|Doyle & Fremont Partial Horseshoe, AZ|
|Doyle & Fremont Partial Horseshoe, AZ|| |
Doyle & Fremont Partial Horseshoe, AZ
|Backpack||20.44 Miles||1 Day 23 Hrs 57 Mns |
|5,706 ft AEG|| 8 Hrs 22 Mns Break|
|Our goal was to complete the full ridgeline and hit up all 6 of the San Francisco Peaks in the process. With inclement weather on the evening of Day 1, along with underestimating other variables, [like the total distance, the insane amount of time it takes to utilize snow as a water source, and in Peter’s case the impact of altitude], we fell a bit short of the mark. Nonetheless, we survived, had an incredible time, learned a ton, and made memories that will last a lifetime.
Day 1 – We woke up earlier than anticipated but a few last minute things, [like suddenly realizing I absolutely NEEDED trekking poles], resulted in us launching just after the time [5 PM] we originally planned for. At launch, and for the first few hours after, we were treated to blue sky, pleasant temps, and beautiful surroundings. However, as daylight dwindled, so did our luck. With both darkness and a storm approaching, we found ourselves rather suddenly going from shorts/short sleeves to multiple layers when we stopped to put on our headlamps. The light drizzle, minor rumbles of thunder, and “heat lightening” [as many back East refer to it] made us think it was just going to be a passing shower. While the thunder and lightening eventually passed, the precipitation only got worse, going from a drizzle to light rain, then to a steady rain, and eventually to a light downpour. Add some moderate wind gusts to the mix and it didn’t take long before our clothes and packs were completely drenched, despite the “protection” of our ponchos.
Peter had fortunately enclosed most of his essentials, [including his sleeping bag], in waterproof vessels within his backpack; but it was definitely a case of “learning the hard way” for me. Peter had emphasized to me a million times over about the importance of putting the essentials in something waterproof, and he even gave me a few extra waterproof vessels for my stuff. However, not wanting to carry extra weight – and never having had the ponchos fail me with a daypack – I opted to leave the waterproof vessels behind. The situation was bad enough that, had I been alone, my only hope of survival would’ve been to haul pumpkin down the mountain and hope to stay warm enough to make it back to my vehicle. While the cold seemed to grow on Peter more gradually, it hit me so suddenly that I went from feeling mildly uncomfortable to frigid in a matter of seconds, or so it seemed. To make matters worse, the steep grade and tons of rocks on the part of the ridgeline we were on when things got bad did not lend itself to many viable options for setting up camp. When we finally found a spot, Peter rose to the occasion and assembled the old tent [that can be a real piece of work to put up in the best of conditions], faster than I’ve ever assembled the new fancy tents that are breeze to put together. All the while, I stood there useless, with not even enough feeling in my hands to put tent rods together. When we finally got inside, nearly everything was drenched, [including the tent floor which had puddles of water]. The only things that stayed dry were the essentials Peter had enclosed in waterproof vessels.
To top things off, I noticed that my sleeping pad had come off my pack and was nowhere to be found… yet another thing Peter had warned me about. But never having had an issue with the way I was taught to secure it, I’d opted not to take extra precautions… another lesson learned the hard way. Peter was super kind to allow me to squeeze onto his Thermarest with him; if not for that, it would’ve been the floor of the tent, which was one giant puddle.
And if all of that were not enough drama, poor Peter was in for a much rougher night, even though I was worse off in terms of not having dry clothes/layers. No sooner did we burry ourselves in layers when one of Peter’s leg muscles cramped so badly that at first I thought he got bite by something through the tent. We’ve been through some hardcore stuff, [and Peter has a super high pain tolerance like me], yet the cramping took things to a whole new level. To make matters worse, no sooner did one cramp finally resolve when another leg muscle would cramp. The process seemed to repeat for half the night. Unable to move about and get into dry clothes for a few hours thanks to the constant cramping, Peter was shivering pretty badly to the point where I was really worried.
Day 2 – The rain dragged on through most of the night, but Peter and I and his dog Tyson, [who was a superstar and seemed to snuggle up to whatever part of my body was hurting for warmth the most] survived and woke up to blue sky and lots of sunshine. Most of our stuff was still drenched but most of it dried off in no time when we moved it out of the tent and into the sun.
Peter got right to work building an awesome fire ring & fire, while we decided that I would head back down the ridgeline a little ways to search for my sleeping pad. It couldn’t have been far since I remembered having seen it during one of our break stops not too far from where we set up camp, about 1/2 mile tops if I had to estimate. Initially I planned to go back about 20 minutes one way and then head back to camp, but a few feet after setting out, I realized I probably wouldn’t be able to make it very far, given how little water we had leftover… lack of water is a huge trigger for making me cramp, and the 1/4 liter I had left at that point was definitely not going to be enough for me to get back up the steep slope without really running the risk of cramping. Furthermore, the only patch of snow we’d seen up to that point was too big of a backtrack; so if we had to pack up our belongings and continue to push upwards in search of snow, then 1/4 liter of water wasn’t gonna cut it for me. If I didn’t come across my sleeping pad in 5 minutes, I’d need to head back to camp.
Losing my sleeping pad proved to be a blessing. Instead of finding it, I found a small patch of snow about 1/10th of a mile from our camp. I collected what I could in some containers I had on hand, left my pack by the snow, and dashed back to camp to deliver the good news to Peter. Next, Peter got to work melting it and setting up the water filter while I went back to collect the rest of it. The snow patch wasn’t big, yielding only about 3-4 of the 8-10 liters we needed to pre-hydrate, get through Day 2, and have a few sips leftover for the morning of Day 3; but it was so nice to have our immediate thirst quenched. After helping Peter filter a few liters, I set off up the ridgeline in search of more snow. This time, about .15-.20 miles up from our camp, I hit the jackpot, finding several huge patches of knee-deep snow. As thankful as we were to have found snow so close to our camp, converting it to drinkable water proved to be almost an all day affair. By the time we obtained our 8-10 liters and were ready to go on our way, it was just after 4 PM. The next time we plan to utilize snow for our water source, we’ll be sure to bring a larger pot to heat it in and a 2nd water filter.
Had we not encountered the rainy weather on the evening of Day 1, our intended camp spot was only about 1/2 mile further up the ridgeline from where we ended up camping; however, even in perfectly good [dry] conditions on Day 2, that last 1/2 mile took almost an hour to traverse. The combination of a very steep grade with deep snowy patches, followed by a section of boulder crags that became almost a full out boulder hop at times, made that section of ridgeline a very slow go. We hit up UN 11,060, followed by UN 11,045, after which the boulder crags all but disappear and there is once again soft dirt / pined covered ridgeline. The next bump on the ridgeline was our first of the six San Francisco Peaks, Doyle. We paused for a 5-10 minute break at the base and then headed on up. Peter gave me the go-ahead to put the jets on. I wasn’t going for time, [nor did I want to push myself too hard given how exhausting backpacking can be relative to day hiking], but I cruised to the top and really enjoyed the ascent. Aside from the altitude and an unrelenting up [two things that don’t faze me], there was no brush to contend with; add some semi-soft, perfectly gripping footing with some rocks here and there, and for me it proved to be the perfect bushwhack, especially while lugging a heavy backpack.
Upon reaching what I thought was the summit, I stopped, took some photos, and read through a summit log that I found under what I thought was the summit cairn while I waited for Peter. Oddly enough, the log goes back to 1988 yet lacks names in recent years. Perhaps lack of a writing implement had something to do with it, but it was still rather strange. When Peter neared the top and we continued along the ridgeline, it soon became clear that we had not yet reached the highpoint. When we finally reached it, there was another cairn, and underneath was the current register, with several writing implements and recent sign-ins.
As we headed off the other side of Doyle, Fremont loomed ahead, [and seem to say, ‘I pumpkin dare you!”]. I was really torn as to whether or not to put the jets on and try to make summit before dark or to skirt it with Peter by taking the trail that leads from the saddle between Doyle & Fremont to the camp area between Fremont & Agassiz, which is where we planned to camp on the evening of Day 2. Peter was cool with me going for it, but I decided that making summit before dark would be a total ballbuster / barely doable with only a daypack, let alone a backpack. I also wanted to enjoy the summit with Peter if he wanted to go for it the next morning. Thus, I joined Peter and skirted Fremont via the trail, which proved to be exceptionally beautiful. By the time we arrived at the camp area, it was pitch dark and we were whipped from a day well spent… but compared to the horrid conditions we faced the previous evening, setting up camp was a breeze.
Day 3 – We woke around 6 AM. Peter needed a few extra winks and encouraged me to bag Fremont without him while he caught up on sleep. As the crow flies, the summit was only .59 miles one-way and I estimated the hiking distance to be around .8 miles. It proved to be just a few steps over 1 mile and I clocked in just a few seconds over 42 minutes, a time that would normally be less than respectable given the easy bushwhack up. All things considered, [a few stops for pics & layer adjustments, some spots of bouldering/traversing rock piles, not having much pep left in my step after the previous few days, and having averaged just under 3 hours of sleep per night over the course of the previous 7 days…], my time was not too terrible.
I thoroughly enjoyed the ascent, which had a nice variety of traversing up steep slopes & bouldering/hiking up rock piles… and the views from the summit were absolutely phenomenal. The combination of such stunning views and a super fun ascent probably puts Fremont in my all-time top 10-20 list of favorite summits. To top things off, someone had constructed a rock wall/shield on top of the peak in the direction of the wind, which proved extremely effectively at blocking the vicious gusts and made the summit experience so much sweeter.
I wanted so badly for Peter to summit as well, and he was very tempted to give it a go; however, lacking the ‘magical’ immunity to altitude that I’ve been gifted with, he was a bit worse for the wear and wanted to conserve energy for some of the more essential things we needed to accomplish, [like harvesting water and making it back to the TH, which I estimated to be around 9-11 miles, even if we aborted the mission of bagging the other peaks and headed straight back, which was what we ended up doing]. The actual distance came to 7.58 miles and probably would’ve been around 9-9.5 had we not cut tons of switchbacks and/or had Peter not perfected some of our lines, resulting in a very direct shot back.