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I was heading to San Diego with my family in tow, planning to drop them off at my mother-in-law's at the same time I would hook up with Tom, driving down from LA. The original plan had us syncing our arrivals for the same 1-2a timeframe, but shortly before leaving San Jose the silliness of this plan became evident. Though we'd have a four hour drive from San Diego, there was no need for us to leave that early since none of the peaks was particularly difficult. So at the last minute we decided to meet at 6a, giving both of us some additional sleep. I was up at 5:45a and waiting for Tom, who managed to time his arrival to within a few minutes of the prearranged time. Not bad for a two hour drive from LA.
Tom drove us east towards El Centro on Interstate 8, then south across the border and into Mexicali. It is a sprawling, empoverished border town, not unlike Tijuana and similar. We had been warned by our government of the current dangers in Mexico with police battling drug lords in a modern day western shootout. We weren't so much worried about violence as we were about eating the food and the possibility of theft. We had stores of water, food, and gear, and the only thing we'd need to purchase in Mexico was fuel and perhaps a few campground fees. We were not the free-spending tourist types they might prefer. Our beta for these Mexican peaks consisted of the DPS guide I carried and some select trip reports that Tom had printed off the Internet. None of them helped us with the riddle of finding the trailhead for Cerro Pescadores.
We looked for dirt roads off Highway 5 at the 25km and 26km markers as directed, but things did not match what we found. There is new construction in the area fencing off most of the west side of the highway in this stretch. Further, it appears the kilometer posts have been moved since the DPS guide was printed (Fifth edition, 2006). It appears the changes are older than the guidebook, but updates didn't make it into that latest edition. I believe the markers were moved when Highway 2 was re-routed further south. There are actually two Highway 2's, one free (the original to the north going through Mexicali) and one toll (the newer road to the south). The most direct dirt road heading straight from the highway to the trailhead described in the DPS guide is near the 22km post. We could see this road from high on the route, but did not see obvious access to it from Highway 5 upon our return. It may be blocked as well, or not at all. In any case, we drove around some crappy dirt roads just south of the fenced in area by the 25km post, driving west until we ran out of road up against the front hills of the range. A second landmark, the so-called 7-antennae hill, does not seem to exist. The hill does, just none of the seven towers reported to be on the top. Other hills to the south sport some towers which added to our confusion, but the discrepency didn't bother us all that much. We were happy to be able to drive the car far enough from the road to be unnoticeable, hopefully leaving it unmolested while we went hiking.
We were several miles southeast of the DPS trailhead, but from the map it looked like an easy hike along a dry wash just west of the front hills to connect us with the original route. This worked out nicely, though with an extra 40 minutes of hiking each way. When we neared the notch in the front range connecting us with the described route, we heard (but didn't see) a motorcyclist motoring around in the distance. No doubt he had come up by the described TH. Though our car would probably have been safe whichever starting point we chose, we felt a bit more comfortable that it was left in the less usual location.
The cross-country travel was straightforward thanks to the very arid climate that allows for little vegetation. There was the usual collection of desert flora, but it was sparsely situated and easy to avoid. The weather was also very pleasant. Though the coastal areas were being inundated with winter storms, we had blue skies for the most part, save for some overcast skies on the fourth day.
As we turned west to head up the canyon, we picked out the ascent route along a ridge dropping down to the main canyon ahead of us, and for the most part we followed this up towards the summit. It probably mattered little since most of the ridges and canyons appeared climbable, but it helped guide us to the highpoint that wasn't at all obvious from below. In scrambling out of the canyon towards the ridge we wandered into some loose class 3 territory. Tom wasn't particularly thrilled with my route choice as he found one hold after another crumble from under him while trying to follow. He believed my passing had loosened the rocks that gave way under him, making it difficult to follow, while for my part I believed I had finessed my way up with a light touch to his more brute force attack. Whichever it was, I showed little sympathy, chuckling when he cursed a large rock that crashed down below him, taking more pictures of his hat than any other part of him as he struggled to join me.
When we did manage to finally reach the ridgeline the climbing was more straightforward class 2 (the loose class 3 could have been avoided by following the ridgeline more directly out of the canyon bottom). The climbing was much easier for the rest of the way, save for a short section through some sandstone blocks and slabs. A few helpful ducks showed a class 2 way through this mini maze of maybe a hundred vertical feet before leading us out to the final stretch to the summit. In all we spent about 3.5hrs reaching the summit, where we arrived shortly after 1p.
A large cairn crowning the top leaves one with little doubt the top had been reached. Looking around, it was pretty clear that we were the highest point of this small north-south range. To the west was the flat, dry lakebed of Laguna Salada, and further west was the higher range with tomorrow's peak, Pico Risco. The register dated back to 1967, the oldest register we'd find on the trip. The register was half-filled, virtually every name belonging to a member of the DPS. I didn't see a single name from a Mexican citizen.
We retraced our steps only for the first ten minutes or so past the sandstone blocks. From here I talked Tom into dropping down into the canyon south of the ridge. "Is it easy?" he inquired. "Looks like it," I replied with false confidence. By different routes we both found it class 3 to get into the chute proper (undoubtedly it could be done class 2 if one poked around enough), and once there we found the descent in the dry stream channel rather fun. Very little of the loose stuff we had encountered on the ascent, instead it was mostly polished rock in a series of steep drops for over a mile. I would pause after passing the trickier sections to see if Tom would find the same way down. It seemed about a split between his following the same route vs. finding an alternative. The bottom portion of the canyon curved left towards the north around the ascent ridge and eventually we reconnected with wash we had come up. Another 40 minutes had us back at the car just before sunset.
It wasn't yet 4:30p, but we had several hours of driving to get us to the TH for the next day's peak. As we drove back out to the highway and along these more traveled roads, we marveled at the amount of trash and debris that litters the mexican landscape. Seemingly endless piles line the roads and dry washes, so much so that there appeared to be more debris than non-debris among the collection of man-made homes and goods we found in Mexico. We gassed up at a Pemex station at a price comparable to what we paid on the US side - no steep discount like we found the previous year. There were three or four attendants (presumably) idling about the station looking very much like they were in the employ of a government make-work program. They spoke English about as well as I spoke Spanish, but a transaction was made with the universal language of US dollars. As one of the few government institutions that makes money, this station, like others we found in the country, was one of the few well-kept places in town. We got on the highway 2 toll road and paid our $4 (52 pesos at the exchange rate offered at the toll booth) to drive about 30 miles. The toll road is in extremely good condition and there are small, neat rest areas every 1km along the way for trash and washing your hands (we were unsure why the emphasis on handwashing from water stored in large oil drums).
It was easy to find the turnoff for Laguna Salada and Canyon de Guadalupe. 27 miles of decent dirt road (but somewhat washboarded) later we came to the side road for Canyon de Guadalupe. This seven mile road was good for the first four miles are so, but soon degenerated into a bumpy 4WD monstrosity. Nothing we'd read indicated the road was this bad. The underside of Tom's Element took some pounding while we white-knuckled our way to the end of the road with a final creek fording we had some very serious doubts about. Thoroughly exhausted from the drive, we pulled into the campground well after dark.
A small group of Mexicans were huddled around where we pulled up. A young man, maybe 17 or 18yrs of age walked over to our car, evidently the only one of the five that spoke English. His was very good, and the first thing he asked was whether we had a reservation. This seemed very funny after those last two miles, as we'd fairly concluded that almost no one in their right mind would purposefully drive here. How wrong we were. There seems to be a whole crowd of folks that enjoy such driving and revel in finding out-of-the-way places like this for destinations. And the place seemed to be fairly swimming with them. We had no reservation we revealed, but this didn't stop us from finding a place to park ourselves for the $45/night fee ($50/night we're told if we have a reservation - go figure).
Though a steep price for camping, this was more than just a place to sleep for the night. Each campsite comes complete with its own hot tub, a rocky enclosure fed by PVC piping from a natural spring in the canyon. The water was slightly alkalai, feeling like soft water and quite refreshing. Hot, too. It was worth every dollar. There must have been several dozen such campsites arrayed around both sides of the canyon, in a semi-private arrangement where you could see others across the way, but not close by. We cooked dinner right from the hot tub enclosure, protected from the chilly nighttime air and watching the stars overhead. Frogs could be heard croaking in the canyon bottom below, laughter from other parties across the canyon mixing in. It was about as good as it gets for two naked hetero males sharing the same hot tub.
This page last updated: Mon Jun 15 13:03:29 2009
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