Ascent of Picacho del Diablo on 2014-11-18

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Adam Walker -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Heather Anderson
Jill Webster
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Picacho del Diablo
    Elevation:10154 ft / 3094 m

Ascent Trip Report

This is a notoriously tough peak, due mainly to the many hours of sustained rough scrambling needed to reach the summit. We found it to be a difficult but very rewarding experience. (Note: all lat-longs are in WGS84 decimal degrees).

Sunday, November 16:

Allow a full day to reach the trailhead from Southern California. The “Scenic Route” toll road from Tijuana to Ensenada is nice, but for us the second half of it was closed, adding time. Getting through Ensenada is slow, and you should allow two hours to drive Mexico Highway 1 from Ensenada to the turnoff road to the mountain. This left turn is at (30.9667, -116.1547) and is well signed as “San Pedro Martir/Observatorio”. This is a good road and is well-paved almost all the way to the trailhead.

Allow two hours to reach the trailhead from Highway 1. At (30.9739, -115.7606) is a right turn to the Rancho Meling, a good lodging choice for those not wanting to camp at the trailhead. We stopped at the National Park entrance station at (31.0001, -115.5571) and I talked to the ranger in my barely adequate Spanish. I told him we were climbing Picacho del Diablo over three days, and he was a bit surprised—it was the off-season, I guess. He charged the four of us USD $35 as a fee, took down our names, took a group photo, and asked to photograph our boot soles (so they could track us if needed). We balked, saying our boots were still packed in the car. I told him we wanted to camp at the trailhead and he was OK with that.

Continuing on the paved road, we made an acute right turn at (31.0222,-115.4742) on a narrow, rough dirt road (drivable for most passenger cars) that passed a well structure and then wound through pleasant forest for 2.3 miles to a picnic area at (30.9991, -115.4500, 2460m). This is the trailhead. A Spanish sign said “Uso Diario” (“day use”) but we felt we were OK to camp due to our ranger conversation. We arrived in the dark, pitched our tents near our car, ate some snacks, and crashed out. It was quite cold (low 20s F) and we never saw the nearby outhouse in the dark.

Monday, November 17:

We started hiking at 8:25 AM and followed a dry sandy wash SE, the start of the trail. The first few miles are through open forest but the trail is not well marked at all and it is easy to lose it. We found that a pre-loaded GPS track (several available on this site--for example, my Blue Bottle GPX track in addition to the one on this page) is very helpful. There are a couple of braided trails and eventually you leave the wash and follow the valley to a low col, where the trail loses about 30m of elevation and then meanders more and starts climbing towards the Blue Bottle saddle.

The saddle (30.9730, -115.3950, 2850m) is a nice spot and has a great view out over the eastern escarpment of the forested plateau towards the Picacho. We dropped our packs here and made the short climb (about 100m vertical) to the summit of Blue Bottle (Botella Azul). There are use paths you can find that lead to the summit through some brush. There is debris from an old weather station on top.

Once back at our packs we followed our trail as it traversed east across the north face of Blue Bottle. The traverse was descending at first, and eventually it starts heading downhill seriously. The trail is easy to lose here—if you are not on a good footway, it is best to backtrack and find it. Before long you are doing a long downhill hike in the bottom of a steep canyon, featuring continuous rough scrambling over rocks, logs, brush, low cliffs, and other obstacles. There are many cairns to mark the route, and a good footway in most places, but even the most careful hikers will likely lose the trail once or twice. The going is steeply downhill and no forward progress comes easily. A GPS helps in staying on track, but satellite reception in the deep canyon can be an issue, both for the track you pre-loaded and in determining your position.

The scrambling is mostly Class 3, but there is at least one Class 4 step the must be descended. Eventually the canyon bottom becomes a creek, which is crossed several times to avoid cliffs and thick riparian brush. We hit a small campsite for one tent, but this was not quite to Campo Noche, a few minutes further downhill. The real Campo Noche (30.9879, -115.3951, 1920m) has about five nice tent spots closely strung together along the trail, and a big sitting log at the central area. This log is inscribed with the words “Campo Noche”. Water is nearby, plentiful, and probably pristine without filtering.

We arrived at 2:30 PM, a little over 6 hours from the trailhead, and including the short detour to Blue Bottle’s summit. We filtered water, set up tents, cooked, and rested. It got dark at 5:30 PM, so we retreated to our tents and tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to sleep early.

Tuesday, November 18:

Today was summit day, up 3800 vertical feet from camp. We climbed up from 7:30 AM to 12:20 PM (4:50 hiking uphill), spent 45 minutes on top, and hiked down from 1:05 PM to 4:50 PM (3:45 hiking downhill), for a 9 hour, 20 minute day on the trail. Heather and Adam alone probably would have been about an hour faster in total.

The entire route was a continuation of the scrambling we did yesterday to get to camp—more rough class 3 with no shortage of thorny brush, downed trees, talus, slabs, loose rock, little cliffs, big boulders, and non-stop routefinding. There is a good route the whole way, mostly marked with cairns, but it takes concentration to follow it. Again, a GPS helps if you can get a good signal. Nearly everyone gets a little bit lost at least once. Most of the way you are following the bottom of steep canyons (Night Wash, Slot Wash), but about 2/3 the way up you exit the main canyon left to get to the sloping slabs of “Wall Street”, leading to a step-walled canyon and eventually the higher north summit of the Picacho.

From the central Campo Noche area, the route starts on the trail heading uphill on a leftward angle, facing the mountain. For us this was not well marked and we started up the wrong way.

We had glorious weather—in November it is nicely cool even in mid-day. From the summit we could see the entire north end of the Sea of Cortez spread out below us, and across it some ranges in Sonora state. Unfortunately, haze blocked our Pacific view. We rested, ate our snacks, signed the register, and had a nice long summit break.

Our decent was uneventful, and we corrected some of our uphill routefinding errors but probably made at least one more. The mountain definitely was beating us up somewhat, with lots of little scratches and bruises from the many terrain obstacles. I had misplaced my headlamp so I was very happy to arrive back to Camp Noche at 4:50 PM, about a half-hour before darkness hit the deep canyon.

While we cooked and rested in the dark this evening, we saw many ring-tailed cats (actually raccoon relatives) milling about our camp. We were glad we had been hanging up our food in a tree while sleeping and away on the summit climb.

Wednesday, November 19:

Today we hiked from Campo Noche back to the trailhead, from 8:15 AM to 3:30 PM (7 hours, 15 minutes total). The uphill out of the canyon to the Blue Bottle saddle was tiring, since the terrain had not gotten any easier, we had full packs, and were tired from yesterday’s climb. It took us over 4 hours to do the 3100 feet just up to the saddle. After a rest we were glad the remaining terrain was the 5 miles of gentle forest of the plateau back to the car. I thought my headlamp may have come out of my pack at one of our uphill rest stops, so I stopped to look around at those places (it turned out it was back near the car).

At the trailhead we took a rest, crammed everything back in the car, and took off. We had some thoughts of camping there again, but a bed and a hot shower at the Rancho Meling was too tempting for most of us after a rough 3 days of hiking. We drove the 40 minutes to the ranger station and stopped to let them know we were OK (although they didn’t seem to care too much), and then we were soon driving downhill in the dark. We arrived at the Rancho Meling around 5:45 PM or so, and, since it was the off-season, were able to score a couple of rooms (USD $50 per room).

This was a very nice place and we can recommend it as a good option for a post-climb reward. It is off the grid, with no phone/internet, and only generator electricity until 8:30 PM this night. But there are warm wood-burning stoves in the clean and comfortable rooms, and hot water for showers. We were able to order meals, too, and an hour after arriving we had some tasty homemade salads, burritos and beans.

Thursday, November 20

Today we drove back to the USA. Our drive north on Mexico Highway 1 was made quite slow by many parades marking ”Revolution Day”, a major national holiday. In the towns of Colonet, San Vincente, and Maneadero we had to take slow dirt road detours around the blocked-off highway.

General Notes:

The GPX track here shows our summit day and hike out. Our hike to camp is part of my Blue Bottle GPX track. GPS does not always work well in the brush and deep canyons on this peak.

Don’t underestimate this peak. If you have not done much rugged scrambling, you should definitely log some serious backcountry miles before trying this one. The route only gets to class 4 maybe once or twice, but the rest of it is almost always rugged class 3. You will fight for every vertical and horizontal foot gained. Good conditioning is a must.

Most parties will need 5 days from Southern California for this peak. A day to drive there, a day to Campo Noche, summit day, a day back to the car, and a day back to the USA. Unless you are a super-fit and experienced hiker and are doing this in late spring with more daylight, it is not really practical to combine any of these days any other way.

The record for this route is apparently 14 hours by Bob Burd. We took 22 hours total hiking, excluding summit rest. Heather, a record-setting through hiker, could have probably done it in under 20 hours. If you are a similar super-hiker, you might be able to combine the approach day and summit day, using the longer daylight hours of May.

November worked for us, with cool temperatures, no bugs, and no one else on the entire mountain. The main drawback was limited daylight hours.

Times reported here are for summit day only.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:6677 ft / 2035 m
    Total Elevation Loss:10516 ft / 3205 m
    Round-Trip Distance:12.5 mi / 20.1 km
    Grade/Class:Class 3
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Tent Camp
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3855 ft / 1175 m
    Distance:2.5 mi / 4 km
    Route:Slot Wash-Wall St
    Start Trailhead:Campo Noche  6299 ft / 1919 m
    Time:4 Hours 50 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:10516 ft / 3205 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 7694 ft / 2345 m; Extra: 2822 ft / 860m
    Gain on way out:2822 ft / 860 m
    Distance:10 mi / 16.1 km
    Route:Slot Wash-Wall St
    End Trailhead:Diablo Trailhead  2460 ft / 749 m
    Time:3 Hours 45 Minutes
Ascent Part of Trip: 2014 - Picacho del Diablo (2 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Cerro Botella Azul2014-11-171673 ft / 510 m
2Picacho del Diablo2014-11-186677 ft / 2035 m
Total Trip Gain: 8350 ft / 2545 m    Total Trip Loss: 13961 ft / 4255 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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