A trip through the Sierra

Gabriel Fonseca

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As the source of water for the municipalities of La Paz and Los Cabos, the Biosphere Reserve of the Sierra de la Laguna is the most important area in the southern part of the peninsula. It is one of the most extraordinary habitats on the planet, full of life and nature, a sacred site and highly revered by Baja Californians.

Exploring the biosphere is a tradition among young people and climbing enthusiasts. That is why there are so many anecdotes you will hear from friends and acquaintances who have lived through this memorable experience.

Although we are not professional adventurers, Ema, my wife, Reina, and I managed to reach the highest part of the mountain on a little known route. The journey generated many good stories.

 

The Canyon of the Zorra Route

For some years, it was my plan to climb the Sierra, but it wasn’t until I heard of the existence of Pozas Cuatas that I was definitely interested in making the trip. It was Jesus Cota de La Peña, expert guide and explorer, who told me of the natural wonders he found on his climb.

The grandparents and parents of Jesus had been born near the Canyon of the Zorra. From a very young age he began to walk the mountain range. I asked him why other guides did not mention the Pozas Cuatas when they talked about their experience climbing the mountains.

He replied, “Maybe because very few know about them, since the waterfalls are very far from the best known route to go up and down the Pacific side. Over here (his route), it takes longer to climb but you see many beautiful and interesting things.” We talked a little bit longer and, totally convinced, I set a date for the adventure.

The climb would be in October. We would cross the peninsula from east to west, entering Santiago at the Sol de Mayo Ecological Ranch. There the three adventurers, two guides and two mules would walk through the Canyon of La Zorra until arriving at the camp at Segundo Valle.

The first day was a four-hour walk to Rancho El Vergelito where we spent the night. Along the way, we took our first of many dips in pools that looked like a Jacuzzi. One of the advantages of this route is that most of the time you walk along the bank of a stream, finding pools and springs of water to cool off and quench your thirst. We arrived at dusk to dinner and to sleep.

 

The Pozas Cuatas

The next morning, we headed to Las Piedronas, the second camp. “Let’s go before it’s late,” said our guide Chuy. We got ready and started the march. After three hours of walking, we turned a corner made of a giant stone and the mules suddenly stopped. Jesus was in front of the group and Lolo, the other guide, behind. They told us that we had to stop and be alert because the mules may have smelled a snake. So it was. About twenty yards further on, there was a rather small rattlesnake near some bushes. When the snake saw us, it went in the opposite direction, losing itself in the weeds.

The encounter with the rattlesnake scared out the tiredness. At the beginning of the afternoon with the sun high and after having walked streamside, we climbed a small slope. We entered a dense grove of trees, crossed through it and when we came to the light on the other side, we discovered a beautiful landscape.

It was like reaching paradise. The sound of falling water announced a waterfall but two steps later we discovered we had reached Pozas Cuatas. We were only half way through the trip and it was already worth it.

 

Las Piedronas

Near the end of the afternoon, we reached a small forest. In the middle of some vegetation was a set of rock formations that were attached to a hill and formed small caves. We put up the tents, dined and prepared to rest. We had about two hours of sleep when loud thunder was heard warning of rain. In a matter of minutes, a heavy downpour began.

Instinctively, we ran to shelter inside the caves. The guide turned on his flashlight to check the interior. When he turned his light to the ceiling, we realized that spiders had also found the shelter and as fast as we entered, we left. Fortunately, we only had one hour of rain that was caused by a small storm threatening the peninsula and although it was still far away, it had influenced the climate.

 

San Juanico

 

After the rain, what little we slept we very much appreciated. The next station was Palo Extraño. The guides warned us there would be climbs ascending two hills that were one after the other. He wanted us to get used to the idea that the difficulty would increase. We prepared to leave and in the morning set off.

After two days of walking, the tiredness returned and we began to constantly ask the guide, “How much further?” We always received the same answer, “We are close. It is a matter of walking a little.” Arriving at noon, we stopped to rest and eat. A little worried about the ascent, we talked to Chuy who told us to go at our own pace. Don’t rush but walk steadily.

We began to climb. The first hour was in the baking sun, then we thanked the universe that a cloud gave us shade. As we climbed we noticed the increasing elevation. Looking to the east, the roads and streams in the distance below were already small. Also, we began to experience cramps in the legs and the first falls, so we paid attention to our march. We were so focused that we did not realize the black sky until loud thunder was heard and impressive lightning announced heavy rain. A very strange feeling came over us. We were wet from the sweat from the walk and cold when the weather changed with the elevation. Suddenly we were totally wet from the terrible rain that hit us for more than 90 minutes.

There were moments of tension, silence and fear, but also of confidence in our guides who were watching us at all times. We finally reached Palo Extraño where there was a small cabin with heaters. The entire procession went there for protection from the rain, including the two mules.

By the afternoon, the rain had calmed down. We set up tents outside of the cabin and slept waiting for the new day.

 

El Picacho

The environment had definitely changed. We were surrounded by pine trees and mountain flora and temperatures were about ten or twelve degrees lower. The coffee in the morning tasted glorious. We were ready to continue to the last camp in the Second Valley.

We left early and the route was not as difficult. In the afternoon, we arrived at a pine valley. It was like opening a door to another world. Our arrival was unusual. An unknown noise from the sky caught my attention. I looked up and I could see thousands of crows flying over the area. It was a show. I took my camera and captured everything I could, enjoying each image.

Later, we set up camp near the ranger’s cabin. The stars in the night and the mountain sunrise with clouds in El Valle were experiences that touched the spirit. However, the jewel in the crown was missing, reaching the highest part of the Sierra de La Laguna known as El Picacho.

We left at midmorning and in one hour we were in high places appreciating the landscape. We settled on a hill to capture images of Picacho. There was silence and we were all looking at the horizon for a moment before we began to congratulate ourselves in recognition of the great adventure we had experienced.

We learned a lot about ourselves, above all that you can exceed your limits. We understood the vital importance of the Sierra de La Laguna for Los Cabos and for its economic dynamics. Our adventure confirmed that this is an extraordinary territory that we must take care of and protect.

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