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…

Bear Mountain – Sedona, Arizona…

I am forcing myself to get outdoors.  

This summer’s heat in Phoenix has been miserable for me.  I don’t know why it feels so much more oppressive and suffocating than summers past, but it does.  More than I have in a long time, I find myself hiding inside and making excuses.  I don’t like excuses.

After a great week in Pennsylvania, where the weather was significantly better, I felt energized…recharged.  I also returned to Phoenix to find the weather was a little more reasonable and a storm system was providing some much needed cloud cover in the mornings.  So, for the first time this summer, I had a solid week of outdoors activity and I didn’t want it to stop.  So as the heat rose, I planned to head up north and get some trail time in around my new favorite stomping grounds…Sedona.

Originally, I was looking for a nice long canyon hike that would allow me to amble along in the shade of the high red-rock walls.  I day-dreamed of running along a dusty canyon trail through Cottonwoods, Junipers and Pine trees.  This, unfortunately, would continue to be a dream as I did my pre-trip research and found that afternoon thunderstorms were forecast for the weekend in Sedona.  Monsoon season thunderstorms in Arizona mean flash floods and a secluded canyon is not where you want to be.  So, as often happens…change of plan.

I browsed my Sedona Trail Map and found a few interesting options that seemed far enough off the beaten path to offer some solitude.  Early Sunday morning, I got myself packed and headed north out of town.  Sunday was also National Hammock Day, so part of my goal for the day was to find a good place to hang my ENO and soak in some classic Sedona views.

driving up 179

In Sedona, I made my requisite stop at The Hike House to review trail options and take a look at their gear selection.  Deb met me at the door and ushered me in to show off some of the new gear and chat.  Then we looked over the map and she agreed that it would be a bad time to do any canyon hiking.  In lieu of a canyon hike I wanted to summit something.  Wilson Mountain was out of the question because it would get hit the hardest by any lightning and monsoon rains.  I asked about a small, strenuous hike on the west end of town that climbed up into the southwestern corner of the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness.

Bear Mountain summit trail is only a 5 mile hike round-trip.  That would make it a much shorter distance than I wanted to hike but with nearly 2,000 ft of elevation gain in the 2.5 miles to the summit, it is strenuous.  Knowing it was a summit hike and storms were due to make their way in, I grabbed a cookie (thanks, Deb!) and headed toward the trailhead.

Bear Mountain as seen from the trailhead

There were a few cars parked at the lot that serves as the trailhead for both Bear Mountain and the much shorter Doe Mountain hike.  There is a decent sized parking lot and restrooms here.  There is also an automated pay-station for the Red Rock Day passes (I don’t think the passes are required anymore, but for $5 it was better to have it and not need it).

Cactus at the start of the trailThis mountain looks much different on paper than it does in person.  On paper, there are a couple of obvious climbs but I was not expecting the exciting geological adventure this mountain offers.  The trail starts across the road from the parking lot in a relatively flat, cactus laden stretch of iconic red soil split by ribbons of deeply eroded washes.  It climbs slowly straight to the base of the mountain comprised of heavily eroded cliffs of Schnebly Hill Sandstone.  A steep 400 ft climb brings me to a distinct ledge of Apache Limestone that has resisted erosion enough to create a relatively level path along the wall of the cliffs above.The first dramatic views from Bear Mountain

It’s Sedona, so I’m already impressed by the views and stopping to take pictures.  The rocky trail is more narrow and overgrown through this section and I am careful to watch for the cairns as I find myself nearly following false trails here and there.  This shelf ends at a narrow cut in the mountain side where the trail begins another steep climb.  I’m excited to see a trail becoming more technical and interesting.  As I hoist myself up out of the ravine and on to the first plateau, I’ve left the cactus behind.  Though there are still Agave, the low-land cactus has been replaced with Manzanita…and lots of it.

rocky trail to scramble to the main deckThe views on this first plateau are impressive, but I know I’ve barely started my climb.  I was anxious to see more.  This is the first place I run in to fellow hikers on their way back down.  A hundred yards or so later I run in to another couple resting further up the trail.  The deck at this section of Bear Mountain is a transition from the Schnebly Hill Sandstone to the very orange Coconino Sandstone.  The scrubby Manzanita is thick across this deck, but still relatively treeless.  Following the cairns carefully, the trail climbs another 500ft or so through a maze of rock and brush across a steeply inclined deck.  The rock gets lighter as you climb eventually revealing a twisted section of sandstone, bleached almost white, turned on it’s side and eroded to reveal etched swirls and striations unlike anything else I’ve seen in Sedona.

This section of the mountain becomes very narrow with sheer cliffs falling into twisted red canyons below on either side.  You gotta follow the trail on the 3D map below to get a good feel for this narrow bridge of rock.  It really was amazing to walk a few feet in either direction and be staring down into steep canyons, each with very unique character.

This is also where the trees start to occur.  I found myself scouting for a place to hang the hammock on the return hike.  It was a meager selection at first, with solitary trees perched here and there.  After more climbing, however, the trees became a little thicker and stronger and options were starting to present themselves.

There is a plateau that sort of presents itself as a false-peak.  In fact, when I got the plateau there were a couple of guys there resting and they announced “you made it!” as if this was the summit and end of the trail.  Clearly, with mountain still above me and my GPS reading that I still had a quarter mile left to go, they were mistaken.  I spent a few minutes taking pictures and soaking in the view from the false-summit but I wanted the top and time was running short.

CLOUDS!This entire time I’d been hiking and watching the clouds far up to the north.  An innocent line of clouds that morning had slowly grown to a picturesque desert sky and then transformed into a black, shadowy mass pulsing with flashes of light and emitting a menacing growl from time to time just to remind me it was coming.  I picked up the pace and made for the summit.  The last push to the top is very different than the rest of the trail.  As I’ve seen in a lot of summit hikes, part of the trail is less traveled, rougher and the cairns are more important to keep on the right path.  The rock here is more broken and loose and the vegetation changes again becoming more scrubby with grasses and Yucca.

Love the flag in the wind and the clouds gathering above...The top is marked with a small pile of rock and a small American Flag.  I paused at the top looking down across the flat, open valley to the southwest.  I stood on a fractured and pitted ledge of stark white Kaibab Limestone at the precipice of a great canyon and watched two hawks chase each other and grapple in the sky below me.  Then as the thunder reminded me of my time frame, I grabbed a few shots of the lone flag at the summit and moved on.

One the way down I found a great spot to hang the hammock overlooking Fay Canyon where I could watch the storm roll in over Wilson Mountain toward Sedona.  I was strapped between two pine trees at a ledge just 20ft or so off the trail and watched a couple of hikers pass below me.  I had a little snack and some water while I rested and watched the clouds move across the horizon, grumbling deeply as it moved, white lightning splitting the sky.

Before too long, I packed up my stuff and returned to my march down the mountain.  I picked up the pace, jogging through the flat parts and scrambling through the more technical sections.  Before I knew it was back to the narrow climb to the main deck, quickly working my way down I was back to the foot of the mountain in no time and headed to the truck just as the first drops of rain were starting to fall.

I drove back into Sedona through intermittent rain.  I stopped in to the Hike House again to say goodbye and grabbed a smoothie for the ride home since I wasn’t really feeling up to a full dinner.

watching the storm come in from my hammock

Bear Mountain really is a great summit hike for Sedona.  It is a very unique experience in place where unique experiences abound.  I think next time I will want to hike Fey Canyon and Boynton Canyon, the two dramatic canyons on the north side of Bear Mountain that offered such amazing views.

Bear Mountain – Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness.

Plenty of trailhead parking. From Sedona take Highway 89A west to Dry Creek Road.  Follow until it dead-ends and make a left on to Boynton Pass Road toward Boynton Canyon.  Another left at the next intersection will take you to the trailheads for Boynton Canyon, Fey Canyon then Bear Mountain and Doe Mountain.  There is a small parking area, bathrooms and a Red Rock Pass purchase booth at the trailhead.

Trail Length: 5 mile round-trip (as described here)
Elevation Gain: 1,800 feet
Difficulty: moderate to strenuous
Open: Year-round but not suggested during winter when snow is expected.

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Camelback Mountain Summit via Cholla Trail…

East view from the Saddle near the Heli-Pad...

Camelback Mountain sits firmly in the middle of the Phoenix Metro area and is bordered by Phoenix, Scottsdale and Paradise Valley.  It’s central location and prominent shape make it incredibly enticing, attracting over 300,000 recreational visitors each year.  Located on the north side of Camelback Mountain is a shallow cave, or grotto, where the ancient Hohokams practiced religious rituals.  This fact, coupled with the mountain’s mystique have led some to refer to Camelback as the Sacred Mountain.  During the late 1800s, the federal government reserved Camelback Mountain for an Indian reservation.  By the 1940’s most of the land had fallen to private ownership. Gary Driggs, a local resident with a close association with the mountain, has fought to protect the mountain, successfully, since the early 1950’s.  The area has been off-limits to developers since the mid 1968, thanks to Driggs and the  Preservation of Camelback Mountain Foundation led by Barry Goldwater.  A ceremony was held in 1968 in honor of the mountain’s preservation and was attended by President Johnson (the First Lady was said to have hiked Cholla Trail in high heals).  The Phoenician, a world-famous resort built-in 1988, sits right at the south-eastern base of the mountain and it’s golf course wraps around to the north-east side near the trailhead.

Camelback’s accessibility is what makes it so dangerous.  Novice hikers, weekend warriors and clueless urbanites have all flocked, at one time or another, to the mountain in the middle of the city for an easy afternoon workout in the sun.  Many of them come unprepared.  Camelback is no walk in the park and for those who arrive with insufficient water, improper footwear and a lack of respect may find themselves on the evening news.  Every year, rescue crews respond to dozens of calls of stranded, injured or missing hikers at Camelback Mountain.  People think that because the trails are in the city that there is somehow less danger here.  In the summer of 2009, rescue crews were called out to Camelback over a dozen times in a single day, most related to dehydration.

climbing the "spine"...

Access to the Cholla Trail requires parking roadside on 64th Street just north of Camelback Road.  This area fills up quick throughout the year so plan to add an extra couple of miles to your overall hike.  The trailhead is located about a half-mile down Cholla Lane on the south side of the road.  The beginning of the trail actually wraps around part of the Phoenician’s golf course.  Then you start your climb, gradual at first, up rock steps and a narrow trail.  At peak season much of this trail can be crowded forcing people to stop along the narrow path to let oncoming traffic by.

yes, those are people on the summit...

Once the rocky trail crawls around to the first lookout, you are at the eastern-most point on the trail and it cuts back to the west towards the summit.  Watch your footing through this area because even though the trail is well-worn and not technical, there is plenty of loose rock and uneven ground to twist an unsuspecting ankle.  On much of this trail, a bad step could send you reeling down the mountain, other times it may just mean a bad fall into an angry cactus.  The climb is consistently uphill, though not steep at this point.  Not until you’ve reached the saddle, about halfway up, does the trail become technical.  From the saddle, route finding is accomplished by following old painted blue dots on the occasional rock.  Following the dots, you climb up the spine of the mountain.  “Spine” is a good description of this ridge-line since it’s mostly jagged, broken granite jutting into the sky like vertebrae.  This portion of the hike is especially dangerous and I’ve known many hikers who have turned back.  If you suffer from even a marginal fear of heights, the trail to the summit can be too much.

If you’ve never done the hike before, the summit sort of sneaks up on you.  You’ve made climb after climb thinking “this is it!” only to see more climbing before you.  Then all of a sudden, there you are…with everyone else!  The Echo Canyon Trail also reaches the summit (from the west side) and you often find yourself on a very busy, crowded, chat-filled rock wondering where all these wheezing, sweat-soaked people came from.  The crowd is usually pretty eclectic.  Being in the middle of the city, you’ll have people in business clothes, Yoga gear, shorts, jeans, bathing suits and, yes, even in their underwear.  All tired, sweaty and happy to have reached the top in one piece.

I usually sit at the top for at least a few minutes, check my time, maybe take a picture or two and just enjoy the view.  The summit offers some amazing 360 degree views of the Phoenix area.  Timing your hike to be able to see a sunrise, or sunset from the mountain is a must in my book.  Whenever you hike it though, be sure you come prepared, have respect for the dangers on this mountain and try to leave it just the way you found it.

Sunrise from Camelback Mountain...

 

Cholla Trail at Camelback Mountain.

No trailhead parking. Street parking limited at Invergordon and 64th Street. Hikers must walk up the south side of Cholla Lane. Cholla Trail is only recommended for experienced hikers and has steep, rocky sections with drop-offs on both sides of the trail.

Trail Length: 1.5 miles (from the trailhead)
Elevation Gain: 1,250 feet
Difficulty: Strenuous
Open:
Oct. 1 to April 30 th: 7:30 a.m-5: 30pm
May 1 to Sept 30 th: 5:30 am- 7:30 pm

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