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Gimpilator
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PostFri Nov 30, 2018 11:13 am 
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Introduction-

For nearly a decade Petter Bjorstad of Norway has maintained the world leadership in terms of bagging the most ultras.  An ultra is a peak with 1500 meters of prominence, similar to 5000 feet worth.  For peakbaggers of the prominence persuasion, getting an ultra is the utmost aspiration.  There are only about 1500 of these on earth, so they tend to be very rare, except for a few special regions.   Anyone seriously working the list will have to do a lot of traveling.

2011, World’s highest volcano: Greg Slayden, Duane Gilliland, Petter Bjorstad, Rob Woodall, gimpilator
2011, World’s highest volcano: Greg Slayden, Duane Gilliland, Petter Bjorstad, Rob Woodall, gimpilator

Rob Woodall from the UK has been a close second in this global competition for quite some time now.  The highest peaks I have ever climbed, I did with these guys 7 years ago.  When I heard from Petter that he was going to be in my relative neck of the woods, there was no hesitation on my part.  Absolutely I would join!  Even better was the fact that Rob would likely show up for part of the trip.  Each time Petter gets another ultra, it’s a new World Record, but on this particular trip, he would pass the 300 mark, and that is significant, because it means he has done one out of every 5 on earth.

November 8-9

I left Vegas, picked Petter up at UCLA, and we were on our way to Monterrey Mexico via Laredo Texas.  If that sounds like a lot of driving, it’s because it is.  We had planned a visit with Andy Martin who graciously offered us a stay at his home, but LA traffic was unusually bad, probably from the Malibu fire that had started just as we were leaving.  I could see the apocalyptic smoke cloud in my rear view mirrors.  We missed our chance to connect with Andy and got a hotel in Tucson instead.


11-10

Drive to Laredo.

11-11

We crossed into Mexico and were well on our way to the first hike, but a checkpoint official sent us back to the border, “bridge number 2” for some kind of paperwork for the car.  As it turns out, crossing with a vehicle from Texas is a more bureaucratic process than if you are just going into Baja from California like I have done before.  At one point we were led the wrong way on a one-way street by another official, who was jogging on foot ahead of us.  It’s not at all clear how to find the permit office without this strange kind of assistance.  I’ll spare the other details.


By the time it was straightened out, there was not enough time to complete the hike.  Petter suggested that we scope out a few nearby trailheads which was a good idea.  Many butterflies in this area.  I picked out a hotel at random in Portrero Chico, and come to find out it is a world renown climbing location.  Right across the street from us, sheer limestone cliffs rose several thousand feet.  I walked around briefly to get some different vantage points.


Rob joined us in the hotel later that evening.

11-12
Cerro Tia Chena - 8858’

All together now, we were ready for the first hike.  The weather forecast for the next 3 days was not ideal.  In fact it was downright bad.  Rain, thunderstorms, snow and summit temps going down to 20 degrees below freezing.  Rob was prepared, having seen the forecast before leaving the UK, but Petter and I were caught totally unawares.  Neither of us had proper rain gear and my warm layers were limited to say the least.  It’s just not what you expect from Mexico.

fossils
fossils

We hiked up a southwest canyon with chunks of fossil-embedded limestone and then turned east out of the wash.  Climbing out of the canyon was steep and there were some slabs to cross.  I was reminded of how fast these guys are.  Much faster than most people I normally hike with who are also much younger.

unnamed on the map
unnamed on the map

We came to a saddle on the crest of the rib and then turned north-ish towards the main west ridge crest.  The terrain was laden with all sorts of cactus and spiny desert plants, but as we got higher, there were also strange dwarf palm trees.  I was excited to see some larger ammonites set in the boulders.

Fraile "El Sapo"
Fraile "El Sapo"
ammonite
ammonite
Tia Chena summit
Tia Chena summit

For the last several hundred feet, we stayed on the crest, in dense brush and skeletons of burned trees.  It would have been better to make use of the more open adjoining ridge to the north which is what we did on the return.  All through the day, the weather looked iffy, but it rained on us only briefly as we were descending.

less brush on adjoining ridge
less brush on adjoining ridge
fossils
fossils
cactus planter tree adornment
cactus planter tree adornment

11-13
Picacho San Onofre – 11,614’

Our original plan had been to climb El Sapo which is the highest peak of the Fraile peaks.  This was supposed to be a good climb and it would have made a fitting #300 for Petter, but when we arrived at the trailhead, the weather was horrible and fresh snow was down near ground-level on the north faces.  So we bid farewell to Rob.  The next leg of our trip would take us south.  Scheduling logistics made it impossible to do all the peaks together.


We drove to the trailhead for Onofre arriving several hours before dark.  It was raining and very cold.  We hiked up an old road passing through several gates and then turned into the brush at an arbitrary point.  Petter pulled ahead of me and I could not catch him.  It was all I could do to just keep him in sight whilst maintaining enough oxygen to stay conscious and upright.  He does extremely well with altitude as always and I knew he had the upper hand there.

verglass trees
verglass trees

We passed trees covered in verglass and then made it to the summit where the wind chill was pretty nasty.  View visibility was extremely limited.  To celebrate number 300, I had a surprise chocolate babka in my pack, serving also as a minor tribute to friends passed.  We didn’t stay long because the wind chill chased us right back down into the forest.  We got back to the car just minutes before total darkness.

300!
300!

That night in the hotel, Petter made a curious discovery.  He was officially back to 299 ultras.  One of the Malaysian ultras had just been demoted, because of some inconsistencies in available survey maps.  Another peak nearby might actually be a few feet higher.  How could it be possible to do a conclusive survey when these peaks are covered with dense jungle?

One thing for certain was that by the end of our trip, Petter would be well ahead of the 300 milestone.  He didn’t seem to care that much either way, but commented on how tough of a project that Malasian peak had been.  He told me leeches had crawled through the holes in his socks and made a terrible bloody mess.

11-14
Cerro el Potosi – 12,205’

This peak is a drive-up.  The road is rough but passable to a Subaru, 32 miles of big cobblestones round-trip.  It’s the highest my car has ever been.  There are two points 100 yards distant of nearly equal height.


11-15
Picachos el Fraile “El Sapo” - 7546’

Nicknamed “the frog”, because from the nearby town of Garcia, the upper ridgline looks like the head of a frog with a line for a mouth and there is also the outline of a perfectly circular eye in the correct place.  This limestone peak is extremely precipitous.  Several of the gigantic cliffs are overhanging.

El Sapo summit at center
El Sapo summit at center

We carried a rope, but as it turned out, I was the only one to use it, rappelling down the crux and taking a belay back up, at the same spot on the return.  It’s been called class 4 in past reports, but it’s overhanging and feels like 5.7, getting off the ground.


From the base, we entered a small southwest canyon and then followed a well worn trail as it climbed out onto a south rib.  A narrow exposed ledge went along the base of a wall before we came to the main west ridge crest.  There was a short down-scramble and then several miles of narrow ridge before the towering summit.  Peaks seen to the southeast are jagged and inspiring.

peaks to the southeast
peaks to the southeast
Tia Chena
Tia Chena

We passed the crux and then came to a very narrow section with extreme exposure.  Further along the ridge a nice looking peak was beckoning, but this was only the false summit.  When I finally saw the true summit, I thought it didn’t look reasonable to climb without a rope, but I told myself it was probably just foreshortened.

some recent snow still present
some recent snow still present
false summit
false summit
one of several narrow sections
one of several narrow sections
couldn't decide which pano is better
couldn't decide which pano is better

The route crossed the north face on a narrow diagonal ledge, the uppermost ledge right below the main wall.  It certainly looks improbable from a distance.  To access the proper ledge, I made one downward exposed class 4 move.  The ledge itself is easier than it looks, but requires care, and there is a step across move which is a bit awkward.  Not much to hold onto at that spot.


On the summit, I had a backup cinnamon babka to share with Rob this time.  We spent a half hour taking in the views.

El Sapo summit
El Sapo summit
crux area
crux area
stick bug
stick bug
Can you see the frog?
Can you see the frog?

11-16

Driving day.  Farewell to Rob.

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Gimpilator
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PostFri Nov 30, 2018 11:14 am 
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11-17
Cerro el Centinella – 10,226’

Rob had just done this peak on one of our days apart, so we had excellent beta.  I made only one small improvement by finding the new road which goes all the way to the trailhead.  We did the first hour in the dark and only floundered at the start, before finding the well worn trail.  We hiked up and over a pass and then down into a canyon.  We followed the wash to a camp where the trail resumes in the bushes, somewhat less distinct.

moss
moss
the pass
the pass
air plant
air plant
bromeliads
bromeliads

I took some interest in the local moss on the rocks and also a type of bromeliad more commonly known as “air plants”.  I had seen these plants growing thickly on all the power lines the previous day and had wondered about them.

scrub forest
scrub forest
Centinella summit
Centinella summit

Before reaching the summit, we passed through some scrub forest.  We didn’t stay long.  Something I had noticed over the last several days was the fact that Petter requires virtually no food or water compared to me, and he does not like to take breaks that exceed 3 minutes.  After 3 minutes, he invariably gets up and says “I’m going to go slowly, so take your time, no hurry”.  Then I’m done a couple minutes later, but the distance between us is already considerable.  I have to work hard to catch up to him.  I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a good-natured game he was playing.

At the pass, we went through that little routine again.  But this time after 45 minutes, he wasn’t even in sight.  When I finally spotted him far down below, he was moving at a good clip and probably still a half mile ahead of me.  I realized it was a game indeed, and I was about to be the loser.  Well, I decided not to let him get to the trailhead ahead of me.  I put everything I had into moving fast over the uneven rocks and around cactus thorns and vegetation spears of various width and length.  Nearly 1500 peaks prepared me for this moment, and I was not about to let a 67 year old kick my A$$ in a speed contest, going downhill.  We both reached the trailhead at the same time and had a laugh about it.  13 miles, 6500 feet of gain, 8hr5m.  5 minutes faster than Rob’s time, but probably the same since he wasn’t able to start at the exact trailhead.

11-18
Driving day.

11-19
Sierra Alamos - 5817’

Our agreed upon plan had some leeway time on either side of the Sea of Cortez ferry crossing.  So far we had been efficient or lucky, and there was an extra day.  We chose to spend this doing a non-ultra peak.  Unfortunately, Petter tripped the night before on a dark street in the town of Alamos and took a hard hit to the knee.  Visually, the swelling was very troublesome.  I wondered if he would be getting any of the remaining peaks on the trip.  He made the right call to sit this one out and rest the knee.


I started up the trail at 7:30am and took nearly 3 hours to hike the 6 miles to the summit.  I found the place where Adam Helman and Bob Packard had failed to cross the wash and find the trail on the far side.  That resulted in hours of bad bushwhacking for them.

summit boulder
summit boulder

There’s a massive boulder on the summit with climbing options, but a narrow grassy exposed ledge goes around the west side for a class 3 finish.  I spent a half hour up there and then hurried down to meet Petter, arriving exactly at 1pm.  12 miles, 4400 gain, 5 hours moving time.

exposure below the west ledge
exposure below the west ledge
Alamos summit
Alamos summit

During the descent I stopped to photograph some bearded cactus and also some very large blue and black birds.  They made amazing chatter and I would very much like to know what they are, if there are any bird experts out there.

mystery bird
mystery bird
what kind of bird is this?
what kind of bird is this?
bearded cactus
bearded cactus
hipster cactus
hipster cactus

11-20
Sierra La Laguna - 6824’

This day was scheduled to be our next hike, but the ferry crossing from Topolobampo to La Paz was more convoluted than any international border crossing I have done.  Between the moment when the ferry docked and we were allowed to leave, 4 hours passed.  Paperwork, interrogations, fees, police, checkpoints, vehicle search, military, vehicle sprayed with God knows what.  You would think we had returned from a space mission.

In any case, getting to the summit that day was apparently not going to happen.  I vehemently wanted to day trip it, but Petter said it would be better for his knee to camp so as to break it up some, and I couldn’t argue with that.  In hindsight, I’m glad we did it that way, despite carrying the extra weight, because the lower valley approach is truly exotic.  Butterflies, cactus, flowers, and hummingbirds are a few of the charms featured.  But it was awfully hot and now humid too.  I didn’t realize until later that we were going to do just about all the vertical gain on day one, starting in the afternoon heat.

butterflies
butterflies

Petter was faster than me in the heat, no surprise there.  He’s pretty much tougher in every way, from what I can tell.  He has a magic shirt made of Norwegian wool which keeps him cool in the heat and hot in sub zero temperatures.  He was even going to demonstrate now how he could do this overnight trip using only 2 liters of water, a few bars, and no dinner.  He said he would probably pour the excess water out when we got back down to the car.  I on the other hand would carry 4 liters, dinner, a ton of food and treat another 2 liters higher up.  But before getting out of the initial approach valley, I had to face the hideous bull of doom.  You shall not pass!!!

YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!
YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!

The bull stood it’s ground in the middle of the trail and bellowed at me.  The sound filled the entire valley, echoing off the slopes.  I was ready to turn and run away if it charged or even moved slightly in my direction.  I know nothing about angry bull behavior.  In a soft voice, I tried asking nicely for it to move.  Pretty please.  It stood it’s ground and bellowed again.  I just stood there and looked at it for what felt like a long time.  Great, a stand-off.

I said, “common, why don’t you just step to the side, so we can both get about our business”.  It bellowed a few more times, the last time ringing with a tad of resignation, and then it moved into the bushes, over to the side I had gestured at.  Later Petter told me he had faced a similar encounter with the bull, but instead of using human language he bellowed right back at the bull, and it moved aside immediately.  Of course…

trail trench
trail trench

We lost some considerable elevation when we had to cross a creek and then it was up through deep trenches before a scenic traverse to a pass.  I could see the Atlantic ocean.  We gained nearly 6000 feet on this first day.  Flowers were plentiful at the pass and the evening light made the verdant spectrum around us slightly golden.

flowery pass
flowery pass

11-21

The next morning we crossed an open valley where we were ambushed by an official on a bicycle demanding $35 worth of pesos each, for access.  Near the far edge of the valley I found the most plump and succulent prickly pear fruit I have ever seen.  The size of apples.  Seriously.  I scarfed down two of them before I heard Petter calling me obviously wondering what sort of nonsense I had gotten up to.  I convinced him to try one on the way back down and he liked it.

prickly pear
prickly pear
mind the tiny thorns
mind the tiny thorns
bounty
bounty

We started with the southwest peak, bushwhacking up to the class 3 summit boulder.

southwest peak summit boulder
southwest peak summit boulder

The main northeast peak has a lookout tower which is locked.  Petter climbed the ladder and said it was a good view.  He said he thought he could climb outside the cage and access the balcony, but I talked him out of it.  Seeing as he went up there, I figured I should as well.


northeast peak summit boulder
northeast peak summit boulder
Petter contemplating going outside the cage
Petter contemplating going outside the cage
ladder view
ladder view
so tasty
so tasty

Back at the pass the flowers were teeming with hummingbirds.  I thought I spotted a tiny hummingbird, but it looked odd somehow.  Upon closer inspection it turned out to be a clearwing hummingbird moth.

permit ambush valley
permit ambush valley
hummingbird moth
hummingbird moth
hummingbird moth
hummingbird moth
hummingbird moth
hummingbird moth

11-22
Volcán Las Tres Vírgenes - 6401'

We saved the best peak for last.  Actually not.  This volcano is steep, covered with very loose terrain and thicker with cactus than anything else we had done thus far.  If you should ever slip on the aforementioned steep volcanic choss, then there’s always a helpful cactus or agave plant ready to break your fall.  I took a deep stab wound from an agave.  The first mile is actually pleasant, in a sandy wash which is frequented by bighorn sheep.  I didn’t see any sheep, but did notice the signs.  We walked the wash in the dark, but as soon as we left the wash, the terrain and vegetation conveyed the message that this peak abhors human visitors.

nasty
nasty

Half way up the mountain, we made use of a rocky outcropping spur ridge.  There is about 50 percent less spiky plants on this ridge.  I also noticed some strange Dr. Suess trees named boojum trees.

boojum
boojum
mountain shadow
mountain shadow
shadow
shadow
rocky spur
rocky spur

We came to a saddle and then it was only another thousand feet of steep volcanic choss and cactus bushwhacking.  This was ultra number 87 for myself and 305 for Petter, or is it 304?


saddle ahead
saddle ahead
massive cholla
massive cholla
above the saddle
above the saddle
summit of 3 Virgins Volcano
summit of 3 Virgins Volcano
Petter cactus-shwacking
Petter cactus-shwacking
sheep sign
sheep sign
3 Virgins Volcano
3 Virgins Volcano

Afterword-

In the following days we drove to the border, crossing the evening of the 24th.  Our delay was 3 hours and I saw some of the South American refugees with tents and aid, in a gated compound near the border.  Little did we know that the Santa Ynez border would be closed the following morning as a riot broke out, raising mainstream media attention.  My plan had been to stay the night in a nearby town and cross on that particular morning, but Petter was motivated to get back to work at UCLA.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Rob and Petter for making this a very memorable trip for me.  You guys are an endless source of inspiration and I consider myself very lucky to call you guys friends.  Petter, thank you also for everything you did to make this trip happen and to make it what it was.


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http://www.summitpost.org/user_page.php?user_id=25744
http://www.peakbagger.com/climber/ClimbListC.aspx?cid=2650&sort=elevft&u=ft&j=-1&y=9999

Keep climbing mountains and don't slip!
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moonspots
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PostFri Nov 30, 2018 11:36 am 
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Gimpilator wrote:
When I heard from Petter that he was going to be in my relative neck of the woods, there was no hesitation on my part.  Absolutely I would join! 

Wow, what an interesting trip! Well done!

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"Out, OUT you demons of Stupidity"! - St Dogbert, patron Saint of Technology
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Jake Robinson
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PostFri Nov 30, 2018 12:12 pm 
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What a trip! Sounds like quite an adventure. You guys put in lots of back-to-back big days. That's pretty amazing that Petter was able to put in 6k of gain with an overnight pack on a bum knee. Thanks for the interesting plant and geology details too. I really enjoyed this report, I can tell how much fun you guys had. Thanks for taking the time to write it up.

Where can I get one of those magic Norwegian wool shirts?
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RichP
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PostFri Nov 30, 2018 3:59 pm 
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Impresionante, amigo.  up.gif

Here's a page dedicated to ultras by region and country.

http://www.peaklist.org/ultras.html

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Without obsession, life is nothing. John Waters
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Bernardo
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PostFri Nov 30, 2018 4:21 pm 
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Viva Mexico!  A great placed to hoke.
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pcg
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PostFri Nov 30, 2018 6:18 pm 
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What a fun adventure. I love exploring the back country of Mexico, but haven't been there in many years due to the drug cartels. Very sad situation. Glad you had no problems.
The bird is a black-throated magpie-jay.
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Stefan
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PostMon Dec 03, 2018 9:33 am 
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Very cool!

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Art is an adventure.
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