It all started Thursday morning at 3:30 am when my alarm went off at home in Laval. By 7:30 Joe and I began the long approach to Saw-4. It was 0 degrees and would never get any warmer all day. The approach I used from Averyville is long and very pleasant with no issues, no thick areas. The first 90 minutes are on the Pine Pond Rd. and an old woods road, which ends at a lumber camp.
Joe and I hiked at my 100 peak pace, knowing I would be hiking on the morrow as well. Our goal was to do 4 and 2 for sure and see about 1. Near the end of my route you ascend south towards the 4-2 col along a drainage and then make a sharp turn west towards the summit. We were able to save time and energy by walking directly on the frozen surface of the drainage for a lengthy spell. The ice was very thick. We made the turn and gradually the slope became steeper and steeper. At about 3100' where the slope becomes very steep we dropped our packs. I have a string of waypoints for this final section and whenever I use it the way is surprisingly clear. Whenever I don't the route is a difficult time and energy sink. I kept calling out the bearing changes to Joe who would stop and dial the new bearing into his compass.
It took us 6 hours to make it to the top and observed aloud that my best time was 4h30.
The descent to our packs was very quick of course and the walk to my favorite campsite in the 4-2 col was pretty quick too. We already knew that Saw-1 wasn't happening and this relieved some pressure. I had us ascending 2 a bit too far to the left and we encountered a series of cliffs until I had us deviate further right and from there on in it was just steep. However the cold played on us and keeping it all together in such rugged and forbidding surroundings was key. You looked up and saw a massive wall of granite plastered in tannin-stained vertical ice. Then you looked up even higher and saw frost-encrusted trees branches in the wind and you knew you had to find a way up.
Joe really needed to see the summit saddle blowdown field so we took a look at it before scuttling down to the east side and side-hilling then climbing steep slopes to where you turn for the true summit bump. Once again we left the packs and the final bit was straight up and grueling in the extreme. The wind was bone-chilling and when Joe asked if I wanted a picture I said “no, it's too cold” and down we went. It was 4:30 and daylight was fading. My brain knew just how beautiful the view was but this wasn't the time to sit back and enjoy it.
I had the route from 2 to 1 in my gps but not the route we would be taking to pick up our inbound trail, some 2.5 miles distant. This made the navigating a bit more fastidious but I could look at the paper map, project the gps cursor in the general direction we needed to go and then we used our compasses to hike in a straight line. It wasn't dark yet so we could also use the surrounding ridges as landmarks until it became pitch dark. Luckily, we had open woods the entire way and the headlamps easily picked out the open lanes. Whoever was in front checked their compass nearly every minute and I would check the gps and map every 10 minutes or so.
We were happy to (finally!) step onto our inbound tracks and turn our navigating brains to the off position. It was -9F back at the car. Total time was 13 hours and change. I did not open my pack once all day. Didn't change any of my clothes, did not drink any water at all and only ate the food that was in my jacket pocket. I never felt thirsty all day long.
The coldest part of the day was the drive back to 'Scoots where Jean and MJO had been following the Spot. I got in at 9:30 and once I was wearing dry clothes, and while I was feeding we discussed the plan for the rest of the Sawtooths.
Wake-up was at 4:30 and we began hiking from Averyville at 6:18 on the button.
Took us 2 hours 30 minutes via the “Old NPT” to get to the lean-to at Moose Pond and another hour finding and losing the trail south to our jump-off point. We walked right on the creek for about .5 miles and then we entered the woods and began what started as an easy ascent through open woods with firm footing. That ended abruptly and I believe it took us over an hour to cover a half-mile to the summit due to steep slopes combined with thick woods and less than ideal snow conditions. It was past noon when we departed the summit and descended the steeps slopes of #3. Route picking was a constant challenge and all 3 of us participated whether we were in the lead position or at the back. The ascent of #5 is only 600 feet but it is very steep and it really kicked my butt. We stopped on top for 10 minutes for food and pictures and I was so cold I had to get out of there and move as fast as possible through the deep snow to the low point. Just before our departure Jean said 2:30pm. We had both hoped for 2pm. Sawtooth #1 was still a long way away. It would probably be dark when we summited.
We found a drainage we could walk in and it was going our way so we followed it until it became too narrow. We entered the open vly at the 2-1 col and walked along the east side. I was now checking the gps frequently and calling out compass bearings. We walked north until about even with the summit and then, following crucial waypoints I have painfully collected over the years, we circumnavigated the summit in an ascending arc. It was crucial that we avoid the cliff route, which would be solid ice, and that we avoid the “evil gully”. The ascending was extremely difficult and the wind blew very cold. We were rotating leads frequently. We arrived right at the head of the “evil gully”, saw the cliffs we had avoided studiously and I had Marie-Josée, who was leading, side-hill until past the gully and then the rubber really hit the road. We could see the summit bloc and in fading daylight with the wind blowing through us we looked way, way up and saw the snow-encased trees waving to and fro. The summit looked straight up above us. The slopes were ice-caked in many places there were steep channels of snow . It was intimidatingly steep and the cold wind sawed at us relentlessly. Long story short, we made the summit, M-J took a selfie of us next to the sign and then we got the Hell out of there. Following our tracks we got down the steepest section to our exit point in no time. It was about there that the battery case of my gps sprung open and the unit itself went flying into the snow while the battery cover dangled uselessly at the end of the lanyard. I found the unit, without its (white) batteries and Jean had a fresh set of Lithium batteries out in less than a minute.
Then it was down, down, down through open woods and soft snow along a bearing that would serve us well for hours to come. The headlamps in the not-quite-totally-dark woods picked out the openings and we made excellent time until we hit wall after wall of very thick woods. We tried deviating but finally decided to push through along our compass bearing. After 30 very slow minutes we hit open woods again, which followed all the way out to Joe and my trail on the Old Woods Road from the night before. The night was jet black but we could see near-by treetops looming out of the sky.
Back at the car I couldn't believe it when I saw the time. We had been out for 14 hours barely stopping, never sitting down and fighting the cold while expending energy continuously. When I finally lay my body down to rest and my head hit the pillow relief and contentment passed through me like a wave.