Ascent of Humphreys Peak on 2013-10-20

Climber: Alan Barber

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Sunday, October 20, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Humphreys Peak
    Elevation:12633 ft / 3850 m

Ascent Trip Report

After a night in Phoenix, I drove to Flagstaff arriving in the afternoon. I checked into the hotel and drove out to the trailhead to get a better idea of what the area looked like and where I needed to go in the morning.
The Humphreys Peak trailhead was easy to find and was at the lower parking lot for the Arizona Snow Bowl ski resort immediately below Hart Prairie Lodge. The trail (#151) is nicely marked and heads out across the gentle Hart Prairie ski run.Once across the grass of the run it enters the forest and begins a winding climbing route up the mountain. It was afternoon when I arrived so I only went up the trail about 1 mile to the trail register point which is at 9760 feet. It took only about 30 minutes to reach it. The trail to the summit continues to the left at the register. There was another trail probably back to the ski area heading off to the right. The terrain is a little rough with lots of roots and rocks to pick your way around. After reaching the register point, I turned around and went back down. I got back to the parking lot as the sun was setting.

At 12,633 feet, Humphreys Peak is 12th highest high point in the lower 48 states. It is part of the greater San Francisco Mountains and is located in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness Area.

After picking up some supplies for the hike at the local Target and getting a double cheeseburger at 5 Guys hamburgers, I turned in. My alarm woke me at 5 am. I packed, loaded the car, and grabbed a quick breakfast on the way to the mountain. As I was driving up Snow Bowl road, I was treated to the sight of a truly majestic Elk with a huge rack just standing in the dark on the side of the road. When he was caught in my cars headlights, he just stood there while I drove past.

I was at the Arizona Snow Bowl lower parking lot, geared up and ready to head up the trail by 6 AM. The horizon was just showing a little light at that hour. Wearing my headlamp, I grabbed my hiking sticks and backpack and started out. The trail starts at an elevation of about 9280 ft and ascends over about 4.8 miles to the summit at 12,633 feet. I crossed the Hart Prairie ski run and entered the trees.

The forest at the start of the trail consists of aspen, fir and spruce trees. On the way up to the register, a jogger also wearing a headlamp passed me like I was standing still (actually I was). I did not see him again and believe he headed off on the branching trail at the register. After signing the trail register, I headed on up. The trail above the register continues with a series of long switchbacks and a few large rocks at the turns to climb over or around. This part of the climb was a gradual trail with roots, rock, and small patches of snow. The snow was not a issue on the way up but coming down it had melted a bit creating slippery icy patches.
A second hiker caught up with me and we talked a little. He just got out of the military (wearing camouflage pants and desert boot) and was taking a break from work.

The aspens thin at the higher elevations where principally evergreens are found. When I stopped for a break I noticed several squirrels eating pine cones. Some reports suggest that bugs can be a problem but I did not notice any. Another concern, high winds, did not occur. In fact the winds were very tame, no greater than 5 to 6 mph even on the top.
A little over 2 hours into the hike and after about 3.4 miles, I reached the tree line at 11400 feet. The signs indicate that off trail hiking is not permitted. I caught up with the hiker again at the 11,400 foot sign just below tree line. After a brief rest, he pushed on to the summit. We were able to have a final conversation when I met him as he was coming down.

Approaching the saddle at 11850 feet between Humphreys Peak and Mt. Agassiz, the terrain becomes very rocky. In this tree line transition zone are stunted bristlecone pines.

Mt. Agassiz is the second highest peak in Arizona, but it is illegal to climb it when there is no snow on the ground because of the sensitive plants growing there. The Humphreys Peak trail is joined by the Weatherford Trail at the saddle and continues to the left (west) toward the summit. The going was slow from this point on and it took me about an hour to climb the rest of the way to the summit. The trail was hard to follow at times despite the occasional trail post set into the rocks to help mark the trail.
I actually got off the trail a couple of times trying to find my way around large boulder piles. The area is mainly loose volcanic rock above 12,000 feet. There are indeed 3 false summits before reaching the true summit. The trail seems to go on and on at that point!

The views from this ridge are spectacular! You can see the ski runs below and some volcanic peaks in the distance.I finally arrived at the summit at 10 AM. Two windbreaks were constructed from summit rocks. One had two wooden benches and there was a summit sign. I could clearly see the rim of the Grand Canyon in the distance. I took my summit shots, signed the summit register (HP #37), and looked around unsuccessfully for a USGS marker. I guess there is none.

After spending a few minutes drinking water and eating some trail mix, I started my descent at 10:15 am. I expected a quicker time down that up but that turned out to be wrong.

I followed the trail posts back to the saddle where I encountered a large group of hikers. I could not figure out what language they were speaking but they all brought Tupperware boxes filled with what looked like sushi to eat. I rested a few minutes at the saddle trail and left.

Heading back down the trail is usually easier but not this time. The snow was melting among the rocks and roots which made the ground slippery and the footing treacherous. I slipped several times and was grateful for the hiking poles. Finally after what seemed like a longer slog than the upward trip I reached the trailhead about 2 pm. The porta-potties were a welcome site!

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3353 ft / 1021 m
    Quality:4 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Cool, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3353 ft / 1021 m
    Distance:4.5 mi / 7.2 km
    Route:Humpreys Peak trail
    Start Trailhead:lower parking lot for the Arizona Snow Bowl  9280 ft / 2828 m
    Time:4 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 45 Minutes

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