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Doak Benchmark - El Capitan Quad, AZ
mini location map2015-09-05
38 by photographer avatarCannondaleKid
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Doak Benchmark - El Capitan Quad, AZ 
Doak Benchmark - El Capitan Quad, AZ
Hiking avatar Sep 05 2015
Hiking3.40 Miles 1,842 AEG
Hiking3.40 Miles   4 Hrs   3 Mns   0.89 mph
1,842 ft AEG      15 Mns Break20 LBS Pack
 no routes
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
I had a number of peaks to bag in this area so I hoped to make a full day of it, hitting Doak Benchmark first, then driving a bit to make for a shorter Peak 4540/5058 loop. So much for plans.
I was up early and on the road just before 5 am for the 99-mile 2+ hour drive to my planned trailhead. For the last five miles from Dripping Springs Road to the trailhead I had two options...
1. Follow a road shown on the map
2. Follow what the maps show as a trail but looked very drivable on satellite view

I was leaning toward #1 before the hike and #2 after, but #2 was a mile before #1, so with that along with the fact it had very fresh vehicle tracks. After reasonably heavy overnight rain I figured the tracks were made by a hunter who was out scouting... at least that what he wrote when he signed the AZ Trust Land entry sheet a few hours before me. So, seeing a highway-tread track I figured it should be ok. But within a few hundred yards the road got a bit rough climbing a hill and I no longer saw tracks so he must have turned around. No problem, I'll just keep going and hope it goes all the way through.

It did, with just a moment where I approached what I thought was a locked gate and another where it appeared a fence would end my drive. I just had to look harder for the route. Driving up the second-to-last ridge was the worst... it was all loose rock, 8-12" and quite sharp. So I crawled up in 4x4 low-range with both lockers engaged. Once over the top it was the same down the other side, which would mean a slow climb on the way back out. I debated whether to hike from that point or continue. It was an easy choice... I wasn't yet to the turn for the drive toward the 2nd two peaks.

Finally, a full 2-1/2 hours after leaving home I reached the trailhead and what began as a light overcast had darkened somewhat. Not yet to the point of rain is imminent but it wasn't going to be a good day for photos. Oh well, let's get on with it.
Ok, I'm only 3/4 mile from the summit of Doak, but it's the deep canyon and rugged terrain in between that makes the challenge. The most direct descent from the trailhead appeared too steep, especially without any warm-up at all on an almost-healed left ankle. Although wearing a brace helped, the plan was to be over-cautious every step of the way.

Off to the side I spotted what long-ago could possibly have been a wagon-track winding down the slope. It appeared reasonably open so figured it was worth a try. It only worked good until I hit the old 1-2 punch of cat's-claw and Manzanita.
So just like that I was reduced to crawling on all fours down the slope and along the drainage toward my destination. I would draw blood very early on this hike... first, stabbed under the fingernail of my right thumb (by what, I have no idea) and although I didn't realize it at the time, a worse stabbing in the right calf from a very healthy agave. (When I got home I found my sock bloody down to the ankle... a surprise as at first glance when it happened it looked like a red dot.)

Once out of the drainage it was time to find the best climbing route. Again the most direct was too steep, and the 'easiest' was now choked with prickly-pear and cat's-claw. So I would alternate between easy-but-thorny and steep-and-loose. The overnight rain was a help and a hindrance. The softened ground made for soft foot-falls but the rocks were less secure. I would continue slowly but very surely. While being sure to protect my still-weak ankle I would average only .82 mph, but I would not have so much as one slip the whole day. During the climb there were times I'd test a foot placement two or three times before taking the step, but it paid off, and the ankle is fine today.

With the temperature barely over 70° one would think it was ideal, but throw in almost 100% humidity from the overnight rain (and more to come) and the effort... well before I reached the summit I was fully drenched in sweat literally from head to toe.
The last climb to the summit was not as steep but with clumps of thick/thorny brush my track was by mo means a straight line. With no USGS benchmark datasheet to go by, as I approached the summit I scanned the area for Reference Markers. The first thing I found is all that is left of what I believe was Reference Mark #2, just the head of a rivet with bits of cement/adhesive around it. I found the benchmark easy enough, but spent quite some time searching for RM #1. Oh well, it's still too humid to try and dry off so I'll take my photos and video, grab a bite to eat then head back for the second hike of the day.

While wandering around taking photos I located Reference Mark #1. I must have walked by it twice before, but there it was, barely a dozen feet away from the summit, albeit behind some brush.

Wouldn't you know it, just as I was going to sit down for a quick bite when it starts to rain. The clouds didn't look any more threatening nut nevertheless, it was raining. Quickly I pulled out one sandwich along with my rain jacket and proceeded to don my pack and jacket. Only one problem... while the jacket was a loose fit without a pack, it was way too small over my CamelBak. Not a big deal if the rain falls straight down, which it did for some time. As the wind picked up I tried to face away from it but when the wind began whipping back and forth.
At this point one might think, it shouldn't be that big a deal... I'm already soaked through with sweat, what's wrong with more water if it's clean? Well, the water is cold and the brisk wind makes it feel even colder. But so what, I still have to get back to the Jeep. Speaking of which, for some time the rain was heavy enough I couldn't see far ahead, and after climbing what I felt was far enough to have reached the trailhead, as the rain eased I find I AM at the right elevation, only I'm a few hundred yards north... across the thick-and-thorny drainage I had passed through at the beginning.
Well, I AM NOT going back through the stuff that stabbed me earlier, which leaves me with one more steep climb. Back at the Jeep the rain eased again so I hiked up a small rise for a few more photos along with a glance toward the next two peaks I had planned to bag today. I didn't like the looks of the terrain or it appeared more was rain on the way so I went back to the Jeep to warm up and finish my PB&J lunch, while hoping for it to clear. But it just rained harder as I sat there.
Hmmmm, I thought, if this rain keeps up I may have a challenge driving back out of here. Ok, at least I'll scout out the drive to the other two peaks. If it clears I'll go for it, it not, I'll head home. But first I've got to see how far I can drive to the next planned trailhead. If Tracey hadn't told me Take the winch! I would not have driven more than a quarter mile and turned around.

But with the winch as a backup, well let's put it this way, I got WAY bolder than I should have and kept going well after it was obvious no vehicle had used 'road' in years. On one slope the rut on one side was deep enough to swallow the Jeep, while the other side was a series of large boulders next to a drop-off. Not wanting to drop in the rut I drove over each boulder on the driver's side. Looking back in the rear-view mirror after driving over a particularly large one, I see it roll over and bound down into the ravine below. All I could think of was I hope the hole it left isn't too deep!

With no safe place to turn around I continued until the road completely disappeared. Long ago a tree had fallen and even the cows had to make a new path to get by. The only way turn around was to execute a half-dozen back-and-forth moves. Ok, now all I have to do is get back up that nasty slope! And of course it is nastier than before because it's raining harder again and the ground is getting softer. Slowly and very carefully I drove up the slope, straddling the narrow area between the rut and the drop-off. When I came to the point where the boulder had rolled into the ravine I realized it would be better to slide into the 5-foot rut rather than over the side and pretty much dog-walked the Jeep along the edge of the rut for about 50 feet then it was clear sailing.

On the way home driving past the Ray Mine, on the opposite side of the Dripping Springs Mountains from where I was, here comes the sun! Now why couldn't it have arrived sooner? Oh well, it's probably good I didn't take on the other two peaks or it would have been more like a 5,000' AEG day... possibly too much for my ankle.

One video:
Doak Benchmark panorama
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