Most of us weren't able to make to Fisher Saddle per the plan, and the ones who did took an off-trail route to get there, so the hike didn't go as planned. It was still a very nice outing meeting some HAZ members for the first time and getting a hellacious hike in. My mileage for this one was 15 miles, and I was probably about a half mile short of Fisher Saddle.
Everything was going great until just over the 6 mile mark, when our elevation got over 7000'. All the north facing slopes still have quite a lot of snow on them. Once you get over that 7000' mark, the snow becomes 2'-3' deep. This slowed us down considerably, as two sections that had this snow were also on very steep hills. The snow in the morning was still frozen for the most part, so if you couldn't dig in with your boots, you were likely to slide a few hundred feet downhill like a pinball hitting the trees. Joe and Groth spent a lot of energy in these sections scraping out steps in the snow for everyone else to try to use, which resembled some kind of hybrid sport of hiking and curling.
Once we got thru those worst sections, the trail went up to a ridge and made a hard switchback to the left (west). The first 7 members of crew who got there didn't take that left and instead went downhill and to the right, over to a snow covered ridge. Ron and I noticed this and debated if we should follow the wayward members of our group, or the trail, which we could kind of see, but was faint and also had more snow. Jim had already tried to follow the group and quickly gave up. Preston seemed to have the same idea as Jim. I had decided to try to bushwhack downhill (avoiding as much snow as I could since it was getting softer) to pick up the trail again and follow it to Fisher Saddle. Jim was trying to talk me out of it, mentioning the elevation gain on the way back up and deep snow being everywhere in the ravine I was headed into. At that point I heard Ron mention to him "there's not much time left". At this point I decided to check the time. It was 12:37pm. We had been hiking for over 5 hours and still hadn't made the saddle, which looked like it was going to take more time than we had. At that point we made our way back up to the missed switchback and had our lunch. Of the Wayward 7, only 3 claimed to have made it to Fisher Saddle. After lunch, I headed back ahead of everyone, since I knew they were going to catch up anyway.
The snow was less dangerous to negotiate on the way back, but it was more annoying because your feet would break thru more often, causing you to end up crotch deep in snow. At one point my left leg broke thru and I fell backwards downhill. I had to pull my leg out, roll over on my stomach, try not to slide down the hill (which would have been impossible in the morning) and crawl back up to the "trail" of footprints in the snow. The last section of snow on the way back is one that everyone seems to have forgot about. At least no one remembers it being that bad.
Chistope seemed to be developing quite the limp in the last mile and a half, so I gave him 2 ibuprofens, which helped him out. Once we got the switchbacks going downhill with less loose rock, I started to walk faster and faster, and ended up trail running the last mile.
There are two huge downed trees right in front of the trailhead, which makes parking tricky, especially with 4 vehicles. To add to that mess, a couple showed up with a 5th vehicle, making for a slide puzzle situation to get everyone out.
This hike was going to be a long day regardless, but the snow seemed to drain everyone just a bit more. Chistophe and FreespiritAZ caught quite a few Z's on the ride back and were stiff legged getting out of the Stillermobile. My neighbor was asking me, "What you do to these people?" Thanks to everyone who made it out. Hopefully the difficulty we encountered won't scare people from signing up for more of my hikes in the future.
This was also my first hike with my brand new Merrell Outbounds and new Kelty Redwing daypack. The boots held up quite well thru the snow. I got one blister on the back of my left heel and my feet aren't sore at all today. The new daypack was nice having more room to carry water and lunch and feels a lot more comfortable than my Camelbak.