Jake and I climbed Mt Humphreys yesterday and it was quite an adventure. We had a good time and I learned many useful things.
We left much later than either of us wanted, but in the first of a series of twilight zone moments, it was my fault.
I carried my full pack with about 35 pounds, and I am pleased to say that I handled the weight well on the most strenuous hike I have done with a full pack since at least Crabtree Falls to the Priest shelter.
But, I have no idea what I was thinking, or perhaps, why I was not thinking – I had absolutely nothing useful in my pack aside from water, Cliff bars, and the iPhone. 35 pounds and nothing I needed. I was hiking in a light t-shirt and running shorts and I brought no other clothes. I actually did not even have enough clothing to be warm in the car on the ride back given that we would not finish the hike until well after dark due to the late start. Speaking of hiking after dark – I did not bring my headlamp or any other flashlight.
Mt Humphreys is the tallest mountain in Arizona and one of the big ones in the country at 12,633 ft. The last leg of the hike is fully exposed above treeline and every trail journal mentions the extreme wind. Did I have my wind/rain jacket with me? No.
In an attempt to prepare for the JMT, I brought both my one click digital camera and the iPhone so that I cold compare shots of large vistas and see if it was worth it to bring the actual camera as well as the phone on the longer trail. Pulled out the camera at a nice vista – dead battery. This was really not my day. I don’t do stuff like this.
I absolutely loved about 90% of the hike. From the parking lot to the saddle where the trail splits to different summit trails for the three main San Francisco Peaks – lovely. The summit however was not my favorite. We summited close together and still almost lost the trail 4 times. Once we got around three false summits and were on the final approach the wind was relentless. I did feel like it was possible to get blown off the mountain top. About 25 yards from the summit, in a series of huge sustained gusts, I sat down. While I was catching my breath, I thought – that’s it! I’m going back down and this summit can kiss my grits! But, I knew that I would regret that choice. Not so much for the missing 25 yards, or the missed view (it was awesome, but it was also a very hazy and smokey day) but for the self confidence. Part of choosing this mountain to climb is that it the closest thing we have to what we will face in the Sierras. I wore my pack to gain the inner knowledge and experience to draw on on difficult days that I can do it because I have done it. Letting my fear control me and keep me from the goal was just not something I was willing to do so I stood up and hiked to the summit.
Jake took the lead on the descent and we agreed that if we got a bit separated, we would meet on the saddle at the trail junction. I was tired, frustrated, cursing the wind, and having a little bit of difficulty seeing. My eyes are very sensitive to wind and water easily. All I wanted to do was get back to the saddle and begin the descent on the nice comparatively easy trail we hiked up on, and get back well below treeline before dark.
I don’t have a good way to judge how fast the wind was blowing. But I have never experienced anything like it. Much faster than anything I ever got skiing or sailing. This may be a little gross for some of you but I include it to complete the picture both of how bad the wind was and to add to the picture of the discomfort I was in at this point. Once we got into that extreme wind I had to blow my nose. I was afraid to pull out my handkerchief though as I imagined it would be ripped from my hands. I had already removed my hat and lashed it to my pack to avoid losing it. A few moments after the first impulse to reach for my handkerchief, that became obsolete as the wind was strong enough that it did the job for me. The wind blew my nose continually for the next hour or so.
Another key factor was whatever brain explosion happened to put me in this position. I was the reason we were later than intended. I was the one who somehow neglected to bring any of the gear that would have given me more comfort. A vast amount of my suffering was self inflicted and that made it worse. So that was my general state as I began to descend from the summit towards the saddle. Given all of that I still kept a few of the key elements of wilderness survival in mind – stay calm, think first, don’t make situations worse.
I wanted to sprint down to that saddle, but I forced myself to be very slow and careful. The last thing I needed was to fall. Even a minor injury at that elevation and time of day would have made things much worse. So I went slowly and carefully – and I still lost the trail twice. But each time I did the right things. I did not panic and I looked carefully in all directions. The first time I could not see the trail anywhere. So I climbed towards the peak of the mountain, figuring that since I can’t see the trail it is probably above me, and if not, I may have a better chance of seeing it from above. About 7 feet above me, I hit the trail and moved on.
The next time I lost the trail it took me a bit longer to even realize I was off trail. But once I did I stopped and looked slowly around. I saw a sign I remembered and rejoined the trail. Soon after I met back up with Jake and it turns out what had felt like hours in my mind had only been about 15 minutes. Good Old Jake had a long sleeve base layer for us both and 2 headlamps in his daypack and we adjusted our gear and descended. We made it well into the trees before dark and a had great time just enjoying being out of the wind and talking about all kinds of stuff. Once we got back to the parking lot about 10 PM, we just sat there and looked at the stars. I have never ever seen so many stars. It was beautiful.
I am glad that I have that experience to reflect on in times of need. I am glad that I proved to myself that I can carry 35 pounds (though my JMT pack will likely be 40-45) on a trail that gains 3,500 ft of elevation over 4 miles. I was not really worried about this part, but I was glad that neither Jake nor I showed any signs of altitude sickness or any adverse altitude effects.
And I made two decisions regarding the Grand Canyon river and back trip we have planned for Monday. I will only carry a FULLY STOCKED day pack and not my actual hiking backpack. I doubt we will do a 17 mile day with 10,000 ft of elevation change on the JMT. And we are going to hike in around noon so that we will get to see all those stars in the canyon!! Jake has done this hike many times and often at night. And we hiked out at night together on the same trail a few years back. It isn’t bad.
I hope you all had a good week.