El Picacho del Diablo
By: Bill T. Russell
Eighteen climbers met early Saturday morning where the Valle de Trinidad road turns off Mex. 5. We convoyed in to discover that heavy rains the year before had obscured the roads across the dry Laguna Diablo, but eventually, with Bill taking occasional bearings on Big P. and matching them to a corrected topo, we found our way to Rancho Santa Clara. The roads past the ranch were often obliterated by soft sand washed there by the previous year's storms, and the only vehicle that didn't get stuck was the LTD belonging to Bill, who drove magnificently and with great style. We parked the vehicles at the mouth of the canyon and began the hike.
The canyon has been changed considerably by storms since I was there in 1974. The pool at the base of the first waterfall is so filled in by rock and gravel that we were able to walk across it and hoist ourselves up the falls with little difficulty. Beyond the falls, the canyon is wider and much of the brush that used to grow there is gone. Many of the old scrambling problems remain, although some have changed. The group was strong, and we managed to get a good ways past the usual first night's campsite before we stopped.
Sunday morning, we got up early, and by 10:00 we could see Campo Noche in the distance. Ron, who had to get back to Los Angeles by Monday morning, turned back here, leaving the group to Bill and me. We thrashed our way up through the brush by early afternoon, and spent the rest of the day loafing, reading the guidebook, and looking at the mountain. Monday morning, we cruised up the mountain with no trouble at all and were on the summit in three hours. Four climbers emblemed and beaucoup champagne was accordingly produced from daypacks and consumed. After the party, about half the group wobbled over to the south summit, led on the 4th class pitch by Dick Banner, who was steadiest on his feet. Back in camp, we picked up our packs and marched out until dusk overtook us. By that time, we were back in the main canyon, a little past the red rock ledges. We slept soundly that night and next day were back at the cars by noon. On the drive out, we picked up the Valle de Trinidad road and went west to Ensenada, where some climbers stopped for abalone.
There were no injuries on this trip, partly because of luck and largely, I suspect, because Ron kept the size of the group down and screened the participants carefully. The potential for accidents on this climb is high, however. The trip is long and wearing; people have to do a lot of scrambling over rough terrain when they're carrying full packs and in a state of fatigue. The skill, strength, and experience of the participants are extremely important to making a climb of Big P. a success, and leaders of this trip should be very selective about the people they take along. (W.K.)
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