If you’re looking for a tough, rugged, strenuous, time-consuming hike, Humphrey’s Peak Trail is for you. But past all that sweat and sore knees lies one of the most gorgeous trails in Arizona. Humphrey’s Peak Trail lies in the heart of the San Fransisco Peaks in Flagstaff, Arizona. And the forests in this area are breath-taking. The trail is lined with beautiful Aspen trees and the forest is consistently think and green. The trail is around 5 miles each way and this trek has a mind of its own. Deception is the key word here. As you get about three miles deep, you start to see some peaks just up the way. And you think.. “Thank god, I’m almost there.” But stop that train of thought. You’ve got awhile.
One of the coolest parts of this hike are the huge lava fields you pass as you ascend to the summit. You’re curving up the steep path through the dense forest and then all the sudden you run into a flow of ancient, jagged lava rock. As I gaze into the majestic view, all I can picture is the boiling lava flowing down this path, forming the view I am staring at today. The violent history in this area amazes me and I constantly picture how it was formed thousands of years ago. Here’s a look:
At about the 4 mile mark is where things get interesting. You pass the treeline and all the sudden, you feel like you’re on another planet. Steep jagged rocks surround you and the violent volcanic past is very evident. And the wind is fierce. Of course I chose a very very windy day, with gusts approaching 60 mph at the summit. And on that day, I was the king of being unprepared. First of all, I went alone, no friends, no hiking buddy that day. Second of all, I figured the weather would be a little warm and comfortable, with the highs in Flagstaff in the low 70s. Man was I wrong… The temperature on the mountain had to be in the 60s, with a wind chill well into the 50s. And as I ascended, I was passing numerous hikers in ski jackets and beanies. And you guessed it, I was wearing a sleeveless shirt and basketball shorts.. haha. But that wasn’t stopping my fun and determination. Oh and one more thing.. I was chasing the sun. I started the hike at around 2pm and figured it would take me about 5 hours, which would end the hike at around sunset. I made it back before sundown, but it was just another challenge I had to conquer. It may not be safe, but I prefer living on the edge and ending hikes with a good sunset. Makes it more rewarding. Although one of these days I might end up being a mountain lions dinner, oh well.
And speaking of challenges, we go back to our key word; deception. As you pass the treeline, you reach a magnificent bowl on the eastern side of the peaks, which leads into Lockett Meadow. And from there you think the summit is right around the corner. As I continued to progress on the steep trail ahead, I passed a few groups warning me of the summit. “60 mph winds up top buddy,” they said. “Good luck,” they said. All more motivation (and fear) to keep climbing. And the wind was insane. I don’t think I’ve ever been in wind that intense in my life. You literally had to crouch at times or find the nearest rock you could block yourself with. It was unreal. Winds had to be consistently 40 to 50 mph. That’s where my arms and hands began to get numb. I seriously questioned if it was safe to keep pushing through, but I came too far to quit.
Back to deception. As I’m being blown off my feet, I see a peak just up the way, maybe less then a quarter mile, straight up. Thinking this is the summit, I push harder, faster, to only reach a false summit, where I see a few other peaks further and further up. After I cry a little inside, I keep going. But the deception doesn’t end. I reach false peak after false peak till I feel like dying. Then I see the finish line. I’ll never forget the pure excitement and rewarding feeling I had when I saw the summit, even though the wind was out of this world. And after a very long and strenuous plunge to the highest point in Arizona, I feel on top of the world. A feeling of peace and accomplishment washes over me, just as the hard-earned cold sweat washes down my back. This was a truly spiritual place to be, accompanied by an incredible view. Although the wind was hurricane-esk, my mind has never felt so still. What a place to reflect. What a place to feel. What a place to be free.
Humphrey’s Peak is a place where nature and man are one of the same. Where agony turns to joy. Where determination turns to reward. Where our first mother proves she is the ruler of all. Her true power, her true glory, her true beauty.