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Hello Diablo...It´s Me Again

 

 

By Ron Christian

 

 

        When I was a kid, my dad took me and my brother on several hiking trips in the mountains of Tennessee and I grew to enjoy the great outdoors. Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone were two of my heroes.

      As I grew into adulthood, I retained the love for roaming and exploring the woods and mountains. After joining the army and a spell in the Airborne, I settled into a teaching career.





Ronnie Christian - Jumpschool graduation class (July 5, 1963)



      When I retired in 1991, I read a book entitled "Into a Desert Place" by Graham Mackintosh. His long solo hike around the coast of Baja inspired me to the point that I went to Baja and hiked the first 100 miles of his trip. I was hooked. I vowed to return to Baja someday to continue exploring.





      My brother and I hiked the Appalachian Trail in its entirety in 1994. A year later we hiked and hitch-hiked our way from Mexicali all the way to Cabo San Lucas. Following further backpacking trips in the USA and Mexico, I decided to make an attempt to climb the highest peak in Baja, the dramatic 10,000 foot Picacho del Diablo.





Looking across Canyon Diablo to Picacho Diablo





Climber standing on Baja's highest point



      Such is the pull of that mountain and such are the challenges of the climb, I was soon looking back on four failed attempts to make it to the peak.

      There are two well established routes. One from the high San Pedro Martir National Park, which involves dropping down thousands of feet into the bottom of Canyon Diablo, and overnighting in the canyon at Campo Noche, the usual “basecamp” for the attempt on the mountain. The other route involves starting down in the desert and hiking 14-15 miles up Canyon Diablo to Campo Noche and picking up the trail there. The arduous slog up the canyon was a familiar route for me, and it takes so much out of you I had never got beyond Campo Noche.

      On my fourth attempt, from the park, in May 2013, I had the privilege of hiking with Graham Mackintosh and Roger Jacobs. Unfortunately, we never made it, but Graham and I did hike to the top of Blue Bottle Peak (Botella Azul), the highest point in the San Pedro Martir National Park. We stared longingly across the canyon to Picacho. It seemed so close, I could almost reach out and touch it.

 



     


                              Ron Christian on Blue Bottle Mountain



     

    

Looking down to the desert




     


Canyon Diablo



For my fifth and last try, in May of 2014, I chose the desert route again, and decided to make it a solo attempt.

      Attempting it alone at age 71 would be asking a lot, but I was determined.

      

And so my troubles began...


      I had driven over from my home in Laredo, Texas. First problem was where to leave my car.

      Prior to my trip, I had gotten permission from a Baja friend to park my car at his winter home at Campo Ocotillo, a few miles north of San Felipe. He wouldn’t be there but I was assured the owner of the Campo would keep an eye on it. I planned to hitch-hike the 25 miles back north from his house to the starting point for my hike.

 

 

Day 1    Sunday...May 11, 2014

 

      On the way down to San Felipe, I noticed a restaurant located a half mile from my starting point. I suddenly got the idea to pull over and ask the owner if I could leave my car at his place for ten days or so.

      I introduced myself to Reuben, who ran the Michoacán restaurant, explained my need and offered to pay him. He accepted the deal.

      I thought about driving to my friend’s place to leave a message with the owner of Campo Ocotillo that I wouldn’t be parking my car there after all.

      Mindful that it was late in the day I decided not to… thinking that I could drive to the Campo after I got back and explain why I did what I did.

      Reuben asked me what he should do if I didn't return after the 10 days. I asked him to drive to Campo Ocotillo and contact April, the owner of the Camp, and let her know that I hadn't returned at the scheduled time. She would then relay the message to my friend and he could notify others of the situation.

      I left Reuben a notebook with the names and phone numbers of my family and friends. I entered the coordinates for the trailhead in my Garmin e-Trex 10 GPS, adjusted the length of my hiking pole, checked my watch for the time (4:00 P.M.) and finally hoisted my pack on my back.

      We shook hands, and off I went to begin the hike. I had two or three hours of daylight left.

      A twenty mile hot dusty road stared me in the face as I looked southward anticipating the hike to the man-made desert oasis known as "Jose's store."

      I felt confident that the four quarts of water in my pack was sufficient to get me to the store where I could replenish my water supply.

      The pack was heavy. I brought a seven-day supply of food assuming that I would be off the mountain and out of the canyon by the end of the seventh day. Once I reached the canyon creek, I would no longer need to carry so much water. Water would be available all the way up Diablo Canyon to Campo Noche.

      The road was well graded with a firm road-bed. There was no deep sand to suck the life out of my legs as I trudged along.

      To my right and up ahead awesome and majestic mountains rose into the fading blue sky. Down in the desert, as far as the eye could see, there was nothing but sand, scrub bushes, cactus, rocks, and a few short scrawny trees.

      By seven o'clock, the sun had dropped behind the mountains and the coolness of the evening air began to spread across the desert. I set up camp about fifty feet from the road.

      I spread out my ground cloth and my self-inflating mat on a patch of sand. I didn't bring my tent but instead brought a nylon tarp for sun and rain protection. I’d only set it up when needed.

      When I pulled my sleeping bag from its compression sack, I was shocked to see that it was not my 20 degree rated bag. It was my 45 degree bag! A 45 degree bag might be fine for the desert but it would not do for the cold nights high in the mountains.

      How in the heck did I bring the wrong bag? I thought about it for a while and then I remembered that after my last backpack trip, I had stuffed my 45 degree bag into my 20 degree stuff sack because it fit better.

      Oh well, nothing to do but deal with it the best I could.

      I opened my food bag and selected a can of sardines and peanut-butter and crackers for my supper. I found a nice flat-topped rock to sit on as I ate my simple but tasty meal.

      After the meal, I sat on the rock and contemplated the hike. According to my GPS, I had walked about five miles of the dirt road, which meant another fifteen miles before reaching Jose's store. Unless I could get a ride tomorrow, that would be another whole day of hiking just to get to the store.

      Then I had a further eleven mile hike to the Diablo Canyon trailhead. That could cost me another day of the seven that I had allotted myself for the trip.

      The sudden sound of coyotes yipping in the night broke my train of thought and reminded me that it was time to hit the sack.

      A near full moon shone above me as I eased into my sleeping bag. After the sounds of the coyotes faded, I was soon enveloped in the peace and solitude of the Baja desert.

 

 

 

Day 2   Monday...May 12

 

      I woke around 6 o'clock to the sound of cows passing nearby. The night had been cool but my sleeping bag was plenty warm enough.

      After a quick breakfast, I packed and continued to walk south to Jose's store.

      An hour later, I heard a faint rumbling behind me. I turned and saw a plume of dust trailing an old pick-up truck.

      The truck rolled up. The driver leaned out the window and asked if I wanted a ride. Before he could say another word, I threw my pack in the back of the truck, hopped in beside him and shook his hand.

      We introduced ourselves as he shifted gears and slowly got underway. Gordo said that he was going to the store to buy soda, beer and snacks for a construction crew that was building an addition to his ranch house.

      I told him about my planned hike. Amazed that I was attempting it alone and with no weapons, he warned me about cougars, bears, coyotes, and rattlesnakes. I thanked him for his concern and asked if he had any more comforting thoughts.

      It wasn't long before we pulled up to the store and parked out front. We went inside the dimly lit interior and stood at the counter waiting for Jose to appear. Two or three minutes passed and still no Jose.

      Gordo banged on the counter and called out. Suddenly, an ancient-looking figure slowly emerged from behind the counter. It was Jose and he had a light blanket wrapped over his shoulders. He said that he had been fast asleep in the back and wasn't expecting anyone, especially as it had been a week since anyone stopped by.

      Jose was glad to see us and enjoyed chatting as we drank cold cokes and ate snacks.

      I thanked Gordo for the ride and offered him ten dollars for gas money. He refused to take the money but I insisted… he had saved me from a whole day's hike in the oppressive desert heat.

      Once again, I strapped on my pack and hit the dusty road. The temperature rose steadily. My clothes were soon drenched with sweat.

      Those eleven miles to the canyon crawled by. I had to take several ten-minute breaks due to the weighty pack and the energy sapping effect of the relentless sun.

      What a relief it was to finally be able to stop and set up camp. I was so tired that I didn't want to do anything but lay down and take a nap but I knew I had to eat to replace the calories my body had used during the day.

      I built a fire and boiled a pot of water for my dehydrated package of rice and chicken. By the time I finished the meal and arranged my sleeping gear, the sun had disappeared and darkness had arrived.

 

 

Day 3   Tuesday...May 13

 

      I woke early, packed up and ate two granola bars for a quick breakfast; then I followed one of the several paths that led northwest to the dry riverbed that precedes the canyon proper.

      After a mile or so of rock-hopping and several arroyo crossings, I arrived at the entrance falls, the place where the canyon truly begins.

      There a forceful rush of water surges over a polished granite chute plunging six feet down into a large crystal-clear eight-foot deep pool. The waterfall is situated between two smooth, steep rock walls that offer no foot or hand holds. It cannot be climbed without the aid of the steel cable that dangles from the left side of the thirty-foot long wall.

      I would have to grab the cable and crab-walk along the wall to the low point of the chute where I could get my leg up and haul myself above the falls.

      I tied a fifty-foot length of rope to my pack and left it on the bank next to the pool. I grasped the other end in my teeth, and gloved hands grasping the steel cable started working my way along the wall. All went well and I hauled myself up to the lip of the falls. Next, I needed to position myself higher up on the left sidewall of the falls so that I could start pulling up the backpack.

      I managed to ease my way up along the steeply, slanted smooth rock face to the point where I stood directly above my pack. I was about fifteen feet up the wall and could barely keep my boots from losing their grip. I started hauling on the rope, hand over hand, and as the pack swung out over the pool it pulled me off-balance and my feet slipped out from under me.

      I fell flat on my back and twisted upside down. I tried to stop my slide toward the chute and the lip of the falls but to no avail. Picking up speed, I slammed into the opposite stone wall and bounced into the chute. The force of the water shot me backwards over the falls and into the pool.

      It was a shock to feel the cold water wash over me. Down I went, all the way to the bottom. Weighted down with wet clothes and boots, I was having trouble rising to the top of the pool. Eventually, I managed to break the surface and grab hold of the half-submerged backpack. I was able to reach the pull rope that was attached to the cable and this allowed me to keep my head above water. I worked my way along the wall until my feet touched bottom and I could stand up and slosh my way out of the pool.

      Breathing heavily, heart racing, it took me a few minutes to calm down and assess the situation.

      First I had to get out of my wet clothes and boots. With my clothes off, I noticed several abrasions on my left hip and leg. I also had abrasions on both arms but no serious damage had been done.

      I needed to dump everything out of my soaked pack. It had all gotten wet: sleeping bag, GPS, camera, batteries, flashlight, extra clothing, first-aid kit, etc. I even had to set my wet pesos out to dry.

      I spread it all out in the warm sun then sat butt-naked on a rock in the shade to wait for everything to dry.

      Two hours passed before it was dried to my satisfaction. When I was dressed and putting everything back into the backpack, a gust of wind swept across the sand and blew half my pesos into the pool.

      "Son of a biscuit-eater!" Nothing to do but take off my clothes and boots again and swim around the pool to round-up my wayward pesos. I then decided to just relax and spend a half-hour enjoying a swim and a wash in the cooling water.

      Refreshed, I dressed again, finished re-loading my pack and sat down to consider my next move. I decided to attempt the cable crossing maneuver with my pack on my back instead of trying to haul it up by the rope.

      Crossing the rock wall with a heavy pack would be more difficult. There was a good chance that I couldn't get enough momentum to propel myself up to the lip of the falls.

      I grabbed the cable with my gloved-hands, steadied myself, counted to three and away I went. Four feet from the edge of the falls, my forward progress came to a stop. I leaned over to the right and pushed hard with my feet and slowly inched my way up and over the falls.

      Yeehaw! I made it without taking another unscheduled dunk into the pool below me. I was elated as I patted myself on the back for my success.

      Ten minutes later I was again faced with a water hazard. In front of me was a four- to five-foot deep pool that blocked the path up the canyon. It was situated between two steep rock walls and the only way to bypass the pool was to edge myself along one of the walls.

      I eased myself along the smooth wall taking baby-steps as I moved forward. Less than halfway over, my left foot slipped. My torso hit the wall. My outstretched hands could not stop my rapid slide into the pool. "Splat"... I plunged into the water. When my boots hit bottom, I tried to stand up but I kept slipping and sliding on the slick algae-covered stones. My pack and I slipped underwater twice before I was able to crawl out of the pool.

      My fall into the pool wasn't as precarious as the incident at the waterfall. It was nothing more than an exasperating annoyance. Once more, I had to go through the slow process of drying out the contents of the pack plus my soggy clothes. Filled with frustration, I sat in the canyon another two hours waiting for the baking sun to do its work.





Canyon waterfalls presented many challenges



      These two mishaps re-emphasized the need to be extra cautious as a solo hiker in this devil of a canyon.

      This was my fourth trip in the Diablo Canyon, so I was well aware of the risk that I was taking. I feared two things, mainly. One, suffering a broken leg. Two, suffering a rattlesnake bite. I had managed to dodge those two bullets during my prior three trips. I hoped that the knowledge I had gained on those previous hikes would lessen the chance of a serious mishap during this hike.

      I stuffed the sun-dried equipment back into my pack and headed up the canyon. To get to Campo Noche I simply had to follow the ever-flowing creek southward.





A lower section of Canyon Diablo



      However, following the creek wasn’t as easy as it sounds. I had to laboriously work my way along the bank through thick brush, over slippery rocks, around numerous boulders, and up across several high ledges.

      It was late in the afternoon when I came upon a great place to camp. I was exhausted and dehydrated. I immediately went to the creek and filtered two quarts of cold, clear water. I drank one quart right away to quench my thirst and saved the other to cook my meal.

      For some unknown reason, I had no appetite. I had to force myself to swallow each spoonful of the chicken and rice soup I prepared. I had eaten half the meal when all of a sudden my gag reflex kicked in causing me to almost "throw up." I dumped out the other half and put out the fire.

      I was slightly irritated that I had made very little progress up the canyon after enduring such a long and difficult day. I hoped a better day lay ahead.

      And as darkness made its way into the canyon I was more than ready for "snoozeville."

 

 

 

Day 4    Wednesday...May 14th

 

      I woke up to a cool, refreshing morning, built a small fire and fixed a quick pot of oatmeal for breakfast. Again, I wasn't hungry but I needed to eat. I mixed in a small box of raisins to sweeten the oatmeal, hoping it would make it easier to get it down. I managed to eat all but the last few spoonfuls.

      A lack of appetite was very unusual for me. When hiking, I usually ate three meals a day, plus snacks in-between. I was worried that I might be coming down with some illness.

      I repacked my gear, filtered two quarts of water, put on my leather gloves, grabbed my hiking pole and hit the “trail.”

      It was slow going. Very slow. The further I progressed up the canyon, the rougher the terrain became. The canyon walls increased their height and became steeper. The creek-bed followed more twists and turns. More barriers blocked my way forcing me to climb up and around them.

      I encountered many places where I had to use my rope to lower the pack down or haul the pack up.

      Luckily, one “impossible” barrier had a cable-ladder bolted to the steep granite wall enabling me to jump up and grab the first rung and haul myself up.






      I had to watch for slippery stones as I crossed the creek over and over. Protruding shrub roots created tripping hazards, as did low lying vines. Many times branches snagged my pack jerking me backwards, throwing me off balance. Loose rocks were a danger as I hopped from rock to rock. The ever-present cacti and their painful, prickly spines punished any ill-considered movement.

      There were places where I had to get down on my hands and knees, and sometimes my belly, in order to crawl under fallen trees that blocked my path.

      If the fallen tree was too low to crawl under then I had to toss my pack over and then hoist myself up and over.

      Because I had to be so cautious my pace had slowed considerably. Nine years earlier, a companion and I had reached Campo Noche at the end of the second day in the canyon. I was now on my second day, and still had twelve miles to go. Things weren't looking good as far as my time schedule for the hike and climb.

      Taking rest breaks and stopping to filter water were time consuming, but necessary.

      My body was getting quite a workout. By the time I found an open, sandy spot near the creek to camp, I was more than ready to stop.

      It felt great to be able to get the weight off my back and give my shoulders a much needed rest.

      I built another fire and selected dehydrated mashed potatoes for supper. I liked the buttery-garlic flavor and was able to eat all of it without gagging. I hoped it was a sign my appetite was returning.

      A big, bright moon lit up the night as I prepared my bedding for the evening. Sleep came easily after I stuffed myself in the sack.

 

 

Day 5   Thursday...May 15th

 

      I awoke just as the morning sun rose above the high eastern cliffs. For breakfast, I ate a granola bar and some raisins. I tried to eat a second bar but I couldn’t finish it. It wasn't much of a meal, but I would try to eat some snacks later as I continued up the canyon.

      I filtered another two quarts of water for the day's hike. Once the sun started to beat down on me, I had to have water. I might be able to go days without sufficient food, but I wouldn't last long without water.






      The creek was crystal clear and very cold...a hiker's delight. I just had to ignore the mass of small, black tadpoles that swam about, and the little green frogs that leaped into the water as I pumped the filter.

      I didn't know for certain how effective the filter would be, but I convinced myself that all the bacteria and other “beasties” were removed. If not, then I would find out before my trip was over.

      This day was practically a repeat of yesterday, but the climb up the canyon was steeper. I was saying "goodbye" to the lower reaches of the canyon and saying "hello" to the middle section. It was good to know that I was gaining altitude, but at the same time I knew that the nights were going to get colder. So far my 45 degree sleeping bag was keeping me warm.

      Several blisters developed on a couple of toes and I had to stop and cover them with "moleskin" to prevent them from enlarging.

      Tree branches continued to snag my clothes and scrape my arms, legs, and face. My knees and shins were almost skinned from the constant crawling over large rocks and boulders. I had several bruises on my legs and hips caused by banging against tree trunks, boulders and granite walls.




The canyon gets tougher


      The soles of my feet took a beating each time I jumped from a boulder and landed with a bone-jarring thud on the rocks below. Eventually, I lost nerve sensation in both my big toes and the ball of my right foot.

      No matter how careful I was, I still managed to bump into cactus after cactus, forcing me to stop and remove the irksome, painful spines. Three spines were embedded so deeply that I couldn't remove them and they were a constant irritant… one in my finger, one in my ankle, and one in my thigh.

      Thank goodness I carried leather gloves with me because without them my hands would have been shredded by the rough, sharp-edged rocks and boulders that I had to grab or brace myself against. By the end of the day my gloves looked like they had been attacked by an electric sanding machine.

      But the crazy thing was, in spite of it all, I was enjoying the hike.

      I enjoyed being alone. I only had to answer to myself for my actions and decisions... right or wrong. I liked the wildness and isolation of the canyon and the challenge it presented. I liked the adventure of it all and the uncertainty of what lay ahead. I liked having to rely on me, myself, and no one else. And I knew that after a week or more in the harsh environment of Diablo Canyon, returning home to comfort and safety would be all the sweeter.

      As twilight approached in the canyon, I scrambled around among the rocks for a space big enough to fit me and my air-mat. Luckily, I found just what I was looking for and jammed my sleeping gear into the small area.

      I selected Chicken Teriyaki for supper. Again I had to force myself to get the last few bites down my gullet before hitting the hay.

 

 

Day 6   Friday...May 16th

 

      I got up at 6:00 AM. That seemed to be the norm now… up at six and ready to go by 6:30 or 7:00 AM.

      I went through my usual morning routine of filtering water, packing up, eating a quick breakfast, and lastly, strapping the "monkey" on my back. Another long day testing my stamina and endurance lay ahead.

      Last night as I lay awake in my sleeping bag, I thought about my situation concerning an attempt to summit Picacho. I was way behind schedule. I was expected back at the Michoacán Restaurant on the tenth day of the trip and it was already day 6. There was no way that I could reach Campo Noche, ascend and descend Picacho, hike back down the canyon, return to Joe's store and then on to the highway, all in four days. It was next to impossible!

      I changed my goal for the trip. I decided to do something rarely done, and that is to hike the entire Diablo Canyon, from the desert trailhead all the way up to the near ten-thousand foot Blue Bottle mountain located in the San Pedro Martir National Park. From there, I would hike on to the ranger station where I could restock my food and water supply for the return trip to San Felipe by bus or hitch-hike.

      If things went well, I could do it within two days, thus giving me two more days to get from the Park to my car in San Felipe. If I got to the Park by Sunday, I had a good chance of catching a ride with one of the few weekend visitors.

      With my hiking pole in hand, I pushed on for Campo Noche and Blue Bottle mountain.

      I needed to hustle and set a faster pace, but speeding up could increase the chance of an accident. I was a little beyond the halfway mark in the canyon and I certainly did not want a broken leg at this point. Most hikers would be out of the canyon (if there were any hikers) by Saturday evening. That would mean that the canyon would be void of people until the next week-end...a long time to wait for help.

      I also had to take into consideration my physical condition. My energy level was extremely low. I was burning more calories than I was taking in. I was needing more breaks... longer lasting breaks. Sometimes, I would doze off during the breaks and wake up to discover that I had slept a half hour or more.

      During the breaks, I tried to eat some GORP (Good Ole Raisins & Peanuts) or peanut-butter and crackers, but the only thing I wanted to eat were the raisins. However, I enjoyed eating pieces of "Werther's Caramel Candy" as I scrambled up the canyon.

      From time to time, hummingbirds would zoom up to my head and hover right in front of my eyes, checking me out. There wasn't a day that passed that I wasn't "buzz-bombed" by the tiny creatures. I think they were attracted to the red bandana that I had tied to my pack strap. It probably looked like a giant red flower to them.

      Once when I took a break, a hummingbird flew within 3 inches of my nose and hovered there for a full minute staring in my eyes. I always looked forward to their visits.

      Early in the morning, I was boxed in by three giant boulders and the only way out was to push through a tangle of vines and then climb thirty feet up to a ledge. From the ledge, I still had to climb up and over a high hill consisting of jumbled rocks and dense brush and trees.

      There was a small cave under the hill that had an opening to the other side of the canyon. It made for a good shortcut

      The hole at the end of the cave was just big enough for me to wriggle and squirm my way through as I dragged my pack behind me.






      After eleven hours of strenuous sparring and grappling with the feisty canyon, the "Tun-Tun" campsite came into view. I had no idea what "Tun-Tun" meant, but it was a nice campsite.

      I had to climb a fifty foot sloping slab of granite that rose above the creek before reaching the camp's level, sandy area. I dropped my pack onto the sand and set up camp.

      Before darkness arrived, I wanted to check out the route I would follow in the morning. I discovered that a large boulder jutted out in front of the sloping trail. Fifty feet below were two large pools of water. To maneuver around the boulder, I was forced to step out onto the steep slope and creep forward about ten feet to reach the other side of the boulder.

      In a flash, my hiking pole skidded off the smooth granite and I was thrown off balance. I didn't fall, but I couldn't stop myself from rushing headlong down the slope and into the waiting pool. I knew the second I lost my balance what was going to happen, so I just went with it. I splashed in trying not to land on a submerged boulder, and immediately swam across the pool and on over to the second pool. Once I crossed the two pools, all I had to do was climb back up the granite slope that led to the campsite.

      Luckily, I had left the pack and equipment at the campsite before my route exploration. Only me and my hiking stick managed to get soaked.

      I gathered up firewood and started a fire to warm myself after taking off my wet clothes. I hung the clothes up to dry for the third time during the hike. I hoped there wouldn't be a fourth splashdown in the future.

      I prepared a bowl of mashed potatoes for my supper and was able to eat it all, but with some reluctance. I still lacked the normal desire for food.

      I was now about four-thousand feet above sea-level and there was an increased chill in the air. I gladly retired to my 45 degree bag hoping it would continue to keep the cold nights at bay.

 

 

Day 7   Saturday....May 17th

 

      I woke in the middle of the night and had to put on my fleece jacket to keep warm. I was slow getting up in the chilly morning, but it didn't take long for the sun to turn up the heat and erase the chill.

      I didn't want to take the time to build a fire to boil water for oatmeal, so I was content to eat a small can of peaches with a packet of peanut-butter and crackers. My food supply was getting dangerously low. I was down to one packet of Cajun Rice and Beans, one packet of dehydrated mash potatoes, two small packets of granola bars, four small boxes of raisins and a zip-lock bag of "gorp."

      I would have to restrict myself to half rations at each mealtime to conserve what was left until I reached the ranger station. I hoped it was indeed no more than two days away.

      I filtered the necessary two quarts of water. Every day, the unrelenting heat forced me to drain the two quarts again and again. Stopping to filter the water usually burned up twenty to thirty minutes and I had to refill at least four times a day--first thing in the morning, twice while hiking and once in the evening for cooking, etc.

      I hoped to reach Campo Noche before nightfall and to do so I needed to pick up the pace, but the canyon always found ways to inhibit my progress.

      To get around the boulder that protruded across the pathway that I had checked out yesterday evening, I relied on my long rope once more. I tied one end to the pack and the other to my wrist, then got down on my hands and knees and carefully crawled around the boulder. When I was safely situated on the other side, I dragged the backpack to me. I was now back on the unobstructed pathway.

      Even though I wasn't eating as much as I should be, I felt pretty good as I made my way up the canyon. I still took a lot of breaks and with each break, off came the pack, off came my shirt, off came my boots and socks… and out came the bag of "gorp." Then I would sit on the ground with my back leaning against my pack, which was leaning against a rock.

      After I quenched my thirst and chewed some gorp, I would sometimes close my eyes and take a short siesta. It helped renew my energy but it also ate into my hiking time.

      Two or three miles into the hike, I encountered another waterfall. It had to be by-passed by climbing up the side of a high, steep bluff. There was no way that I could climb up with my heavy pack, so I tied my trusty rope once more to the pack and tied the other end to my belt. With the pack on the ground, I started up, hand over hand, latching on to exposed roots and rocks.

      It was a risky climb because it topped out at forty feet or more and a fall could be devastating. After a slow and painstaking struggle, I reached the top of the waterfall and breathed a sigh of relief. I then strained to pull the pack up. It was getting caught in a tangle of roots as it rose upward. I had to manipulate the rope left and right, up and down several times to extract it from the grip of the roots.

      When I finally hauled the pack to the edge of the bluff, I immediately untied the rope from the pack and my belt. I leaned the pack against a small bush and began to coil the rope to stuff it back into the pack. As I coiled the rope, the thin branches that supported my pack gave way and... POOF, the pack toppled over the edge and crashed on the rocks below.

      Unbelievable! I stood at the bluff's edge looking down in disbelief and complete dismay. How could I have so carelessly set the pack so close to the edge? I dreaded the thought of having to work my way back down to the pack and then repeat the tedious, risky climb, but it had to be done.

      A much needed long rest was in order when I arrived at the top of the waterfall again. I couldn't believe how much the frustrating episode sapped my energy.

      Hiking with the weighty pack continued to be a vexation. The shoulder straps constantly irritated my shoulders and I had to keep adjusting the straps for a more comfortable position. My shirt was always soaked with sweat because there was no air circulation between the pack and my back. Maintaining my balance was made more difficult due to the constant swaying of the pack as I plodded, hopped, climbed, and scrambled along the canyon floor.

      Finally, after another eleven-hour day of traveling, I reached Campo Noche. Wearily, I dropped my pack on the ground and plopped myself down against a huge log. I felt a great satisfaction for having successfully arrived at the camp without incurring any serious injury. Fourteen miles of the demanding and physically challenging, diabolical canyon were now behind me.

      Climbing Picacho del Diablo was definitely out of the picture.

      I now had to concentrate all my effort and energy towards exiting the canyon and climbing Blue Bottle mountain. The site of Campo Noche was the farthest I had been up the canyon up to now. I knew that I needed to continue up the canyon for another mile or two in order to reach the trail to Blue Bottle... I just didn't know precisely where the turn-off was.

      I wanted to enter the coordinates to the summit of Blue Bottle, which I had written down, so I took my GPS from the pack and turned it on. Nothing happened.

      I put new batteries in and still nothing. I never could get it to function. It might have been damaged from the two water soakings or possibly damaged when my pack fell from the bluff onto the rocks. I couldn't enter the coordinates into the GPS.

      This became one of my "uh oh" moments. I would just have to wait until morning to see if I could find the correct route.

      I built a fire and cooked half of the Cajun Rice & Beans for supper. I was able to eat most of it before my stomach said, "no more". I tossed the leftover R & B's into the fire and prepared my bedding for the night.

      When I blew up my air-mattress, it slowly deflated. I blew it up once more, with the same result. The mat had a hole in it. But I put it on top of my ground-cloth. It was better than nothing, I thought.

      I was now six-thousand feet above sea-level and the night was cold. I put on every piece of clothing I had, including a pair of clean socks, in hopes of keeping warm. I crawled into the bag and zipped it all the way up until just my nose poked out. I was comfortable even with the flat air-mat because my bedding was on top of a layer of soft sand. Wrapped in my little cocoon, I quickly fell asleep. However, the cold night air got my attention. I woke up several times during the night shivering and shaking.

 

 

Day 8   Sunday...May 18th

 

      I awoke at the usual morning hour. I wasn't hungry so I decided to skip breakfast and eat a snack later during the hike. I would be climbing to an even higher altitude today which meant I would have to deal with an even colder night.

      Campo Noche is the front door to the route up Picacho. Those who planned to summit use it as a basecamp. I had hoped to meet some climbers at the site to obtain information concerning the turn-off point to Blue Bottle, but nobody showed up.

      It was now the eighth day of the hike. In two days the owner of the " Michoacán Restaurant" would be advising my friends that I might be in trouble. I felt reasonably sure that I would be able to find the route up Blue Bottle and easily hike on to the ranger station within the time-limit and so prevent unnecessary worry for my friends and family.

      Before leaving the camp, I used my hiking pole to write a short message in the sand to establish the fact that I had been there. I wrote... "Ron Christian >----> Blue Bottle...May 18." I would have written a note on paper but in my haste I had inadvertently left my small waist-pouch in my car. It contained all my miscellaneous small articles that I normally need when hiking (pen, small notebook, toothbrush & paste, dental floss, pocket knife, whistle, disposable towelettes, chap-stick, etc.)

      I knew that the turn-off point was somewhere between Campo Noche and the Pinnacle Ridge. All I had to do was keep my eyes peeled for any sign indicating the turn. I also knew that the thirst-quenching creek changed its course and left the canyon floor at a place called "Gorin's Gulch." That would be my last chance to obtain cool, crystal clear water before the next waterhole which was two miles beyond the summit of Blue Bottle Mountain.

      The canyon continued to vex me with its various aggravating, time-consuming, stumbling-blocks. The sweltering heat showed no mercy. I emptied one water bottle earlier than I had planned. I needed to get used to rationing my water and drink only at break-times.

      After a half-mile or more into the hike, I came upon the waterfall at Gorin's Gulch.

      I stopped to take a break and refill my water bottles with the last of the good water. Dense patches of stinging nettle surrounded the pool of water and I couldn't avoid brushing against the pesky nettles as I pushed forward toward the water. My gloves protected my hands, but my exposed wrist area between the gloves and shirt-sleeves got hit. My wrist felt like they were on fire the instant they were hit. I quickly thrust my arms into the cold water in hopes of putting out the fire. Within five to ten minutes, to my relief, the burning sensation faded away.

      After I filled the water bottles, I took my hiking pole and beat a path back through the stinging nettles so as not to get stung again

      Away I went up the canyon in search of the turn-off point. I had been told that it was approximately one or two miles south of Campo Noche. When I reached what I estimated to be two miles from the campsite, I hadn't seen anything that suggested the turn-off. No "ducks" (two or more rocks placed on top of each other), no wooden sign, no placard, no painted blaze, no notched tree..... no nothing!

      I sensed yet another "uh oh" moment as I stood and surveyed the area and still saw no sign. Maybe I needed to hike a little bit farther. Estimating distances in the canyon was made difficult because of the chaotic, topsy-turvy terrain.

      I struggled up the canyon for another hour searching in vain for the turn. At that point, I was almost certain that I had missed it.

      I sat down on a rock and mulled over my options. One, I could turn around and retrace my steps in hopes of finding it, or two, I could bypass Blue Bottle and head for the Pinnacle Ridge which lay about two miles farther south. Once I reached the ridge-line, I could then follow it in a westerly direction until it led me toward the general area of Blue Bottle and the trail to the ranger station.

      I chose the Pinnacle Ridge option. I was running short on time, food, and water. If I hiked back down toward Campo Noche and still missed the turn-off, I would lose even more time that I could have used to reach Pinnacle Ridge. Re-tracing my steps didn't sit well with me. I simply did not want to face the hardship of backtracking down the canyon and end up empty handed.

      The stream disappeared. Nevertheless, with high hopes, I continued up the canyon which got steeper and steeper as both walls rose thousands of feet above me. It was an impressive and intimidating sight.

      I was so thirsty that my tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth. Some people refer to this as cotton-mouth. I had to take a couple of swigs of water to help make saliva to keep my mouth moist.

      During a break, I tried to eat a granola bar but it was too dry to swallow. Again, I had to take a swig of water with each bite in order to eat the snack. I decided to eat only raisins at breaks from then on because they were better tasting and easier to swallow.

      Along the way, I discovered a stagnant, bedrock pool of water. It was full of strange-looking bugs, mosquito larvae, water spiders, algae, and plant debris. No matter... I needed water and I wasn't about to pass this up in hopes of finding something better. With the creek no longer running through the canyon, any water found would be small pools or pockets of rain water trapped in the canyon's rock-bed. They are a "hit or miss" source of life-sustaining water for men… and animals.

      I filtered two quarts of the questionable liquid and hoped I would have no ill effects after drinking some of it.

      It was late afternoon by the time I reached the base of the wildly dramatic Pinnacle Ridge. I was finally out of Diablo Canyon. I now had to climb to the top of the ridge so I could follow it to the west.




Tough terrain to ascend without a trail



      I had hoped to summit the ridge and find a suitable campsite before dusk but I didn't make it in time. I had to stop about halfway up and search for a level, sandy spot among the rocks. I was lucky to find a passable place to make camp.

      I quickly prepared my bedding and then started a small fire to fix the last half of my Rice & Beans. I was able to get all the meal down with no problem. My appetite seemed to be improving now that my food supply was down to practically nothing. Rather ironic, I thought.

      I looked forward to getting a good night’s sleep after enduring such a tough day in the canyon. Knowing that the night would be colder, I covered my sleeping bag with my ground-cloth for whatever minimal insulation it offered.

      The bright moon once again raised its shining head above the ridgeline as I slowly entered "dreamland."

      The night was as cold as I feared. Cold enough to shiver me awake several times before morning. I took my folded nylon tarp I had been using for a pillow and spread it over my sleeping bag. With that plus the ground-cloth covering me, I was able to get some shut-eye before the sun rose.

 

 

Day 9   Monday...May 19th

 

     

      I was so cold when I woke up, I shuddered and shivered and chose to stay in my bag until the temperature rose to a tolerable degree. And I was thirsty, but when I reached out to get my water bottle for a quick drink I was shocked to find the water frozen solid.

      My thirst reminded me that I needed to find a water source that day. I was now resigned to the fact that my hike would take longer than I had hoped. At the rate I was progressing, there were at least two more difficult days ahead and that was a worrisome thought. Today was the day I had planned to reach the top of the ridge, follow it to the west and reach the spring that was located on the trail that led from Blue Bottle back to the Park road.

      I didn't have enough food for two more days. The nights were too cold for my lightweight sleeping bag. My body's stamina and energy level were being tested to the point of exhaustion. The "monkey" on my back had now evolved into a hulking "gorilla." It was a daunting situation and the only way out was to keep on keeping on.

      I packed my gear and started climbing for the ridge top. There was no trail. I was no longer hiking; I was bushwhacking, taking the path of least resistance whenever I could.

      I entered a large craggy wooded area on the flank of the mountain. It was full of boulders and dense thickets. Entanglements of underbrush enveloped much of the area. The presence of the sprawling vegetation limited my range of vision to just a few yards as I forged ahead.

      In time, I was confronted with another difficulty. I had bushwacked my way to the bottom of a towering, dead-end cliff. I had to reverse my direction and descend a few hundred feet so that I could search for another way to reach the top. While I was looking, I dropped my cumbersome pack and leaned it against a small boulder.

      Twenty minutes or so of searching, I succeeded in finding a way to continue the climb, but after having weaved in and out among the trees, boulders and underbrush, I became disoriented as to where I left the pack. Was it above me, below me, left or right? I was baffled.

      “Okay”, I thought. "I'll simply tramp around the area a bit and spot it soon enough." Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty minutes elapsed and still no pack. Another "uh-oh" moment had now become a "Houston, we have a problem!" moment. My pack was my life-line and my salvation!

      Without water, food, shelter, sleeping bag, fleece jacket, or matches, I would be in deep, deep, "doo-doo."

      After another twenty minutes of fruitless, energy-sapping rummaging near the vicinity of the cliff, I sat down to recuperate and assuage my rising anxiety.

      There were only two things left for me to do as I faced this dilemma, and I did them both. First, I looked up toward the lofty, white clouds and humbly said, "Lord, I sure could use some help right about now." Secondly, I collected myself, took up my hiking pole, and resumed my urgent hunt.

      With renewed energy and dogged determination, off I went, in search of a treasure more valuable than gold. Minutes ticked away as I maneuvered my way through the thick brush, head up, swiveling left and right, eyes straining, peering through the leafy vegetation, desperately seeking the prize.

      Yellow! A tiny spot of yellow appeared in the distant brush. Was it only a wildflower or could it be my YELLOW BANDANA? I threw caution to the wind as I raced toward the "yellow bloom.” In seconds, the "bloom" transformed itself into the prettiest yellow bandana I have ever seen. There was my pack. I was ecstatic. "Yes, yes, yes, hallelujah...thank ya Jesus!"

      I sat down next to my pack to rest and to spend time relishing the joyous moment.

      Finally, I was able to resume the climb. I was down to my last pint of water. It would make for a long day if I didn't stumble upon a waterhole soon.

      Constant thirst, malnutrition, pulled muscles, overly stressed joints, bumps and bruises, nicks and scratches, oppressive heat, weighty backpack, inadequate sleep, anxiety and stress, they all contributed to the slow but sure degradation of mind, spirit and body. I wondered how much longer my body could hold out.

      For another hour or so, I scrambled over rocks and boulders, crawled over and under fallen trees, dodged around standing trees, and jostled my way through thick brush until at last, I stood on the ridge-top. It had been an exhausting climb. My body demanded a long, satisfying respite from the grueling experience. I drank my remaining water, crawled beneath a shady overhang and dozed off.

      It was late afternoon when I awoke from a deep, relaxing sleep. I was ready to turn west and hike the ridgeline toward Blue Bottle, the highest peak in the San Pedro Martir National Park. From where I stood, I saw what I believed to be Blue Bottle off to the right, about two miles northwest. I also spied a tiny speck of white that I believed to be the Park's observatory. It was a great sight for sore eyes!

      All I had to do was stay the course along the ridge until it led me close to the Blue Bottle area, and the relatively well marked trail that led to the road. I gladly loaded up and struck out toward the west.




 Along the ridge in the vicinity of Blue Bottle


      I assumed that the ridge consisted of an uninterrupted row of small undulating hills that stretched into the official boundary of the Park.

      It was a bad assumption. The ridge-line dropped and rose repeatedly as it extended westward, and it soon became apparent how steep and deep the drops and rises were.

      It was slow, painful, thirsty progress. Nevertheless, all went well as I eased down several drops and clambered up the opposite rises.

      As I edged my way down a short drop, I noticed a cluster of birds congregated around a small boulder. Alarmed by my approach, they rose and scattered in flight. I stopped to see what had attracted the birds.

      Water! Precious water! On top of the boulder was a bowl-shaped depression about the size of a car tire and a foot deep. It contained the nastiest water I had chanced upon so far...but it was water. No matter how green, no matter how many bugs, no matter how much scum, I would not be denied a share of it.

      I dropped the filter tube into the murky mess and began to pump. I was able to push three pumps before the pump-handle jammed. I opened the pump-body and pulled out the filter. It was clogged with green slime, mosquito larvae, silt, and tiny debris. I had no extra filter, so I used my knife to scrape away the gunk and then put it back inside. It was useless. No matter how forcefully I pushed the pump-handle, it wouldn't budge. My final push was so powerful, it snapped the plastic handle apart.

      I no longer had use of a water-filter. I was now compelled to sterilize the foul water by boiling. It would be time-consuming. I used one of the quart bottles for scooping up the contaminated water. The other bottle was needed to contain the water after it was boiled.

      I held the bottle under the putrid pool until I got a full quart. Then I placed an empty nylon stuff-sack over my cooking pot and poured the water through the sack. The sack worked well as a strainer. I gathered some wood and built a fire. After boiling the water for ten minutes, I poured it into the clean bottle to cool. When it cooled sufficiently I drank a pint and saved the remainder for later use at camp.

      The sun was dropping below the western horizon. I circled a small sandy area and looked for a suitable place to arrange my bedding. I had to toss a few rocks away to make room for the sleeping bag.

      I fixed the last of my dehydrated mash potatoes then sat by the warm fire for a while until the cold night air forced me into my sleeping bag. I wasn't looking forward to another tussle with the freezing night.

 

 

Day 10   Tuesday...May 20th

 

      Survived the night but got very little sleep. I was slow getting up. I had no breakfast and I couldn´t drink my water until it thawed out, so I began hiking with a big thirst.

      The first couple of hours of travel took me over several more ups and downs. They weren´t particularly steep nor deep, but due to my physical condition, it was a struggle to overcome them. I kept repeating to myself, "Take it step by step, one step at a time."

      To ease the monotony, I started singing bits of songs that included walking or terrain references. The hits of Fats Domino dominated my repertoire: "I´m Walking To New Orleans", "I Want To Walk You Home", "I´m Walking, Yes Indeed", "Valley Of Tears", "Blue Berry Hill".

      Suddenly, I found myself standing at the threshold of a deep gorge that sliced across the ridge. I estimated the floor of the gorge to be about three-hundred feet below me. It had to be crossed in order to keep heading west. I looked for the path of least resistance and began my descent.

      With my rope tied to my pack, I would lower it to any boulder, rock, or tree base in my path and then follow after it. When I hit patches of loose scree, I sat on my butt and scooted down grabbing any available bushes or tree limbs to help lower myself past difficult spots.

      When I reached the bottom of the gorge, I was dismayed to see that the opposite wall was too precipitous to climb. I had to follow the gorge to the north or south in search of another route back to the ridge top. Since Blue Bottle lay in a northwesterly direction, I chose the northern extension of the gorge. A half hour later a box-canyon barred my way forcing me to backtrack and check the southern extension. Eventually, I reached a point along the wall that appeared to be scaleable.

      I drank the last of my water and ate the last remaining handful of raisins. The meager supply of GORP and Werther´s candy might last another day. Even though I had a general idea where I was and knew which direction to travel (thanks to my compass), there was no guarantee that I would reach safety. I might be able to travel a few more days without food, but without water I figured I had no more than a day or two before I would collapse from complete dehydration.

      Up the wall I went. I climbed a few yards and stopped, climbed a few yards and stopped, over and over until mercifully I attained the ridge top again. My shredded glove-fingers testified to the ruggedness of the gorge.

      I headed for the nearest big bush and plopped down under its cool shady branches. I needed to take a long "leave of absence" from the arduous constant grind. I kicked off my hot boots and sweaty socks, shrugged out of my sweat-soaked tee shirt, leaned against my pack, closed my tired eyes, and zonked out.

      I was startled awake by a hummingbird flitting around my head, darting back and forth. It was Mother Nature´s way of saying, "Wake up, you lazy bum. Time´s a wasting!"

      Whoa Nelly! I had slept two hours. I re-booted, re-shirted, grabbed the pack and continued the long, foot-slog to the west.

      More time-consuming ups and downs. My dry “cotton-mouth" and raspy, cracking voice urged me to find water, but I could only hope I´d soon come upon another wonderful rock-basin cesspool.

      I marched onward, focusing my mind on the next hundred yards and then the next and the next. Nothing mattered other than finding water and putting the ridge behind me. In my haste to reach safety, I was taking risky shortcuts and putting myself in danger. I needed to calm down. I took a break and pleaded with my body for two more days. "Just give me two more days to get myself to safety."

      I felt better during the ensuing hours as I slowly and cautiously hiked on.

      A high steep slope rose ahead of me along the ridge. I couldn't tell if it was just a high hill or a small mountain. I only knew that it towered high above me. It had to be climbed if I wanted to keep to the west. Veering to the right would drop me back toward Diablo Canyon and I definitely didn´t want that. Veering to the left would drop me into a maze of ravines and gullies that stretched into "no man´s land" and I didn´t want that, either.

      I bent to the task and commenced climbing, working over and around boulder after boulder. It was hard tedious work. Little by little I gained elevation. I needed water desperately. I kept my eyes peeled for the slightest sign of what I hoped for and dreamed of.

      Exasperated and desperately tired and thirsty, I stopped, looked up at the lofty white clouds once again, and said, "It´s me again, Lord, and I sure could use some help right about now." And then I resumed the climb.

      Halfway up the mountain, I encountered a massive wall of boulders. I looked to the left and saw no feasible pathway. I looked to the right and saw a possible route up and around the wall. And there also appeared to be a track or animal trail that edged in front of a small boulder and disappeared behind it. I stepped around the boulder to see where the pathway went and POW! I was dumbstruck by what lay before my eyes.

      BACKPACKS! Two old backpacks lay on the ground!

      I was mystified and joyous at the same time… joyous because it meant hikers had passed by this site. I assumed that they had been heading downhill from Blue Bottle or heading up towards it. Either way, surely it meant I must be in the neighborhood of Blue Bottle Mountain.

      A strong wind began to blow across the area as I approached the packs. My spirit soared when I saw a sleeping bag and a sleeping pad attached to the larger one. It meant extra warmth and extra comfort for the bone-chilling night ahead. I detached the bag and pad from the pack and laid the two packs on a large rock to inspect the contents.

      The packs were cheap, off-brands that looked like the type you could buy at any "big box" store like Walmart or Target. I estimated that they had been exposed to the elements at least two or more years. The pack material had degraded and was faded and stiff and the zippers were rusted shut. I used my large, serrated pocket knife to cut open the larger pack's main compartment.

      I reached in and pulled out a ridiculously heavy cast-iron skillet, a medium-sized cooking pot, three eating utensils, a blue enameled drinking cup, a crumpled first-aid kit, a withered personal "ditty-bag", a disintegrating paperback book, a pair of blue-jeans, a wool sweater, a flannel shirt, a pair of long-john pajamas, a pair of leather house-slippers, socks, underwear, and a few odds and ends that pertained to hiking. All the items were in various stages of decomposition. There was no tent or tarp for shelter.

      The side-pockets appeared to contain something also, so I sliced one open and KER PLUNK--a full, unopened, store-bought, quart-bottle of crystal clear water, fell at my feet. Unbelievable! I was flabbergasted! What were the odds of this happening at this place and at this time of my hike?

      I greedily slit the other side-pocket open and KER PLUNK...out fell another full water-bottle. I had hit the "jackpot." I said to myself, "There's no way anyone will believe this, just no way."

      Unashamedly, I giggled with delight. My desperate search for water was put to rest for the day. I welcomed the huge relief that swept through me.

      I turned to the smaller pack, more like a lumbar pack than a backpack, and cut it open. It was empty.

      The wind increased in speed as the sun set behind the mountain. I decided to camp right where I stood and attempt to build a fire to boil one of the quarts of water for the evening. Even though the two bottles of water looked clear, I thought it best to sterilize the water before I drank it.

      I had to make the fire-ring a foot high to block the rushing wind from scattering the fire and embers all over the campsite. After monkeying around with the wind and fire, I managed to get the quart of water boiled and poured into my clean Nalgene bottle. Thirty minutes later I was able to chug-a-lug a refreshing half-quart of water. I saved the other half-quart for the morning, plus I had the second quart of water to rely on when I needed it.

      I hurriedly rolled out the newly found sleeping pad and unzipped the extra sleeping bag all the way open to use it as a heavy spread over my pitiful, lightweight bag. The extra bag was made of heavy cotton and weighed about six pounds. Six luxuriously warm pounds that would allow me to be snug as a bug.

      The icy wind whipped through the campsite so powerfully, that I had to put stones on top of the opened sleeping bag to prevent it from being blown off me.

      I happily eased my way under the heavy bag/blanket and into my sleeping bag with hopes of a good night's sleep. My questions and thoughts concerning the abandoned packs would have to wait until morning.

 

 

Day 11.   Wednesday...May 21st

 

      I awoke to a calm, clear morning. Last night's sleep was the best sleep I’d had in ten days. The pesky wind had died and left in its wake a dusting of ashes over the campsite including my bedding and gear, as well as my hair and face.

      I got up and cleaned off the ashes as best I could. I ate the last of my GORP and drank the remaining half quart of water. The water didn't freeze overnight because I had placed the bottles under my bedding. I started another fire and sterilized the other quart of water in preparation for the day's hike.

      While tending to the fire, I thought about the enigma of the backpacks. A few scenarios ran through my mind. They all suggested that the hikers knew they were near or actually on the Blue Bottle trail and could reach the Park road within a day's hike. This led me to believe that I might also be a day away.

      The pathway that led behind the small boulder continued toward the northwest, but faded after a hundred yards or so. Unsure that it would reappear, I chose to stick with my more westward search.

      Before leaving the campsite, I decided to lighten the load in my pack. Without food, I knew my body would need all the help it could get to carry me through the day. I dumped the contents of the pack onto the ground and selected items to be left behind.

      Goodbye useless air-mat. Adios broken water filter. Arrivederci faulty GPS. Sayonara unused disposable camera. My pack was now two pounds lighter. I stuffed the items in the large abandoned pack to be discovered by another hapless hiker. I wanted to take the heavy sleeping bag with me, but that's just it… it was heavy, too heavy.

      I reloaded the pack, picked it up and walked back to the wall of boulders. I followed the route up and around the right side of the wall. Once I got around the boulder wall, there were no more ups and downs, only one long, drawn out, continuous climb.

      I used boulders and trees as goals to be reached before stopping for a moments rest. I pretended to be in a boxing match and would climb for three minutes and rest for one. Soon, I was climbing for two and resting for two, until finally I was climbing for one and resting for three. The water level in the bottle was slowly dropping. My energy level was dropping with it.

      A fourth of the way to the top, the slope became less steep, making for an easier climb. The summit came into view. It was comprised of a large, flat, open area with a scattering of boulders and pine trees. I walked around the summit to see how the forthcoming terrain looked. I was surprised to see the remains of a fallen antenna tower similar to the one found on Blue Bottle. I was glad to see more evidence of human presence. Surely it meant that there had to be a route off the mountain and down the canyon that lay before me.

      The view from the top was fantastic. I looked to the north and saw part of Blue Bottle and far below was Diablo Canyon. To the south lay canyon after canyon. Behind me, to the east, lay Pinnacle Ridge. I was standing on the last peak of the Ridge. To the west, below me was a seemingly impassable gorge – a large, deep canyon that stretched for miles and miles into the distant horizon. It meant I couldn't just simply hike over to Blue Bottle.

      My only option was to drop down to the bottom of the canyon and follow it west until I hit a road... any road. I circled the summit once more in search of a trail but there was none.

      I questioned, "How did a work-crew manage to carry supplies and construct a tower if there were no trail?" A helicopter! They must have been ferried to the summit by helicopter.

      Working my way down to the canyon floor would involve a steep and risky descent and lots of bushwhacking, but it was the only way. I readied myself and tossed my pack over the side. Down it fell, bouncing and tumbling until it slid into a growth of manzanita far below. I eased over the side of the mountain and slid and crashed my way down to the pack. I threw the pack down again, then shot down after it with an uncontrolled slide until I landed near the pack. The closer I got to the floor of the canyon, the easier it was. By the time I stood on the bottom I was banged up a little and suffered more nicks and scratches but otherwise I was fine.

      It felt great to be off the Pinnacle Ridge and in the canyon. The rest of the hike would basically be downhill. What a relief. No more excruciating hills and mountains to climb. I passed through a large grove of aspen trees, which then led to a forest of pine trees, but I still had to use caution as I continued to rock hop and work my way over and around boulders.







      After hours of working my way down the canyon, I walked into an obvious campsite. There were two fire-rings and several "ducks" in the area. The "ducks" went in three directions, south, west and north. I was excited. I now knew that I was definitely on the right track.

      Although still resolved to follow my west heading canyon, I was curious about the north and south ducks which led into smaller ravines. I followed the northern "ducks" awhile and came upon a small water-hole. It was another nasty, stagnant pool of water.

      I drank the boiled pint of water right then, and filled the dirty bottle with the disgusting potion. I would boil it and drink it when I could no longer deny my thirst.

      I didn't bother to check the southern ravine. I needed to hustle up and try to reach a road before the day ended.

      Several more hours passed as I continued west. The canyon walls had shrunk to the point where I could easily have climbed up and over them. Suddenly I caught sight of a single "cow patty" on the ground. The terrain had flattened out enough that cattle could roam the area. It also meant that a ranch might be nearby. Things were looking up. Surely I must be close to a road or trail? The "cow patties" became more numerous as I hiked.

      It was late afternoon when I suddenly stopped in my tracks. I had stepped onto a dirt road. What a beautiful sight!

      I guessed I had to hike eight more miles before reaching the paved Park road. Then, if necessary, another eleven miles to the Ranger Station. I needed to get to the paved road and make camp so I could flag down any passing vehicle in the morning.

      I was running on fumes but the sight of the dirt road revved up my motor and off I went. I had no doubt that I would make it to the Park road, even if I had to crawl on hands and knees. Fatigue plagued me as I plodded up and down the rises in the road. I had to stop after each knoll and sit down for a quick rest.

      Cougar or wildcat tracks were spotted in the sand as I hiked along the road. "Great, that's all I needed now, to make it to the Park only to be eaten by a wild animal."

      Darkness fell as I continued to trudge along the winding road. After hours of following it, I saw a wooden sign with the words, "Botella Azul" and the symbol of a hiker. At last I was absolutely certain where I was. I had reached the Padre Kino campsite where Graham, Roger and I had camped the previous year.

      I had a raging thirst. I collected several large pine-cones and built a fire to boil my last quart of water. Once it was cooled by the cold night air, I knocked off a half quart.

      I looked at my watch. It was ten o'clock. I still had two or three more miles before reaching the paved road. I felt refreshed after the rest and water. I picked up my pack and left the campsite. It was eleven o'clock when I finally hit the black asphalt road.

      I was beat, but I needed to walk up the road in search of a level, sandy spot to put my bedding. I walked for fifteen minutes and saw nothing that would make a good campsite. It was difficult finding a flat, rockless patch of sand in the dark. I finally gave up and dropped my pack to the side of the road and claimed the spot to be my campsite. I had to clear away many small rocks, pine cones, pine needles and twigs to make the spot comfortable enough to lay on.

      I was shivering from the chilly night air, so I hurriedly fixed my bedding, drank a pint of water and slipped into the sleeping bag.

      I lay awake observing the amazing sparkling night sky. Stars, millions of stars, filled the sky with their magnificent display of light. I had never seen the stars with such clarity as I was seeing them now. No wonder the Park was chosen as the site for an observatory.

      I dozed off till a shrill, yipping sound startled me awake. Coyotes. A small group of coyotes had picked up my scent and was approaching my camp to investigate. I reached out from my bag and grabbed my hiking stick. The yips and yelps sounded much closer, perhaps fifty feet away, and then they stopped. I could hear scratching sounds as the coyotes neared my bag. One coyote barked once as it edged closer. I let it get ten feet from me and WHAM, I slapped my hiking stick against the ground and yelled out, "GIT, GIT, GIT." The frightened coyotes yipped and yelped as they ran scattering in all directions. They never returned.

      I tried to go back to sleep, but the bitter cold ensured that I shook and shivered on and off the rest of the night. It was torture. I begged the sun to please hurry up and show its warm face. When I could stand it no longer, I got up, stuffed my bedding in my pack and began to walk the road. I decided that it was better to walk away the night rather than lie in the bag and suffer.

      My water bottle was frozen. I had forgotten to place it under my bedding. I would have to wait until it thawed before I could drink.

      I walked until I reached the Park Museum building. My water was still frozen so I searched around the premises of the museum for a working water faucet. There was none. I continued to walk the night away.

 

 

Day 12   Thursday...May 22nd

 

      The sun slowly rose bathing the Park in light and warmth. My last pint of water was still frozen. I was desperate for a drink, so I climbed a small embankment about thirty yards off the road and gathered up some large pine cones to build a fire to melt the ice.

      I chipped the ice from the bottle with my large, serrated, pocket-knife and dropped the ice into the pot. After it melted, I let the water boil a minute to ensure its sterility.

      With my gloved left-hand, I grabbed the wire handle and lifted the pot away from the glowing embers. I held the steaming pot over the water bottle and grabbed the pot bottom to tilt the water out of the pot. YEE-OW! Pain shot through my fingers and I jerked the pot away. My fingers were scorched. I had forgotten about the holes in my gloves. The sudden jerk of the pot caused half the water to spill to the ground. I managed to save only three gulps. There would be no more water for the next eight or nine miles if I had to walk to the Ranger Station.

      While I was burying the ashes, a Park vehicle sped by heading in that direction. By the time I reacted, it was long gone. I felt stupid for not having been at the road. I missed a great opportunity for a ride and there might not be another passing vehicle for hours.

      Just as I finished dealing with the fireplace and was picking up my pack, I heard another vehicle approaching. I dropped the pack and ran for the road, waving my arms and shouting, "HEY, HEY, HEY, STOP!" It was futile. The driver had his windows up and his eyes were focused on the road. He never saw me. I retrieved my backpack and hurried back to the road. I wasn't going to miss the next vehicle... if there was a next vehicle.

      Fifteen minutes passed and none came. Disappointed, I resumed the road walk. I didn't want to move. I felt listless and took half-steps as I sluggishly trudged along. When I saw a hill up ahead, I just stood in the middle of the road and stared at it. I couldn't believe how frazzled I was. My sleep deprived brain seemed to be shutting down. The ordeal that I had endured in the canyon and the mountains had brought me to the edge of total physical and mental collapse.

      Before I made a move to head up the hill, a white van appeared at the crest of the hill and drove toward me. A wave of relief swept over me. I was jubilant. I would not let this opportunity pass. I waved my arms briskly above my head to signal the driver. The vehicle stopped and the driver lowered his window. "Tiene agua? I asked. "Necesito agua, por favor." I spoke to him in Spanish thinking he was a Mexican. He gave me a quizzical look.

      A voice from the interior of the van said, "He wants water." An ice cold bottle of water was passed to the driver and he handed it to me. I wasted no time opening the bottle and quickly drained half the bottle. I thanked him several times for his kindness and mentioned that I had just gone through a rough time in the mountains.

      The sliding door on the opposite side of the van opened and a passenger stepped out. He came around the rear of the van to check me out. I glanced toward him as he approached. I did a double-take. There stood Graham Mackintosh who was with me on my last attempt to climb Picacho Diablo a year earlier! I was astounded to see him. I blurted out, "Graham, Graham Mackintosh! It's great to see you!" We shook hands. He smiled and gave me a questioning look when he said, "Yes, I'm Graham Mackintosh." I realized that he didn't recognize me. Only half my grubby face was visible due to the hood covering my head. My short, bristle of a beard and a layer of dirt darkened my face. My voice was raspy and hoarse. My face was thin and haggard.


                                           


Emaciated and Exhausted



      I said, "Graham, it's me, Ronnie Christian." He took a step back and looked again in astonishment.

      "Yes, yes, of course", he said. "When you spoke to us in Spanish, I thought you were a Mexican hiker. What in the world are you doing out here, alone, walking the road?"

      With a quavering voice, I gave him a short version of my hike gone awry.

      Graham immediately went back to the van and returned with a large can of Arizona Tea and a large, red apple. He guided me to the back of the van and gave me two small sweet rolls. I bit a chunk out of the apple and marveled at how delicious it tasted. I alternated bites between the apple and the sweet rolls, savoring the wonderful taste of real food.

      The driver and a passenger got out of the van to hear my story and took a few photos of Graham and me.


                               


Ron Christian and Graham Mackintosh



      Graham and a friend were leading a party of tourists on a Baja trip that included a visit to the San Pedro Martir. He suggested that I go with them to the observatory. After spending an hour or so, they would then take me to the Ranger Station. Once we arrived at the station, I could decide what to do next. I told Graham that I was so "out of it" physically, that I'd rather sit by the road and wait for them to return. In the meantime, I would try to catch a ride if I got the chance. If I caught a ride, I would then wait for them at the office.

      While we were discussing the plan, a truck approached and pulled up alongside of us to see if we needed help. We asked the driver if he would take me to the Ranger office and drop me off. He said that they were a construction crew that just completed work at the observatory and were on their way home, but he would be glad to help.

      I sincerely thanked Graham and his friends for their assistance during my time of distress. I hobbled to the back of the truck and climbed in with the two workers who were stretched out, reclining against the tail-gate.

                                                       


                                 


On my way to Ensenada



      Construction tools and material claimed the rest of the truck bed. The only place for me to sit was on top of the rear wheel well. I plunked myself down and waved goodbye to Graham and his friends as the truck started rolling.

      I found out that the crew lived in Ensenada and that's where they were headed after they dropped me off. Whoa, wait a minute! I'm headed for Ensenada, too. It would be a perfect ending to the day if I could ride with them all the way.

      When we arrived at the station, I asked the crew boss if that would be possible. I quickly added that I would help with the gas expense. He accepted my offer and cranked the motor up, ready to leave.

      I asked if he would give me a few minutes to talk to the rangers in the office so that I could cancel any search that might have been initiated by my friends. He agreed to wait. I headed inside and related my story to the three rangers in the office and they thanked me for advising them. They wrote down my name, age, and home address. If any missing person alert was called to their office, they would be sure to cancel it. I thought I understood the ranger to say that he would also notify the authorities in San Telmo or Colonet, but I wasn't certain. I intended to ask if I could use their computer to notify one of my Baja amigos about my situation, but I heard the truck's engine revving up and I took that as a subtle hint that the crew was eager to leave.

      I hurried back to the truck and hopped in. We had an almost fifty-five mile drive ahead of us before reaching the main highway... Highway 1.

      The long, winding drive placed a great discomfort on my legs, thighs and hips. I was locked into a cramped position, unable to move to relieve the unrelenting stress on my muscles. We stopped about halfway down for a "pee" break and to allow me and the two workers to stretch our legs. What a relief!

      Thirty miles later, we reached Highway 1 and stopped at a gas station for fuel. The boss pulled equipment from the cab and tossed it into the bed of the truck. He invited me to sit up front with him and his driver. I was going to ride the rest of the way in sublime comfort. Thank goodness, I was out from under the blazing sun and whipping wind. I was "flying" first class all the way to Ensenada.

      When we arrived in the city, the driver drove me to the bus station. When I tried to exit the truck, I nearly collapsed in the street. My leg joints had stiffened up during the long drive and gave me a severe case of wobbly "Elvis legs."

      I hobbled to the back of the truck and retrieved my backpack, then shook hands with all four crew members and thanked them for helping me reach my destination.

      Inside the station, I bought a quart-sized bottle of cold water. I still had a great thirst that needed to be quenched.

      I then purchased a ticket for Mexicali. The bus was scheduled to leave at eight o'clock. It was seven o'clock. I had an hour wait.

      It was a little embarrassing to be walking around the bus station looking as I was. My long-sleeved tee-shirt was ripped in five places and filthy. My pant legs were covered with dirt stains and had a long tear in the back.

      I went into the bathroom and changed shirts and tossed the raggedy tee shirt in the trash-can. I cleaned my face and hands as best I could and returned to my seat.

      The arrival of my bus was announced over the public address system. I slowly made my way out and climbed aboard. I found my assigned seat and eased myself down onto the soft, comfortable fabric. I pushed the recliner button, leaned back, closed my tired eyes and sighed contentedly as the bus pulled away from the station and headed for Mexicali. The ordeal was over. My body could now take a much needed rest to recover from the intense stress that it had endured.

      I thought that after the two hour bus ride from Ensenada to Mexicali, I would begin to feel some rejuvenation. That was wishful thinking. I felt worse. When we arrived in Mexicali, I could barely rise from my seat. I felt drugged or in an alcohol induced fog. I had never felt that way before, except perhaps when weakened by flu.

      As soon as I got off the bus, I hailed a taxi to take me to the border. Fifteen minutes later we arrived. I paid the cabby his five dollar fare. There was no crowd of pedestrians waiting in line, so I passed through Customs quickly and stepped out of the building and into the streets of Calexico, USA.

      I walked the four blocks to the Border Motel to get a room for the night. My sense of balance was out of whack. My pace was slow and erratic.

      I checked into the motel and the first thing I did was look at myself in the mirror. It was a shock to see how scruffy and dirty my face was. I took off my shirt. It was another shock to see how thin I was. (I had lost ten pounds during the twelve day hike.) No wonder I was so weak.

      Before settling in for the night, I wanted to eat a quick meal. I hadn't eaten anything since I ate the apple and snacks that Graham had given me.

      I walked to McDonald's. Thinking my stomach might not be ready for a large meal, I ordered a small garden salad with ranch dressing and a cup of water. It was delicious. So delicious, I ordered another one.  I chased it down with a medium cup of water. I might have been weak, but my appetite was strong.

      On the walk back to the motel, I stopped at a 7-11 Store and bought a bar of soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some dental floss. I had gone 12 days without brushing my teeth and I didn't want to go another day. I also bought two bottles of water to take with me. It was 11:30 when I returned to the motel.

      I headed for the shower as soon as I got back. It took quite an effort to stay standing as I showered. I washed my clothes in the shower, hung them to dry, and brushed my teeth and hit the sack. It felt so good to lay on the soft, clean, mattress and the soft, fluffy pillow.

 

 

 

Day 13    Friday...May 23rd

 

      Woke at 6:30 A.M. Had a good night's sleep. I shaved, dressed, left the motel and headed back towards Mexico to pick up my car in San Felipe.

      First I stopped at an ATM in Calexico and withdrew $200 for the drive back to Laredo after I got my car. I wanted to catch the first bus to San Felipe so I skipped breakfast and hurried over to Mexicali and caught a cab to the bus station.

      The bus was scheduled to leave at 8:00 AM and would arrive in San Felipe at 10:00 AM. I was early, so I bought a large

orange drink and a cinnamon bun to eat while waiting.

      When I boarded the bus, I asked the driver if I could get off at the military checkpoint located near the Michoacán Restaurant. He said that I could if he didn't have to search in the baggage compartment for my suitcase. No problem, I had nothing in the baggage compartment.

      After the two hour drive I got off the bus at the checkpoint and walked the short distance to the restaurant. Reuben was seated on the front porch talking with a friend. He had been worried and was glad to see me. He had already driven to Campo Ocotillo and notified the Camp owner that I had missed the planned return date. I had hoped that he hadn't sounded the alarm, but he had kindly and conscientiously done what I had asked of him.

      I spent some time with him to explain what had happened and why I was late. I paid Reuben what I owed him and then drove to Campo Ocotillo to explain the situation to April and have her cancel the alert. She wasn't at her office or home, so I left a written message and hung it on her fence gate. As I drove away, I noticed her next door neighbor watering her plants. I stopped and asked her if she would relay a message to April for me and ensure she cancels any alert. She said that she would.

      I stopped at a Mexican 7-11 store for gas and a ham sandwich and a bottle of tea.

      I had no problem with the drive to the border, but I had to wait an hour to cross into the USA. I then stopped at McDonald's for a large chicken salad. It was delicious. But I could hardly sit up straight as I ate; I was so tired and weak.

      I then topped off the tank for the drive to Yuma where I planned to spend the night.

      Arriving in Yuma around 8:00 PM, I checked into a Motel-6. It felt so good to be able to get off the road and get some rest.

      My appetite was back and I was hungry. I walked over to a Denny's Restaurant located in front of the motel. My mouth started watering when I saw the breakfast menu. I asked the waiter if I could order breakfast even though it was supper time. No problem!

      "Okay", I said. "I'll have two waffles, two scrambled eggs, two sausages, two bacon strips, toast and jelly, and a large orange juice."

      Oh boy, was I in hog heaven!  I stuffed myself until I could eat no more.

      Returning to my room, I enjoyed another shower, put on clean clothes from my suitcase then sat up and watched television for an hour or so before hitting the sack. I needed the rest because I had a long 1100 mile drive starting in the morning.