"A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles." ~Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
Phoenix has forever ruined the image of Arizona. Not that I have anything against, Phoenix, I am a much bigger fan of Flagstaff. "Flag", as the locals call it, is Adventure-town USA. Nestled near the San Francisco Mountains of Northern Arizona, its the opposite of Phoenix. With more pine trees than palm trees, the terrain of Northern AZ is rugged and mountainous and it actually snows in the winter. I just couldn't miss this place on my journey!
A different landscape
Humphreys Peak is the tallest mountain in Arizona and is an extinct volcano. Its an imposing 12,637 feet (3,852 m) and alpine tundra can be found towards its peak. From a bird's eye view, it has the appearance of a hollowed out mountain. Its not a particularly difficult climb and the view from the top offers excellent perspective on the high desert!
Hollowed out mountain
My climb of Humphreys was mostly uneventful, but very enjoyable. It is still late-winter, early-spring at the higher elevations so I did bring my winter gear. The first part of the hike was through the alpine forest which was quite dense! The trees thinned at around 11,000ft and I laced up my crampons. Normally there is a simple trail to take you to the top, but it was solid class III terrain with the snow and ice. I never had to break out the ice-axe; trekking poles sufficed. Man, the ridgeline was the worst! Once I hit the final mile up to the peak, all hell broke loose with the wind! I wasn't in any danger, but there was a gail force wind towards the top! Brrrrrrrr!!! Strangely however, the summit was quite calm. I spent a full 30 minutes at the summit enjoying the views! (this is unheard of in the mountaineering world!)
Just for show!
Humphreys Peak had one of the greatest views I've ever seen from a mountain. I've climbed it all from Maine to Washington and this was one of my favorites! The air is incredibly thin, so I was able to see several different environments. The alpine tree-line was very distinct when contrasted with the lower forests. The peak is like Arizona's pimple, and I could see all the way to the famous Painted Desert of Northwestern AZ! It will absolutely shatter your perspective of a state "covered in cactus".
Well, I must be moving on- tomorrow I see Monument Valley!