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  • Writer's pictureJake Baechle

Humphreys Peak

Humphreys Peak had been on my bucket list for a number of years. Considering how much time we have spent hiking around Arizona, it perplexed me that I hadn't found an opportunity to climb the highest point in the state. So when the Arizona Trail Association asked Karrie to work an event at the North Rim, she knew I would be thrilled to tag along if we could stop at Humphreys on the way.

Mid-May is about as early as you can hike in the San Francisco Peaks without encountering snow on the trail. The area is notoriously windy and when the forecast for the region was calling for windy conditions we knew it was going to be a harsh and cold summit. Keeping safety in mind we started up the trail.

View of clouds overtop Humphreys Peak

The initial climb was pleasant, as the trees blocked the wind and allowed us to warm up. Occasional breaks in the canopy gave us views of neighboring peaks and fast moving clouds.

Around tree line vegetation and rocks were spatted with frost and snow.

Above tree line the wind became a real challenge. The trail zig zags up the west side of the mountain leaving you constantly exposed to the cold air blasting its way east. After a false summit we ducked behind a rock outcrop that partially blocked the wind, enough for us to talk without shouting. Karrie was unable to find the gloves she had packed for the trip and her hands were suffering despite keeping them locked in her pockets. She hiked on a bit further, but then decided to play it safe and start her descent. She encouraged me to continue on if I felt up to it and after quickly establishing that we would both be okay hiking solo, I continued up.

I reached a ridge line that allowed for some easy distance and saw the final climb in front of me. A couple passed me on their way down and warned me that the final ascent was insanely windy but doable. They were completely right. I clambered up on hands and feet stopping cold in hard gusts just to hang on and then blitzing up in short spurts when the wind subsided in the slightest. I practically dove onto the peak where a small rock wall had been constructed to block the wind. Two young men welcomed me to the summit with high fives and cheers. I was content to lay low and catch my breath for awhile, but they told me they were about to head down and offered to snap a photo for me before they left. So I passed off my phone and forced myself to stand back up in the wind gripping the sign at the summit for balance.

Back behind the rock wall I bid the guys thanks and a safe trip down. I enjoyed the views and mentally prepared to reenter the whipping winds just below me.

Before I left, I remembered hearing that you could see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon from here. I peered over the rocks to the north and studied the horizon. Sure enough! I could see a ledge just below the horizon! I took a photo but it's pretty hard to see:

The initial down climb was just as brutal as the final ascent had been, but I made it down to the ridge and moved swiftly through the headwind in attempt to stay warm. I passed along the same warning I had received to people hiking up, "Watch out for the wind on the final ascent! It's crazy!" I met back up with Karrie just below tree line, where the wind was almost non-existent. Almost hard to believe it was the same mountain. Karrie had warmed up and was happily enjoying lunch, which she shared with me upon my arrival.

We had a nice hike down and enjoyed talking with other people who were still making the climb. We both happily agreed that this mountain had by far the most diverse demographics of people hiking on it compared to any other climb we've done so far. It was refreshing to see so many smiling faces.

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