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Four Peaks Mother Lode
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mini location map2015-10-24
5 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   10 Mns   0.74 mph
4,060 ft AEG   1 Hour   40 Mns Break20 LBS Pack
 no routes
Linked   none no linked trail guides
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It began auspiciously.

Even as I walked out the front door at 0400 and looked to the east I could see the near conjunction of brilliant Venus with Jupiter maybe a full-moon's width away to Venus' 7:30 position. I wouldn't plan my trip around such a thing but it seemed to bode well. Driving east and more east through the night toward the Four Peaks, big brother and big sister beckoned over those broad, dark shoulders; "Come... ." At the saddle where 648 turns south from 143 I could see the first glimmer of dawn beginning to lighten the sky and observed two other wanderers still too bright for the approach of day to diminish. They turned out to be Mars and Mercury, both further down toward the terminus. Four peaks to climb. Four planets aglow over the brightening horizon to the east. To the ardent flame of Venus and the benevolence of Jupiter add the war-like spirit of Mars and the fleet execution of Mercury. Auspicious indeed.

In late April I had made an attempt at the ML Dos Veces only to be rained out. Another attempt in June met with the same result. You pick your dates and train up for the test. You watch the weather and groan as the clear and dry extended forecast changes to 50% probability of rain as the day approaches. But still you go. Both times I made the top of Brown's in the pre-dawn dark, in the rain. Both times I bailed, knowing that to finish the climbing portion before complete darkness, much less the hike out, I would need to move confidently at my very quickest. Interesting and valuable experiences in themselves but disappointments nonetheless. This time was not to be a go at the MLDV. The days are too short. I thought it worthwhile to go north to south. Both previous MLs had been 4-3-2-1 and getting experience at the routes from the opposite direction would be good recon. It was, and a whole lot more.

Four Peaks may have been the first real mountain at an early age to impress me as such. It's base to summit rise and the separation from other mountains combined with four distinct peaks presents a striking image. Moving to Arizona from flat Michigan at the age of eight my extended family engaged in camping trips all over the state, some to the slopes of Four Peaks. At that age I began to appreciate the world outside of my own internally focused narrow circle. I learned what a mountain is and Four Peaks certainly looked and then felt like one. Others seem to feel this too. Arizona may be the Grand Canyon State, but it is a rendering of Four Peaks that graces the license plate.

Four is a mystical number in many cultures. Four cardinal directions, four seasons, fasting for four days, etc. Long ago the Hakayopa Guwevkabaya, the southeastern group of the Yavapai shared the area with the Tsé Nołtłʼizhn group of the Dilzhę́’é, or Tonto Apache. Speaking very different languages (Yavapai speak a Yuman language, Apache speak Athapascan) in this region they were often allied against enemies and formed mixed bands, tracing lineage through their mother's side. It is hard to imagine that the big mountain with four summits smack in the center of their home range was not significant to them. Both groups were fierce and aggressive raiders and both suffered terribly in General Crook's Tonto Basin winter campaigns of 1872 - 1873, and again the following year. It was a group of Yavapai that were slaughtered in the Battle of Skeleton Cave (see HAZ triplogs to the location) on the extended southern slopes of Four Peaks above the Salt River. Scores were among the slain with a handful of women and children surviving. Their descendants today operate the Fort McDowell Indian Casino for your amusement. But enough of the preamble. Now to the experience.

I got on the trail just after 0600. The sun would not rise for another forty minutes but it was light enough to see without the headlamp. Set a rather leisurely pace to conserve energy. Made the summit of Brown's at 0757, a few minutes behind schedule, but OK. Took a short break on top before proceeding south. This time I descended off the souththwest face to try and pick up the use trail on that side down to the saddle. I don't think I chose the right crevice because it seemed much more steep and brushy than what I remembered. Goes to show that you can traverse these mountains over and over and still get off route. That would be the story of my day.

Got down to the saddle and used the opening in the cliff bands a hundred yards east of the saddle to get up onto the slabs on the east side of Brother. This route puts you on the ridge-line north of Brother's summit and along the knife edge, which I really enjoy. Made the summit of Brother at 0921, a few more minutes behind schedule, but still OK. I did not tarry long on either summit, but long enough to enjoy my familiar custom, and got going down the east side of Brother. I had never down-climbed this section before and had been dreading it. For good reason. I tried to guess at a descent of about five hundred feet so I would be more or less even with the 2/3 saddle when I began my side-hill traverse. The route seems to be much brushier compared to my previous experiences and the down-climbing was tough. Worked my way south towards the saddle. Very slow going. Very brushy. I had some concern about getting the exit point correct because failure to do so means lots of back-tracking, but got lucky and hit an exit just about a hundred feet below the 2/3 saddle and due north on the shoulder in the vicinity of the bottom of the Z ramp. Still, it was all very slow going. It was tougher going down (as opposed to up) the east face of Brother, and it was tougher going down the southwest face of Brown's.

I was very relieved to get to the 2/3 saddle. Sat and ate half of my big sandwich and Cheetos. I carried this same grub on the prior trips and being a little superstitious I figured don't mess with something that works. After finishing up and emptying the twigs and rocks from my boots I was ready to tackle Sister.

Down-climbing the northwest side of Sister is bad enough but up-climbing that same face of Sister was just plain ugly. At that time of day I was looking up straight into the sun and had a difficult time picking the route. I got way off to the south on the due-west face before I started up. This is a hairy section. Don't go there if you don't have to. Way too much exposure and everything that you want to avoid. Way off route. Nevertheless, made the top at 1242 and breathed a sigh of relief.

Now for the part I was really dreading; the descent of Sister's southwest face. It is only about two hundred feet of vertical but as far as I can see there is just no good way down the south side of Sister. Going up that face twice before I knew it would be bad going down but I was not prepared for just how bad. Hairy exposure. Really felt like I was in over my head there. After getting down to the saddle going up Amethyst was straightforward except for the heavy brush. Seems to have really grown thick up there in the last six months. Topped out at 1446 for a total time 1 - 4 of 6:49. That is slightly slower compared to my other times but given my greater experience, it should take me less time, not more.

Reading Joe's route description that going 1 - 4 is "a pumpkin", I never quite understood what that meant. If pumpkin is shorthand for ass-kicking slog then I now understand. He also suggests that the route is principally class 4 (class 3 if you choose wisely). If I understand the meaning of the route classifications (3 - occasional use of hands but little fear of injury beyond the bruise or scrape, 4 - if you fall you will get hurt) then I guess I am choosing my routes unwisely. I have only been up there by myself and don't have the benefit of others' experience. I think I am bashing through too much brush and needless risk. It does seem, however, that I now willingly address vertical situations with much less agitation than one year ago. Just getting used to it. I will say here though, the hike out from the mine after the traverse really drags on and on. It seems quite a bit easier to do the traditional 4 - 1 even though the total energy expenditure must be the same. Enjoyed complete solitude with the exception of sighting another party on top of Brown's when I was on Sister. Another great adventure. Love it up there! Not done yet.

- Antoninus Pius
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