This was going to be a big hike for me and I thought I had done my homework. I located the trail head before leaving our condo in Sedona, called the ranger station to check conditions on the mountain, and checked the weather. Mt. Humphreys is the highest point in Arizona at 13,637 feet and is located close to Flagstaff, AZ. A hike of 4.8 miles one way will get you to the top. I didn't have any plans to try and summit as I was not acclimated to the elevation. The trail head is located at 9400 feet and for a lowlander like me who usually hikes at 1500 to 3000 feet, I knew I would be lucky to make it to the tree line at 11,000 feet.
So DH and I drove for an hour to the trail head which is actually well marked and is at the north end of the Snow Bowl Arizona (a winter ski area) parking lot. DH does not hike but he willingly and sometimes patiently waits until I return.
We did our routine photos at the trail head sign and then I was off excited and a little nervous about the challenges of the trail.
The trail starts off as a little wider than a single track dirt road that passes through a meadow with some great views of the mountain. Humphreys is part of the San Francisco Peaks and in this picture is the mountain to the left.
The trail climbs at a fairly easy incline, but at a quarter of mile when the trail enters the forest, I was already breathing harder than normal. Determined to see what this trail was all about, I told myself I could do this. I started using a method of pressurized breathing that high altitude climbers use...purse your lips and suck in and with lips still pursed, blow out with force. I've never tried this before, but I think it helped.
Leaving the meadow behind and entering the forest I saw the Kachina Wilderness sign and made note of all the natural hiking sticks that had been left behind. I thought about taking one, but since I don't usually hike with poles, I thought it would be more of a nuisance than a benefit.
It wasn't long after I was in the forest that ice started to appear on the trail. Now when I talked to someone named Linda at the Peaks Ranger Station to inquire about conditions on the mountain, I was told there really wasn't any snow although there might be a few icy patches at higher elevations. So, I was at about 9700 feet which I didn't consider high considering the top was 13,000 ft plus, but here was ice on the trail. And I wouldn't have called it a patch as it seemed the entire trail was covered in ice with water flowing over the top of the ice. Fortunately, there was no snow, so it wasn't too difficult to walk along side the trail and continue on up. The x's in the photo mark the trail.
The trail is getting steep now and my watch tells me the elevation is now 9880 ft. I haven't even gone one half mile yet and I've covered about 500 feet in elevation gain. I'm beginning to rethink reaching the tree line and then the trail changes again!
There's now about 3-6 inches of snow on either side of the trail as well as on top of the trail and I can still hear water trickling below. Hmmm, no snow and only patchy ice at higher elevations. I have my sturdy hiking boots on, I'm dressed for the weather (about 41 degrees,) but I have no poles and more importantly, I have no crampons.
A reasonable person probably would have turned around. But I was really bummed, actually mad and if my cell phone had reception, I would have called Linda at the Ranger Station and asked her the last time she hiked the trail. I hadn't even gone a mile and whether I made it to 11000 feet or not, I certainly wanted to see more of this trail before I quit.
So I pawed around in the snow and found myself a walking stick, all the time thinking about the ones that were readily available at the start of the trail. The stick helped with balance, but now it was even slower going.
Just short of a mile I met a couple coming down the trail without sticks, without hiking boots and without water. Before we actually met, the woman fell twice. We talked for a few minutes and they assured me of the difficulty in going down. I suggested a hiking stick might help and we then went on our way.
The lady fell again (she was okay) and the sound of her scream distracted me enough that I fell face down with my chest hitting a log in the snow. For a mili second I couldn't breath and my next thought was cardiac tamponade. This is pressure on the heart that occurs when blood or fluid builds up in the space between the heart muscle (myocardium) and the outer covering sac of the heart (pericardium). It keeps the heart muscle from functioning normally and death is usually imminent. A cause can be a direct blow to the chest such as a steering wheel in a AA or a large woman falling directly onto a log.
Ah, but I digress, I obviously didn't die, didn't even hurt myself and decided I needed to get up out of the snow. Before I got up, I took a picture. I'm smiling because I'm not hurt and I can go a little more.
I trudged on and when I reached 10,332 feet, I stopped knowing it was going to take some time to get down. I took a picture of my stopping place in hopes of maybe finding it again the next time I'm on the trail. And I WILL climb this mountain, not today, not tomorrow, but when I have my crampons with me and my hiking poles.
I found another stick to go with the one I had and started down the trail. OH MY! OH MY! To make a long story short, I fell three times and the last time I sprained my big toe. Not sure how that happened when my boots are fairly stiff. Later I also noted I had a gouged out hole in my elbow but a little bacitracin and that's fine. I slipped at least a dozen times but didn't fall. At one point I threw my sticks down the slope and slid down on my butt.
I went a little over a mile with a 932 foot elevation gain in 55 minutes and about 70 minutes coming back down. I'm not sorry I went, but I was disappointed I didn't get any farther up the trail. Next time!