Cerro Pinacate Mexico Margarita Bash Featuring Lava Caves And A Hellish Slog Up Carnegie

  • Updated: January 07, 2018
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

January 6th & 7th, 2018
Cerro del Pinacate (3,937’)
Carnegie Peak (3,707’)
9 miles, 3,300'

Cerro Pinacate is one of only 4 peaks on the Desert Peak Section list which are located in Mexico.

I've gone to climb this peak twice before.  In 2012 we were turned back at the gate due to"security concerns" and then in November of 2016 we made a special trip a month before I finished the DPS list.

It's a rather long drive from Orange County and despite really enjoying the area and the camp I normally wouldn't have made it a priority to do it again.  But last time I had a very limited window of weekends to do the trip and when Gracia was unable to join us I told her I'd go again.  So here we were again!

Due to the lack of vacation time on my part we didn't have time to do any additional peaks else I might have taken an extra day and run up Kino.  Instead the plan was to do roughly what we'd done last time.  Drive down into Mexico Saturday, enjoy a campfire and good food that night, do the peaks the following morning, then drive home.

That means we were going to be in for a good 880 miles of driving over two days for the pleasure of being able to hike about 9 miles.  Plus two border crossings for added fun!  Still we ended up with a fair amount of interest and in the end we had 7 people and two vehicles ready to go.

Maps are always an interesting challenge down in Mexico.  Harlan Stockman has helpfully created some maps for the DPS peak areas which you can find at http://hwstock.org/MexMaps.  Beyond that your best bet is the OpenCycleMap layer at https://caltopo.com because there isn't any equivalent to the USGS down there and even the satellite shots of the area I could find were low resolution.

The park provides this to all visitors.

It's an improvement on their old version but still not overly useful.

We met Saturday at 6 am PST at a park and ride down in Orange County.  From there it took us about three and a half hours to reach Calexico where we gassed up, grabbed Subway, and then crossed the border.

The crossing into Mexico is generally really easy.  You drive up, a green or a red light flashes, and if it's green you just drive on through.  Neither car got the red light this time and we crossed into Mexico at 10 am in Calexico and took the 2 out to Sonoyta.

I find driving through the towns a little nerve wracking since the lanes can occasionally be a little interpretive and there always seems to be a heavy police presence pulling people over.  But once on the 2 it's smooth sailing outside of a few toll booths.

We reached the gate of the Pinacate Biosphere Reserve at 3 pm where to my great relief we found it was open.  We had tried to reach them on the phone ahead of the trip but never managed to get through.

They had us fill out a visitor registration form that asked us to declare things like whether we had food or alcohol along.

After that and paying our fee of 60 pesos per person per day we were issued a pile of permit ticket and let through the gate.

The main road through the reserve is well graded dirt suitable for passenger cars at least as far as the turnoff to Cono Rojo

The to Cono Rojo is listed as requiring 4WD and the guy at the gate warned us the road was very bad mentioning deep sand.  That might have just been his normal tourist spiel however since both times I've driven the road it's easily doable in anything high clearance.  This time I was driving Kristen's stock Subaru Forester and we never had anything close to an issue.

Once you're on the road there are no turns or possibilities for getting lost until it dead ends into the Cono Rojo camping area.

We stayed at the sign last time but there are actually a few different sites right around here.

This site was a hard left right as you arrive and was a little more isolated than the others.  We might have stayed there had I found it before we set up though there was an unfortunate amount of toilet paper in the bushed right behind that tree.

We had the area to ourselves as we went about setting up and starting dinner.  As we were unpacking another car came in which turned out to be two park employees from Organ Pipe just north of the border who were intending on doing Cerro Pinacate tomorrow as well.

Despite what you can find online stating there are no campfires allowed there doesn't seem to be any such restriction.  And we took advantage of the well used fire pit.

Dinner consisted of carne asada tacos, fresh made guacamole, quesadillas, and of course margaritas.

It was a downright pleasant temperature especially with the fire and we all enjoyed a nice night.  The last of us were in bed by midnight and up at 5:45 am

We left at 7:15 am which was right around sunrise.  We followed the road (which you're not allowed to drive on past Cono Rojo) a short distance out of camp and then started off cross country aiming for the bump of Carnegie visible above.

I remembered the lava field being painful to cross before but our group handled it easily.

And of course there's the cholla.  It's everywhere but generally easily avoidable.

We were aiming for a particular lava flow just east of Carnegie.  When we were there before we just happened across an opening that turned out to have a sizable lava tube cave.

It was actually a good thing I had my waypoints from last time else I might have missed it.

The cave goes in two directions.  Just to the left of Alex you can drop down and head underneath where I'm standing which is the smaller of the two caves and involves more crawling.

The other entrance goes back further and it's the larger cave.

At the back we found the same coffee mug and stash of tequila that was here in November of 2016.

I'm sure there are probably more caves in the area and maybe next time I'll have time to explore more.

We'd been looking up at Carnegie Peak as we approached debating if we wanted to climb it again.  Kristen and I had already been up it and no one else seemed overly excited (at least partially due to my description of the climb from last time) but once we were there it looked too easy to pass up.

The flat spot isn't the top but it doesn't look too bad right?

*Sigh*  I should have listened to my own trip report.  Carnegie is a hellish slog with almost no redeeming value.  Though we did find a rather large kitchen knife on the rocks part way up which was odd enough that several folks were looking around for a body.

There was no register up top but it does give a nice view of Cerro Pinacate.

The best part of the peak was getting the hell off of it as there's an almost unbroken plunge step down sheep trails on the far side.  Once to the bottom we picked up the road again and had a much more pleasant stroll to the top of Pinacate.

Up top it was unfortunately a little bit cloudy but we had nice views of the Sea of Cortez and a sizable amount of sand dunes to the west.

The registered showed a surprising number of people visiting the summit.  We were there on the 7th and already there had been 4 other groups signing in this year.  Our friends from the next campsite arrived not long after we did having come up the southeastern slope.

After enjoying the views for a bit we left the summit around noon and followed the road back towards camp.

Last time we did the road the entire way which is the purple track on the map above.  It was easy hiking but felt like a long way out of our way so this time we took the cross country route marked by the middle red track.

We had to pick our way through lava here and there but it went quickly.

We were back at the cars at 2 pm and as we were getting ready to leave Cono Rojo two other vehicles arrived so I might have to alter my perception of this place not being utilized heavily.

We were back at the border crossing at 4:45 pm.  We used the crossing at Sonoyta because there's usually a far shorter wait than any of the crossings further west.  This was the first time I've ever been across where there was no wait whatsoever.  Our two vehicles pulled straight into the two open inspection stations and after a short exchange with a very humorless border agent we were through in about 3 minutes.

We stopped to eat at Marcela's in Ajo which was excellent as always though once again they were out of chips which should be some sort of a crime for a mexican restaurant.  The food and a quick coffee stop in Yuma perked us up a bit and we made it back to OC at 11:30 pm.

Same as last time this was a really enjoyable trip if slightly rough to do in two days.  If you're looking to do this and want to pad it out a bit Ajo is an easy half day, Kino is a solid day, and Baboquivari is always spectacular.

Also if you happen to be reading this and have any other suggestions for peaks in northern mexico outside of the other 3 from the DPS list please let me know as I'm interested in climbing more down there.  And skip Carnegie, seriously.

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