Column: My journey to the summit of Humphrey’s Peak

'Hiking Arizona'

Two things are certain for Arizona hikers: heat and aridity. So what are we to do to manage these hiking conditions? Nature offers two options. The warm season version of hibernation is aestivation. In other words, we could wait until cooler weather returns. But that would mean losing out on a lot of hiking.

Arizona is blessed with wide variations in elevation in a relatively short distance, making it easy to migrate quickly. Therefore, the best option to manage Arizona hiking in the summer, is to hike higher.

You can’t get any higher than Humphreys Peak, Arizona’s high point so let’s begin there. As I neared the summit, two hikers in down parkas approached me. They were hiking into the wind, which was at my back. I was wearing a daypack and a fanny pack so the wind did not affect me as much as it did them. I was not wearing a jacket, only a long sleeved shirt and long pants. They asked, “Aren’t you cold?” I thought, “Yes, that’s why I am here. I want to feel a brisk breeze since I’d rather hike in a refrigerator than an oven any day.” I don’t know what the temperature or wind chill was, but it was clear and sunny and very cool. Perfect.

In fact, deep snows obliterated the trail below tree line, necessitating some innovative route finding skill to reach the summit. Not everyone made it that day. When following the trail became problematic, I spoke with a young couple who had never hiked here before. They were from Dallas. They chose to continue trying to figure out where the trail was. This significantly slowed their progress. They never made it. I chose to take the path less traveled.

Breaking through the tree line, the snow disappeared and the trail was easy to follow. As I trudged along the trail on the summit ridge, I noticed a hiker catching up with me. He was also much younger and soon passed me up. He had never hiked here before either. He was from New York on a month-long tour of the west.

Hiking beyond the age of 50 means certain adjustments are necessary to reach your goals and enjoy the journey. For example, expect to take longer and even make more than one attempt to complete a hike. Doing your homework is important.

Plan more carefully to minimize unexpected delays or problems due to deteriorating weather or trail conditions. Ask questions. Call the agency responsible for the area you are hiking through to get the latest on local conditions.

Humphreys Peak is in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness on the Coconino National Forest. The trailhead is about 15 miles northwest of Flagstaff on paved roads.

Hiking to the “top of Arizona is most often done from the Snowbowl Ski Resort.” It’s the shortest route (about 10 miles round trip) but involves over 3,000 feet of elevation gain and the thinner air will take its toll. Hiking now means snow, route finding challenges, and plenty of trees to climb over below timber line and strong winds above. I melted some snow since I did not take enough water.

Overall, the hike took me seven hours. As the temperatures rise and the snow melts, the crowds will increase. If you wait until the monsoon arrives, lightning will be a concern, so an early start is essential. In addition to the cooler air and great views, this hike takes you to Arizona’s highest point through our only alpine tundra, so it’s worth the effort below or beyond 50.

Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at sportsdesk@prescottaz.com.