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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Trail Photos…

Kendrick Mountain Wilderness -or- Prelude to Humphrey’s Peak…

Kendrick Mountain

Humphrey’s Peak is the highest point in Arizona at 12,633 ft.  It’s been on my must-do list for a while now.  A couple months ago, I started chatting with Matt on Twitter about hiking Humphrey’s Peak in June.  My only worry was that I have not been at high elevation in a long time.  The last time I spent any real time above 10,000 ft was hiking the Mount Rose Summit (10,776 ft) in Tahoe in 2010.  Prior to that, my last experience above 10,000 ft was in Peru all the way back in 1998.  I’ve never really had trouble with elevation, but things change over the years so I needed to see how my body would react at elevation and I wanted to do it before making a run on Humphrey’s Peak.

Dirty TruckMy buddy Bryan does a lot of bike races (he was the reason I was in Prescott for the Whiskey Off-Road).  A few weeks ago he asked me, kinda of last minute, if I wanted to go camping with him for another bike race.  The race was a popular 104-mile relay called the Barn Burner.  The Barn Burner Mountain Bike Race covers a 26-mile loop that weaves in and out of the Kendrick Mountain Wilderness area, home of Kendrick Peak.  Kendrick Peak tops out at 10,418 ft and is part of the same volcanic San Francisco Mountain Range as Humphrey’s. It would be a perfect warm-up for hiking Humphrey’s Peak so I packed up some gear and set to drive out to Flagstaff.

That day I had some work that needed to get done before I could get on the road so I got a later start than I wanted.  I didn’t leave the house until close to noon.  By the time I was on the freeway headed north, it was already pretty hot and weekend traffic headed out of town was getting thick.  To make matters worse, there was an accident reported on the freeway about 10 miles ahead and all of us were stuck in a slow crawl up a long grade out of the valley.

That’s when the truck stalled.

I spent the next hour or so with the hood up on the side of the freeway as vehicles crawled by trying to figure out why the truck would have stalled.  I was certain my weekend was ruined and I’d be headed back in to town in a tow truck.  I had managed to get it started once or twice only to have it die on me again seconds later.  Eventually I got it started again and it was done stalling…probably water in the fuel line, but at least it was running again and I was headed north to the wilderness.

Hammock CampingA few hours later I was at camp at the C&C Ranch with nearly 4,000 other people in what was probably the dirtiest, dustiest piece of land in Arizona.  There were signs on the way in describing how the land had been destroyed by overgrazing and the soil was loose and devoid of nutrients.  The soil was so soft and dry that it would billow up in front of your vehicle like water as if you were driving through a shallow pond.

Crazy amounts of dust along with the crowded nature of the camp area convinced me to hike up above the flat into the trees with my hammock and camp above the chaos.  Before it got dark I wandered up to the tree line and found a good spot to hang camp, then walked back down to be “sociable” and have dinner with the race crew.

After a nice dinner and a cold beer, I headed up to my hammock and snuggled in for the night.  More and more I find myself enjoying this style of camping.  The temps got down to about 40 degrees that night and I slept like a baby.  I’m getting used to using a top-quilt and keeping warm with an insulated sleeping pad.

Early the next morning, I shuffled down off the hill and back to my truck to make some camp coffee (thanks to Coffee Brewers).  My plan was to wait until the bike race got going before heading to the trailhead.  The road I would take to the Kendrick Peak trailhead is the same road being used for a portion of the bike race and I didn’t want to be in the way, or creating unnecessary dust for the riders.  I headed out about 8:30 and was near the trailhead by 9am.  The first wave of bikers had made their way around and I couldn’t drive all the way to the trailhead without impeding the race so I parked off the road a half-mile or so down from the trailhead parking lot and hiked up.

Trailhead ParkingThe parking lot is well kept and big enough for nearly 20 cars.  It also has some posted trail and wilderness information as well as a permanent bathroom.  The trail wasn’t crowded but there were several cars in the lot and a couple of groups getting on the trail about the same time as myself.

Kendrick Trail MapI really love hiking in Northern Arizona.  The pine forests with thick green grasses and ferns remind me of a slightly drier version of the Pacific Northwest.  The trail is well maintained and easy to follow.  Though the 4-mile hike to the top is a continuous incline, it’s not terribly aggressive making the hike fairly moderate.  Hiking up the mountain, the trail weaves though Ponderosa Pine, Aspen, Oak, Fir, and Spruce trees and is home to Mexican spotted owls, mule deer, elk and black bear.  I didn’t get to see any real wildlife while I was up on the mountain, but the scenery was amazing even with large sections of the forest along the foothills still recovering from the 15,000 acre Pumpkin Fire back in 2000.

Kendrick Mountain TrailMost of the trail zig-zags through the forest, but occasionally opens up to offer views to the to the south as well as casual glimpses of Humphrey’s Peak to the east.  I kept a solid pace marching up the switch-backs, passing many of the hikers who were already on the trail.  Surprisingly, many of the hikers seemed to be in the over-fifty set.  With the exception of a young woman running the trail and two other women hiking together, I think I was the youngest hiker on the mountain.  When I reached the grassy saddle there were a couple of groups of day-hikers resting on fallen logs enjoying a mid-morning snack.  Smack in the middle of the saddle, surrounded by tall pines and green grass is the old, historic fire lookout cabin.

Built around 1911, the old log cabin is still in pretty good shape.  It was originally built as a shelter for the men working the fire lookout at the summit of Kendrick Peak.  It still has a functional door and glass windows.  Inside, the cabin is kept up with an old spring bunk bed, desk and storage chest with some emergency gear.  On the desk, along with other miscellaneous items, is a small notebook used as a trail sign-in book.

Kendrick Mountain lookout cabinThe trail splits at the saddle.  To the west you head up a rocky, narrow trail to the summit and the fire lookout building and can continue west along the ridgeline on the Pumpkin Trail.  To the northeast the Bull Basin Trail can take you down the north side of the mountain where it connects back to the Pumpkin Trail.  Having done this shorter trail, I would like to go back soon and hike the Pumpkin trail, hammock at the meadow next to the cabin, and then hike back down the Bull Basin Trail.

Kendrick Mountain TrailI left the cabin and headed up to the summit, so far feeling minimal effects from the elevation.  The hike from the saddle to the summit is less than half a mile and, though rocky, is not difficult.  At the top, the fire lookout dominates the peak.  In fact, you can see the massive fire lookout building from quite a distance (I was able to see it from camp that morning).  I’ve been to several fire lookouts in Arizona and this one is different than any of the others I’ve seen.

The first thing that makes this fire lookout unique in Arizona is that it is the only lookout post that does NOT have vehicular access.  The volunteers that work this post have to backpack the 4 miles in with all the gear and supplies on their backs.  There is a very small helipad near the structure for emergency extractions.  I hiked around the back of the structure and across to the helipad where several hikers were stretched out on the warm concrete like lizards soaking up the morning sun.  I pulled an apple out of my pack and soaked up the view from the peak while I ate my snack.

After a short rest, I noticed that most of the hikers had left.  So I secured my pack and walked up to the lookout building to meet the guy working there and have a chat.  It turns out that many of the Arizona fire lookouts are manned entirely by volunteers, most of which have no affiliation with the Forest Service.  I also discovered that they are typically in need of more volunteers on a regular basis.  The guy I was talking to, Ken, said he lives in Phoenix and comes up to man this post for about 5 weekends out of the summer.  He works a regular 9-5 during the week and uses this as his Summer getaway.  Where do I sign up??!!  I asked a few questions and managed to collect some contact information for the guy who manages the schedule for the volunteers.  I plan to call and get my name on the list.

Kendrick PeakThe lookout building itself has a propane stove and fridge, solar power, a bathroom, two double beds, a hammock and 360 degree views from one of the highest peaks in Arizona.  Sounds like the perfect Summer cabin to me!

I thanked Ken for the information and headed back down.  The total hike for me was nearly 9-miles round-trip because I parked further away from the trailhead.  The hike is typically about 7.5-8 miles RT with an elevation gain of nearly 3,000 ft.  The total trip took me about 3 hours. All in all, I never really felt any issues with the elevation even at the solid pace I was keeping.  Humphrey’s, here I come!

Side note: My phone battery has not been working properly lately so I have no track map.  I also had some technical difficulties with my DSLR right before reaching the saddle so I don’t have any pictures of the fire lookout.  Guess this just means I really need to hike this one again!

The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide to Hammock Camping…

Over the years, in my back country adventures, I’ve tried hammock camping several times.  I have two hammocks I hang in my backyard when the weather is nice.  I have a hammock that picked up specifically for my (formerly) annual trips to Mexico.  I have tried many hammocks in a variety of locations and I’ve always had a great experience, even when it wasn’t ideal.

Cascade at Havasupai…Imagine hiking 12 miles into a picturesque oasis of fantastic waterfalls and crystal-blue creeks.  High red-rock cliffs rise on all sides dripping with verdant greenery creating welcome shade in the normally warm temperatures of Northern Arizona in late Spring.  After the long, hot hike in to camp you set up a luxurious hammock under the canopy of group of shade trees next to the cool creek water…  This was the setting of my first hammock camping trip, a nine-day hang in the heart of Havasupai just above Mooney Falls.

On that trip, I packed in a very heavy cloth hammock.  It was warm in late May and I did not bring a sleeping bag.  Nor did I bother with a tarp, bug net, or any of the other fun accessories available for hammock camping these days.  I was a little cold the first night there, but was otherwise comfortable the entire time in the canyon…and I was hooked!

Since then, I’ve hiked in to various locations around the state with a hammock and have even taken it on some whitewater trips.  Hammock camping, in general, has always been a warm weather adventure for me but as I work to get out in the wilderness more often I’ve looked for ways to make my hammock a more year-round setup.

The Ultimate Hang BookI recently mentioned getting to use the ENO Double Nest Hammock I won last year to do some camping up near Flagstaff.  One of the comments left on that post was from Derek Hansen.  I soon discovered that Derek was the author of a new book called The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide to Hammock Camping.  After a quick back-and-forth, Derek offered to send me a copy of the book to check out and I happily accepted.

Derek was introduced to hammock camping at the age of 14 at a Scouting event in Utah.  Later, volunteering as a Scout Master himself in Virginia he began experimenting with hammocks again.  He became a very active voice at the worldwide hammock community, HammockForums.net.  Here, his talent and skill as an illustrator played a major roll in his ability to share his experiences and techniques with the Forum.  Eventually, Derek decided to parlay his talent, skills and experience into a concise, self-illustrated guide to the art of Hammock Camping.

Page samples from The Ultimate HangAs soon as I received my copy of Derek’s book, I leafed through it to get a feel for the presentation, expecting it to be a dry read of knots and gear lists.  I was pleasantly surprised to see a fun, well organized, beautifully illustrated, interactive book that reveals a real passion for the subject.  Derek’s writing style is easy and informal offering in a fun read.  It’s organized such that you could read it cover to cover, or jump in to any chapter you want.  The illustrations are a fun fun mix of diagrams and comic-strip style cartoons, making the book entertaining and informative.

Illustration from The Ultimate HangAs a former freelance illustrator myself, I was very impressed with the consistency and continuity created with the illustrations.  The book has a great, relaxed look and feel but presents you with an amazing amount if information.

Another fantastic feature of this book takes advantage of a fairly new innovation just recently finding popularity in marketing circles.  The book is sprinkled with QR codes, allowing you to scan them with your smartphone for more detailed information, a custom “Hang” calculator, links to web pages mentioned in the text, among other things.  This feature I found to be great fun and a beautiful use of the QR code technology.

How to Layer your Hammock from The Ultimate HangThe best part about this book is that it walks you through many of the basics of hammock camping as well as technical knots and DIY projects, making the book relevant for beginners and experienced hangers alike.  Whether you’ve never owned a hammock before in your life, or you are a regular weekend Hang Champ, this book is bound to teach you something that will make your hammock camping experience more comfortable and enjoyable.

Have you been out hammock camping, or thought about hammock camping, but just don’t feel confident in trying it on your own?  Well, here’s your chance…not only will this book help, but I’ve got a copy to give away!  Derek was gracious enough to send me an extra, autographed copy of his book to give away to one of YOU!

Check out the Rafflecopter widget below and follow the instructions for your chance to WIN your own copy of this book.
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Weekend at the Overland Expo 2012…

Every Wednesday afternoon for a couple months now (I think) I have been a regular participator in the Adventure Travel Q&A Twitter Chat hosted by J. Brandon (@AmericanSahara) and Katie Boué (@TheMorningFresh).  The chat is sponsored by the Overland Expo and my first week participating in the chat, I won a day pass to the 2012 Overland Expo at Mormon Lake, just outside Flagstaff, Arizona.  I had never heard of it, and had no idea what I was getting in to, but it was only a couple hours drive and an excuse to go camping.

I spent a little over 2 days walking around and looking at some of the most amazing overland travel machines and gear I have ever seen!  I was introduced to people who have made overland excursions a lifestyle and spend months (or sometimes years) on adventures across the planet.  I won’t get into detail about who was there, who had the biggest/bestest rig or gave the best classes.  Suffice it to say, it was a huge show with many impressive products on display and many knowledgeable people sharing their wisdom.

I’m a hiker and backpacker, primarily.  I travel light and lean and don’t require a lot of support.  Whitewater rafting is a little different and closer to the Overlander mindset.  However, this event introduced me to a whole new way of thinking about travel and adventure.

What it really did was get me thinking about how I might be able to travel and seek out adventure with a new family.  I will be getting married in October to a beautiful, adventurous woman and we’ve talked about having kids.  Exploring the world with a young child is a much different experience than we are used to.  Seeing the way some of the people were equipped for their overland adventures really got my mind racing about the travel possibilities with my future family.  We both want to raise a child that is no stranger to travel, exploration or the outdoors.

I’ve got a lot of thinking to do…but the possibilities are exciting.