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Humphrey's Peak (AZ)
- [first draft: 2002-12-25]
- [modified: 2003-01-10]
It was going to be just a little day
hike. We didn't get to the bottom of the mountain until 3pm. It was a warm sunny
day at 9,000ft. We were at the bottom of Snowbowl ski hill, with Humphrey's peak
rising in the background. At 12,633ft, it is Arizona's highest peak. One reason
for being so late was stopping in Flagstaff, and buying that tent which John was
now carrying in his backpack. It was only 5lb, and we weren't going for a long
The trail first crossed a meadow, the
ski slope in winter. Then we entered the woods. Within half hour we saw a clearing
off the trail. It first looked like another ski slope, but turned out to be a
slope of boulders. Big and small, the boulders layed there everywhere, as far
as the eye could see.
We hiked and hiked, and nobody felt like
turning back. It was a warm sunny day, sun was still up, so we just kept going.
We got to the saddle of the mountain, at 11,800ft. By the time we ate and were
ready to move again, it was 8pm. Maybe high from the altitude, or just curious,
since we were so close to the peak, we decided to go on. We had flashlights and
raincoats for warmth...... why not.
We noticed soon that there was no marked
trail anymore. We were climbing up big rocks, sometimes on all fours. On our right
was cliff dropoff -- better stay clear of that at night. One slip and you fall
1,000ft. We got to a snow field. It was a field at least 40ft wide. It was dirty
old snow, but snow in June in Arizona? Cool. Closer to the peak the trail looked
more like a trail. But there seemed to be other joining trails coming from the
At 9pm we were at the peak. It was pitch
dark and the wind was howling. We found shelter in a man-made circular area with
4feet high walls. We took out the raincoats, or rather one raincoat and one 8ft
by 3ft ground sheet.
We stayed for 15 minutes, then headed
down. We put headlights on, and followed a trail. We didn't pay much attention
to our surroundings, we just followed that trail. At then, the trail disappeared.
Maybe it stopped being a trail at some point, maybe we didn't see another trail
but we were nowhere close to the way we came. We started feeling the altitude
and the lightheadedness that comes with it. We left Phoenix at altitude 1300ft
in the morning, and we spent already about 6 hours at altitudes over 9,000 ft,
including almost 2 hours at 11,000ft. We knew about where the trail we should
be on was, about 1,000ft above us. We started going backwards on the trail, but
it seemed to disappear too. And it was too big of a detour too. We decided to
go straight up. I went first. The terrain soon became a sea of small flat rocks,
and with every step there was danger of sliding down. As I was walking on all
fours, rocks 5 ft above me were moving. The wind was blowing, but we weren't real
cold, the "raincoats" did the trick. Then John's lamp died. I had the
extra batteries (or maybe I took them out of my camera), so I walked down to John.
He wasn't enjoying the situation as much as I was, and suggested just walking
straight down off the mountain. That would have helped with the wind and altitude,
but we would still have 2hours+ of forest to go through, and finding the trail
in the forest would be "challenging". Walking down a mountain is harder
than walking up, if you're off the trail. It made more sense to walk uphill and
return the way we came.
And that's what we did. With some slipping
and sliding, sweating and struggling, we got closer to the top of the mountain
and walked in the direction we thought we should go. It looked like we were going
the right way -- the trail looked like "walkable terrain". We couldn't
tell for sure if that was the way we came up. I was really feeling the light-headedness.
While walking down one rock with a 3 ft drop, I lost balance and landed on my
back. I was testing a new backpack with a frame, and I was thankful for that.
Especially for the frame of the backpack, it cushioned my fall. I lost balance
a few more times, but I didn't fall anymore before the saddle. It must have been
past midnight when we got to the saddle, but from there it was going to be easy.
At 1:30am we were deep in the woods, following the trail -- easy. We saw someone
walking up the hill. Wow, at this time of day? Since we first arrived at the saddle
at 8pm we didn't see any people. We met some others walking down earlier during
the day -- but then again, they were not pros like us. The lone hiker was an Indian
on a mission. "The mountain is angry" he said. He spent the previous
night camping somewhere in the vicinity. His sleeping bag was tied to the outside
of his backpack. It was a big, bulky purple colored sleeping bag, the "old-school"
style. It would do in 60F summer nights, but it wasn't suitable for mountain camping.
We offered him some batteries because he was low on them. During over conversation
he even turned off his flashlight to conserve power. Initially we were a little
freaked out to see someone at this hour. I don't mind getting lost and even spending
the night curled up in a ball and shaking (ok maybe i do mind that...... i just
never had to), but meeting a person walking in wilderness at night can be "concerning".
It looked like a long way down. The trail
just kept going and going, and there was no sign of the end of the woods. We got
to the car at 3am. I was in no shape to drive, I wanted to get down to 4,000ft
Sedona area and sleep in a tent. So what if tomorrow is Monday, work can wait.
John was gung-ho to get home, so he took the wheel. I kept my eyes closed during
the way, but didnt totally sleep. With the help of cold mocha coffee, John
got us home at 7am. He was wasted however, and took the day off work. I drove
home, slept til 10am then went to work. It seemed enough rest for the time being.
We had 3 more days to recover until our next adventure -- 2000-06-09_Durango,
but that's a totally different story...
Afterthoughts: 2003/02/16 - until now i had Humprey's Peak marked at 11,500ft.
After talking to a local and wondering what he's smoking telling me that Humprey's
is at 12,600ft, I looked it up, and yuppppppp -- Humphrey's Peak is at 12,633ft.
His "I live here man" sounded convincing.
- text and pictures (we never saw the peak's altitude sign)
- Humphrey's Peak and MANY other peaks in US... Great pictures;
like Mnt Rainier
- so cool! (ice axes and crampons)