– Wild canyons and an epic climb to the top –
There is a fabulous mountain range in Baja-California, just south of Loreto on the Sea of Cortez. Its name is Sierra de la Giganta. It rises abruptly directly from sea level and presents a spectacular sight from the shore like a gigantic wall filled with pillars, towers, and deep narrow canyons. It’s impossible not to be spellbound by Giganta’s magnificence, it glows in the morning and looms in the afternoon, vultures soar in the air and play in the thermals. It’s riddled with canyons that reach deep into the secret heart of this mountain. Most of them are impossibly steep and short, but some are long, fairly accessible, and full of surprises. As hostile and barren as Giganta looks from the distance, deep in these canyons it has a very different face. Shielded from the merciless sun under towering cliffs and fed by plenty of water running there even after long periods of drought, are thriving pockets of vegetation full of hidden life. There are insects and butterflies flitting around, and there is birdsong echoing between enormous vertical walls. There are babbling streams, telling their endless stories under gigantic boulders, there are still pools, some deep enough to swim in, reflecting the narrow band of the sky far above and teaming with life; tadpoles, water striders, frogs, and salamanders wherever you look. And there are noisy waterfalls.
It is not easy to travel these canyons. Don’t expect even the idea of a trail. Mostly, it’s relentless scrambling over boulders, sometimes serious climbing, and occasionally it takes objectively dangerous acrobatic to negotiate some single key passage. Some of these dramatic wrinkles in the mountain are a couple of miles long and it takes a full day to explore them.
People who have the sense for adventure to climb into these canyons often come with the vision of some mysterious Shangri-La at the end of them, some glorious, hidden place of fantastic spiritual quality. In fact, are we not all mostly occupied with imagined destinations when we travel instead of seeing the purpose in the way? In 20 years exploring the canyons of Giganta I never found a Shangri-La at the end; further up, they mostly just fizzle out and cease to be canyons any longer or just end under a 300-foot wall. As in life in general, the magic is on the way not at the end.
The idea to find a route through the maze of these canyons all the way to the top would not leave me alone over the years. Again and again I looked at Giganta from the distance when I paddled in my kayak and searched with my eyes and imagination for potential routes up to the rim. Eventually, these kinds of things simply have to be done to get them out of your system. So one day I shouldered my pack and went.
It took me pretty much a full day to reach the top. The ascent was actually not terribly difficult but very strenuous. The greatest problem was to force my way through almost impenetrable thick thorny vegetation in higher elevations.
The view from up there is absolutely amazing! There is the other coast glistening in the distance some 50 miles away, you can clearly see the surf of the Pacific Ocean. And the ridge is mostly not a ridge at all but a large plateau, a mesa, several hundred feet across. The west side is not nearly as rugged as the east side. Mountains everywhere, like sand dunes, golden in the sun, shadows carving into the valleys. The sea looked like velvet. There are the islands: Danzante, like a prehistoric monster, swimming in the sea. Carmen, horseshoe-shaped, from this perspective. Puerto Escondido, a puddle on the shore a playing child left behind, the sailboats are barely discernable.
I spent the night on top and lit a fire as a signal to my wife below on the beach that I had made it and was not going to come down that day. At 5000 feet there is not much wood for a fire, but I gathered a great heap of dry, old agaves. They almost exploded in a huge inferno that sent me running for cover but lasted only for 10 minutes or so. This fire, brief as it was, turned out to be the source for the most amazing stories and speculations I heard up and down the bay in the coming weeks. People had seen it all over the place. It was a UFO-sighting, an airplane crash, a secret military operation – no one ever goes there.
Next day, on my way down, I committed an embarrassing blunder: in the dense jungle of thorns I lost my sense of direction and headed down the wrong canyon. When I finally realized my mistake half way down I was even stupid enough to continue because the route seemed so fantastically short and direct. I rappelled down some minor walls until I found myself on top of a 300-foot vertical drop-off and had to give up. The struggle back up almost all the way to the ridge brought me literally down to my knees. It was so steep and the thorns were so thick that I had to crawl most of the time. I had run out of water the day before, now the heat took its toll. When I finally found the right valley my shirt was completely torn to pieces, my pants were shredded, and my arms and legs were cut and bleeding. It was past sunset when I reached the road below, and boy, was I spent. My wife thought I had been in a car crash.
© Klaus Kommoss, Mexico, Jan 2008