Cerro Botella Azul
By: Wynne Benti
Our group of six, Ron Young, George Toby (who had just celebrated his 73rd birthday), Roy Magnuson, Bobcat Thompson, Scot Jamison and I met early Friday morning at the home of Joe & Betty McCosker near San Diego, where we consolidated everyone into two vehicles. We briefly visited with Joe and Betty who gave us some of their fine homemade bread. Around nine-thirty in the morning, we were on our way south to the border.
The ride through Baja along the coast was beautiful and pleasantly uneventful. For one who had not been on the coast side of Baja. I was impressed by the beautiful beaches-made me want to pick up a surfboard again. We stopped along the road to the eat the lunches we brought. then continued on to Parque Nacional San Pedro Martir. Turning left on the signed road to the Meling Ranch, we drove the lengthy dirt road, passing through small inland communities, to its end at the shack at Los Llanitos. According to various thermometers brought along, the first night's temperature was in the low forties. The sun set at about 6:30. When night came on, the sky filled with zillions of stars - the heart of the milky way. The wind picked up and throughout the night, tossed and rustled the Ponderosa pines.
Saturday morning, with loaded packs we started up the drainage below the shack, following it across the plateau. We had lunch at the base of Blue Bottle, which was climbed by those who had not previously had the honors of doing so. Side-hilling along the base of the Cerro Botella Azul, we arrived at Blue Bottle saddle and began the steep descent into the canyon over rugged. boulder-strewn terrain. When we reached the canyon bottom, we could hear the running water of the waterfall at the mouth of Gorrin's Gulley. The drainage was an obstacle course of rocks and boulders, manzanita, oaks and stinging nettles. Though the stinging nettles were well past their spring bloom, they still packed a sting. Before sunset, we arrived at Campo Noche.
When darkness fell, the wind picked up again. No moon, so the canyon was pitch black. After dinner, we basked in the glow of our headlamps until we heard what sounded like a person rummaging through someone's belongings. Realizing that all six of us were together, we concluded that we had a visitor. The mysterious visitor, a ring-tailed cat, swiped cousin Bobcat's entire package of muffins and most of his chocolate, as well as my package of trail mix. Before retiring, we either hung our food from tree branches or brought it in the tents. Several times during the night, Bobcat was awakened by that ring-tailed cat trying to swipe his bag of food. Finally, around midnight. Bob hauled his food into the tent.
Next morning, off at about eight to get the Big Kahuna. Most were carrying three quarts of water. We fought our way through the manzanita and more rugged. boulder-choked gullies. The weather was perfect - sunny and warm - the wind had died down. yet there was an occasional breeze.
On-on up the mountain, through Night Wash, Slot Wash and eventually Wall Street. What seemed never-ending finally reached its conclusion on the summit around 2pm, overlooking the gulf and the San Pedro Martir mountains. We spent only a short time on the summit before turning around and heading back down. The descent was somewhat faster than the ascent. With aching knees and strained muscles, the last of the group arrived back at Campo Noche just after sunset. After a night's rest, with only one or two visits from our ring-tailed friend, we were up at dawn and off again, climbing out of the canyon around 7:30am. Back over the boulders and rocks, crawling over logs, wading through manzanita, oaks and stinging nettles - a few more vegetable belays. At one point, as we peacefully ambled along all hell broke loose, as we stepped over a hive of pissed-off bees, which decided to pursue me! All I could think was "oh, s---! African Bees!" Bees were stinging me everywhere. Having out-distanced the bees, we stopped and Bobcat had to pick one out of my hair.
On-on again. Slow but steady to the top. The packs seemed to feel heavier than they did on the first day. Finally, we made it to Blue Bottle Saddle where we had lunch and relaxed in the warm sun. From there, we followed a ducked drainage back across the plateau, where we ran into a NOLS group on a 90 day Baja survival outing. They were as surprised to see us as we were to see them.
We arrived back at the cars at 4:30. Somewhere a long the trail, Scot and Bobcat had the brilliant idea of going to Ensenada for dinner and some margaritas. Unable to convince Roy, George & Ron to drive another five hours on dirt roads and narrow Baja highways after dark, we said good-bye. With Scot "Mr. Baja" Jamison at the wheel, we drove to Estero Beach Resort just south of Ensenada. Though the restaurant was closed for "La fumagacion de cucarachas," we were served dinner and margaritas in the bar over-looking the moonlit ocean and the white-capped breakers rolling into the bay. Next day, back to the McCosker's in San Diego and eventually home.
My first experience climbing in Mexico eight years ago (Cerro Pescadores and Pico Risco) was overshadowed by our subsequent "ambush" by the gun-toting soldiers of the Mexican Army during our exit of Pescadores. Having thirty or more rifles pointed at you, while being accused of drug-running and gun-smuggling can be a rather disconcerting experience. Since that time, I dreaded returning to Baja. This trip to El Picacho... this marathon event... perhaps changed my mind somewhat about Baja for the better. The peak was a big grunt, but to get there we passed by some of the most beautiful beaches in the west - the way California must have looked once, a long time ago.
Thanks to Ron, George, Roy, Bobcat and Scot for a wonderful trip.
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