El Picacho del Diablo
By: Ron Jones
During Easter of last year, Art de Goede, Frank Riseley, and I left for an attempt on Big Picacho by the route of first ascent. Donald McLain is credited with making the first ascent in a solo climb during March 1911. John Robinson has written an interesting account of this early climb in his book Camping and Climbing in Baja. It is believed that no one else has scaled the peak via this route.
Early Saturday morning we passed our packs over Diablo Falls and continued up the canyon keeping on the look out for McLain's Wash. We found its intersection at 4600 feet in a spectacular stretch of the main canyon. The entrance is not large, but it opens into a significant side canyon as its slight trickle is followed. After passing a waterfall and some steep pitches we came to a sixty foot waterfall that looked like it might give us some difficulty. We spent the night on a sandy bench below the fall.
The next morning the fall was ascended via a loose third-class route up the right hand side where we encountered an old piton. From here to the 7000 foot level there was much bush-whacking and boulder scrambling. From this point, where we had encountered snow, we climbed to the obvious saddle between the peak and point 9650'. The summit was not visible, but there was a spectacular view of the West Face Wash. Continuing up the north ridge we soon came upon the steep-walled notch that is visible from the summit. This spectacular gash could be traversed only by very high class rock climbing.
We tried to contour the east face below the notch in two different places but were stopped both times by steep rock and loose snow. It appears that one would have to traverse directly from the saddle in order to avoid the steepest rocks. Having run out of time we descended to camp and started down the wash the next day. We climbed out of the wash to look for a mine mentioned by McLain but could find no trace of it and had to hack through thick brush to return to the main canyon.
I think we all agreed that the trip was a wonderful experience and I for one will be back to try it again. My only regret in returning to Canyon del Diablo after an absence of seven years was the great amount of trash one finds littering the area. I saw tin foil, cans, bottles, etc in many places buried in the sand or thrown into the brush. I hope that future parties will be conscious of this mess and work to maintain this beautiful canyon in an uncluttered state.
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