Sun, Feb 15, 2009
Day 2 found us awake at 6a. I'd slept pretty good after the soak in the hot tub and was ready to tackle Pico Risco. We packed up some gear, leaving other stuff in the covered shelter - our camp hosts had told us it would be fine to leave our gear and enjoy another soak after we got back in the early afternoon. We were the only two stirring among several dozen campsites located around the rim of the canyon. Some of our neighbors had been up as late as 5a so it was no surprise to find the place so quiet. This was not a mountain hut filled with climbers as much as a campground filled with young partygoers.
There was not much navigation required for today's peak which was clearly visible from our campsite, only a few miles away. The DPS guide has a somewhat lengthy description of the route, primarily of the area near the summit block, that seemed unnecessarily wordy. The night before we had asked our camp host for directions, more out of courtesy than necessity, when he learned we were planning to climb the peak. The father, who spoke no English, gave a verbal description to his son who then attempted to translate it to us. Though his english was good, he could not make out what his father was trying to convey. It was apparent that only Dad had been to the peak. After a second failed attempt, his father took to a simple drawing in the sand with a few lines. The son finally grasped what he was saying and translated, "Climb up the canyon to the second waterfall, then leave the main canyon to head for the peak. Climb up and around the right side of the peak." This simple description turned out to be all the instructions we would need.
Wandering through the campground, we passed by the general store and a handful of campsites before coming to the TH sign. The first part of the trail for maybe a quarter mile is marked with yellow ribbons, after which one of several use trails could be used to reach the first waterfall. A small pile of rocks had been collected on the left side of the stream at a smooth wall to help in getting over. First Tom and then I gave it a go, initially meeting with failure. Tom gave up after the first attempt and made his way to the other side of the creek to find a way around. Obstinately I tried a second and third time, then took off my pack and tossed it above me to a ledge, finally hauling myself up the six-foot wall. I could not read the sign located next to me on the ledge, but I'm sure it was something like, Death for Those Who Venture Further. From here it was easy enough to find a way back to the other side above the waterfall, Tom joining me at about the same time - no time savings for my obstinacy, just bragging rights.
We continued up on first the right, then the left side of the creek, past a second warning sign (this one I partially recognized - "Peligrosa" is Danger), up some smooth rocks, to the second, smaller waterfall. We left the main canyon at this point, climbing steeply to our left, only to find ourselves about 60ft above the dry wash heading towards our peak. The easier exit point is right at the second sign, as we found on our way back.
At the base of the dry wash we found sporadic ducks indicating a route to the peak, though they weren't terribly helpful in other than reassuring us that someone had gone this way before. When we reached the base of the peak we found the creek forking in two paths. We chose to follow the steeper left chute along the right edge of the peak which turned out to be somewhat harder than the standard route in the main channel further north. Some minor bushwhacking and a few class 3 sections got us by the only difficulties, eventually leading us out on a traverse around the class 2 northwest side where we met up with the other route coming up from the saddle west of the peak. There was some lingering snow in places on this shaded slope, though not enough to cause any difficulty. We had seen the clouded range the day before from a distance in the morning and had commented that it looked like it had just snowed. Guess we were right. It was probably a good idea that we didn't climb this one the previous day as had been our original plan.
Now that we were on the summit ridge, we poked around for what looked like the easiest route. Several small squeeze holes presented themselves and we eventually chose one of these to climb through to the north. Tom seemed a bit surprised by the deviousness of the route, not having read the DPS description beforehand. I let him know I had the written notes in my pocket, but didn't allow us to use them unless we got stuck, which we didn't. In fact it wasn't all that devious and as we found on the way back there were several alternatives that one could use, and all of the keyholes could be avoided. About fifty yards from the summit block we climbed up through a vertical hole we found on the SE side, just barely doable with our packs on. Closer to the summit, we realized that there are at least three points vying for the highpoint, and it wasn't at all obvious which one was higher. We climbed the easy middle one, only to find the one immediately to the west and another further east were higher. Remembering a description of a 3-foot step across, I correctly guessed that the nearer block to the west must be the highpoint. I paused to photograph Tom on the step across before joining him at the summit.
It was clear that the other summit far to the east was lower, but still interesting looking. Tom could see that I was eyeing it, offering to wait while I went over for a look at it. It would have had a better view looking down to Laguna Salada, but I declined, feeling somewhat lazy. I would have felt less lazy had Tom not said anything, allowing me to internalize the idea before rejecting it because "Tom wouldn't want to wait around." Damn him.
There was a summit register in contradiction to the reports we'd read. The earliest entry, from 1987 predated the trip reports, but there was a large gap in entries, not restarting until 2002. So perhaps the register was misplaced or hidden for a number of years before being rediscovered and made more easily available on the summit.
We had a minor disappointment in finding that Pico Risco is not the highpoint of the range. There was an obviously higher peak further west and others that were likely higher to the north. So why the inclusion on the DPS list? The best we could surmise was that someone in club *really* liked the hot tubs in Canyon de Guadalupe, and wanted to share the experience with the other DPS members. Still, the peak was a decent scramble for a peak that isn't climbed often (the last entry was almost a year prior).
Our descent route was much the same way, though we had briefly considered looking for the "Indian Route" described by others to the south. The problem was we weren't sure which saddle was described or which line it took going down, and the thought of getting back late and missing another chance to soak in the hot tub dissuaded us. We took the more common route down from the saddle west of the peak, finding the dry streambed easier to follow and a lot like our fun descent off Cerro Pescadores the day before. We stayed in the main drainage as much as possible, not so much looking for the class 2 way down as looking for the most fun.
Ahead of Tom by a few minutes, I was the first to return to the main canyon with the active stream flow. Near the second waterfall, where there was a small swimming pool, I came upon a young couple embraced in a passionate kiss. They didn't see me approach, so I ducked behind the cliffs until they were done. More than watching a peepshow, I wanted to swim in the pool. Luckily they didn't do anything further, and soon hiked back down the canyon. I spied others downstream hiking in the canyon as well - apparently it is a pretty popular afternoon activity after sleeping in late. I had my swim, though it was hardly refreshing. The water was icy cold (runoff from the recent snow) and I could stand it only a few seconds before fighting my way back out. While I was air-drying Tom wandered over after finishing his descent of the dry wash. Another couple waited patiently below while I put my clothes back on and shouldered my pack. They came up to visit the pool as we headed down.
There were other younger folks out and about as we completed the descent back to the campground - other than the hot tubs, this was the only other recreation it would seem. Around 1:30p we met up again with our Mexican hosts, and through the interpreter they seemed happy that we'd reached the summit. We had our last soak in the hot tub before packing things up - very refreshing. I went over to the toilet that Tom had praised so highly in the morning. There are three enclosed stalls with flush toilets that are fed by the hot water. This warms the entire porcelain seat which was quite cozy in the chilly morning, Tom had reported. In the warmer afternoon I found it otherwise - it actually makes your butt sweaty and the heat has a cooking effect on what drops in before flushing. Unusual, yes, but not something I'll be installing at home anytime soon.
The drive out of the campground was not as terrible in the daylight as it had seemed the night before. I got out to film the stream crossing and Tom was better able to avoid pounding the underside of the car when he could see the terrain better. Still, this is a 4WD road and high clearance would be a big plus.
Tom drove the entire 34 miles of dirt back out to the paved highway 2, after which we switched places. Time for Bob to drive in Mexico. We had a long drive ahead of us to reach Cerro Pinacate south of the Arizona border. Our intial look on a AAA map was somewhat disheartening - some 300 miles. It wasn't until an hour later that we came to find the distance was much shorter - though it was primarily a map of the western United States, the distances given on the map were in kilometers for Mexico, who knows why. Certainly the primary users of the map, US citizens, would still be driving cars that measured distances in miles, not kilometers. In any event, our drive was shorted by almost 40%. Yay!
The smaller towns along Highway 2 are much like Mexicali, but in miniature version - very poor and deteriorated badly. There were debris piles everywhere, large yards with wrecked vehicles, smaller yards packed with old engines presumeably to be recycled at some point (although the stuff looked to be sitting around for many years). We noted that cinder blocks make up the primary building material - they could build anything out the stuff - multistory buildings, room additions, outhouses, picnic benches, landscaping and more. Pemex stations were the only sites that looked to be maintained. One of the biggest advertisers in this part of the state is Anheuser-Busch with huge billboards for BudLight in many locales. Maybe this is payback for all the Corona billboards in my own neighborhood. Oh, and Tecate seems to be marketed aggressively too. Perhaps the oddest storefront we saw was a Thrifty's Ice Cream Store among other local favorites in one town, proudly announcing under the sign, "Made in the USA."
Our route through Mexico was the most straightforward from looking at a map, the alternative would be to cross back to the US and take Interstate 8, probably incurring an additional 80 miles or more. In the end we concluded that there was probably little time saved, if any. Once past Highway 5 near Mexicali, the toll road ends and reverts to a free road. The quality of the road deteriorates with the change. In most places the speed limit was 80kph (about 50mph), but large sections dropped to 60kph and even 40kph, sometimes for no apparent reason. At first I drove conservatively, keeping to the speed limits, but when even the large semis were passing me at considerably higher speeds, I picked it up, averaging closer to 100kph. As nighttime overtook us traveling east, the trucks were still passing us, but they weren't leaving us in a swirl of windy vortexes as they had earlier. There was a large section of highway under construction for which an alternative dirt road had been bulldozed alongside the original for a number of miles, and this added further to our slow progress.
Near the border town of Sonoyta we turned south on Highway 8, a popular byway for Arizonians heading south for their nearest coastal access at the Sea of Cortez. To encourage such migrations and the accompanying influx of US dollars, the government has upgraded the road to as good as any found in the US, with no tolls. We reveled in the smoothness of the pavement and the sudden quietness of the drive. After 30 miles we reached the turnoff for El Pinacate National Parque, only to find the road gated at the entrance. A sign indicated park hours from 8a-5p, and here we were 3 hours late. Rats. We ended up driving back up the highway a few miles to a roadside rest stop where we spent the night. There was BBQ pit, covered picnic bench, and a small chapel (all built with cinderblock, naturally). We cooked dinner at the picnic table before settling down for the night. I slept outside on the concrete pad under the covered shelter while Tom made room in the car. Despite the irratic intervals of passing cars, I slept pretty well in the cool night air. Desert life is pretty fine in the winter...
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