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Picacho Diablo Attempt

May 2013: The goal - to hike and climb to the top of Picacho Diablo, Baja's highest mountain at 10,124 feet.

Picacho Diablo - Baja's highest mountain


Point of departure - the Padre Kino camping area near Vallecitos.


My companions: Roger Jacobs (age 72) and Ronnie Christian (age 70)


As expected, it didn’t go quite according to plan... but what a fantastic Baja adventure it turned out to be, and what a pair of tough old Baja adventurers they were.

Roger Jacobs and Ronnie Christian


Roger was good enough to let us leave our vehicles at his house in Ensenada and he then drove us to the Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park. Ronnie had driven to Ensenada from his home in Laredo, Texas.

We arrived at the park May 23, and set out mid-morning on Friday, May 24 to begin the long heavy haul from the Padre Kino campsite with five days supply of food and a few pints of water each.  We intended to camp at the Botella Azul trailhead, and then next evening down in the bottom of Canyon Diablo, at Campo Noche, where there is plenty of water.

Roger leads the way


The temperature was probably in the upper 70s as we made our way through the pine and aspen forest.  It was predictably tough going with rugged, steep slopes and many fallen trees to deal with. As agreed, we settled on an easy pace to minimize risk of injury, and we all knew the odds were long that we would make it all the way to the summit, and we might not even make it to Campo Noche.


Trail to Botella Azul


Five hours or so into the attempt, at a spring before we reached Blue Bottle, we caught up with a party of Mexican hikers who were en route to Picacho. While they pushed on, we filtered water and assessed our situation.

Purfying drinking water from the spring


Thinking about what we had passed through and the long steep drop to the canyon bottom ahead, Roger reluctantly but very wisely decided to abandon his quest, camp for the night by the spring and return to the vehicle next morning.

Ronnie at 70 knew if he didn’t get to the summit now, it would probably never happen. So we agreed that he would continue and try to hook up with the Mexican party ahead, and I would return with Roger the next morning.

A couple of hours later Ronnie made it all the way up to the Blue Bottle trailhead, met the group there who kindly agreed to let him join them…  but having second thoughts and worried that he might slow them down, he decided to race the night all the way back to where we were camped.

Darkness fell before he found us and Ronnie made camp alone just a few hundred yards from where we were.  Luckily, Roger and I were in no hurry to leave next morning, and Ronnie wandered up just as we were finishing breakfast and packing up.

Ironically, at midnight that night, by the light of a full moon, a couple of young Mexicans set out from Padre Kino attempting to set a record for the fastest climb of Picacho Diablo from the Kino campground. They had support crew at Blue Bottle, at Campo Noche and up on Picacho. We heard the two record chasers rushing by around 1 AM. What took us five hours took them a little over an hour!   [See Below]

In spite of our disappointment, it was a good feeling to be all back together... and then four or five hours later safely back in camp. We had arrived in time to applaud the record-setting duo’s triumphant return. They had made it to the peak and back in 15 hours and 25 minutes. They were greeted by their friends and family and “observers.” There was quite a party with beer and wonderful food. We were graciously invited to partake. The quesadillas and ceviche were great after a day subsisting on trail mix and cereal bars.

While Roger recovered and enjoyed a couple of less arduous hikes, Ronnie and I explored the edge of Canyon Diablo and peered wistfully over at the peak, examining the route we hoped to one day take.

Looking at Picacho Diablo



And just for a few moments we caught sight of a figure standing triumphantly on the summit. We guessed correctly it was one of the party that Ronnie nearly joined.


Climber on the peak


Last day, Ronnie and I hiked to the top of Blue Bottle to further contemplate the route to Picacho and dream and scheme about another attempt.

Ronnie on the NW side of Blue Bottle



Approaching the top of Blue Bottle



Ronnie looking west to the Sea of Cortez and mainland Mexico



Looking north to Picacho Diablo


Roger felt terrible about not going further but at least he tried and did what he did, a fantastic achievement at 72, and he was sensible enough to know his limits and take heed of what his legs were telling him.

And I felt privileged to camp in the peace of the San Pedro Martir with two amazing seniors… listening to tales of Roger’s life as an agricultural inspector and Ronnie’s teaching stories and tales of army service with a heavy mortar battalion and the 82nd Airborne.

As they say, the journey is sometimes more important than the destination. It was a peak experience even if we didn’t make it to the top of Baja. 


On Saturday, May 25, 2013 two tall, young Mexicans set out at midnight from the Padre Kino camping area in the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir hoping to hike from the plateau down to the bottom of Canyon Diablo and immediately up to the top of Picacho del Diablo and back again to Padre Kino... all in under 24 hours.

Their goal was to establish an officially verified and sanctioned record, and possibly make it into the Guinness Book of Records.

Victor Manuel Lopez Meza, (Rayo de Ensenada) age 31, had been to Picacho peak 7 times, and had been traveling and guiding on and around the mountain for over ten years. 

His companion Luis Felipe Vea Ávalos 23 (Skywalker) had met Victor just a month before. But in that time he totally committed himself to the project, training hard every day. It was his first climb of Picacho.

An unexpected and worrying problem they had early on was with their headlights. Night travel in such rugged conditions was hazardous enough but when their lights started to fail they lost 45 minutes finding a fix and were fearful they would not be able to set the record.

After they had reached the top of Picacho Diablo, and were heading back down tired and thirsty, there was another anxious time as Felipe started to have cramps. Victor said he was motivated both by establishing the record and ensuring that Felipe made it safely back as his mother and father were waiting for him in camp.

Victor and Felipe return to Padre Kino. Felipe's father welcomes them back



Felipe and Victor enjoying a plate of ceviche



Victor with his 4 year old son. Felipe signing a poster for me 


At the successful completion of their journey, both Victor and Felipe humbly expressed their gratitude to each other, and to all the people who helped them reach their goal. They acknowledged that they could not have done it without their six man support team out there awaiting them in the dark at Botella Azul, Campo Noche and on Picacho itself with food, water, and medicine.   



Event poster and park certificate  


They were grateful for the support and backing of the park authorities who made available access to the Padre Kino area and all park facilities. And they were sending Spot location signals via satellite to the park authorities and also wilderness and mountain rescue groups in the area who were ready to assist if needed.

But above all, both men thanked their families and friends there to cheer them off into the night and anxiously await their return. That moral support clearly meant everything and it was wonderful to be there for the emotional cheers, hugs, and tears as the record setters (and later their support crews) wandered back from their exertions and adventures.


Two members of support team arrive back to share in the celebration



Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Mártir personnel issued them an official certificate verifying that they had returned in less than 24 hours. Indeed, they made the journey in an amazing 15 hours and 25 minutes, much of it in the dark, a mind-blowing achievement to all those who know the terrain. It is a record that may and should last for many, many years.


Sharing in the celebration 


The joy and celebrations were infectious… and these wonderful people kindly and graciously invited Roger and Ronnie and me – we had just returned from our own hike along that trail -  to join them for a delicious forest banquet of quesadillas, ceviche, beans and salsa.

It was a day to remember, and we wish “Rayo de Ensenada” and “Skywalker” good luck and happy trails for all their future adventures and record setting events.