Humphreys Peak – 12,633 – Arizona Highpoint

RT Length:  10.55 miles

Elevation Gain: 3649’

Last week I saw a post indicating someone had successfully summited Humphreys Peak from the summer trailhead, so I decided to give it a go.  (Humphreys Peak Trailhead / Kachina Peaks Trailhead / Snow Bowl)

I woke up at 2am, worked out for an hour on the treadmill, and then drove to Arizona, stopping along the way for a few work calls.  I’m not a big fan of the New Mexico city of Gallup:  Nothing good has ever happened to me there.  This time, as I was getting gas, a man was sitting in front of the gas station entrance cleaning a knife with a blade at least 8 inches long, swinging it around every few minutes like he was practicing martial arts moves.  Also, all of the bathrooms in the gas stations and fast food establishments in NM and AZ are closed due to covid.  So was the bathroom at the Bookman’s I stopped at in Flagstaff. I had a voucher for Bookman’s I’d received in 2016, and since I was in the area I decided to use it.  I got this very appropriate book

Then I drove to the Snow Bowl, where the trailhead is for Humphrey’s Peak.  There were a lot of skiers driving down the mountain, but I was the only one going up.  On the drive in I saw a sign that said “Skiing Open 10am-4pm, TH-SU”. 

I made it to the parking area and found a place to park.  This is the trailhead

I walked around the trailhead, and noticed the beginning part of the trail goes right under a ski lift.  I also saw this sign:

Ugh.  That was unexpected.  I’d driven all the way from Colorado only to be thwarted by a technicality.  As I was standing there, I noticed two female hikers walking towards me, directly from the ski area where it said pedestrians weren’t allowed.  They told me they hadn’t had any issues (indeed, at least 5 more hikers came down after them, and all said the same thing).  I decided to hike the following morning, early, and try to make it down before the 10am skiing session began.  Side note: these women were badass, and had a great list of mountaineering accomplishments.  We talked for a bit, and I gave them some fireside stickers.

I sat in the back of my truck and started making dinner.  A young man pulled up with a similar set-up and got out to enjoy the sunset.  He spent his time sitting in a chair enjoying a beer, alternating drinking with doing push-ups. I went over and talked with him for a bit, and we ended up doing a few whiskey shots together (both of us had various bottles in our rigs).  He was a nice young man (reminded me of my son) and this was his third time this week at the trailhead.  He hoped to summit the next day as well.  After the sunset I wished him good luck and told him I’d see him tomorrow on the trail (either up or down). 

My view tonight

I went to bed and had a peaceful night’s sleep, waking up to my alarm at 2:45am, I was on the trail at 3am.  Interestingly enough, as I was leaving a vehicle pulled up:  it looked like there was another hiker hiking with me this morning.  We ended up leap-frogging each other on the trail. The trail starts at the north end of the parking area and heads northeast, across the slop and into the trees, before zig-zagging up the west slope.

Plot twist:  When I started out at the trailhead it was dark, all except for a really big light, accompanied by a loud buzzing sound.  Turns out they groom the trails at 3am, and there was a snow groomer working this morning.  Drat!  I decided to turn off my flashlight and wait until the groomer had passed me, then darted across the field to the safety of the trail in the trees, where I turned my flashlight back on.  I’m sure this would have been comical to watch. 

There was another trailhead once I entered the trees.  Note: I wore microspikes for the entire hike, and didn’t need snowshoes.  If hiking later in the day, they would have been necessary.

Once in the trees there was a lot of snow, so I had a hard time following the trail.  There were several downed trees covering the trail, and a lot of social trails.  If you’re doing this peak in summer it will be a straightforward, class 1 trail.  If you’re doing it with snow on the ground expect some route-finding.  I switchbacked northeast to the saddle.  The saddle you’re aiming for is the one that’s directly east of you from the parking area (it’s a clear, skiable path). 

As I neared treeline the snow declined and there was no longer a trail.  I kept heading northeast to the saddle

Once at the saddle I turned left, and followed the ridge north.  (Going right will take you to Agassiz Peak) There’s a faint trail here that picks up as you go along, as well as wooden posts to guide the way.  Stay to the left while on the ridge.

There’s also a trail sign here, indicating the way

I followed the ridge north/northeast as the sun began to rise

The girl I’d been leapfrogging with took a different route up (there were several snowshoe tracks to follow), and when we hit the ridge she got out a sleeping bag and decided to watch the sunrise.  She never did go to the summit, and was gone when I made my way back down. 

I continued on, following the ridge

I made it to the summit at 6:20am.  There were a lot of windbreaks at the summit

I found a buried summit register, left it there, and took a picture with the broken summit sign

Humphrey’s Peak:

It was cold and windy, so I decided to head back.  Here are a few photos of the route down.  I (mostly) re-traced my steps.

Here’s the saddle I was aiming for

And the ridge to get there

Once at the saddle I did my best to follow my tracks back down

Taken from the saddle, the parking area is circled.  Here you can see it’s a straight shot west from the saddle, but that area was all skiable and off limits, so I did my best to switchback down the mountainside, following the summer trail.

I lost the trail several times, but was able to follow snowshoe tracks down.  If you’re blazing your own trail, you can stay in the trees and parallel the ski area by heading west, which will lead you to the parking area.

Here’s the exit route back to the parking area

I was still really early, and there wasn’t anyone on the slopes.  I was making tracks on the newly groomed snow however.

I made it back to a still empty parking lot at 9:00am, making this a 10.55 mile hike with 3649’ of elevation gain in 6 hours. I never did see that man I met in the parking lot last night.  I can only think he had more whiskey than he could handle and had a hangover.  That’s what he gets for drinking with a pro. 

Here’s a topo map of my route

Author: Laura M Clark

Laura has summited over 500 peaks above 13,000' solo, including being the first woman to solo summit all of the Colorado 14ers, as well as the centennials. After each hike, she writes trip reports for each one and publishes them on her blog, which is read by fans all over the world. Author of Wild Wanderer: Summiting Colorado’s 200 Highest Peaks, which is available to purchase on Amazon.

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