Humphrey’s Peak Hike…

Kachina peaks Wilderness - Inner Basin

A Little History…

Written in the Summit Journal found at Humphrey’s Peak:

As Sacred Peaks for the Hopi, Navajo, Hualapai, Yavapai, Zuni, Southern Paiute, Acoma and five Apache tribes; the Peaks are named by the Native Americans as: Nuva’tuk-iya-ovi (Place of High Snows) {Hopi}; Dook’o’oslid (Shining on Top) or Diichili Dzil (Abalone Shell Mountain {Navajo}.  These Peaks mark the southwestern-most boundary of the Dineta’s homeland.

The San Francisco Peaks were so names for the Patron Saint St. Francis of Assisi, by Spanish Franciscan Friars during their missionary work with the Native Americans in 1629.

Humphrey’s Peak was named in the mid-1880’s for Brigadier General Andrew Atkinson Humphreys who, during the Civil War, interpreted the survey information of the area which was collected by various previous expeditions.  He most likely never say the San Francisco Peaks.

Brig. General Humphreys had been part of the Ives Expedition as a civil engineer and Captain.  He entered the Civil War as a Major in 1861 and as of 1866 had been promoted to Brigadier General and Chief of Engineers.

Before joining the Powell expedition to survey the Rockies in 1874, American Geologist Grove Karl Gilbert (G.K. Gilbert) was the first geologist to join the famous George M. Wheeler Geographical Survey (Wheeler Survey) of the US west of the 100th meridian (1871).  During his work with Wheeler, Gilbert named Humphrey’s Peak after the civil war general.

Humphrey's Peak

Personal Background…

I’ve always wanted to hike Humphrey’s Peak.  Probably since my first glimpse of it’s impressive silhouette on a drive to visit Grand Canyon in the late 90’s.  It’s always been there, nagging at me, taunting me…but I’d never really thought seriously about hiking the Peak until this year.  As soon as I started thinking about it, I knew I needed to do it.  Especially when I started talking with Matt Mills (@ThePeakSeeker) about hiking Humphrey’s back in June.

I live at about 1,100 ft and, unlike Matt, I don’t get up above 10,000 ft very often.  As the highest point in Arizona at 12, 633 ft, I figured it would be  good idea to see what my body feels like at higher elevation before attempting the big one.  A few months back, I had the opportunity to hike Kendrick Peak (11,418 ft).  I camped at the base of the mountain and hiked Kendrick the next morning with absolutely no issues so I felt confident I would do fine on Humphrey’s.  I knew the trick would be to spend the night at the higher elevations in Flagstaff so I would have time to adjust.

I missed my opportunity in June, then again missed my opportunity in July.  It was very much looking like I was going to miss August as well.  I just couldn’t find the time to be able to spend the night in Flagstaff and hike the next day.  So I decided to chance it and do the hike without the overnight stay.  So I took a day off work, mid-week, got up very early and headed north determined to summit Humphrey’s Peak.

 The Trail…

Humprey's Peak TrailThe trailhead for the summit trail is at a large parking lot just below Snowbowl.  The starts out crossing a sloped, grassy meadow sprinkled with late season wildflowers.  I imagine it would be quite a sight in Spring.  It’s a nice easy walk under the ski lifts and toward the forest.  Even before entering the tree line, you have to start watching your step as the trail is creased and crossed with hard, slick roots.  In late Summer it rains almost every day on the Kachina Peaks, the high mountain gathers clouds and creates it’s own unpredictable weather.  Even in August one could expect anything from sunshine, to rain, to snow and hail.  I got lucky and it was a perfect day  but the ground (i.e. rocks, roots, etc) were still wet and slick from the previous afternoon showers.

Not long into the forest you cross the Kachina Wilderness Boundary and the trail begins the long switchbacks to the tree line.  The terrain changes several times making for a fun and interesting hike.  The rocky slope of the extinct volcano is exposed here and there where the mountainside has either slid away or proven to inhospitable for the forest to take root.

I kept up a pretty good pace through the switchbacks, elated at hiking in 75 degree weather in August.  I wanted to get to the summit quickly.  I had been told earlier, before I’d even reached the trail, that most hikers would be on their way back down already.  I was risking getting caught in a hell of an afternoon storm at the summit if I didn’t get this done quickly.  I wasn’t as much worried about weather as I was just excited to be finally hiking this trail.

Humprey's Peak TrailBefore I knew it, I had reached a sign post marking the edge of the protected area.  Everything above 11,400 ft is restricted.

It was right about this time I started to feel it.  My breath was getting harder to catch, my lungs just wouldn’t fill up and started getting this nagging headache.  The elevation was starting to announce itself.  I was now passing the height I’d seen at Kendrick and in to territory I hadn’t seen since hiking in the Andes.

What’s worse, I knew that I was not conditioned for this hike.  Not only had I spent most of the previous 3 weeks behind my desk working, but I had not spent the night at elevation.  This would be the first time I’ve gone from 1,000 ft above sea level to over 12,000 ft in less than a few hours without a plane.

As I cleared the tree line and made my way to the saddle, I got my first view of the Inner Basin.  The hike, to this point, was worth it just for that view alone.  I stopped at the saddle for a while, resting, trying to let my head adjust to the thin air.  I stripped my pack off and sat on the rocky ground gazing out over the wild canyon below.  The Kachina Peaks form a sort of “U” shape with the open top of the “U” roughly facing north.  Inside is the Inner Basin, a beautiful verdant slope fed by the near constant runoff from the rains at the peaks.  The view across the Inner Basin is made all that more amazing on clearer days as you can see Grand Canyon in the distance.

Kachina peaks Wilderness - Inner Basin

I could have sat at this spot all afternoon, and considered doing just that.  But just as I was talking myself in to a warm cup of hot chocolate or coffee, distant thunder and gathering clouds reminded me that I was on a time limit.  I gathered myself up and strapped on my pack ready determined to make the final push to the summit.

Humphrey’s is one of those summits with a sick sense of humor.  As I’m slowly crawling my way through the rocky trail, swimming through the haze that’s clouding my mind, thinking I’m nearly there the mountain reveals it’s cruel joke.  I had been warned, but with the elevation getting to me I had forgotten about the false summits.  At least twice I was tricked in to thinking I was near the summit when a new, higher, further summit appeared.  The real summit, once I saw it seemed very distant to me.  Without trees or some other context, it’s hard to tell distance on this terrain and my mind was already having problems.  If it were not for a couple and their dog just coming off the summit, I would never have been able to gauge the distance.  When I saw them, I knew the summit was very close and bolstered with renewed energy I quickly hiked the rest of the way to the top.

Kachina peaks Wilderness - From the summitAt the top there is a small rock wall built up, presumably to allow people to shelter from the sometimes vicious winds that tear at the peak.  There was also a small wooden bench, situated near the edge overlooking the inner basin.  I poked around the summit, dug through the ammo can holding all the souvenirs and mementos from other hikers.  The summit journal had plenty of entries in it and I quickly added my own.

With the thunder still threatening in the distance and a light rain starting to drizzle, I didn’t spend too much time at the top.  I couldn’t shake the effects of the elevation and I was anxious to get back down where my head would start working again.

The return hike started out pleasant enough, and I was happy to start feeling the fog lift from my mind.  I knew I had made a mistake by not spending the night at higher elevation before the hike.  I’ve never felt the effects of elevation the way I did on this hike, but it was a good experience and a good lesson.  Something I don’t intend to repeat if possible.

By the time I reached the truck at the bottom my feet were destroyed.  The hike down had really done a number on me and I could barely walk.  I actually ran the last mile or so of the trail because the mechanics of running were less painful than walking.  My feet really need more strength and conditioning work, especially if I’m going to try to keep up with Barefoot Jake this Winter.

All in all, this was a beautiful hike and reaching the summit via the main trail just made me want to come back and explore the rest of the trails through the Kachina Peaks Wilderness.  There are several trails that lead in and out of the Inner Basin and I would love to spend some time on those in the near future.  Who’s with me?

 

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Dave Creech is a successful business owner and entrepreneur based in Phoenix, Arizona. He shares his personal story and lifelong passion for travel and rugged outdoor adventure through his blog at WildernessDave.com. David’s focus has been on trip stories, gear reviews, Wilderness Medicine and a series of articles aimed at introducing Yoga to hikers and backpackers as a path to staying fit, healthy and injury free.

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Comments

  1. Nice job, man! Keep this up and you’ll be ready for the 14ers of CO and Cali!

    • Thanks man! Yeah, I’d like to get some of the 14ers in. I don’t think the elevation will bother me if I can spend a night or two above 5,000-7,000 ft. I was at 16,000 ft in the Andes with no problem at all, but I had spent almost a week at 10,000 ft before going up there.

  2. Any hallucinations there? ;)
    Nice job. Few more times and you’ll have no probs. Nice views yet again.
    But I’m with ya, wouldn’t want to get stuck up there in a rain storm. BTW, nice miles achieved!

    • Thank you, thank you…

      The hike was longer than I had expected. All the trail reports were 3.8 miles one way but that seemed to not include the trail to the trail apparently because the signs said 4.8 miles and the GPS clocked 10 total miles. I was secretly hoping for nasty weather at the top…there is something about rain and hail that I enjoy. Lightning, not so much….

  3. hit on by chance your site. really gorgeous places!
    greetings from italy

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