Sunday, August 19, 2012

Fletcher Peak, First Try

As we made our way up a canyon yesterday, my friend Michelle kept saying, "I am out of my comfort zone." So was I. On a day to day basis, I try to avoid insects, wild animals, and super-strenuous activity. Conversely, I love adventure, exciting goals, and nature. So once in a while, I gotta get "out there" and try to climb a mountain.

I caught Michelle as she was adjusting her hat in this photo, so we re-took it. But I like this version because it looks like she's giving a "tip of the hat" to the trail ahead. 

Our goal was Fletcher Peak, at 10,319 feet. It's not the highest spot in the Spring Mountains, but supposedly it offers fantastic views all around. We wouldn't know, though, because we didn't make it to the peak. As I've browsed through a few websites today, I've realized that since we lacked a professional guide, we probably should have taken the North Loop trail rather than Hummingbird Hollow - I'm fairly sure that only crazy people take Hummingbird Hollow. This is evident in the photo below. The happy, cool blue route is the North Loop trail taken by smart hikers. The route we took is shown in red. Red means STOP! Danger! Beware! Only lunatics take this route!

In the Hollow, we were treated to lots of scrambling, stressfully steep inclines, and no other hikers until about the last half-hour of our descent. This made for an exceptional wilderness-y experience. The "route" shouldn't be mistaken for a trail. It was more of what I might call not a trail. How I WISH we had had a trail. It would have made the whole five hours so much happier. As it was, we saw approximately three cairns, all within the first hour of the hike... and then never again. I've never felt closer to Bear Grylls.)

These cairns offered a lot of hope, but they were too darn rare. This may have been the last one we saw on the way up. See the smile on my face? I like cairns. I need WAY more experience before I start trekking up mountain trails with no cairns.

Speaking of smiles, here is a nice shot of Michelle with a smile on her face:
There was good sunlight on that log so I told her to pose for a photo. Only after I got home and viewed the photos did I notice that her butt is not actually touching the log. She's hovering, relying on her quads, which have run marathons and half-marathons, and can log-hover like a pro. But in case anyone is reading my blog to gain knowledge about hiking, let me share some log information: if you sit on them when they're wet, you're going to get the butt of your pants dirty (this is something they won't tell you on those "manly" hiking blogs). And furthermore, wet logs are very very slippery. We learned that the hard way. Very slippery.

Despite all the wet logs and our increasing realization that we weren't really on a trail, per se, we continued upward!
And then more upward:
As I stated earlier, Michelle is no wimp -- she is a kick-butt runner who once talked me into a 15-mile run to train for our 13-mile half marathon! But here you see, by the fact that she has to use her hands, that we were on a significant slope. You should also note that soon after this, we stopped taking pictures for a while. Moments later we got to a portion of the hike where all we said to each other was, "Are you kidding me?" and "This can't be the right way!" over and over and over again. After hefting ourselves up mini-cliffs, (nearly five feet tall, which might not sound like much but I don't make a habit of climbing fences that high, much less rocks) and endless steep piles of talus - we came to a high point (not in mood, in elevation) and with the accompanying cell phone service, I promptly dialed my friend Layla. Layla hiked to Fletcher Peak just a few weeks ago, and she had assured me that the hike was reasonable and she only had to use her hands once. We had used our hands more often than not. I called under the pretense that we needed directions, but really I just wanted someone to yell at. (Just kidding, Layla. Kinda.)

We rested for a few minutes at this point and enjoyed the little brook we discovered.
It is true, we never made the peak. We hiked for another hour after the brook and the cell phone call (I ended up leaving a voice mail) but there was an entire tree-covered mountainside ahead with no view of a peak and still no sign of a trail. Our strategy was: go up. Which we did, heartily, for a long time. But we became hungry and steadied ourselves on the slope to eat our sandwiches. After lunch, we gave up the peak and started back down.

It's not an exaggeration to say that I spent most of the descent in mild panic. We refused to go down the way we came up - we knew it would be too hard. So we took an alternate leg of the canyon until we knew we had passed the trickiest part. I was disappointed, but I didn't have time to wallow because that's when the booming thunder began. Followed by a rainstorm.

Here is the last nice view before the crazy no-trail canyon:
After this, it was all shaky legs, maneuvering over loose rock, through bushes, and climbing giant fallen tree trunks. Oh yes, and lots of deer poop and one big deer carcass that Michelle saw first and just said, "Oh. Gross," and we went another way.

We didn't reach the peak, but we did get back to our car, which is the next best thing when you've tackled a hike like this one. We'll try again another day.
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