Hiking Humphreys Peak – Flagstaff AZ

Humphreys Peak 2014 - Terran Marks

In October 2014, I hiked to the top of Humphreys Peak fueled by three Burger King breakfast sandwiches and an orange juice.

I also brought up 4 liters of water in a day pack along with a few granola bars. (So you don’t start to think I wasn’t prepared. =])

At 12,633 feet with an elevation gain of 3,313 feet, it’s considered a moderate to difficult climb. This is compared to the other western U.S. high points.

Folks in decent shape can do the hike in a single day. Depending on the shape you’re in, you might have to take it slow.

I have a (healthily) competitive personality so I tend to go fast uphill.

If I remember right (this was 5 years ago), I got up the 3,313 feet to the summit in about 2.5 hours.

The total mileage up is 4.75 miles. That’s about 1.9 miles per hour for me. That’s dead-on for my hiking rate if not slightly on the slow side.

What Makes Humphreys Peak Difficult

Humphreys Trail - Flagstaff Arizona -

Humphreys Peak starts off pretty mellow. As you can see in the photo at the top of the post, it’s a wide open grassy field leading to a grove of aspen and conifers.

As you gain elevation, the already rock-studded trail (shown above) loses its soil leaving uneven, foot-chewing scree.

There are just a few things I ran into along the hike:

  • I’m a born and raised flatlander who came to high alpine hiking in my mid-twenties. Starting at around 9,000 feet in the Arizona Snow Bowl parking lot isn’t too crazy if you’ve worked your way up. Reaching the peak at 12,633 I could definitely feel the thinness of the air. However, I knew what to expect having hiked Mt. Adams in 2009 (12,276 feet).
  • Loose rocks and scree fields above the treeline can be tricky. I’ve seen a lot of messed up ankles and banged up knees on loose trails. Stepping carefully and deliberately is key.
  • Maxing out on the way up and being too loosey-goosey coming down. I like to go fast uphill and sometimes don’t save enough to carefully come down. Going up Clingmans Dome in early 2015, I blew out my right knee pretty good coming down the back half of the 15-mile hike. Fortunately, I came down solid on Humphreys.

What Makes Humphreys Awesome

Aspen Leaves - Humphreys Peak -

It’s a good, quick hike with a nice view of the surrounding northern Arizona landscape.

The aspens are BRIGHT yellow adding some nice highlights to a mostly gray-blue-green scene.

Trail People are some of the nicest you’ll find anywhere. There ‘s something about the fresh air and getting the blood circulating that brightens people up.

I ran into so many courteous, friendly people going up and back down the mountain.

The funniest part (worst part?) was coming back out of the aspen grove across from the parking lot after the hike. All niceties and eye contact were gone.

It was like people had their “trail self” – happy, friendly, open and their “regular self” – eyes downcast, no engagement.

Anyway, back to the positives:

  • Endorphins are awesome and the thin alpine air compounds their effects. It’s what makes hiking mountains so much fun for me.
  • Challenging myself is what keeps me sane. At the time, Humphreys Peak was the highest point I had done.
  • I got to see a beautiful part of Arizona, a state that can sometimes be written off as a bland desert. It’s really not.
  • The hike broke up the long drive back East from Oregon to North Carolina via Indiana. Whenever I can I like to add in a day hike on long trips. Too much windshield time is a killer.
  • It’s an effing mountain. That you can climb. For free (or close to it). The question about whether to hike a mountain isn’t “Why would you?”, it’s “Why wouldn’t you?”

What Gear Did I Use on Humphreys

La Sportiva Glaciers -
Boots so nice, I bought ’em twice.

For this hike, I used a few standard pieces of hiking gear, but nothing over the top.

  • Hiking Boots: La Sportiva Glaciers (Amazon affiliate link). I’ve worn La Sportiva Glaciers for years on many, many wildfires and on many, many hikes. They have excellent ankle support. They’re lightweight. I like to refer to them as my “expensive Italian leather shoes.” One of my favorite Forest Service coworkers always called them “Lamborfeeties.” (Like Lamborghinis. For your feet. Get it? Ok, I’m done.)
  • Hiking Pants: Anything breathable and stretchy will do for this hike. I wore some lightweight cargo pants (more room for snacks).
  • Shirts: Always, always wear layers. The temperature at the bottom won’t be the same as it is at the top. I wore a Patagonia Capilene Quarter-Zip midweight long-sleeve. I sweat through it, but my body temperature stayed regulated. Thankfully that day in October was very mild. No snow on the peak and the wind wasn’t bad up top.
  • Socks: This is going to get me in trouble, but I always wear cotton socks to hike. I know “cotton kills.” I just don’t like how SmartWool and WigWam socks feel on my feet when I hike. Too much rubbing and too much sweat. After wearing cotton for all 6 of my fire seasons, I doubt I’ll change.
  • Day Pack: When I was still in high school I started buying outdoor gear. One of the first pieces I bought was an L.L. Bean Bigelow Day Pack. It’s been to the top of multiple mountains, to India and Italy, and still keeps truckin’. It has a pouch for your 2-Liter Platypus (Amazon affiliate link) or Camelback and mesh side pockets to hold a couple Nalgenes or Klean Kanteens.

And that’s it! Add in some snacks and sunglasses (and sunscreen since you’re a lot closer to that fiery skyball), and you’re good to go.

Have You Been Up Humphreys?

Leave a (friendly) comment about your experience. I always like hearing other people’s stories.