travelog 21

Cumbre de San Pedro

Curvas muy pronunciadas and camino muy angosturo y muy malo were the statements of several local people about the dirt road from the former Misión de Guadalupe to San Juan de las Pilas and San Pedro de la Sierra when we were on our way through the mountains of Central-Baja. These melodious place-names already aroused our interest on our first trip to Baja California. Besides, we could see on the topographic map that this is the only route leading high over and into the Sierra and is, at the same time, a connection to the Pacific side of the mountains. Because we already realized repeatedly that we can rely on the Mexicans' opinion about their roads, we decided with a heavy heart to hike all the way from the mission to the Cumbre de San Pedro.

We were well prepared because it was not only a total of 12 kilometers but at the same time 700 meters of difference in altitude. We had already packed our back-packs the night before. One with all the technical stuff such as cameras, lenses, filters, film rolls, the notebook etc. The other one with all the accessories, toilet paper, sun caps, tanning cream, garbage bags, a pocket-knife etc. We knew from the view onto the towering mountain range that this "stroll" would make us work up a sweat. That's why we packed 4 liters of cold fruit tea. We decided to start with the first daylight to avoid climbing in the blazing sun. And of course we wanted to spend as much time as possible on the Cumbre de San Pedro (= pass of San Pedro) before we had to head back to the valley because of the fast fading daylight at this time of the year. We set the alarm for 6 in the morning, a time when Julia normally is still sleeping.

At the time we woke up everything was still pitch-dark. We enjoyed a last coffee, half a roll with jam and got done with the obligatory way to the loo. Then we tightened the hiking boots, adjusted the walking sticks, shouldered the back-packs and checked again our little rolling house. We hiked on the dirt road because the ground was totally impassable: partly too steep with too much loose debris, partly overgrown with thorny and impenetrable thicket.

Twice a rider crossed our path. It was the only human soul we saw all day long. Ramón Carillo Aguilar spent the night not far away from our camp with his mule and his pack-donkey. We said hello, exchanged some nice words and on we went. About half way to the top he catches up with us again and this time he involved us in a longer conversation. He offered his help as a guide to less visited caves with indian paintings - para servirle (= at our service) as he emphasized again and again. He's a local councillor, and if we needed any help we should only remember his name and get in contact with him. He was a little bit astonished that we were still as fit as a fiddle after half of our way. As we explained that we were from Switzerland, it became as clear as daylight to him.

In some places the dirt road was in horrifying condition. Very stony, in parts extremely steep - on a 100 meter long passage around 80% (!), reinforced with concrete slowly resolving itself into its constituent parts. In only two parts the road is really narrow. Here the rain washed out deep channels and there's also a part of the road missing. It would have been possible with PocoLoco (according the motto: UNIMOG - you should have one!). But it would have been risky and we don't like to risk our house. Anyway, hiking is a very refreshing thing and one can see more than when driving a car.

We were hiking up the Eastern slopes of the Sierra del Potrero and sometimes the morning sun was warming us up. But then the shady parts were really chilly, and one could risk catching a cold.

Shortly after 9 a clock we arrived at the pass. From here you have a gigantic view to the West onto the Pacific and to the East onto the Sea of Cortez. In the distance you can see the salt flats of the Laguna San Ignacio. The morning sun modeled the mountain ranges, hills, and strangely formed rocks. We climbed up to the pass in about 2 hours, much shorter than we planned. After a short tea-break we started our botanical exploration of the nearby rocks and cliffs.

First of all you notice in the landscape a decisive stand of Nolina beldingii. This is a 4-6 meter tall tree-like Agave plant with an elephant like foot and several round heads that grows only in these heights and extreme locations. Then you notice the big, deep-green shining plants of Agave gigantensis. Sometimes there is an old inflorescence soaring out of the thicket.

There are different Cylindro-Opuntias and one Opuntia with "ears", plants we try to avoid. And of course there is Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) and growing as little round balls on its arms Tillandsia recurvata. Then different kinds of spiny bushes and several cacti. There are big stands of organ pipe cacti (Stenocereus thurberi) and enormous specimens of barrel cacti (Ferocactus rectispinus) with up to 20cm long central spines. Some white Mammillarias growing as single plants or in clusters under bushes or on the naked rocks. After some climbing around we finally found stands of Dudleya rubens, a member of the plant family we are documenting at the moment. Totally white specimens (covered with "flour" against the strog sun) and green ones live together in harmony. Only disadvantage: they grow only in very inaccessible, vertical and shady cliffs. I can't approach them because of my fear of heights. Julia is much less delicate and has to do the "job".

Between the photo sessions and the field documentation we polish off two pears and an already very soft Swiss chocolate (kids receive chocolate for being very good...). Against the heat of the day we drank a lot of tea. Time flew by with all the climbing and picture-taking, and soon enough it was time to descend.

Climbing down was harder than ascending. Slippery debris and the steep parts of the road made the descent miserable. Knees and the already tired feet were getting very burdened. So we were happy to see our house again, to get rid of the hiking boots, to enjoy a refreshing shower, and to put our painful legs up. We already knew that the next day the stiff muscles would make their presence known.

December 1999

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen