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Four Peaks Mother Lode
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mini location map2015-03-28
9 by photographer avatarDennisWilliams
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Four Peaks Mother LodePhoenix, AZ
Phoenix, AZ
Hiking7.80 Miles 4,060 AEG
Hiking7.80 Miles   12 Hrs   5 Mns   0.76 mph
4,060 ft AEG   1 Hour   53 Mns Break20 LBS Pack
 no routes
Linked   none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners

My report has been delayed. I was on a plane the morning after the trip. The post-hike effects and sitting in the tube for 13 hours between San Francisco and Taipei had me pretty well pretzeled up. Just got back.

It's been four months since first I reported on the Mother Lode. During that time I have replayed the trip over and over in my mind. Was it really as scary as I remembered it? Looking up at the peaks is more fun now. I seem to have developed a bit of a fixation with them. Some form of character defect, no doubt. I had been toying with the Estrellas but after a couple of recon trips I simply had to accept that a multi-day grand tour is not in the cards, at least not how I envisioned it. My disappointment for admitting to it induced me to go for something fairly big. Guess I needed to exorcise some demons.

Really just a spur-of-the-moment trip. Friday afternoon I surveyed HAZ for any planned hikes but nothing resonated so I checked my pack, bought food and gas, and tried to turn in early. Saturday I hit the road and made the trail-head at 0540. Lots of cars and tents right in the lot. Started up the trail a little before 0600. Needed the headlamp for about 10 minutes. How alive it is to feel that exhilaration mixed with dread! And still, you know you must go forward.

Made reasonable time over to the mine gulley. Was making good progress up but somehow got off to the right before hitting the saddle (stay in the bottom up to the saddle, then right). Don't know why I could not follow my own good advice but found myself needlessly dealing with more cliffs and brush than are absolutely necessary. Made the summit of Amethyst at 0854 after a disappointing first foray into new route exploration. Casting my gaze northward I began to steel myself for what lay ahead. Yes, I did bring whisky, and yes, I am going to use the same literary device here. I can't be expected to come up with a new gimmick for every trip and it was well received the first time. Besides, tasting the different scotches sharpens the experience and helps to imprint it more strongly on my aging memory. We begin with the Talisker Storm, an Island single malt scotch from the Isle of Skye. Tasting notes: Some honey and smoke on the nose, apples, and some band-aids, but in a good way. On the palate there is an explosion of pepper and bonfire smoke, salt, and a lingering sweetness, followed by the replacement of an unreasoning fear of the unknown with a reasoning fear of the known.

Time to get after it. Taking the better route down to the saddle I approached the divots as I had last trip, east side for the first two and west side for the last. Facing the same decision as before I scrutinized Sister's ascent line hoping to find encouragement to lead me to the east. I mean come on! There has got be something easier than the west side cliff-maze. But, no good. With a deep exhalation I resigned myself to the seemingly endless scramble that is Sister.

The good news was that the angry jumble of rock on the west side looked somewhat familiar. The devil you know. I picked the way carefully upward and was feeling pretty good about covering the 200 feet of vertical. Put extra effort into memorizing the moves and the way back down. The trouble began after gaining the summit ridge. I had absolutely no memory of this section of the climb. It may be that last time I was so stressed about this section that I just put it out of my mind, or maybe I had taken a better route. I could not possibly have gone the same way this time but there aren't that many choices. With the summit plainly in sight and a hundred yards away I encountered several serious cliff-outs requiring major down-climbs through nasty cliff-hugging brush. Not what I remembered at all. It began to appear that the devil I thought I knew would live up to her reputation. With more doggedness than zeal I pushed the last few feet to the summit at 1032. Time for a dram! Here we have the Bowmore 12-year old Islay single malt scotch, younger sibling of the sublime 18. Tasting notes: Characteristic smokiness, iodine, and bergamot on the nose. On the palate; youthful exuberance, honey, salty almonds and peat with a big smoke hit near the end, followed by a touch of smugness tempered by the sickly assurance of justified humility.

Humbled as I was there was still work to be done. Down to the 3/2 saddle. I knew for certain that the east side was out of the question for the down-climb. It appeared thus far that my routes on the first trip had been considerably better than this outing. I determined to repeat as closely as possible what I had done before. I had a pretty clear memory of some exposure on this section and with my experience today it was sure to be worse somewhere else. Down the west side I went. The saddle is 500+ feet below. Seems like more. I think I hit the route pretty close to last time, and yes, there was exposure. Lots of it. Ninety minutes of white-knuckle descent. That is the thing about the Mother Lode; the unrelenting nature of it. Hours of very focused effort with the absolute certainty that you had better bring your A-game, at least for a duffer like me. In the saddle I encountered two hikers doing the Lode north to south. Young men from Colorado spending a couple years in Phoenix for medical training. Meeting them altered my perception ever so slightly. There were other people on the mountain today. Not so last time. I had been all alone up there. The presence of others was reassuring and definitely reduced my anxiety level. It also reduced the thrill of going it alone. The danger and solitude, after all, are the special sauce that makes the recipe.

Departing the saddle I thought I had this thing pretty well in hand. Just follow my old route about 350 yards north, then up, and things would be good. I dropped down a bit on the east side, but probably not far enough. As I traversed northward on Brother I kept looking up. Having gotten well past the ramp for the Z there appeared to be some nice cracks leading upward. Yielding to temptation I proceeded up about 50 yards after "rounding the corner". I thought that if the folks doing the Z can dance on the ridge-top above why can't I? I would just clamber up a little past the Z and everything would be good, right? Wrong! I clambered up but then it got really nasty. Sort of a re-play of the ridge-top near the summit of Sister, but worse! How the heck do you folks do it after you top out the Z? The ridge-line just south of the summit of Brother is a series of big splintered wedges terminating in sheer drops, again and again. More down-climbs and brush and scary parallel shinnying along the sides of cliffs. Oh, I danced on the ridge-top alright! Brother danced me like a puppet on a string for his amusement. It took a good bit longer to do Brother this time compared to last. Outsmarted myself again! Finally got over to the summit at 1409, over 3.5 hours after Sister. As I sat for a moment and collected my thoughts I heard "Hey! It's our whisky guy!". Three young climbers, a woman and two men, were coming up the east side of Brother taking the route I should have. They had been following me all day and reading my summit register entries. My long delay on Brother allowed them to finally catch me. I offered to share my whisky but they politely declined. Here we have the Caol Ila 12-year old Islay single malt scotch. Tasting notes: Briny and phenolic with smoked ham on the nose. A nice peat hit on the palate with some sweetness, lemon grass, and smokiness (but a bit light for an Islay), followed by long notes of chagrin transitioning into a mellow upwelling of positive chi.

We chatted for a while before they departed. Now I was resolved to follow my best known routes. No, for real this time! Headed north a little, then down on the east side to find the same big snag that had shown me the way on two previous descents from Brother. This route takes you through a couple of big cliff bands and there are a few notable down-climbs but by this time they seem familiar to me. I met up with the trio again here and we would complete the trip in company going forward. We finished up the down-climbs and exited onto the slab below the saddle. Last time I got hung up in the brush so we headed almost due west back up over the saddle and found a big cairn leading to a sketchy trail on the southwest side of Brown's. I had taken this two trips previous and knew the route. It was a straightforward bit of a scramble to the top of Brown's at 1550. Ah, Mother Lode! Time to consume the second half of my big sandwich and Cheetos, and also time for the last tasting. We finish with the Ardbeg Uigeadail, a cask strength (54.2% ABV) non-chill filtered Islay single malt scotch, and not for the faint of heart! Tasting notes: Peat, peat, and more peat on the nose. On the palate the peat hits like a kick in the face, chocolate, burnt tires, seaweed, iodine, and a surprisingly rich sweetness, followed by a rapture of ecstacy and the guilty pleasure of unpunished hubris. This is scotch at it's utmost scotchiest. My offer to share was this time accepted by the two men, but the lady once again demurred. They sputtered a bit upon tasting but declared it good, this time to my amusement. A glorious whisky!

After a break we headed down the chute and picked up the trail. It was strange to walk on level ground after so many hours where each foot fall and hand placement must be selected with care. We motored on down to the trail-head, arriving at 1750. An odd after-note: I am used to leg soreness after something like this but my hands and arms were also sore. Same last time. A good indication of the type of outing this really is.

I can see where this thing can get into your blood. It was indeed as scary as I remembered, but still I don't think I am finished up there. A trip up the Z seems in order, but I won't do that alone. Maybe I can glom onto somebody's trip. Also, does anyone know the age of the oldest MLDV finisher?
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