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As the highest peak in Arizona, Humphreys Peak had drawn Ryan and I on a roadtrip across two states. It would be my fifth state highpoint and Ryan's first, making it especially notable for him. An old friend now living in New Mexico, Eric had decided to drive out to meet us in Flagstaff the night before to join in the fun. The peak is not difficult, a trail running the entire distance, but with 4,000ft of gain and a height of more than 12,600ft, it would be a good challenge for 12yr-old Ryan.
We were up early, before dawn, and drove the relatively short distance from Flagstaff to the trailhead near the Arizona Snow Bowl (who knew there was skiing in Arizona?) on the west side of Humphreys. It was only 5:30a, but the sun was already up. Since Arizona doesn't participate in Daylight Savings Time, they have very early sunrises during the summer, essentially in the same time zone as California. It was partially overcast with lingering clouds from thunderstorms the previous afternoon, and we could even see some rain to the north (along with a nice sunrise rainbow). We didn't let this bit of discouraging weather dissuade us and off we went.
We crossed some open slopes of the ski area before heading into the darker realms of the forest that covers most of the mountain. Across the ski area we entered the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, and came to a trailhead register and a trail junction after about a mile. After almost two hours we came to the 11,400-foot level where a sign indicated No Camping and Hiking Off Trail Prohibited above this level. The forest cover started to give way and open up views to nearby Agassiz Peak, a close neighbor and the second highest peak in the state.
By 7:45a we had reached a trail junction at the crest between the two peaks and were treated to nice views, albeit a bit hazy from the lingering weather. A couple were still asleep in their sleeping bags on the east side of the crest. A trash bag had been fashioned as a rainfly to ward off the inclement weather. Their sleep was not interupted by our arrival nor by the sun shining on their faces. We hiked a short distance up the trail to take a break without bothering the pair.
Though the summit seemed close from the trail junction, there proved to be a series of false summits enroute, and it was another 45 minutes before we finally overcame the last of the bumps and reached the highpoint. There were several windbreaks constructed from the summit rocks, evidently rules against sleeping at the summit not strictly enforced. The ammo box chained to the summit was chock full of almost everything except a register. Flags, momentos, religious literature, reams of paper and ratty notepads made up the bulk of the contents. None of it dated back more than a year or so, evidence of the peak's popularity. We found a makeshift flag with the name of the peak and the elevation, and used this to take our group photo. We sat around eating our snacks and taking in the views under partially clear skies. It was chilly, but little wind, ideal for hiking really. I urged Ryan to drink some Gatorade, but he would partake of very little. This would come back to bite him later.
We were the first to summit Humphreys that day, but almost as soon as we started back we came across one party after another, 30 or 40 folks all told before we got back down. Not as popular as Mt. Whitney, but surely one of the most popular in the state. Weekends must be very busy indeed.
It was 10a when we got back down to the trail junction, and here we had a quick discussion about climbing Agassiz. There is no trail to the summit so it is illegal to do so. The concern is for the high alpine ecosystem, particularly the lichens and mosses, dwarf herbs and shrubs, and showy flowers. The signs call this "tundra", though the definition of that word includes a permanently frozen subsoil which is not found anywhere in Arizona. The misapplication of the word is not a reason to ignore the environmental concern, but in the end we decided to visit Agassiz anyway. We would do our best to use the existing use trail and avoid stepping on the flora, but make no mistake we were breaking the law. Ryan was convinced into joining us by my offering to supersizing his post-hike treat from "tall" to "venti".
It took us just under half an hour to cover the one mile distance from the junction to the summit. The use trail was not continuous, was braided in several places, but we made good use of it. Eric led out in front, Ryan trailing noticeably behind, myself in the middle to keep an eye on both of them. We paused atop Agassiz for only a few minutes before returning, wary that our movement along the ridgeline would be visible from several miles away. There was no register that we could find anywhere at the summit.
It was 11a before we returned to the saddle. Well ahead of Ryan and myself, we found Eric chatting with an attractive woman at the junction. Turns out she was one of the pair that had been sleeping earlier in the morning. She thought it a bit creepy that I had taken a picture of her. I think she had imagined I somehow crept up to her face for a closeup. I didn't bother trying to dispell her feeling, figuring if I tried to explain myself it might only make things worse.
It was another hour and a half before we would get back to the trailhead. The weather started to turn a bit during the descent, starting up with light showers. Eric, used to weather in Rocky Mountain states, was completely at ease with this, but Ryan and I started jogging back to try and beat the rain before we got soaked. It lightened up before we returned to the open slopes of the ski area, so we resumed walking, taking pictures of flowers on the grassy slopes.
Upon our return I found that Ryan was not feeling well at all. I thought it had just been his concern over the rain, but it seemed he had a headache and was feeling poorly. He had only drunk about 8 ounces the entire five hours we were out, so I was sure he had dehydrated himself. I continued to push more liquid on him, but he would only do so reluctantly. After Eric returned we drove back to Flagstaff and said goodbye to Eric who was heading east back to New Mexico. Ryan and I drove another hour west to the town of Williams where we took a motel room for the night.
It was only minutes after checking in that Ryan got nauseous and went to the bathroom for a round of drive heaves. He had nothing in his stomach save a bit of water, so the retching really hurt his stomach muscles. He came out exhausted and tired, but feeling a bit better. Having been through this same routine several times before myself, I was finally able to convince Ryan his problem was dehydration and he needed to get more water in his body. He drank a glass of water even though it didn't taste very good. He really just wanted to rest. Being the concerned and sensitive father that I am, my next thought turned to whether I could get another peak in before the day was out. I told Ryan I'd be back in less than three hours as he settled down to nap. He was good with it and waved goodbye.
I ran out to hike nearby Big Williams Mountain, a prominence peak. A trail runs up the north side of the mountain, starting only a few miles from our motel room. I had little trouble finding the trailhead and starting up. The trail is well signed and a pleasant hike, though it was a bit warm in the afternoon at this lower elevation of around 7,000ft. The signs indicate a three mile trail, but from other sources I found it is really four. In places the trail was very lush with various flowers primarily of yellow hues.
After a bit more than an hour the trail emerges upon the dirt service road leading to the top. The trail continues across the road and up to the next bend in the road, then abruptly ends. The last ten minutes were spent hiking along the road (this road can be driven by the public if one wants the quickest route to the top, good surface suitable for any vehicle). This was somewhat disappointing as it seems the trail idea was left incomplete.
Along with several communication towers, the top is crowned with a high lookout tower, still manned. I could hear voices as I approached the tower, but they stopped as my feet made the first steps at the bottom. Signs indicate that the public may climb the tower, but the silence above gave me the strong impression that they didn't want visitors. I climbed the steps to the top, stopped below the trap door. The silence was deafening. I chose not to disturb whoever didn't want disturbing, took a few pictures of the surrounding countryside from the lofty heights, then beat a retreat back down.
I jogged much of the four miles back to the trailhead, covering the distance in about an hour. I was back at the motel by 5p, just short of the three hours I had expected to be gone. Ryan was awake and watching TV, but evidently not all that great. He had a second round of heaving shortly after my return, and finally began to feel better afterwards. We took a walk out to the main drag through Williams, old Route 66. The town probably survives mainly on the nostalgia surrounding Route 66, one tourist shop after another followed by 50's diners and more tourist shops. We got ice cream and french fries at an old Dairy Queen during our tour. An odd combination perhaps, but it seemed to make Ryan perk up and he had a much better time from that point on.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Humphreys Peak - Agassiz Peak - Bill Williams Mountain
This page last updated: Wed Jul 29 18:25:17 2009
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