By: John Vitz
The high point of the Sierra de los Cocopahs is one of the recent additions to the qualifying list. It is a beautifully rugged range containing thick Sonoran Desert vegetation and impressive granite cliffs and washes. A long low ridge parallels the main crest east of the range. As seen from the paved road there is a summit which has a large block standing upon it. The high point is the next summit to the north. A sandy road leads southwest to the south end of the low ridge from where we walked west and north into the wide wash between the main range and the low ridge. After about a mile the wash turns west and enters the range. Continuing up the wash for a ways led us through rugged desert country and lush growth. We turned up a side canyon and then climbed a steep wail attaining the top of the ridge still miles from the peak. Once again we had excellent leadership to thank for this. We continued along the top of the ridge into a saddle from where the route goes up quickly. This ridge can be followed to the summit with the large block from where there is an easy traverse to the true summit. There is one spot on this ridge where some huge granite blocks have to be passed on one side or the other. On the ascent we stayed to the north of them and so on the return we decided to see if a southern route might be more feasible. It isn't. At a point almost at the spot where the top of the ridge may be gained again we came upon a rather disturbing scene. On a large flat rock a few yards below us were the mummified remains of two people. They were laying side by side on top of a tarp and both had their boots placed under their heads. We found a canteen which had a bullet hole in it, a flashlight, and a wallet lying near the bodies. It was late in the afternoon at this time and the whole area was in shadows. There was no evidence of any sort of accident and we assumed that they had committed suicide. I picked up the wallet as we left.
Not wishing to explain what we had found to a couple of suspitious Federales we drove straight back to the States and spent Sunday climbing Little Picacho. The next week I called the Mexican Consul in LA to report what we had found and to ask his advice on how we should handle the situation. He suggested that I forget the whole thing. In spite of his excellent advice I wrote to the American Consul in Mexicali telling him the story and sending him the wallet. Two weeks passed and there had been no word so I assumed that the problem had been resolved.
On a Thursday night I got a phone call from the President of the Red Cross in Mexicali who told me that they had sent out search parties but were unable to follow my directions, not a unique problem. So I explained to him verbally the exact location of the bodies and the route by which they could be found. The next night he called again to say that my verbal directions were every bit as good as my written ones. I therefore volunteered, with many second thoughts, to come to Mexicali that Saturday and lead them to the bodies.
I managed to con Larry Fink into accompanying me so that I would have a familiar face around as I spent the rest of my life in a Mexicali jail. We reported to the Red Cross headquarters at nine and met a few of the people who would be accompanying us into the mountains. As we talked to these people it became apparent that they were not sure of our story of being mountain climbers. I think they thought that we had been hunting bighorn sheep illegally. We left Mexicali in a procession consisting of two Red Cross panel trucks, a power wagon from the fire department, a car full of state police, and assorted cars full of friends, well-wishers, and anyone else who happened to be in the area. From the roadhead a party of no less than fifty persons started up the canyon. The area will never be the same. The entire canyon is now full of orange peelings, tin cans, and the remains of some fifty meals.
We made amazingly good time in the 2000 foot climb to the bodies considering few of the party had boots or any other equipment. There was one man assigned to each of us as they still didn't believe us entirely. My friend asked me if I really did this kind of thing for fun. After a short time near the bodies, which looked even more gruesome in the full daylight, Larry and I excused ourselves and split for San Diego. They stayed to carry the bodies back to Mexicali for some reason that escapes me entirely. They found a small calibre gun lying between them and the consensus was that they had killed themselves for reasons that were not obvious. If the trip did nothing else, it relieved many of my irrational fears that I had had about traveling in Mexico. And perhaps they got a slightly different look at a gringo. I hope so.
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