El Picacho del Diablo: The Conquest of Lower California’s Highest Peak, 1932 and 1937. By Norman Clyde. Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1975. Bibliography. Illustrations. 96 pages. $15.00.
Reviewed by Harry Crosby, author of The King’s Highway in Baja California and The Cave Paintings of Baja California.
The Baja California Travel Series continues at the prodigal pace which has given us thirty seven works in the short span of eleven years. The publisher (and co-editor) Glen Dawson has brought to the small world of Baja California literature an astonishing array of riches, art and writings either first printed here or resurrected from editions too rare and expensive for most aficionados.
The subject range of offerings is remarkably wide; here are works on Indian groups, missionaries, explorers, miners, naturalists, colonists, pearl hunters, whalers, and adventurers of several sorts. Everyone in the small but devoted following of the Travel Series has his own favorites; one of mine certainly is Kaigai Ibun, an account by a Japanese sailor, shipwrecked in 1841, who spent some months in San José del Cabo. His charmingly clear-eyed descriptions are beautifully illustrated by Japanese art created under his direction.
Now mountain climbers have an entry in this reprint of Norman Clyde’s two essays on climbing El Picacho del Diablo, Baja California’s highest and probably most difficult peak. His clean accounts, while filled with vigor and enthusiasm, are so little self-congratulatory or concerned with detailing trails that it is easy to underrate the difficulty of what he did. Only those who have scaled the peak realize how underplayed are these stories delivered in the “we all had a jolly weekend” genre of 1930s outing literature.
The interest of the book is enhanced a great deal by John Robinson’s introduction which reveals but by no means overdraws Norman Clyde’s reclusive and individualistic character. More could be added by those who sat around the legion campfires of Clyde’s long mountain career.
The book is also enhanced by twenty well-reproduced photographs of the actual trips about which Clyde wrote. Here, with surprise and pleasure we spot the young Glen Dawson as a member of the 1932 party.
So specialized a volume is recommended naturally to Travel Series regulars who must have every word, and in particular to mountain climbing buffs. Even these devotees may have a reservation or two. The work is very slight, only thirty-four small pages apart from illustrations and the excellent bibliography. Since Clyde organized and led the second successful scaling of the peak, perhaps this work could have included more than the briefest mention of the first. Also, the book’s only map succeeds in showing us the environs of El Diablo very well but a second page-map on a more intimate scale would have added clarity. Here we could have seen the various actual climbing approaches which are described at length in the book.