Peak(s):  Fletcher Mtn  -  13,951 feet
Date Posted:  05/10/2009
Date Climbed:   05/08/2009
Author:  4HClimber

 Lessons Learned on Fletcher Mountian  

On the trail: 6:30 a.m.
Summit (or darn close to it): 10:00 a.m.
Return to vehicle: 12:30 p.m.

On May 8, my son-in-law, Shawn, and I ventured to Fletcher Mountain, 49 feet short of 14er status but just as beautiful and just as potentially lethal as some of the higher peaks on the 14er list. This was Shawn's first climb of anything over 13,500. I feel the need to share some of the things I learned during the climb.

We were able to drive a high clearance 4 wheel drive (Dodge Durango) about half way to the Bluelakes Trailhead. We made good time up the valley to Fletcher.

Here is our first glimpse of Fletcher as we started up the upper valley—about an hour into the hike.

After 3 hours on the trail we are at the bottom of the pyramid looking summit of Fletcher.

We had our snowshoes on at this time and going up the steep snow/ice packed slope was a piece of cake. The last 150 feet of elevation gain were very steep and slick. No problem with the snow shoes.

LESSON 1 – Going up a steep slick slope in snow shoes is how a cat can go up a tree and not be unable to get down. It was easy getting up the slope to within 30 feet of the summit. That's when I realized I was in a pickle (you can't walk down hill on such a steep and slick surface in snowshoes). By now I'm dug in and hanging on to the slope with my fingernails. That's when I decided to chuck the snowshoes. Shawn was right next to me with his right leg draped over the edge of the cornice to a sheer drop. I asked Shawn, "Why the heck do you have your leg hanging over the edge?" He answered in a very concerned tone of voice, "I gotta hang onto something!" To which I responded, "Well don't be hanging on to that F---ing cornice!" There's nothing like a nice spring hike with the son-in-law.

The point is that the position that we were in was precarious. One slip and we would have slid off that summit for at least 200 feet into a band of rocks that would only serve as a speed bump for an additional 500 foot slide. I called for a turnaround just 30 feet from the top.

LESSON 2 – As the leader of the group, you should never get yourself and others into such a precarious position. At least I had the sense to call for a turnaround even though we were just 30 feet from the summit. I think that is a harder thing to do at 30 feet than it is at 150 feet.

I was able to snap this picture at the turnaround spot. This picture does not look near as spooky as did the real-time, wide-angle view.


This picture was taken from close to the level shelf about 150 feet from the summit. You can see our retreat tracks from 30 feet from the summit.

To get off the slope without a hairy, unplanned glissade, we had to heel kick a foot-hold every six inches for the 150 feet off the summit. This maneuver took us about 30 minutes and the pucker factor for this whole episode was significant.

A close-up of the retreat tracks from the summit.

LESSON 3 – Don't tackle this type of terrain without the proper equipment. I left my ice axe and crampons at home because I knew my climbing partner for the day did not have that kind of equipment. If I would have brought my ice axe and crampons we could have taken turns scrambling to the last 150 feet of summit in a much safer mode than how we attempted it.

When we made it to a level shelf about 150 feet from the top, we caught our breath and ate some lunch, sent an OK signal on my Spot Beacon, and took a few pictures.

Gotta plant the flag (close to the summit at least). Atlantic, Pacific, and Crystal are behind me.

Shawn with Quandary in the background. There were some people on the summit of Quandary during this whole episode. I wonder what they were thinking if they were watching?


LESSON 4 – When we were doing the high pucker factor turnaround, Shawn's gloves blew off the top of the mountain. I said, "Forget the gloves!" As Shawn borrowed my spare pair, he learned why you always carry an extra pair of gloves.

The retreat off the summit of Fletcher was uneventful except for the 3 great, fun, and planned Glissades down the mountain.
The bottom line lesson for anyone planning to climb Fletcher Mountain in the winter or spring while the pyramid summit is snow/ice covered—BRING YOUR ICE AXE AND CRAMPONS!

Jeff Goodwin (AKA 4HClimber)

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

good call
05/11/2009 02:51
Turning around that close to the top had to of been hard, but its definitely better to be safe than sorry! Nice report, love the photos and thank you for posting it

Jon Frohlich

The right choice
05/11/2009 16:27
When I finally summited Fletcher it was the first week of June and the finish looked very similar to your ‘spooky‘ photo. I remember looking to the right and realizing it was a very long way to the bottom. We did it but it was one of the most scary finishes to a climb I‘ve ever done.

Sometimes the right choice isn‘t the easy one but better to get back to the car in one piece.


Same here
05/11/2009 18:15
We got to within twenty feet of the summit last June when I realized I was strung out in similar conditions with similar equipment. We tediously downclimbed, traversed left along the rocks in photo 2 and found safe passage on the other side. Glad you made it down OK.

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