Francis Peak, my new nemesis

 

Last week I attempted to climb up Francis Peak again.  Exo and I attempted it during the winter but setbacks such as actual frozen feet and cornices at the top thwarted our summit.  Since the snow has appeared to have all but melted, I gave it another shot last weekend.

This isn’t exactly what I’d call a fun hike, it’s the kinda hike you do because you see this peak out in the distance and it just kinda challenges you to get to the top.  I see it out in the distance every day at work and its existence just bothers me, especially since my first attempt failed.  The initial hike is kinda nice, you go through a neat canyon and follow a river for a while, and it gets even cooler once you continue on through a nice little pine forest.  But once you hit the first climb, it’s pretty unrelenting and it only gets harder and harder as you go on.  Most of this trail is really damn steep, and both times I’ve hiked it there have been times where I was acutely aware that my foot placement was holding out of complete luck.  A fall in most of these areas wouldn’t be fatal, but it would hurt.

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I set out on the trailhead with my dad who wanted to go out hiking with me more so he could train for the Appalachian Trail.  He’s been working really hard to get back into good condition for our thru-hike and I am admittedly surprised by how far he’s come.  There was a day not too long ago that he couldn’t handle a simple walk around downtown Seattle and had to take a seat and wait for me to go get the car to pick him up.  It was moments like that that made me hesitant to invite him along which I recognize is seemingly shitty, but you have to understand that when you work so hard, invest so much time, and set your life aside for yet another year: a thru-hike attempt isn’t something you are willing to risk.  At least it isn’t for me.  Full disclosure, I’m not much fun to hike with.  I do take it a little too seriously and I very much just exist within each foot step, so when something interrupts that I can get annoyed.  Also given how personally I take it when a single mountain defeats me, I do very much thrive within the challenge of things.  I can sit down and smell the roses, I do enjoy the moments where I’m just sitting under the shade of a tree and reading a book and all that, but that’s all on my time.  I’m generally unsympathetic to other people’s schedules when they hike, I think people should just go at their own pace, focus on what they enjoy out of a hike, and not rely on others to fill that void.  So yeah, in short, probably not very fun to hike with.  I feel as long as I tell that to people before I dedicate to hiking with them, it’s not a problem.  My dad understands that and we’ve arranged to hike at our own pace and just meet up at the end of the day to camp when we hit the AT, which I’m fine with.

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Stupid overexposed photo

We hiked together for the first little while until he urged me to push on ahead.  So up the mountain I went again.  This time things seemed a bit more new since the snow had melted away and plants had bloomed, which was a major contrast to when I was just walking through dead branches during the winter.  Largely the hike was uneventful.  Unless I really enjoy a particular hike, I tend to do trails one time, then I’m kinda done with them. I at least like to have considerable amount of time in-between doing a hike a second time.  The majority of the hike up Francis Peak – again – isn’t particularly fun or interesting to me, if I hadn’t failed the first time I wouldn’t even be back here again.  Once I passed the point where Exo and I turned around the first time, I got a little more excited to see new stuff.

Winter

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Summer

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This hike is pretty much climbing up two mountains.  You start off in a residential area at the base of the mountain, climb through a canyon, and make your way up a spine to get to the base of a face that you have to make your way up to to get to a ridge, where you can then walk a dirt road to Francis Peak.  By the time I got to the top of the spine and made my way to the face, I was thrashed.  There’s really no switchbacks here, it’s mostly a steep and straight up ascent and I was pretty worn out.

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As I got closer to the face it became apparent that I’d be walking through some snow.  Once I hit the first little patch of it it became clear to me that it wasn’t going to be easy, in fact my attempt to hit the top was probably in jeopardy.  The snow was solid, kicking in footholds to make your way across the steep terrain wasn’t just difficult, but it was kind of dangerous.  I’ve done my fair share of hiking in the snow, and I’ve done some really steep climbs in the snow.  The difference is it was a bit more malleable and I felt more secure with my footing.  Here, not so much.  I started to get a little nervous as I cut my way across the first snow face, but was relieved when I made it across.

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Once I hit the trail again I felt relieved to be off the snow, but it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t over yet.  I spent a long time kicking snow and compacting it to make sure my footing was secure, and eventually just got off the snow and tried to make my own path up the face, but as the ridge seemed more and more within my grasp I became aware of the slope I was on.  Going up steep things is fairly easy, going back down.. not so much.  I had already spent a lot of time just making it across the patches of snow, I didn’t want to make this descent in the dark.. I didn’t want to make the descent at all.  For a moment I kinda just felt stuck on the side of the slope.  This was as good a moment to turn around as any.  I typically just gauge on whether or not to push on based on how I’m feeling.  If I’m a little nervous but can think clearly I’ll push on for the sake of experience.  If I’m nervous and start second guessing myself, I’ll turn around.  If you can’t think straight or start rushing to get passed some of the scarier stuff, you’re in no shape to be making your way up a mountain.  I’d established that rule for myself after my first major climb up King’s Peak when I panicked when a lightning storm blew in and I almost scared myself off the side of a cliff, up until now I haven’t had to actually enforce it.

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This climb would have ended with me on the top of the summit had I brought my snow gear.  I could have easily pushed up the snow face if I had traction and something to self arrest with, but seeing as how I didn’t even think of bringing that stuff with me I had to avoid what would have been the simplest way up.  Looking at Francis Peak from the ground right now, there doesn’t seem to be hardly any snow up there.  But actually being there is a totally different story.  It wasn’t a total loss though, because the views that I did get were spectacular, and the very last stretch of the climb is so incredibly awesome.

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I will summit this peak before I leave Utah.  The thought of hitting this trail again almost physically hurts because I just don’t enjoy the majority of it, but this is one of the tallest peaks in the area that I can actually reach at this point since the others are still totally buried in most likely unsafe/unstable snow.

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