San Felipe, Baja, Mexico
Where: Mexico
Alternate Name(s): Encantada
Latitude/Longitude: 31° 3' N; 115° 26' W
State/Province: Baja California (Highest Point)

Following is a piece written by Richard Carey. His informative site, dedicated to 25 years of his mountain climbing experiences, can be found at: http://www.peakbagging.com.

Picacho del Diablo Notes

This is not a trip report, but a compilation of my thoughts and notes on climbing Picacho del Diablo derived from three successful ascents and several not so successful forays to the mountain. This mountain at 10,154 feet (3095 meters) is the highest peak in Mexico's Baja peninsula and is a popular climb. It has been done in a grueling 18 hour day hike, but most elect to do the peak in a three or four day backpack starting from the National Park to the west. The eastern route from the desert floor up Canon del Diablo is not tried as much as in the past because of reports of vandalism of vehicles at the remote canyon mouth. It is also a longer trip and hotter due to the low elevation at the start. Here then are my notes that will help you prepare for the trip to Picacho del Diablo. All of this pertains to a west side approach which is the most commonly used route at this time.

View of Diablo, photo by Christopher E. Brennen
View of Diablo from Observatory Road.
Photo by Chistopher E. Brennen

Location: Most U.S. citizens will be starting from San Diego, California and crossing the border to Tijuana, Mexico. From central San Diego it is about 240 miles driving distance to the trailhead. This drive takes nearly all day; about an hour and a half to Ensenada, two more hours to the turnoff onto the dirt road, and another three hours to the National Park. The last 60 miles is well-graded dirt up to the observatory that most cars can negotiate with careful driving. Make sure you have good tires and a functional spare since help is a long way off. When in Tijuana look for signs leading to the "Scenic Route" to Ensenada. This will direct you after a loop to the road going west along the border then to the toll road that starts in the La Playa area. In May 2001 the cost was 21 pesos at each of the three toll stations or 63 pesos total one-way to Ensenada which is about US $7.00. You may pay in either dollars or pesos. You get a little better deal if you pay in pesos. From Ensenada it is another two hours on the sometimes winding route 1 to the town of Colonet. Eight miles south of this town there is a well-marked sign to the Parque Nacional and Observatorio. At a point 1.1 miles before this turn there is a new Pemex station on the east side and I suggest you fill your gas tank here.

Best Time to Go: I like the months of May or September, but the trip can be done in the summer months since most of the route is well above 6,000 feet. There is a chance of afternoon thunderstorms in July and August. In May or September the chances of rain are slim. It is risky going in the winter from November to April since there can be snow on the steep slopes on the north side of Blue Bottle making the traverse there treacherous.

Mexican Auto Insurance: You definitely should purchase Mexican Auto Insurance before crossing the border. At the last exit on Interstate 5, Via de San Ysidro, there are several insurance agencies. If you get into an accident without insurance you could be thrown in jail, not a pleasant thing in Mexico.

Tourist Card: If one is traveling south of Ensenada or staying in Mexico more than 72 hours then a tourist card is required. These used to be a form you picked up for free, but now they are US$20.00 per person. On a recent trip we did not get the card and found that we were never asked to show it as others had reported. However, in case of problems with officials, be sure to have proof of citizenship with you such as a birth certificate, green card, or valid passport. A driver's license is NOT sufficient.

Don't use an ATM card in Mexico: An article in the local Marine Corps newsletter, the Chevron, tells of a fellow who used an ATM in Tijuana and got back a different card than he had inserted! Not only that but he later found he had been billed for an extra $310. His local bank in San Diego couldn't help him recover the money either. So take enough money with you and don't use an ATM card. Better yet don't even take the card down there.

Dirt road to the Parque Nacional: This is a 60 mile route through farming communities and then over a mountain on a steep, rocky section after which the road descends to a final valley with the famous Meling Ranch before climbing up to the forested plateau. At about 29 miles from route 1 you will see the first Meling Ranch sign. Go right here toward the Ranch. Then in 0.3 miles there is a second Meling Ranch sign where you want to go left toward the Observatorio. At about 47 miles you will reach some cabins and a gate at the Parque Nacional entrance. Generally the gate will be open. The park fee is paid some miles ahead where you may find a Ranger by the road. The fee is 70 pesos per person or US$7.00. There is a new headquarters building under construction where the fee will be collected in the future. This may be done by the fall of 2001.

Summit, photo by Christopher E. Brennen
Summit of Picacho del Diablo
Photo by Chistopher E. Brennen

Trailhead: At about 57 miles from route 1 or 10 miles from the park entrance there is a junction with a sharp turn on the right. Take this turn which leads south past a building with a well to the trailhead. After 2.5 miles on this road you will each the trailhead area with a wooden pyramid by a campfire ring. Park and camp here. The road continuing south to the Los Llanitos shack trailhead is now chained off in about a quarter mile so this shorter route cannot be used.

Hiking Route: See the map listed on this page that shows the hiking route in detail. Waypoints are marked on the map that correspond to points in the file you may load into your Garmin GPS receiver. Typically the plan is to backpack to Campo Noche in the canyon west of the peak on the first day then do the peak the next day and hike out the third day. Here are statistics for these three days:

Day 1 - Trailhead to Blue Bottle Saddle: 4.5 miles, 1300 feet gain Blue Bottle Saddle to Campo Noche: 1.75 miles, 3080 feet loss

Day 2 - Campo Noche to Summit: 3.0 miles, 3850 feet gain, 3850 feet loss

Day 3 - Campo Noche to Blue Bottle Saddle and back to trailhead: 6.25 miles, 3080 feet gain, 1300 feet loss

Total gain and loss both ways: 16,460 feet

Total distance: 15.5 miles.

Note: If you are not using a GPS unit then you definitely should have a compass for navigation. The drainages and ridges in the forest go in various directions and there are no visual landmarks since neither the observatory or Picacho del Diablo are visible until you reach Blue Bottle Saddle. After this saddle be sure to proceed east as far as possible on the use trail before descending into the canyon. If you go down too soon the terrain gets very steep and difficult. About half way down to Campo Noche there is a tough spot where you may have to hand down packs over a ledge. On the way out a short rope or sling is handy to lift packs up for those who can't negotiate this spot.

Hiking Times: This can vary a lot as I found out recently. Here are some times based on my experience:

Trailhead to Blue Bottle Saddle: fast group - 3 hours, slow group - 5 hours

Blue Bottle Saddle to Campo Noche: fast group - 4 hours, slow group - 6 hours

Campo Noche to summit and back: fast group - 8 hours, slow group -12 hours

Campo Noche to trailhead: fast group - 7 hours, slow group - 11 hours

Equipment: It is very important to GO LIGHT on the backpack! The terrain is rough, off-trail and anything you haul down to Campo Noche has to hauled back up the steep slope to Blue Bottle. So don't take anything unnecessary! I have never taken a tent since the chances for rain in May and September are remote. This saves a lot of weight. Take a light ground cloth, Thermorest or equivalent, light down bag, and an extra ground cloth or plastic sheet as a cover just in case there is rain. Nighttime temperatures are 45 to 50 degrees F so a light sleeping bag is fine. Mosquitoes have never been a problem. There has been a small ring-tailed cat at Campo Noche so hanging food is a good idea.

Water: There is water half way to Blue Bottle Saddle just past the aspen grove and part way down the canyon at the waterfalls. I generally don't rely on these sources and prefer to start the backpack with 3 quarts and leave a quart at Blue Bottle Saddle for the hike out. Water is safe and reliable at Campo Noche. I have never used a filter and have not heard of anyone getting sick drinking it untreated. I have found 2 quarts adequate on summit day, however in case it is hotter than normal I suggest bringing an extra bottle unfilled which can be filled up at the camp. Bring extra water in the vehicle for car camping since none is available at the trailhead or in the Parque Nacional.

Pack: Try to keep your overall weight with water under 35 pounds. A light-weight day pack is needed for summit day. An internal frame pack is best since it is more compact, but an external frame is OK. Try to keep the load low, not above your head, so it won't catch on low branches.

Clothes: I recommend long pants since there are stinging nettles in the canyon. I like light-weight nylon pants. Wear a good sun hat and sun screen lotion. I often wear gloves. A hiking staff is OK for the backpack, but I don't suggest it for summit day. A bandana is useful.

Maps: For help on the driving route the American Automobile Club map of Baja California is about the best. The hiking route is on two of the Mexican 1:50,000 scale topographic maps. The Santa Cruz map, number H11B55, has the summit and the next map north, San Rafael number H11B45, has the trailhead. Note that some named features including Picacho del Diablo and Cerro Botella de Azul (Blue Bottle Peak) are not located correctly on these maps. The map file listed here is a composite scan of both maps and has the peaks and trails correctly shown. Set your printer to landscape mode to print this map. View the map. (1.2Meg jpg file)

A good map worth getting for your trip is "Parque Nacional San Pedro Martir" by Jerry Schad, published by Centra Publications in 1988. This map has accurate route and place names, but does not have a Lat/Long or UTM grid for GPS navigation which the Mexican topo shows.

The Centra Publication map and the Mexican topos are available in San Diego at The Map Centre, 3191 Sports Arena Blvd., San Diego, CA 92110. Telephone: (619) 291-3830. Toll free in the US at: (888) 849-6277. They have a web page at: www.mapcentre.com

Mexican topos can be purchased in Tijuana at the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica Geografia e Informatica (INEGI) office at 1046 Ave. Revolution. This is on the west side of the street across from the Jai Lai Palace. Phone number there is 685-0467 or 685-1570. The staff only speaks Spanish. The topos are US$6.75 each which is considerably less than at the Map Centre.

References: The following books are helpful for background information on the mountain and surrounding area:

1. "Camping and Climbing in Baja" by John W. Robinson. La Siesta Press, 1967. Early history of climbing Picacho del Diablo.

2. "Coming Home from Devil Mountain" by Eleanor Dart O'Bryan. Harbinger House, Tucson, Arizona, 1989. A disasterous trip where the author and her boyfriend had to be rescued from Picacho del Diablo.

3. "Where the Old West Never Died" by Paul Sanford. The Naylor Co., San Antonio, Texas, 1968. History of the Meling Ranch.

Thanks to Erika Sohn for pointing out that the UTM zone on the map was wrong.
It is now corrected to zone 11. The waypoint file has the zone correct. (Revisions May, 2003)

Richard L. Carey June, 2001

~Other Links~
~Maps~
Topo Map with WaypointsWest Approach Topo with Waypoints (735k)