Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Four Peaks Motherload Adventure Report - 2

I know, it has been a week and I left the most riveting cliff hanger in my last post...right... Anyway, I had to take some time off to take my P&A final and bang my head against a metal pole. I am back now and this time, I have three whole weeks off of school before resuming the banging in Organic Chemistry.

Get caught up from last time here. See some cool pics here. Bang your head against a wall here.

When we last spoke, our group of five adventurers were sitting on the ridge between Peak 3 and Peak 4 in a complete white out arguing about which direction was South towards Peak 4. Our trusty compass finally pointed the white way and we started into the abyss. Moving south over the ridge was a series of cliffs, climbs and white on either side. For a moment, the cloud cleared up and in that instant we were able to spot the summit, a short distance ahead. Our plan was to snap pictures when we could so that we could them to navigate once it disappeared again. This is the equivalent of using a map that a toddler drew to drive from California to New York. Oh well, game on.

We finally summited the south most peak (we call it Peak 4) and signed the ammo box book with great joy. The last recorded signature was from April of this year. These mountains just don't get climbed very often. It was 8:30 am at this point and we all felt pretty happy to be on our way. All that remained was a trecherous climb over three more peaks to the north of us. Easy peasy. We regrouped, ate a bar and started back along the ridge we had just climbed to start towards Peak 3.

Looking north from Peak 4 towards Peaks 3-1 in a moment of clarity.

After arriving back at the ridge below Peak 4, we tried to take the most direct route up to Peak 3 which involved going straight up the side of many series of walls and cliffs. There was a lot of exposure on this all with drops into a white sea on either side. This was probably my favorite part of the day. Extreme focus was warranted and each person was stuck in their own little white world. Once you start up a steep rock face, there is no coming down, so you start to climb stuff you wouldn't normally dream of, particularly when there is unknown even further ahead.

Tom leads the way up the straight wall. All I know is that there is no coming back this way.

We finally got to a high knife ridge which we could follow to the summit of Peak 3. It was 10:30 am and we were making awesome time still. I remember discussing that getting off of Peak 3 was going to be the challenge of the day. I was worried since the south side we had come up, was impassable to go back down so we needed to find a route down the east or north side. To follow the ridge would take us down the north side, but we quickly came to a 40 foot cliff which was not an option so we had to head down the east side and hope to head north lower on the mountainside. Onward.
Tom hits the ridge at the top of Peak 3

Peak 3 glory! We left some amethyst in these boxes as an offering.

So obviously descending is harder than ascending (without ropes of course) so route finding became a game of chicken. We would see a cliff we could down climb only to realize that there was not continuation of that route and have to climb back up. I am not sure if there was a better way to do this, but we spent a considerable time back tracking on this section. t one point we came to a cliff that seem climbable albeit scary and vertical. Tom went first so being the submissive wife that I am, I blindly followed. About halfway down, I was holding all my weight onto a rock and I heard a sickening crack and felt a shift. I wasn't that high above a ledge below, but it took all my focus not to freak out and another about 45 seconds to find a way off that rock. Seeing this, Sarah and Martin opted to find another route although Angel was already on her way down. Scary moment for sure.

Angel shows her fear after seeing my previous dilemma.

Another fun down climb, quite doable, but slow going.

We met back up with Martin and Sarah a short time later and finally found a crack that descended 500 feet in a series of climbable cliffs. We had to drop a lot more elevation than we wanted to get out of it though and by the time we found a place to start the bush wack north, we had spent over two hours getting off of Peak 3. For about an hour, we followed the side of the mountains humps north with much of this being an non-enjoyable tree hack rock scramble. Finally we found ourselves directly below Peak 2.

Guess what is next? Yup, more climbing up the same type of terrain that had taken us two hours to get down. It had gotten very hot at this point (90 with 80% humidity) and this is when the water started to disappear. At this point Martin and Sarah found a tiny natural spring of water dribbling down a rock and were able to refill their water bottles. I hadn't checked my water supply in awhile and had no idea how much I had left but for some reason assumed I was fine. I had just started my second 2L bladder recently. There were a lot of bushes on this side and although the grade was not as steep, it seemed harder due to loose dirt and rocks that threatened to take away half the distance made with each step. We were all getting tired and hot and ready to get to the top of peak #2.

I was sort of off by myself and reached for a tree with both hands to use it as a hand grip to climb up onto a rock. As I put my hands on the branches and started to take my weight off the ground, I heard the unmistakable sound of a rattle coming from right in front of me. Instincts immediately made me let go of the tree and luckily I was only inches off the ground. I quickly retreated so I never saw the snake but I am just really lucky that I was in a position to immediately release my arms. This was sort of the last straw for me (life flash #3 on the day) and I was totally over climbing this stupid peak #2. I think we had been moving without a single stop for almost five hours since the top of the last peak. I may or may not have gotten cranky here, but there wasn't anyone around to whine to that cared :)

At least the view was nice! I was too tired to take many pictures.

The top of the peak got progressively steeper and we had a couple of false summits which hurt before we summited Peak 2. It was now 3:30 pm and we had left Peak 3 at 10:30 am. We now realized that we were going to be WAY over estimated on our time and I finally checked my water levels. Woah, very little left, way past the point of conserving. Everyone else was pretty much in the same boat. Fortunately at this point, the easiest way back to the car from this point was still to go up over Peak 1 (Browns Peak). This kept our dreams alive because I think if we had had other options for easier ways back, we may have had to bail at this point.

View of Four Peaks Wilderness

We took a ten minute break on Peak 2 and I felt a bit sick but I forced myself to eat since I knew I was running a large caloric deficit up to this point. It is hard to eat properly when you are dehydrated and putting out maximum exertion. We started the climb down from Peak 2 onto a knife ridge and then went up the side of Brown's Peak to summit our fourth and final peak. This route we had taken once before on a scouting trip so it was good that the nav was easy as most of us felt a little delirious. We arrived at the top at 5:30 almost 12 hours after we started. The lighting was perfect right then and for the first time, and finally all of struggle of the day seemed to melt away.

One last ridge on the way to Peak 1 or Brown's Peak.

Looking back over the southern three peaks that we had traversed..they look so damn easy. Not!!

This is the only peak that sees much travel and there it is just one steep scramble of about 500 ft down to an actual a trail. Coming down this last part, I think the fatigue and dehydration really set in for me and I slowed way down. Both my knees were sore at this point but I had brought one trekking pole that really helped me keep the weight off my knees and keep me upright. The last couple miles the trail winds down through beautiful woods and I fell into a deep state of trace for most of this. Getting to the car and cracking open a Diet Coke (all I had left at the car) was a moment of pure bliss. The time was exactly 7:40, 13 hours and 50 m after our excited departure that morning. It seemed like a lifetime ago.

Here I am with my amethyst that I lugged for 14 hours. Yes, I have big guns.

We still had the two hour crazy dirt road ride in the dark to navigate before pulling back into town at like 10 pm tired, hungry but very very happy.

*I am a little embarassed about this but after returning, I counted my wrappers and deduced that over a 14 hour period of almost straight extreme physical exertion, I had consumed 4 liters of water, 8 oz of G2, 1/2 peanut butter and jelly sandwich, 1 gu, and 3 granola bars (2 of which were 100 calorie kind). That is almost dangerously low and was a really bad idea on my part. I felt nauseous a good part of the day so I think it took away my desire to eat. Obviously in a competitive setting, this would be a good way to DNF. Noted.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Four Peaks Motherload Adventure Report - 1

So as a "blogger", I sometimes write blogs in my head as I experience cool things. While this is decidedly sad and I may need some psychiatric help, the bottom line is that the better the adventure, the better the story in my head becomes. Trekking the Four Peaks ridge line was just such an amazing adventure that the blog in my head threatened to explode by the end of it.

The crew of five met up at 4:00 pm Saturday afternoon to head out to the mountains. Team ODP was in attendance (Angel, Sarah and I) along with Tom and my coworker Martin. After realizing that there was a forgotten pair of hiking shoes, we had about an hour delay to remedy that. Flip flops would have been tough. We finally rolled out at 5:00 pm and made the 2.5 hour drive to the base of the mountain range. The 18 mile dirt 4x4 road leading to the mountain is slow slow slow albeit quite beautiful.

View of Four Peaks just after turning off the highway.

We had the trailhead parking lot at the base of the mountains to ourselves as our campsite. It overlooked Lake Roosevelt and much of the mountain ranges overlooking Phoenix. It was a beautiful night with cool temps in the 80s. After a little frisbee, we climbed up the mountain a little way to get the view of a beautiful sunset to enjoy a little wine with. Everyone was pretty excited for our 5am wakeup the following morning and the night ended early.

Knee problems... What knee problems? I can jump at least 2 inches off the ground now.

Our campsite /trailhead at the Lone Star Saddle. We saw no other people at this trail head the whole time. Phoenix people are lame, they don't explore their backyards.

After a short but hot and restless night (we slept four in a 4 person tent...never fun) we woke up to some nice Bulgarian techno on Martin's phone. The sun was coming up in a beautiful way but it had rained over night and I was a little worried about some of the clouds making up that beautiful sunrise. We packed up camp and hit the trail at 5:50 am.

Off we go! Little do we know that we won't return until 7:30 pm.

Browns Peak Trail #133 hooks up with Amethyst Trail #253 and you arrive at the saddle on the north side of the peaks in an easy 2.5 miles. When we arrived at the saddle, we were excited to get our first glimpse of our task at hand, but alas we were met with this view. I started to wonder if the dense fog was going to be a problem, but we all figured it was early and it would definitely burn off soon.

The top is completely shrouded in clouds but that can't stop Sarah's smile.

Overlooking the Amethyst Trail. It runs up and down natural valleys coming off the mountain.

At this point, we followed the Amethyst Trail which is a much fainter trail leading along the western side of the peaks to a working amethyst mine about 2 miles away on the south side of the peaks. The plan was to take the trail as far as we could before stating the climb up the side of the southern most peak. We would then work our way north over three more peaks before hooking up with the trail coming down the northern most Brown's Peak and back to the saddle in one large loop. Most people seem to go the opposite way, but we figured we would rather hit the hard unknown peaks first when we were fresh. Clouds soon moved over covering everything in a dense fog.

Tiny red dot is Tom in the center.

So for those of you who don't know, amethyst is purple colored gem which is mined out of the ground. The mine on Four Peaks is a tiny privately owned plot of land which is accessed only by helicopter (or foot but miners don't use the trail). It is known to have the most quality amethyst found in the US. Sarah mentioned that she found a small piece last time so we were all on an amethyst hunt. We got excited about a couple of small pieces but soon realized that the closer we got to the mine, the larger the pieces were getting. Once in the immediate mine vacinity, we struck the amethyst motherload. Huge pieces were just strewn all over the ground. By the time I got out of that area, I had picked up at a couple of pounds in my backpack of some amazing rock.

Martin has a huge piece of amethyst. He decided this one was too large to take home, although later sort of regretted it. I picked up a fist sized rock to take home.

Our trailed dead ended at the mine property which we had to trespass on to start the bushwack up the mountain (shhh). The typical approach is to bushwack up between peaks #4 and #3 and then head south to summit #4. We climbed further into the deep fog using the small trees as handgrips up the steep loose rock side.

At one moment, we all stopped to discuss navigation and so I was about 15 feet directly below Sarah and Angel. Once we started moving again, I had my head down and was about to climb up a face level rock when I heard the panicked yell of "rock!" from someone above me. I looked up and in a split second reaction, I threw up my right forearm to shield my face and redirected at 10 inch rock inches away from my face. Sarah and Angel watched the whole thing in horror. If it would have hit my face, I would have been bleeding somewhere I am sure. I chalked it up to excitement #1 on the day and a point scored for my reflexes and moved on with more care to stay out from underneath another climber.

After climbing up up up for about 45 minutes, we finally came to a point that seemed to be as high as one could go. Unfortunately, we knew it was not the summit as there was not a summit marker and it was too small. The problem was, it was a complete white out and we couldn't see more than 5 feet in any direction. Next came the discussion, which way was the actual peak#4 summit? Three of us were convinced it was one way, Sarah was positive it was the complete opposite. We argued for awhile and for the first time I really considered we might not make it. In a complete white out, you cannot route find passable ways down cliffs effectively killing our chances from the beginning. I remember thinking that it would be very easy to get disoriented and make even retreat (aka returning to the car and safety) very difficult.

Great view from the ridge...right... Now which way to Peak #4?

We knew we needed to head south to get to peak #4 so... we got out the compass to prove to Sarah which direction south was. Thank God we had a compass. After taking a reading, somehow learned that Sarah was dead on and the rest of us were completely turned around. I fully admit now that she has an amazing sense of direction and also has mad survival skills. At that point I realized that navigation by compass over a knife ridge may be more that we could handle, but we started off going south along the ridge into the great unknown.

To be continued...

*PS: These pictures are a mix of Angel's, Sarah's, Martin's and mine. I don't feel like marking down the author of each one so in the spirit of teamwork, I won't.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Motherload of Climbing.

I have stories to tell, but not time yet to tell them. In the meantime, the pictures snapped from the four cameras that made the journey are rolling in and ready to start telling the tale. This story is the fine line between rock scrambling and free soloing that started to dissolve somewhere along the way.

Most of the day was spent going up and down large rocks, rock walls and gullys. At each cliff edge, whoever arrived first would inevitably get the yell "is it doable?" We took a rope but never used it and by the end of the day, our bar for "climbable" became a lot higher than when we started. When you are climbing without ropes, it is essential to never panic and to always be 100% focused once you have left the ground. Oh and don't look down or stare out into the white abyss either. Don't think too much either. Seriously. You will freak yourself out and it will take all your friends coaxing you to start climbing again.

One thing you quickly learn is that going up is much easier than coming down so once you commit to a climb, it is wise not to need to turn around and retreat. This means you find a way to keep going up, until you can go do further and you will have your summit. Then you just have no choice but to find a way down. Once you commit to a steep wall which is passable up but in no way passable down, the tingly sensation of excitement and dread in your stomach warns you that there is no turning back now. This was so much more heightened when you could only see the immediate climb in front of us due to the white blanket of fog. It was an indescribable feeling. Nervous? Who was nervous? I always worried more about getting off each summit than getting up them.

Most of these pictures are from Martin, who carried his very nice and very heavy camera the whole day to bring us high quality shots on the go. We appreciate the effort by the skinny Bulgarian toughman.

Tom was an early billy goat leading most of the climbs in the worse conditions.

Martin tops out with nothing but white behind him.

I down climbed this wall and which was a little nerve wracking to say the least. Shortly after, almost got stuck on a rock which started to break off the wall... freaky.

Sarah was a master navigator, and the only one that seemed to have an internal compass built in even in complete white out.

Notice there is not a lot of vegetation...except cactus. We had competitions to see who could put their hand in more cactus on each climb...this was not a family friendly activity.

Angel is a little her scamper. This was actually a very steep climb with deep exposure to the great white abyss.

Sometimes going sideways on a 5 inch ledge is harder than going up and down.

Finally at the top of peak 2 after five hours of work. I don't look tired or anything...nope not at all.

I promise to get to the stories at some point, before they get pushed out of my head by anatomy cramming.

*I just had a visual of stupid anatomy drawings getting pounded into one ear while beautiful memories of hike were shoved out the other.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Motherload Conquered!

We successfully conquered the Four Peaks Motherload yesterday. It was absolutely epic. There is no other word to describe the 13.5 hours of highs and lows we experienced. I have no idea how much elevation we climbed (all peaks are around 7,657 ft) nor how many miles we hiked but I do know that we didn't really stop at all, didn't eat nearly enough and didn't bring nearly enough water (4 liters each).

I will go into more detail in a later post, but I wanted to say that we made it, it was harder than I thought and I think we had a couple of guardian angels looking out for us.

Stories to come on great amethyst finds, amazing walls climbs, knife edges in sheer whiteout conditions, chance encounters with snakes, rocks falling at one's face, running out of water with hours left to go, not having another human encounter the entire 24 hours we were out there, and the emotional ups and downs that follow the right and wrong choices made in navigation. But most of all, the word of the day was trust: in your teammates, in the rock you are hanging precariously off, and in yourself and your strength to keep on going because there is no other choice.

Like I said...EPIC.

Here is the proof atop all four peaks (we went 4 to 3 to 2 to 1, south to north on the ridge). The first two are completely covered in dense white fog. The third was we look tired and angry mostly because it had taken us over 5 hours to get to peak 3 from peak 2...insane. The sun had come out and with the heavy humidity...made for very hot conditions. The fourth peak shows us deliriously happy and just ready to get back to the car where liquids resided. Finally some of the views of the day were visible.