Spring 2009. So, my hiking calendar scheduled Mts. Field and Willey for mid-May. Sandy joined me, along with Rich, Charlotte, Susan and Pam. We were so pumped to get out there and start checking those NH 4ks off our lists! We took the Avalon trail up, thinking it was shorter so it must be easier. Given the 6 or so inches of snow still left on the ground, it proved to be steep and slippery. Mt. Field's summit, a little field in the woods (aptly named) was our lunch spot and we soon headed out to the summit of Mt. Willey. When we got to a high point on the trail, Rich's GPS beeped and we started high-fiving and taking photos.
Hey. Wait. Shouldn't there be a cairn or USGS marker or something? We looked all around and found nothing. We looked ahead of us and the path descended and turned, no view of anything to indicate a summit. In the meantime, Charlotte, Sue and Pam who had fallen back a bit were not coming up behind us.
My hike - I planned it. I am responsible for my group. We turned around and headed back toward Mt. Field's summit. No Charlotte, no Sue, no Pam. We got down to the trailhead to find them waiting. They decided to turn back shortly after Mt. Field's summit, but since we did not have a contingency plan, I did not know that.
Until I "resummitted" Mt. Willey in 2010, I wondered (sometimes obsessively) if I had actually found the summit that day in May, or if the GPS was off. My second hike up Mt. Willey was up the ladders (stairs, really) on the Willey Range trail (via Ethan Pond trail), whose highpoint is a magnificent lookout on the top of Willey. The true highpoint is in the woods behind the cairn and after some exploring, I found our initial summit spot, just yards from the true summit.
Lessons learned on that day: shorter trails don't necessarily mean easier trails, don't trust the GPS (know what the summit looks like), and most of all, have a Plan B with your group should you split up.
Sandy now has 24 peaks and I now have 14 (I hiked Mt. Tom a few days before Field and Willey). Rich has started to notice a spike in his fitness level and decides that hiking is not such a bad thing after all.