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Four Peaks Mother Lode
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mini location map2014-11-29
18 by photographer avatarDennisWilliams
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Four Peaks Mother LodePhoenix, AZ
Phoenix, AZ
Hiking6.00 Miles 2,910 AEG
Hiking6.00 Miles   11 Hrs   21 Mns   0.61 mph
2,910 ft AEG   1 Hour   30 Mns Break20 LBS Pack
 no routes
Linked   none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Enough planning, recon, and fretting over it. Time to go.

Some months ago HAZ member kingsnake posted a trip to Scotland touring some of the distilleries there. That sounded good to me, though I have yet to do it. This past summer I celebrated a couple hikes up Humphrey's with small sample bottles of single malt Scotch Whisky. This gave me an idea. In no way could I post any kind of first for a Mother Lode unless I did a Tres Veces at night, in the snow, while playing the trombone. No, I'll leave that sort of thing to other HAZ worthies. My idea was to combine a whisky tasting tour with the Mother Lode. In this I think I have achieved a distinction.

Route descriptions have been covered extensively in logs by many redoubtable HAZers. I can add little to the technical discussion. I can only describe my impressions of it and it's impact on me for the benefit of anyone else of like experience, ability, and age who might be giving thought to it. The route was the 4-3-2-1 done solo and without GPS. I have been up Brown's several times, Brother and Amethyst once each, and Sister never. The meaty section from the 4/3 saddle to the summit of Brother was unknown to me, though I have studied the various posted triplogs and routes. I have never taken a climbing class and know nothing of technique, the use of ropes, or equipment. Pretty much just a hiker.

With the late season there were only 10 hours of sun above the horizon, and maybe 11 hours total visible daylight. That made me nervous about having enough time to get the job done. I did not relish the idea of descending the scree chute on Brown's after dark. In order to make best use of the time I decided to pack in to Brown's Saddle and spend the night there, then get an early start over to the mine gulley.

I arrived at Brown's Saddle as the sun was setting on Friday evening. Just enough time to set up the tent and sleeping bag and have some dinner before turning in early. Large animals were clunking around camp for the first few hours. Eau-de-elk strongly wafted into my tent flaps and I heard the distinctive short high-pitched "eeuw, eeuw" of the cow/calf call about 20 feet outside my tent. The half moon set around midnight.

The alarm came at 0430. Oatmeal, tea, hot chocolate, and an apple for breakfast. Left the tent and gear in place. Packed up and was on the trail toward the mine by headlamp at 0530. Orion hung low in the sky over the lights of the valley, often described as looking from a distance like the embers of a dying fire. Hiking by headlamp is interesting. One can only see the trail, the brushy slope immediately to the left, the dark void to the right, and looming above it all the black outline of the peaks blocking out the stars like a hole in the night. Arrived at the mine at 0615, still too dark to see without the lamp, so I rested for a few minutes and let the light come up. This is where the trip goes from hike to something else entirely.

The section up to the saddle was the usual brushy bash. From there I went directly up the first rocks on the right. True, this means you must climb over the false summits, but the down-climbs are short and it keeps you above the brush. Made the Amethyst summit at 0800. There I stopped for the obligatory photos and the first of my four Scotch Whisky tastings. As wine or spirit drinkers will tell you, the impressions made by the beverage are colored by the venue and occasion. We start with the Glenmorangie 10-year old Highland single malt Scotch. Tasting notes: pale gold color, some fruit on the nose, smooth, sweet malt on the palate with hints of peat and very little smoke, followed by a keen awareness of situational reality and rising apprehension.

I was down to the saddle in a jiffy and faced new ground. Worked my way west around the first couple of "divots" (so-called by other HAZers, they are crags), then east around the last one to the base of the ridge rising to the summit of Sister. My notes dictated following the ridge-top as much as possible, but in spite of my inspection from the top of Amethyst that did not look good. It looked better a little bit west of the ridge so I trended over there. In retrospect that was possibly a mistake. It is just cliff after cliff and the need to find a solution with endless false starts and back-tracking. I had promised my wife that I would not do anything crazy and I meant it. Going solo one needs always to have a way out. I continuously asked myself "Have I done anything so far that I can't undo?" As to each move, probably not, but the constant need to divert from the original line left me with the sense that I probably could not find the precise route back to my last known safe position. When you are in a crack or on a ledge you can only see what is in front of you. A solution can be found for the immediate problem but as you go higher you may cliff out and have to go back. After so many starts, dead ends, and re-directs I eventually had to concede that "No, I probably can't undo everything I have done." That is when concern begins to feel like fear. At some point you acknowledge the commitment that has already overtaken you, so up you go. Eventually the cliffs fold over as you approach the summit and suddenly, there you are. Topped out Sister at 0944. I stopped again for the photos and the second tasting. I should have been more pleased since this was my last unclimbed individual peak of the four, but I was too angry with myself for being foolish enough to get up to a spot from which I did not know for certain that I could safely down-climb, and knew from trip reports that the route forward to the 3/2 saddle was risky if not outright dangerous. An unhappy man. For the second whisky we have the Glenfiddich 18-year old Speyside single malt Scotch, aged in fine Oloroso sherry casks. Tasting notes: pale amber color with light peat and chocolate on the nose, smooth, buttery, sugary malt with some acidity and raisins and nuts coming through on the palate, followed by bitter hints of regret and penetrating self doubt.

Swallowing my misgivings I proceeded to the task at hand; getting to the 3/2 saddle. I followed the ridge top, again trending to the west side a bit. More cliffs and back-tracks. More re-directs. Each move individually not too bad, except for a few. On three or four occasions I knew full well that I was taking too much risk, but told myself "If you want to go home today, you have to do this." In most cases the risk is for a fall of a few to maybe ten feet, but the landing would always be on a steep slope of sharp rock and cactus, tumbling another fifty feet down to end upside down, wedged in a crack, spinal injury, fingers all broken from trying to stop, face bashed in. Think "127 Hours". After another hour of this foolishness I was nearing the big southern divot above the 3/2 saddle. My route over and around the divot was probably not too good. There were some sketchy spots there too. Getting down to the saddle was marvelous and my spirits really picked up. I was right on schedule and knew most of the risky stuff was behind me.

After taking a short break in the 3/2 saddle I dropped down about fifty feet on the east side and worked my way about 300 yards north along the east side of Brother, then up. Here things became really fun. The east side of Brother is a slightly curving series of big slabs starting more vertically lower down with the angle becoming slightly less steep near the top. At the bottom you can spider climb your way up using the plentiful bomb-proof hand and foot holds, and nearer the top where it is slightly less steep you can actually get on a slab and walk up, provided that you have good shoes and don't look down. Not sure I would like to down-climb this, but going up was a blast. Making the summit of Brother was fantastic. Arrived at 1305. I had been there recently and knew the route home. What a load off my mind! More photos and my third whisky tasting. Here we have the Springbank 10-year old Campbeltown non-chill filtered single malt Scotch. Tasting notes: very pale in color, peat, smoke, and fruit on the nose (just the way I like it). On the palate rich, malty, smoky, and chewy with hints of raisins and dates, followed by major notes of relief and a growing sense of well-being and the nearness of accomplishment. This is a good whisky!

Heading north from Brother took me along a fun section of knife-edge. From there I dropped east a bit and found the same exit to the cliff bands that I had used on my prior visit. Two or three more interesting down-climbs later I was on the slab below the saddle. Here I made a route finding error and got down into the brush below Brown's. Wasted a good thirty minutes smashing through the densest brush I have ever seen. Finally got over to the rock and worked up the crack that dumps you out immediately east of Brown's summit, and there, I had it done! Mother Lode! Got there at 1446, for a total time between Amethyst and Brown's of 6 hours 46 minutes. Now for the fourth and final whisky tasting. We have my all-time favorite, the Bowmore 18-year old Islay single malt Scotch. Tasting notes: medium amber in color, fruity, oaky, and peaty on the nose with a hint of smoke. On the palate the smoke comes through with rich, sweet malt, just the right level of peat, ripe pears and sea salt, followed by exultation and deep personal satisfaction. A truly sublime whisky and perfectly suited to the place and occasion.

It was a quick trip down to the camp at Brown's Saddle where I knocked down the tent and loaded the backpack. Having plenty of time I took a leisurely stroll down to the trail-head, arriving with ten minutes to spare before sunset.

I know what some of you are thinking; how could this lunatic drink four different whiskies and do the Mother Lode? I did not drink each whole bottle, just a small mouthful to enjoy the flavors. There, I have left something for the next Mother Lode Tasting Tour. I probably consumed the equivalent alcohol of little more than a single can of beer during the entire trip. Certainly not enough to impair myself. I am not crazy (well, not in that sense anyway). That said, I must recognize myself to be a drinker developing a serious hiking problem. Probably need professional help. I do best when I have a goal to work toward. I am already mourning the accomplishment of my first Lode. Can never do it again for the first time. Can never again experience the Mother Lode with the same level of uncertainty of outcome that both drove and vexed me on this trip. Anybody out there who can help me with this? I'll bring the Scotch.

- Antoninus Pius

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