The Four Peaks

A insolent disregard for mountains is one thing the Four Peaks will cure you of. Me of, anyway.

Showed up at the Lone Pine trailhead around 9:00 am on Sunday, feeling rather hung over. Didn’t know much about the Four Peaks, save that there were four of them, with only a trail to the first. Figured I could run most of the four. Threw a couple Clif Bars into the Camelback, looked at my amount of water–over a liter!–and started running for Brown’s Peak.

An hour later, I’d summited Brown’s and was off at a dash to #2. A little backtracking, some mediocre route finding, class 4 scrambling with the odd exposed but easy class 5 move, and I was on top of #2.

I evaluated my water stock–perhaps a half liter–and looked long and hard at peaks #3 and #4. The rational part of my brain said to turn around. Call it a day. Come back another day, better prepared (a partner, adequate water, a headlamp, [i]pants[/i], etc.).

Needless to say, I soon found myself downclimbing and thrashing my way down, south, and east. I had some crazy plan of downclimbing basically to the valley floor, then going up the eastern flank of #4, and catching #3 on the way back.

Two hours later, I’m nearly to the bottom–and I’m nearly out of water. I’m scratching and tearing my way, one step at a time, through matted, clawing trees, bushes, shrubs. Suddenly, I see dripping water (and, yes, this part of my day seems improbable–a spring in the middle of a mass of granite?!).

It’s definitely dripping, not flowing–but there’s a small pool of it. I pull the big leaves out, to reveal a small pool–perhaps 12″ x 8″, and 2.5″ deep at its deepest of more or less clear, cold water.

I mentally review the reasons why I filter my water in the back country (giardia, right?), and reassure myself with Ed Abbey’s countless tales of drinking untreated water–apparently to no ill effect. I cup my hands, scoop up some water, rinse my hands, and scoop again, raising water to my lips. I take a timid sip. It tastes … remarkably normal!

In a moment of singular ingenuity, I realize that, by removing the head, I can siphon water from the shallow pool down into my Camelbak bladder. I try it–and to my surprised delight, it works! I watch as the pool slowly drains, and my bladder fills (green algae and all!).

Two hours later, I’m on top of #3. At this point, I estimate that I have two hours until sunset. I descend toward the west from #3, fighting through brush and over boulders. The terrain is barely navigable in full daylight. Trying this at night would be suicide. The wind picked up an hour ago, and I’m chilled. My skin is lacerated, as, step by step, I make my way down and north.

I know that, if I can make it back to the saddle, I can make it back to my car.

The sun is setting as I push myself through briars and brambles over another small ridge. I notice what appears to be a clear stretch below, and move toward it. Then–wait! Could it be?!

My eyes well with tears of relief. I’ve found a trail.

Dusk settled as I reach the saddle.

In the remaining, failing light, I run from the saddle down, all the way down, to my car.

And for a solid twenty minutes–what a rush. What a thrill. There’s nothing better than running downhill on a trail at dusk. The cool air feels crisp and refreshing as you perspire. You breathe easily, flying, effortlessly, down. Your eyes strain for the trail. The whole of one’s attention is focused on the single moment of running. Running down a hill. Running in cool, darkening dusk. Alive. Lucky. Foolish. Flying.

About Mark Egge

Two truths and a lie: Mark Egge is an outdoor enthusiast, opera singer, and a transportation data scientist. He lives in Bozeman, Montana.
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