Humphrey’s Trail #151, a 9 mile round trip hike to the tallest point in Arizona is certainly not for the faint of heart. The strenuous hike begins at an elevation of 9,300ft and quickly rises to the summit elevation of 12,633ft 4.5 miles later.
It is rated by a few websites as the #1 hike in Arizona. It can snow on Humphrey’s peak at any time of the year and frequent afternoon thunderstorms also present an obstacle for hikers. Signs near the trailhead warn hikers to be wary of the symptoms of altitude sickness.
This is where I decided to go hiking last weekend. Me, the pasty-white engineer who usually spends more time in front of a computer or textbook each day than I do sleeping. Yep.
The trailhead was about 2 hours away from the school at the Snow Bowl resort in Flagstaff. Being college students on our day off from classes, we decided to leave Prescott around 9:00 a.m. I guess seasoned hikers know that you’re supposed to hike to a summit before noon. I’m from a part of Texas where you have to drive 12 hours to get to a mountain, and even those mountains are not exceptionally impressive. So, needless to say, but I’ll say it anyways, I didn’t know.
The drive up to Flagstaff, or a many Riddle students call it, “Flag,” was gorgeous. We drove through a few national forests on the way and the road up to Snow Bowl was lined on both sides with beautiful aspen groves that seemed to sneakily steal your breath as you gazed at them, but I suppose that could have just been the altitude. 🙂
We got out of the car after 11 a.m. in the middle of June at an elevation of 9,300ft to greet temperatures in the mid 50s. We put on our sweaters, covered our exposed skin with sunscreen, sprayed ourselves down with liberal amounts of bug spray, grabbed our between 3 and 4 liters of water each, and began our trek up the mountain.
The hike began on what my friends called the “bunny slope” of the ski resort that had become a grassy meadow strewn with wildflowers in the late spring months. The bunny slope may not look that steep when you’re about to ski down it covered in snow (or maybe it does, depending on who you are), but when you’re hiking up it at an elevation 4,000 feet higher than what you’re accustomed to, it’s steep. I had to stop to catch my breath a few times.
We walked under the ski lift until the path broke off into the forest were we began a serious of switchbacks up the mountain.
The forest is truly beautiful. I’d never seen so many aspens together in my life, and come to think of it, I’m not sure I’d ever seen any aspen groves outside of pictures. Between the aspens, majestic pines, and wildflowers that stubbornly fought the patches of snow, the atmosphere was truly spectacular.
The conversation up the side of the mountain ranged from the complex topics of our aerospace coursework to “that’s what she said” jokes. We had a great time laughing and “nerding out,” in the company of fellow aerospace enthusiasts.
All of the people we passed going one way or another were very happy to be spending the day on the side of the mountain just like us. It was another excellent opportunity to get away from the stresses of our everyday lives through an escape to a world of beauty with a good group of friends.
One of my friends brought his seven-month-old German Sheppard on the trip. We weren’t sure what she would think of the snow on the path, because when introduced to creeks in the past, she whimpered from the side while we swam around. She had absolutely no qualms with the snow though. In fact, she loved it. She jumped through it and attacked it and bit chunks that she threw up in the air. She was having as much fun in the snow as a ten-year-old boy on a snow day. It was really funny to watch.
We didn’t make it all the way to the top. We stopped about a mile from the summit at an elevation of 11,400 feet where the trees begin to fade and give way to a rocky summit. As the trees became less dense, the 50 mph winds began to whip at our faces and discourage us from further exploration.
For the guys on my hike, making it to a tree-line wasn’t nearly as much of a novelty as it was to the girl from Southeast Texas. I considered going to a place where the air became too thin for trees to grow to be a huge accomplishment.
Elated with what I still consider a victory, my trek down the mountain was less like hiking and more like frolicking, and I began to pride myself on being the comic relief of the trip.
I learned a lot about mountain hiking on this trip and my appreciation for the rugged beauty of the west only intensified in strength. I’ll return one day to make it to the summit, but until then: Humphry’s Peak 1, Kerianne zilch.