The Adventure of the Missed Summit Blocks
It goes like this. Fairly early on, I learnt from my leaders that if it doesn't feel safe to do the higher classes of rock on the summit blocks, in HPS (like horseshoes), being close is good enough. This is perhaps an awkward compromise, but the alternative would be to drop some of our most dramatic peaks from the list for safety reasons. And especially early on, before I felt comfortable on rock, I often did just that: skipped the summit block. Eagle Rest, Marion, Weldon, Martinez -- I stayed down and watched the others go up.
But towards the end of the List, I found myself going up Antsell without (too much) fear, up Five Fingers, and up Lily Rock. And I found that when I revisited peaks where I'd been timid on my first visit, they no longer looked so bad. The view to the north from the summit of Eagle Rest, wow! Marion, Weldon, no problem. Soon it was the week before my List finish, and only one skipped summit block remained. Martinez. In July.
Somehow, Mars and I talked ourselves into doing this. We can't actually remember how. We did have our doubts about the wisdom of the plan, so the day before we intended to do Martinez, we did nearby Asbestos at mid-day. This peak has a unique desert beauty in the direct noon sun, but moving slowly and paying attention to hydration, it wasn't too challenging, even in summer. And the occasional piñon pine does provide wonderful shade.
So bright and early the next morning, off we went towards Martinez. Mars had always found water in Horsethief Creek, so we carried minimal water, a pump, and some empty bottles.
This ended up being a very short trip -- Horsethief Creek was bone dry. Disappointed (because it really was a fine day with a nice breeze), we turned back and did Apache and Spitler as a consolation prize. But Martinez hadn't thrown us back. We pondered our calendars, looked at the longterm weather forecast, and decided to meet even earlier on July the 8th, to try again.
Luckily (?) for us, we didn't consult the weather forecast on the 8th, we were too busy loading water (6 quarts in my case, 5 quarts for Mars) into our packs. Otherwise, we'd have learned that there was record breaking heat forecast. Brilliant timing...
Record breaking heat or not, we didn't actually notice it at first. We started at 5:30AM or so, and by the time the day was getting warm, we had gained enough elevation that we were still relatively cool. We were atop Martinez at 2PM, and it was not unpleasant, especially in the shade. Rather than ascend the gully, we'd gone up the ridge, leaving water stashed at Horsethief Creek (still dry), Cactus Spring (not dry, but not very appealing) and where we left the trail to go up the ridge.
The summit block was interesting. I made the right decision last January, when I sat it out -- that was the day before I came down with the cold that left me voiceless at the HPS banquet. But this time, not on the verge of illness, it was a doable puzzle. I flipped through the register, and noticed a dearth of entries over the years (as in none) for July and August, but someone did come up once in early June.
I assumed that having made the peak, our work was more or less done. Sure, it would be hot as we descended -- the combination of lower elevations and afternoon rather than early morning. But we'd be working less hard, descending, and temperatures would start dropping as the day neared its end. Right?
Well, no, not really. By the time we got back to the trail, it was as if we had walked into a furnace. Mars and I seem to be conditioned to the heat, and had plenty of water, so were OK, stopping off in the shade from time to time. But by the time we got to Cactus Spring, we were sufficiently interested in cooling off that the notion of pouring that oddly green/brown spring water over our clothes sounded appealing. And it actually did feel quite nice! Though when I later went to wash the shirt, I was astounded to discover it could stand up on its own.
And that long hill up from Horsethief Creek? Oh, it seemed endless! Even though, by then, it really had cooled off a bit, especially since we were no longer in direct sun. Definitely a memorable hike, but not one I would recommend to anyone else. Wait for fall or winter!