Dancing with the Devil: Climbing Baja’s High Point

The attempt of Picacho Del Diablo is not a summit to be undertaken lightly. The map shows a 13 km trail, so you practically have to figure thirteen hours of route finding. But first, after just thirty minutes or so of hiking from the east side trailhead, you come to the most ingenious cow-excluding device known to geologic engineering. There is a little two foot waterfall into a turquoise blue pool about three feet deep. Yes, it’s only five feet, but it keeps out all the cows, and most of the hikers. The sides of the waterfall slope gently up at about a 45 degree angle on the approach side, and pretty much sheer on the right hand side. High up on the approach side, bolts and hangers give evidence of years of accents. Currently, there is a boat ladder made of short sections of 2×4 and fresh yellow polypropylene rope. The bottom end is attached to a 2nd bolt so the ladder won’t hang free, but instead spans the face of the approach at a 45 degree angle. The lower bolt is on a dry hump of rock, and one little slip, and you’re off on a swim. Once to the top of the ladder, you descend to the top of the flowing waterfall-into the arroyo, by a rope anchored top and bottom. It’s is an altogether very entertaining beginning. It took two of us an hour and a half to get up, but less than a half hour to get down, so there’s a bit of a learning curve.

Picacho del Diablo

The eastern approach to Picacho del Diablo


Starry Night in Baja

Starry Night in Baja

Ten minutes or so up from the “entrance” is a wire rope ladder (right side or river left), or climb beside the waterfall on sometimes slick rocks. Haul up your packs. One hour or so further up at an inviting pool is a 1 inch hawser (right) on a moderate climb without packs, or a rockfall series of boulders (left). The hawser was looped around a rock, but it was also backed up with some gear. We checked it carefully before we weighted it. We also took a 35-foot rope, which we used it a number of times, especially to aid the dog.

Picacho del Diablo

Rhododendron and Cedar: New Year’s Hiking


Lots of climbing, hiking, and route choices for the most intrepid

Picacho Del Diablo: Baja

Rock on Fire

The route up is well-cairned, but not to worry, off route is equally well-cairned. There is route finding for the most adventurous hiker to enjoy, if you enjoy that kind of thing. I did, for the first day-and-a-half, and then it got a little tedious. In places there is evidence of a fire. The locust was probably the biggest impediment to the hike. A tree that springs up in open spaces after fire, Locust goes dormant when the growing canopy above shades it. Unfortunately, the vicious spines remain active. Don’t even think of hiking in shorts.

There were times when we had to circumnavigate a bush or rock 270 degrees to stay on route, but there were other time a bush would do a “dosey doo,” and spin you for a 360. The boulder fields are the most enjoyable to give you a sense making progress, but lots of the route is in a tunnel of brush with lots of thorny plants, vines, and intractable branches. Several times I was on my knees to get through brush. I started off with my sleeping pad strapped to the outside, but I quickly learned to keep it protected. We saw blue tufts on the ground at some of the most dense foliage. At a logical camp spot  higher up at a crossing,  we found an open cell sleeping pad wedged in a tree fork. It was dog-eared on the edges in mute testimony to its trail donations.

Once you gain elevation, the flora changes. Evergreens like cedar and spruce  make their appearance. In the winter the rhododendron are full of berries. Piles of scat attest to the presence of skunk, ringtail cat, and big horn sheep.

Stay left at confluences, following the main source of the water and eventually you arrive at a bowl in the confluence. Welcome to Campo Noche. The summit route is up and over a hump, up the adjacent canyon, and then into the next canyon downstream for a straight shot at the summit. Sadly, we failed on our summit attempt, but we did find the cairned route that we took to the top in 2000. Not being easily discouraged, we’re already planning our revenge. Anybody want to join up for an April attempt?

Baja Desert SunrisePicacho10

Trailhead Coodinates:
Lat 31º 04.465/31.0744º
Lon 115º 21.926/-115.3654º

From Tucson, I-10W to I-8W, 5.5 hrs to Mexicali (275 miles). South on Hwy 5 to San Felipe to Km 181. No gas/PeMex between Mexicali and San Felipe at km 180 (right). Basic food & vast alcohol selection at the tienda/store “A Un Rancho El Otro 2”, km 181 (left). Turn right (west) on good dirt road for Colonia Morelia. (1.5 hours to trailhead- without problems), 10.0 miles to rock outcrop and capilla (right). Remember to give thanks and light a candle on your return. 12.5 miles to junction for Colonia San Pedro de Martir. The road gets a little sandy. High clearance suggested, or a second vehicle. At mile 18.5 is a fork. Left, right, left for Rancho Dos Pablos. (Undoubtably right will access the honeycomb road network, too.) Continue north (right), road veers away from the cordillera around a spur ridge, past a rancho with 3 defunct buses (right), passing 2 straight roads into the spur (left). Left at the next rancho with solar panels and cement water tank, “through the corral”, or the next intersection for the trailhead at mile 28.5