Views abound on Humphreys Peak

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine

Week of September 5-11, 1996

Views abound on Humphreys Peak
Question: I'm going to Humphreys Peak in Arizona, probably in late September. Any information on the trail or suggestions for interesting things to check out on the mountain?

San Diego, CA

Humphreys Peak is not the usual Arizona landscape.
Adventure Adviser: At 12,633 feet, Humphreys is the highest summit in the state, which explains why it feels more like alpine Colorado than sun-baked Arizona. The trail itself is a reasonable-sounding nine miles round-trip, but with an elevation gain of just less than 4,000 feet in 4.5 miles one way, it's definitely a good test of lung capacity.

Pick up the trailhead at the far end of the lower parking lot of the Snow Bowl, Flagstaff's local ski area, north of town off U.S. 180 and Forest Road 516. The well-maintained, moderately pitched trail starts by traversing a large meadow and then crosses into the densely forested--mostly with aspen, spruce, and fir--Kachina Peaks Wilderness Area. Next stop is the saddle that joins Humphreys Peak with Agassiz Peak at 11,800 feet, just shy of timberline. Fuel up here because the last mile to the summit along a rocky ridge is steep and loose.

It's no surprise that an embarrassment of jaw-dropping views awaits you on the tundra-like top. On a clear day, you can pick out the Grand Canyon, 75 miles to the north; Painted Desert; Oak Creek Canyon; and the Mongollon Rim to the south. Closer by, a couple of the more notable San Francisco Mountains--12,356-foot Agassiz and 11,969-foot Fremont peaks--rise up to the south and southeast, and what's known as the Inner Basin (once a volcanic crater) opens up to the south.

Keep in mind that there's not a drop of water along the trail, so plan on hauling all you'll need. And due to the fragility of the alpine environment, fires and camping are not allowed above timberline. Pack your Gore-Tex, pile jacket, and hat and mittens, since late September can often bring the season's first snow.

For additional information, trail maps, or suggestions for making it a multiple-peak-bagging overnight trip, call the Coconino National Forest Flagstaff ranger district at 520-567-4501 or pick up a copy of The Trail Guide to Northern Arizona, by Bruce Grubbs (Falcon Press, $12.95).

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