Arizona is a state filled with some incredible hikes. Humphreys Peak is the penultimate high altitude hike. Climbing to 12,633 feet over its 4.7-mile trail. That is a whole bunch of up. But once conquered we could say that we hiked the tallest mountain in Arizona. Not that I plan to or have the heart to climb the tallest peak in each state. However, reaching the top does give off a feeling of accomplishment. I have now been to the top of two states South Dakota and now Arizona. Though South Dakota was a baby hill compared to Humphreys Peak.
I had been to the Flagstaff area before and talked it over with my wife about hiking Humphreys Peak which she quickly talked me out of. She is much smarter than I am. When we ended up going back as part of a high school cross country trip I put the highest mountain in Arizona on our must do list. We had several activities planned. Lots of running to do. So, I kept Humphreys Peak for the end of our trip. Good idea too. If you plan on taking on the hiking challenge, make sure you have plenty of time to acclimate to the elevation. The trail starts at 9,333 feet and rises 3,300 feet to top off at 12,633. It is a climb and one of the toughest hikes that I have ever done. The reward is worth it…
Getting to the trail is easy. On the Northside of Flagstaff is their popular winter ski area called the Arizona Snowbowl. Home to Humphreys Peak. The road to the trailhead is paved and there are signs to follow. That is the end of the easy part. If you are already feeling a little apprehensive about the endeavor there will be some park rangers there letting you know about the dangers of the trail. Oh, the machismo of youth. I should have known better. However, having wanted to do the hike for some years now combined with the overconfidence of my cross-country boys we decided to brave the +45 mph wind gusts and severe windshield temps at the top.
From the parking lot to the saddle the trail is a basically a series of switchbacks through the top of the tree line. Once through the tree line the trail become even more strenuous. Here it is important not to push beyond your limits and the limits of the weather. Things can change quickly and the weather can turn ugly from high winds to lighting and snow. Nothing like the hair on the back of my neck standing on end after a strong gust of wind pushing me around.
We had dressed in layers, but I will tell you it was not enough. I had 6 popsicle cross country guys when it was all said and done. The beginning and end of the hike through the woods was nice (weather wise). However, being exposed to the harsh conditions after the saddle took a toll on us. To make matters worse there are three false summits before reaching the true summit. I could easily see a person becoming discouraged if they did not know. Like any strenuous exercise more than half the battle is one in the mind.
The expansive views and the wind, tired legs, and coldness it took to get there will always be remembered. But the company I shared on the trail is what made this hike for me. This was my third year with this cross team and all of them play soccer for me in the spring. So, throughout the year I spend countless number of hours with them. A few of them I had also had the privilege to teach/coach at the middle school level. So, a few them I have known for over 8 years. This little trip was not only for team building, conditioning, but a proper sendoff to group of guys that have become like a second family to me. It was great to see each of them help and motivate each other up the mountain. One of the best parts of the trip was to see one of the seniors help another through their fear of heights by walking lockstep together whenever there was a ledge. Teamwork at its best. Of course, if I had known he had an abject fear of heights I would not have asked him to go on the hike.
Humphreys Peak is a great hike. The best hike I have ever been on? That’s pushing it. I have done many different trails some to outstanding views others to gorgeous waterfalls or other payoffs. However, hiking Humphreys Peak did give a sense of accomplishments that most of my other hikes have lacked. Getting a chance to conquer something difficult with a bunch of high school students that not only have I gotten to see grow as athletes but grow into young men will always make this hike special for me.
9.4 miles round trip.
Strenuous Level Hike
About 5 to 8 hours depending on ability
Trailhead is located at the Snowbowl Lower Parking Lot.
For more information about the hike visit http://www.flagstaff.com/humphreys-peaks
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