possibly after.

By 3:30 pm we were in Ensenada and made a quick stop at a taco stand for some exceedingly greasy fare that I would come to regret within the next day or two.

We left Ensenada at 4:20 and continued driving south.  South of Ensenada involved some slightly adventurous driving since it's somewhat up to interpretation if you have 1 lane or 2 and people seem to change their minds from moment to moment.  With only a few close calls we made it past there.

Turns out it was a rather bad weekend for fires in Baja because we were rarely out of sight of smoke plumes.

Eventually we reached the turnoff which is older trip reports marked the rather lamentable start of a 100 km dirt road drive.  But fortunately it's been paved since then.

100 km of smooth sailing later we pulled into the ranger station outside a locked gate.

Which closed at 8 pm.  Oops.

Fortunately the rangers were very friendly and someone came out to welcome us inside.

I must say that between my grand total of 3 trips into mexico and extensive wilderness visits in the US I've found the Mexican wilderness employees to be far friendlier and more accommodating than your average US equivalent.

They even let us use the bathroom inside their living quarters.  Thanks street tacos.  Granted I had to flush it by filling a bucket (well, buckets) from the shower but hey...

Our trusty native speaker Gracia had to sign for us all and we had a permit fee of 56 pesos per person (despite the signs saying per day)

We were also outfitted with these swank wearable permit bands no double to aid with body identification.

They opened the gate for us and we drove another 40 minutes or so.  The last little bit to the Cerro Azule trailhead was dirt but still passable by any car.

We ate dinner and had a pleasant night sleeping out under the stars.

The next morning we got moving reasonably early.  The plan was for a fairly relaxes day since we just had to reach camp at Campo Noche with a short side trip along the way to grab Cerro Botella Azul.

The entire area is just downright pleasant.  A very gradual climb along trails took us to the Cerro Botella Azul saddle and gave us our first look over at Big Picacho.

It wasn't far away.  It was a very reasonable distance away actually.  If you ignored the Gorge of Despair dropping down 3000 feet between us and it.

(I should really read trip reports a bit closer)

Ignoring our soon to be less than pleasant future we dropped packs and scrambled up to Cerro Botella Azul which was about 400 ft above the trail.  An easy use trail led the way and up top we found some antennae remains and a rather large swarm of lady bugs.

We spent a while being entertainingly swarmed by ladybugs before reluctantly facing the reality of the Gorge of Despair.

The descent can only be called on trail by the loosest of definitions.  There are ducks but they lead in ever direction including towards a dead end or two.  And it's a lot harder finding you're way back out.

My best advice is stay high sticking to the clearest trail you can find until it unequivocally drops down along where our track descends.  Descending early turned out not to be the best decision since you're on steep loose bits with full packs and all.  From there just go down following the prettiest ducks you can find.  Camp Noche is located far enough down the canyon it's hard to miss.

We passed the first few campsites we came across following waypoints from Eckert / Harlan eventually coming to a large number of sites.  Unfortunately there was also a rather large amount of toilet paper scattered about in the bushes.  Welcome to one of those rare trips where Matt actually uses a water filter.

There was a nice water source right nearby and reports of a ringtail cat though we never saw him.

On account of the heat and my bad knee we unanimously decided to start for the peak at the first hint of daylight.  So wohoo predawn wakeup!

Yes, Jack is a crazy man.  Eggs in a bag *shudder*
The route from camp is...up.

We were all carrying 5 liters of water on account of it being rather hot and as others has indicated there wasn't any viable fill up points along the way unless you really want to drink from stagnant pools.

There are ducks (again) but (again) they're set up in every direction so take care following them.  Part of the group ended up doing a slightly exposed down climb after following what looked like a valid route.

Eventually all the up comes to an end in a series of gentle slabs and we got our reward.

Unfortunately the promised view of two seas was somewhat shrouded by the smoke from all the fires.  Even more unfortunately the summit itself was swarmed with the worse cloud of gnats I've ever encountered.  Bugs nets came out and a very hurried sign in / summit shot ensued.

We ate a quick lunch in a patch of shade sufficiently below the summit to escape the gnats.

The descent was uneventful and a second night at Campo Noche was well appreciated by certain slightly tired individuals.

The next morning amid a rather terrible revenge of the Ensenada street tacos we got started hiking toward the trailhead.

Or tried to anyway.  It turns out finding your way up the hillside to the trail proper is non trivial even with a GPS.

Why yes Virginia, turns out this is the trail

Some amount of bushwhacking, rockfall, and backtracking later we reached a long long long gully filled with boulders and proceeded to climb.

After a knee killing climb of several thousand feet we ended up back at the saddle and the hike out from there was fairly gentle.

In an attempt to avoid another gut destroying taco stop we cooked a quick dinner at the trailhead before getting moving.

The drive back was fairly uneventful though we again had to skip the mermaid house on account of it being after dark by the time we reached that area.

Two and a half hours.  And this at the end (-ish) of a long hike / drive.

Fortunately you aren't without entertainment while you wait as there are a number of merchants both legitimate (over sized ceramic statues of hands, Jesus, turtles, ect) and some who appeared to be somewhat less so due to the way they dodged the police who were patrolling the line.  The most memorable one was trying to sell puppies.

There's also the people in wheelchairs and such begging for money who come by all the vehicles and stare inside for an uncomfortable minute or two before moving on.  We became experts at not making eye contact after the first time a vendor practically crawled through the car window to sell us some overprices light up ball toys.

The line situation is slightly chaotic as some of the lanes are periodically taken over by street carts forcing everyone to merge to the sides.  And right before the actual border checkpoint the somewhat freeform line system seemed to have stranded us

Finally we were through!

We dropped Gracia off at her brothers in San Diego along with the rental vehicle for her to return the following morning and made the brutal post midnight drive back to Orange County struggling to stay awake.

Still all told this was far more successful than our first Mexico trip and we had actually got several times as much sleep as our second and didn't even have to escape from a single dump.  And we got our peak and a bonus bump.  Sweet sweet victory!

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  1. Just got to read it! To the point and your usual "sarcastic" remarks make it a joy to read. G