Picacho del Diablo
By: Ed Treacy
For about ten minutes after we left the car the hiking was easy. Tren Bartlett, Dave and Don Gladstone, Doug Mantle and Ed Treacy were savoring the last few moments of effortless living that we would enjoy for the next four days as we headed up Providencia Canyon. The plan was to climb Picacho via its southeast ridge, traverse, and descend Diablo Canyon. The first three miles up Proviciencia were over or around a series of small waterfalls that got us up 1400 feet to an abrupt southerly bend in the canyon. Here the canyon tightened, leading up to one of its most spectacular waterfalls - 50/60 feet of class 2/3 with one class 4 pitch that one couldn't afford to miss. Above this fall the canyon turned west and immediately presented a series of awesome granite slabs capped by a sublime grotto - a large pool fed by a 25 foot waterfall, surrounded by huge boulders, adorned by ferns and desert flora and a fine sandbar on which to enjoy a well-earned rest. To this point we had gained 1800 feet in four miles with the brush and the rock making it a real physical stretch. And from here it got rougher as willows dominated and the waterfalls consistently forced us into the thickets. Spent the better part of the afternoon going two miles to a 4200 foot campsite that was to be our departure point from the canyon - and water - the next day. This camp was at the foot of another prominent dogleg, one back to the north and headed by a 100 foot class 6 waterfall that requires three hours or more to bypass.
From camp, took on enough water to see us through two days and climbed almost directly west and up a steep, 700 foot, agave and catsclaw dotted slope to the crest of a minor ridge branching north from Picacho's main southeast ridge. Reached the main ridge at 7000 feet after working up through thick manzanita. "Thunderfoot" Bartlett led the way across this green belt. He'd wind his knee up behind his ear and let fly with the verve of a splenetic mule - a marvel to watch and a joy to follow.
The southeast ridge is fairly wide, characterized by tremendous boulder complexes and, surprisingly, good - or at least usable - campsites right up to the base of the south summit. With the peak in sight we picked out a good one at 8700 feet and there Mother Nature blessed us. After setting up light housekeeping, we found a tank with three or four gallons of water, thus were able to live graciously that evening - extra soup, tea, and other gourmet courses. The next day up and over the summits and down to camp below Campo Noche. Never ran into anything more than class 3 on the ridge due to the excellent route-finding abilities of Doug and Dave. Out the following day, finishing the trip with a seven mile stroll across the desert to retrieve the car.
Doing the canyons back to back provided an interesting comparison. Diablo has beauty, elegance, honest hiking, and seemed like a walk in the park after Providencia. There nature has put it all together: catsclaw, willows, and agave combine with rock that is loose or slippery or overwhelming to maintain a constant physical challenge - the canyon only rarely, and for very short stretches, gives one a little respite.
Hiking time required from car to car was 31 hours that, for several reasons, was split into three and a half days.
Thanks go to Bud Bingham who, with Bobbie Lilley and Verne Jones, pioneered this traverse and whose advice helped us considerably.
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