By: Steve Smith
A climbing trip to Baja always seems to provide interesting experiences and fond memories. Our Thanksgiving 1975 DPS Baja trip under the leadership of Bob Greenawalt and Paul Nelson provided plenty of both along with some good weather for equipment testing. The group of 13 people in 5 vehicles met outside San Felipe Wednesday morning. Following the same route used by a DPS group that had successfully climbed Pico Matomi 9 months earlier, we caravaned for 72 miles south along the eastern base of the Sierra San Pedro Martir to within 1 mile of road end at Rancho Parral. Since there was some extra time on the drive in, 3 people in 1 vehicle did some exploring on their own and because of vehicle problems had to miss the climb.
Leaving the cars Thursday morning, Bob lead us across two passes and luxuriant cactus plants towards the one-man Dowling ranch at the foot of Matomi Canyon. Three participants from 1 vehicle decided to turn back on this segment because of improper equipment but stated they would attempt to find a road to drive into the isolated Dowling ranch. Our 7 person group reached the serene adobe ranch house in early afternoon and encountered the lone resident Don Tomes Dowling hard at work on a short road leading to a small campsite he is constructing among Mexican Blue fan palms along the perennial Matomi Canyon stream adjacent to his home. Our group provided him with some provisions and also talked with 3 Americans that were using the primitive campsite. They had driven in on a 25 mile route from Puertecitos and said it definitely had some 4-wd stretches. They previously had used another, longer route which extends 17 miles off the road we had driven in on and described it as passable for most vehicles. The new adobe ranchhouse had been recently plastered and a vigorous garden indicated a desire for all kinds of peppers.
Leaving the ranch and heading west, we backpacked 2 miles up intriguing Matomi Canyon with its continuous stands of Blue fan palms. To the south was the long, 2000 high, colorful edge of Matomi Mesa, reaching east towards the Gulf. Overhead, ominous clouds began arriving, pushed on by heavy winds from the west. By the time camp was made amid numerous Blue fan palms, the wind was really blowing. Sporadic rain began and about halfway through the night, those of us with tube tents began to experience the joy of having water coming through a down bag. We knew what was ahead for us when around 2a.m. we began awaking with wet sleeping bags and heard "are you getting wet too"?
When morning finally arrived, 5 decided to give Pico Matomi a try while 2 left for the ranch. Climbing south out of the canyon, we entered a large basin with never ending scenic views of palm lined canyons and colorful escarpments. By late morning the edge of Matomi Mesa was surmounted and the full force of the continuous westerly winds was felt - probably most strongly by Bob Greenawalt since his railroading engineers cap was last seen by the group in the wind heading towards the Gulf of California. The gently undulating plateau and blowing clouds posed some interesting practice in navigation but by noon the group of 5 had crossed several canyons (one of which seemed like a tributary of the Grand Canyon) and approached our cloud shrouded objective. The pyramidal shaped top of Pico Matomi extended about 600' above the plateau and heavy, fast moving clouds occasionally gave us a quick glimpse of the summit. To the east, a generally unobscured view of the Gulf and rugged, rocky coastal desert terrain added to the scenic splendor. Also, of interest were numerous obsidian chips indicating the plateau mast have been heavily used by the Indians.
Amid blowing clouds, rain, and sleet, Bob Greenawalt, Paul Nelson, Barbara Reber, Barbara Lilley, and I made the summit with its Mexican benchmark and seldom signed register. Right after leaving the summit, the clouds really closed in and it became impossible to get any bearings. Paul, Barbara Lilley, and I had to navigate solely by keeping the wind to our left while Bob and Barbara Reber made opportune use of a compass Barbara always carries. Wet and cold, everyone arrived back at the Matomi Canyon campsite around dusk and fortunately it was possible to get a good fire burning to help everyone dry out a little. Because of wet sleeping bags, Bob, Barbara Reber, and I spent 14 hours sitting and dozing around the fire and making periodic forays for firewood. The incessant wind produced some very strong gusts and along with the psoriatic rain and smoke filled eyes and throats caused a few comments about "Isn't it funny how fast time goes when you're having a good time."
Paul and Barbara Lilley were able to stay relatively dry in their tents but not to miss out on the fun, they were entertained throughout the night by people searching for firewood, dragging it through the rocks, and the chance to watch fireworks when a sudden 50mph wind gust would hit the campfire. The next day, Saturday, had beautiful weather and we enjoyed walking by the never ending stands of beautiful Blue fan palms as we returned to Dowlings ranch and saw that the recently completed ranchhouse had lost part of its roof to the wind during the night.
We were rejoined by 5 members of the group, including the 3 who had found the road and driven in and had hot coffee ready for everyone to enjoy. The group reached the cars by mid-afternoon and everyone met that evening in San Felipe for a good Mexican dinner to celebrate an eventful, memorable trip to the southern highpoint of the Sierra San Pedro Martir.
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