El Pichacho del Diablo
By: John Strach
We weren't able to bag El Picacho del Diablo due to snow and ice conditions above 6,000' at San Pedro Martir, but I'd like to relate some of our experiences for the Sage. Our group consisted of me, Ken Barr, Ted Caragozian and Linda Roman. Ken and Linda were driving. After our hike, Linda remained in Baja for a kayaking trip over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Leaving San Diego around 8am, we drove to the border, bought Mexican Insurance and got our tourist cards. (Linda said she had actually been stopped and asked to show her tourist card on an earlier trip. When she showed the inspector her card, he seemed quite surprised that someone actually had one.) Ken, Ted and I didn't realize you needed proof of citizenship (passport, or birth certificate and drivers license) and so had to visit a notary and get an Affidavit of Citizenship ($10). To get a tourist card you have to pull over near the secondary inspection area immediately after crossing the border, enter a room with "INM" over the door, fill out a form, go to a bank window about three doors to the right, pay your fee (now $19 or 170 pesos), then return to the first room and have your paperwork stamped.
The drive to the park was uneventful. The toll road has three 20 peso toll stops ($2.10 each). We had lunch in Santo Tomas. We filled up at the last Pemex station, about a mile before the turn-off to the park. When we started seeing snow on the ground and ice on the dirt road around 6,000', we knew our chances for the peak were poor. We stopped at the park entrance station, but the man there told us to drive in, the snow wasn't too bad, and that we didn't have to pay anything. We camped along the side road to Blue Bottle and spent a cold night there, maybe twenty degrees.
In the morning we drove through the camping area at the end of the road and past the "Restricted Area/Hikers Only" signs, but after a quarter mile we encountered a chain across the road. We returned to the camping area and parked. We hiked the road to the shack, about four miles, and found four Mexicans preparing to climb the peak via Pinnacle Ridge. We had seen them drive by earlier and chatted with them a while. Three were from Tijuana and one from Mexicali. I thought maybe they had a key for the chain, but it turns out they were able to lift up the chain and drive their large SUV under it!
We had trouble following the ducked trail to Blue Bottle Saddle. The snow on the north-facing slopes was a problem and we reached the saddle about 1:00. The views were spectacular. In addition to The Peak, we could see San Martin Island near San Quintin in the Pacific and just bearly see the Sea of Cortez. The four Mexicans, having reconsidered their Pinnacle Ridge plans, were also at the Blue Bottle Saddle and planned to spend the night there before returning.
We left the saddle at 2:00 and returned via the more direct Vallecitos route. We managed to get off trail only on one stretch and arrived at the cars at about 5:15. Hoping for a warmer night, we decided to drive to about 4,000' and look for a camp spot. As we started our drive out in the dark, we were stopped by a ranger who had us sign a register book and charged us $8 (70 pesos) for each vehicle. He said next time make sure we found him before entering the park. The night was still cold, maybe thirty degrees, at the camp spot we found at 3,000'.
In the morning we said goodbye to Linda and headed back up the highway. We had to pass through an immigration checkpoint near Maneadero. The inspector looked over our packs and gear and checked out the driver's seat area quite closely, but he didn't ask for our tourist cards. Total distance from San Diego to the trailhead was about 250 miles.
In conclusion, I'd say heed the warning in the Peak Guide to avoid this peak after October, although the Veterans Day storm the previous Friday may have been the real culprit. I had done the peak twice previously with Carl Johnson, but having to find the route without an experienced leader is not the same thing. We had a GPS, but keeping a close eye on the map is still the most important thing. Linda's knowledge of Spanish was very helpful, especially with the ranger. All in all, it was still a good hike and a learning experience for our group. Next time we will succeed!
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