Picacho Diablo, Santa Cruz Island

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Picacho Diablo, Santa Cruz Island, 1988
Aspen Helicopter atop Picacho Diablo, Santa Cruz Island, with the Amateur Radio Club of Santa Barbara

Picacho Diablo, Santa Cruz Island (Picacho del Diablo) [Sp., Devil’s Peak], is the highest point of Santa Cruz Island. It rises 2434 feet above sea level. Devil's Peak survey station was established by William E. Greenwell and his aid, Preston C. F. West, on August 12, 1857:

“It is on the highest mountain on the island. The best way of getting to it is to ride up the valley until you come to the steep ridge, beyond the foot of which you cannot take the wagon. From here follow the trail to the corral, where you turn to the right [north] and follow a cañada up to the foot of the mountain. The best way of getting up is to ascend the ridge on the south side.”

Several other peaks surpass the 2000-foot mark on Santa Cruz Island’s rugged north shore. According to notes left by the Caire family:

“In 1854 a signal man was stationed on Mt. Diablo by the government. He lived on that mountain, and it was his duty, at certain specified hours to flash a light, which was seen from Point Mugu. After a time it was noticed that the light appeared at irregular times and finally was not flashed at all. An investigation was made, and it was found that the poor watchman had gone out of his head and had been in this condition for about three weeks.”

The Santa Barbara Amateur Radio Club has been staging events at Picacho Diablo for many years, initiated by Ted Green. Diablo Peak is the tallest mountain on an ocean island in the lower 48 and a strategic location for gathering all types of scientific data including ship and aircraft traffic, weather and cloud patterns and amateur radio linking.

The horizontal coordinates of Devil's Peak survey monument were established by classical geodetic methods and adjusted by the National Geodetic Survey in June 1996.

This triangulation station appears on the Santa Cruz Island Sheet B topographic map.

  • [UTM 11: North 3,768,885.525 East 242,914.986].

Picacho Diablo Webcam

Picacho Diablo
photo by Michael Glassow

My First Ascent to the Top of Diablo Peak, 1973

“One of many "favorite moments" on Santa Cruz Island occurred in 1973, when I was directing a NSF-funded archaeological survey in various parts of the island. One of our survey areas include a watershed on the south side of Picacho del Diablo (Devil's Peak), which brought me and a couple of my crew members to the top. At that time, there was not the cluster of antennas and related facilities that now cover the peak. Instead, there were the remains of a temporary triangulation station that had been erected many years before during USGS mapping of the Santa Barbara Channel area. This is the wood tripod seen in the photo. The tripod may once have been sitting atop the benchmark, which can be seen in the lower center of the photo. We also saw on the ground near the tripod the carbon cores of the large dry cell batteries presumably used to power a light that was seen at night from mapping stations on the mainland—the triangulation wold have been done at night. Our backpacks are leaning against rocks to the right of the tripod. At the time of our survey, feral sheep kept the top of the peak bare of vegetation except for turkey mullein (or dove weed, Croton setiger), the green plants seen on the photo. Ridge tops all over the northern mountain range were similarly bare except for turkey mullein.” Michael Glassow, 2020

In the News~

November 13, 1902 [SBMP]: “Captain Merry of the yacht Daisy, returned from Santa Cruz Island last night and reports a most disastrous cloudburst there Sunday morning, which resulted in the destruction of a Japanese abalone camp and the narrow escape of the fishermen from instant death.” Captain Merry described: “Glancing toward shore we discovered that a cloudburst had occurred on the north side of Diablo mountain, and an immense body of water was rushing down the canyon. The water was, at the least estimate, 20 feet deep, and carried away everything in its path. Trees that measured two feet in diameter were torn by the roots and carried out to sea.”

The October 1931 Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Bulletin reported that H. H. Sheldon “brought back from near the summit of Mt. Diablo, the highest peak on Santa Cruz, twigs of an oak” of interest to science.