Bahia De Los Angeles-Baja Norte-Mexico
December 22, 2017
This year’s pilgrimage to Baja began the typical way-a sprint to Gus Gus, our 1990 Toyota pick up with the next two weeks supplies carefully packed in. We were excited to try out our new bed system in the truck. Inspired by our colleagues design, we built a 10 inch platform bed in the bed of the truck. With plenty of storage under the platform, we could leave our bed setup while we traveled, making setting up camp effortless and quick, not to mention comfy with thick layers of carpet padding and a memory foam topper.
We headed south for the Mexicali border crossing. After nearly ten hours of driving we laid up outside of Palm Springs, planning to cross the border the next morning. We dirtbagged it up and camped off a dirt road not too far from a cul de sac, and we woke up early, started the truck, and made our way to Starbucks to start things right before heading to Mexicali. Caffeine in hand, and jonesing for Baja, we went to start the tuck, and nothing happened...a couple more tries….nothing. With the help of a good samaritan with one arm in a cast, we then tried to push start it by popping the clutch...nothing. It was the day before Christmas Eve, so we anxiously dialed a tow truck number, crossing all our fingers and toes that Gus Gus could be picked up and fixed that same day. It worked! We got the truck into a shop, and it turned out that it only needed a battery replaced, so we were once again Baja bound. We exchanged some currency, crossed the border, made a quick stop at the pharmacia to stock up on emergency meds & antibiotics for the first aid kit, and were back on the only road out of town, hwy 1, by 1pm.
We drove as far as we could before it started to get dark. When hobo camping in Baja, finding camp in the light decreases the chances of camping on private property, or a landfill. We were racing the sunset, and with hungry bellies we stopped at a roadside restaurant just outside of San Felipe. Excited to eat our first tacos of the trip and find camp, we were disappointed to learn that this was a gringo-owned tourist trap. We were quickly told we needed to pay a $15 USD cover to get a wristband to party with the other gringos. Nope. The ask for US dollars and the pop music that was playing told us we did not want to support this establishment. We decided to scrounge in the cooler for food and make camp down a dirt road that we had seen, and save the taco fund for the locals. As we were eating the leftovers of an old lunch, and relaxing after the chaotic day of car troubles, driving, and border crossing, we witnessed a strange, extremely bright light fly slowly into the sky. For 20 minutes we sipped Pacifico and watched this strange glowing UFO streak across the sky, hoping it was the flat-earth theorist nutjob with his homemade rocket we had read about in the news. We promised ourselves we’d look it up on the interwebs when we returned stateside. Nothing turned up from our search, so a mystery it remains.
Bahia de Los Angeles was our destination this year. We had heard wonderful things about the remote Bay filled with islands and isthmuses. We were not disappointed to say the least. We rolled into the very small town, seven hours from the border, looking for the local recreation office we had read about in our Kayaking Baja book. We were planning on touring the many islands that the Bay housed, and the book mentioned getting a permit from the local officials. With no official office in sight we hit up the only taco shop in town for $1 fish and shrimp tacos, and then made our way to the small market across the street to stock up on our favorite: Pacifico. With our cold beers and full tummies we made our way back out of town to find the dirt road that lead to the free beach camping: Punta la Gringa. Two minutes later we were pulling up Gus Gus to our home for the next week. We hiked around and summitted the closest highest peak, excited to be able to see almost all of the bay. All of the islands in the bay do not have any fresh water on them. In anticipation of this we invested heavily in five, 10L droms from MSR, which could keep us touring for 5 days.
Kayaking in Baja is special. The scenery and wildlife is amazing, the freedom one feels on the water is like nothing we have ever felt. The wind in Baja is famous. 60 mph winds are not uncommon, especially during the winter season. For this reason, paddling on the sea must take place from 4:30am-11:30am. Afternoon, the wind is so strong you end up paddling twice as hard to go half as far.
We talked about paddling to Isla Angel de la Guarda, measuring as big as Maui, it is the largest island and most remote place in the Sea of Cortez. With no fresh water on the entire isalnd a few fisherman and the occasional sailors venture to the east side of the island. The crossing was supposed to be difficult, a long paddle with ever threatening wind. Not super confident we could make the crossing in one push we opted to circumnavigate Isla Coronado, a beautiful island with a 1,500 ft volcano on the north end. We left Punta la Gringa to head to Dagget’s a pay campground where we read we could leave our truck at while we toured the Bay. Dagget’s bosted palapas, flush toilets, and showers. We paid the one night fee not partaking in the “showers”, loaded up the boats, and went to sleep with good tequila in our bellies. The next morning we awoke to Cope’s gear strewn about the campground. He had left food in his paddling fanny pack and the local dog pack had found it.
East Bay, Isla Coronado
After searching for nearly 20 minutes, and almost giving up, we found his fanny pack a hundred feet from the boats. We locked Gus Gus, strung up our Christmas lights on the boats, and launched out of Dagget’s at sunrise, eager to get paddling and hoping to beat the wind. Heading north we paddled in between Isla la Ventana and Isla Coronado, heading for East Bay, a known snorkel spot and our lunch destination. After arriving at the private cove, we hiked to the nearest peak, desperate to enjoy the view of the beautiful desert bay. With a scary reminder that rattlesnakes do exist, we headed back down the peak to cool off and snorkel in the bay. The water was warm and the clarity good enough to keep us interested. Wanting to document some sea life, Trailbride brought the underwater camera. Which promptly stopped working the minute she tried to take a picture. Embracing the tranquillo we camped at East Bay instead of pushing on. A beautiful sunset and warm Pacifico.
Looking East at Isla Angel de la Guarda
Taking in the quiet and calm morning, we drank our coffee with ease, not in too much of a hurry to get going. We shoved off around 9 am continuing north, hoping to paddle around the base of Volcan Coronado around to the west side of the island.
By the time we reached the point of no return, in true Baja style, the wind picked up and going around the point of the island was no longer an option. Whitecaps appeared out of nowhere, and we could hardly make any forward progress. A rocky beach lay between the volcano and the next island, not as inviting as a sandy beach, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Landing on the beach, we quickly realized there wasn’t any immediately close camping. A trail over the saddle connects the pebble beach to a beach on the west side of the island, so we followed it looking for a flat, protected spot to set up the tent. After nearly a half mile of boulder hopping and avoiding cactus, we found a flat spot that would serve just fine as a tent pad. We headed back to the boats to pick up our gear and secure our vessels. Loaded down with all our gear and 10L of water, the half of mile seemed like a marathon death march. We slogged back up to the campsite and collapsed in a heap of exhaustion when we finally reached the flat spot.
The guidebook we were using referenced a trail to the top of Volcan Coronado. Even though we only had Chacos to hike in, the idea of camping at the base of this perfectly shaped cone rising from the sea and not hiking it, seemed down right dumb. We tightened up the straps on our hiking sandals and set off to summit the volcano. After a little route finding we found the trail that seemed to lead straight up. Yep, that was the trail. The nice dirt trail quickly turned to loose scree. With every foot we climbed the trail only got steeper and less stable. The trail was becoming a 4 class climb in lose boulders and we had on Chacos...brilliant. The vast views of the entire Bay made it all worth it. To the east we could see the massive Isla Angel de la Guarda, and to the south the sprinkling of islands in the shimmering bay. About 100 yard from the ridge that lead to the summitt, and the sixth or seventh time one of us had slipped, causing rocks to tumble down to the bottom we screamed, “fuck it!” over the loud, fast, wind; blowing from every direction. We turned around in retreat.
We soon learned we would rather be going up than down. Suddenly the climb up seemed like a breeze as we navigated the ridiculously steep switchbacks, in an awkward combination of down climbing facing uphill and sliding the other way. Desperately trying to not roll off the mountain in the stiff wind, Trailbride went to her safe place of sitting down and sliding on her butt when she needed to. The only thing stopping our momentum was our slippery toes in hiking sandals, and small lava pebbles would wedge their way under our feet in the most unpleasant way. Almost to our camp, we were hiking quickly and making a mental note for our next tour to include hiking shoes and trekking poles, when Cope took a stumble and jammed his big toe into a jagged lava rock as he fell. The carnage looked worse than it was, but it tore the skin off the pad of his toe and folded it under. Trailbride had to put her wilderness medicine skills to the test after helping him hobble the last quarter mile or so back to the tent, and she got the bleeding to stop and patched him up nicely. The pain was pretty intense though, and we knew we’d be adjusting our plan as a result of the misstep. We decided we’d head back to our truck as a base camp just in case the toe situation worsened.
We broke camp the next morning and headed back down to the boats, making slow progress back over the boulders. Trailbride fashioned a waterproof bootie from a dry bag, and we pushed off for a long 13 mile paddle back to Daggett’s. The wind was helpful this time, and we had a blast surfing the wind waves that pounded through the channel between the island and the shore. We were relieved to finally see the truck after a long paddle. After we loaded the boats and headed back into town, the disappointment of ending the tour prematurely was softened by more tacos, and Pacifico.
Excited for our first “shower” in a week, we waded into the Bay for a quick skinny dip, shuffling our feet constantly, afraid of the famous stingrays we had read and heard about, we made our way out into the chilli water. “Something got me!” Cope yelled. Only wearing our Chacos, we awkwardly made our way back to the beach to see what got Cope. His right foot was throbbing but there wasn’t much to show for the incredible pain. A small red mark was all we could see. We racked our brains for what could have got Cope. Jellyfish? Quick, drink as much booze and water as we can so we can pee on your feet! Two beers and a couple shots of tequila each later, the pee did not relieve any pain. Damn! An hour and a half later, Cope still reeling in pain, it occurred to Trailbride to read the entry about stingrays in the book they had. “Soak the sting in hot water and cry for 2 hours” was the suggestion. Trailbride jumped up, grabbed the cooking pot and filled it with sea water. Two minutes later, Cope plunged his aching foot into the same pot we make our food in. Instant relief! For the next two hours we laughed about peeing on Cope’s feet and constantly swapped out the cooling water with hot water. By the time we crawled into the bed of our truck the pain was gone and we had learned a valuable ocean animals lesson.
We spent the rest of our days waking at sunrise, paddling, reading, and relaxing. We headed north for a quick stop in San Felipe, a popular tourist destination a few hours from the border. With a traditional Mexican dress and chachkes in hand, we left San Felipe and headed for the very long line at the border. We arrived back in the US and made camp in the Yuha desert, grateful for Baja.