Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Flagstaff Day 3: Hiking Mt. Humphreys!

Saturday, June 21, 2014 : The Day We Hiked Mt. Humphreys

Excitement was in the air from the moment we woke up - it's today! We're finally going to do this! So much preparation - physically and mentally - had gone into this, and we felt completely ready to take on this new challenge. We woke up at 5:30, packed our bags, ate a big breakfast, and waited impatiently for our friends to pick us up. I don't normally drink coffee because of the extreme effects it has on me, but today was special so I went for it. It wasn't long before I was skipping and dancing all over the hotel room - poor Curtis. :)

Mitchell & Henri, our hiking buddies, finally arrived, and we all rode together up to the trailhead parking lot - North of Flagstaff at about 8000 feet. There were more vehicles and people around than I expected, but it was somewhat comforting to know we weren't at all alone and if anything went wrong, there were plenty of people to run into. It's also such a friendly atmosphere when you're around other hikers who are just excited as you are about doing a peak hike. There were also several dogs as well who looked just as excited as their owners.

Humphreys peak, here we come! Mitchell had done this hike 3 times before and knew what to expect from it. His main concern was that there were 25 mph winds predicted in Flagstaff, which meant that the winds would be much worse at the higher altitudes. But there was no turning back now - we were going to hike no matter what!

Besides the wind, it was a perfect morning for hiking. Flagstaff in general is beautiful this time of year and provides a great escape from the heat in the desert. The trail began through a thick forest of pine trees with a well-used dirt path. The trail was generally pretty easy with just a slight incline, definitely not the worst we'd hiked. For the first 3ish miles, the only things to really look out for on the trail were tree roots, as opposed to other trails that can be covered with rocks, and difficult to walk both up and down.

We were off to a great start - coming up early to adjust to the elevation definitely paid off! The guys let me lead the group, since I can be the slowest and my legs are the shortest, it really helped me to be able to set the pace. At this point though, I'm pretty sure I was going fast enough that some had to stop more often to catch their breath. :)

About 1.5 miles in, we came to the above 2 pictures - what Mitch calls the "rockalanche". It's basically this huge clearing with lava rocks as far as you can see. We took a short break from hiking to climb on the rocks and enjoy the view to the West.

The guys, out on the rocks. If we were to go farther North at this point instead of following the trail up the mountain, we could find the remains of a B-24 Bomber. As cool as that would have been, it's pretty hard to get to, and we were already on a mission!

The view! Gotta love the perfect blue skies on a day like today.

After snacking on some cookies, we got back on the trail and continued heading to our destination. The higher we got, the more rocks that were on the trail - but we were not discouraged!

Facing South, toward Agassiz Peak. You can ski over there!

We ran into many groups as we hiked. Some hikers, some joggers, and some dogs! There was one in particular that we happened to see several times as we passed each other on the trail back and forth. It was a 14 year old border collie who, like all other dogs, looked excited to be on the trail. The funny thing was, the first time we saw it, it had a little stick in its mouth, and every time we saw it, the stick got a little bigger!

The sign in the above picture is telling us we are now at 11,400 feet. We're already higher than any other peak hike has ever taken us! I was doing great with the altitude and thin air - as long as I kept moving, I was breathing enough and doing fine. I would only start to feel dizzy if we stopped for longer periods of time and I'd forget to breathe.

At this point, we were meeting more people coming down the trail than going up. We asked some if they made it to the summit, and they said no - it was too windy at the saddle. We tried to ignore their warnings and kept going. There were still people heading up, it wouldn't be impossible, and we were GOING to do this!

3.8 miles in - we reached the saddle! The last half mile before this was rockier and less shaded, as trees were becoming scarce. At this point, there were no more trees. We took one more break here, and Mitch prepped us on what we were about to experience. There was one mile left, and it'd be unlike anything we'd done before. The path would be very rocky and very windy. We were going to come across several false peaks that would get our hopes up over and over, only to shatter them, but don't give up because the real one is still coming! He also advised that we do not stop and just press on to the end. 

One last look at what's below us, to the East - this is where we had hiked on Thursday night. Yes, there is snow down there - but there was none up where we were!

And so we set off for the last stretch to the summit. The wind picked up quickly - it was blowing from the West to the East at about 60-70 mph, and I was thankful for my new walking poles, heavy backpack, and Curtis holding on during some parts that kept me from blowing away. ;) Sometimes it was hard to catch a breath because the wind would blow by us so quickly, we had to turn against the wind to take a deep breath. 

At one point, a member in our group had to stop, so we all got to the side and ducked down and waited. This was the only time when the altitude really started to get to me, and my mind started panicking. Was I running out of air? Could I still make it? After quick deliberation, I knew turning back would not be an option - it would be much safer for me to stick with my group than turn back on my own now. I told Curtis that I needed to keep moving, and so we pressed on. It only got windier as we got closer, and at one point we had to breathe into our shirts to get enough air. 

Finally, after passing by several peaks, Mitchell told us "That's it!" That was all I needed - I almost started sprinting toward the end. I was about to cry I was so happy - but decided to not because I was with all guys, and that would just be awkward. :) WE MADE IT!

There were actually a lot of people at the top. There were plenty of "shelters" made from the rocks at the top, protecting hikers from the wind. We all made it over to the East side and sat down to take it all it.

We had started at 7am that morning, and made it here by 11! Just 4 hours to hike the 4.8 miles to the top! We spent a good hour up there, and around noon we realized that today was the Summer Solstice. That meant that when the sun was at its highest point in the sky, we were at the highest point in Arizona. That was a cool thought. :)

Curtis' shirt was very accurate for the last mile of our hike - "God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage". That last mile was anything BUT calm!

Mitch & Henri enjoying their gourmet sandwiches at the top...

Curtis has sandwich envy ;) He wouldn't believe me when I told him that his with the homemade bread would be just as good!

Above - facing Northeast. The peak was pretty wide, wide enough for all the people (and dogs!) who had made it. The only downside was not having free range to run around and take pictures of everything!

Above - facing West. I was also braving the harsh winds to get these pictures!

Facing Northwest - the Grand Canyon is in the distance, we could see both rims from the top!

Curtis & I holding up the sign - we did it! 12,633 feet.

Our whole group. We failed at asking the "right person" to take our picture, this was the only good one they took - all the rest they zoomed in on just us. Who hikes all the way up Mt. Humphrey's and just wants a picture of his or herself without the amazing view?!?

Curtis, facing North. I guess I completely missed the South, which would have showed the trail and all the false peaks!

Curtis holding my hair back because the wind wants to take it away!

After over an hour at the top, we began the hike back down. This is when I started struggling. With every hiking trip we do, there's always something that goes wrong. It's almost never the same thing at least - and this time was no different. I always like to think of it as God reminding me that without Him, I wouldn't be able to do any of this, and it's only through His power that I'm going to make it. What happened? Well, the day before, we had asked Mitch what the best thing to eat or drink was to help prevent altitude sickness, and he said dark chocolate. So we went out and bought a lot of dark chocolate! Yes, I am a woman, chocolate is my weakness, but I really never eat dark chocolate…and this stuff was wayyy too rich for me. My stomach was not happy. And so, for the first mile, not only was I having to carefully make my way down a steep path with large rocks and winds at 60 mph, all I really wanted to do was curl up in a little ball and wait to feel better!

At last, we finally made it past the treacherous tundra, and we were once again able to relax at the saddle. I laid down for a bit and started feeling better - and when I was lying there, I noticed the window in the rocks across the way! (Above picture).

The only "con" to doing so much better with hiking this entire trip is that I don't have pictures from each part of the hike to document the fun we had! The above picture is the last one I had, with Mitchell throwing a banana at Henri. After this, we headed back down the mountain, and the further down we got the easier the trail became. I think I actually went slower going down than going up, and we definitely took longer breaks. We made it back to the car at 4pm - I felt like I should have been exhausted, but instead I was ecstatic! We did it! All the training paid off and we survived! I was still bouncing just as much as right after I had my coffee!

What about Curtis? Well, he did great the entire hike, then we got back to our hotel and he was asleep BEFORE his head hit the pillow. ;)

We celebrated later with dinner at Mama Burger, a burger restaurant off of Route 66. (If the name sounds familiar, that's probably because you've seen pictures on this blog of Curtis wearing his Mama Burger shirt. So silly.) :)

The next day, Sunday, June 22, we were awake bright and early again to do a little more hiking and find a few more letterboxes, and then we were on our way home! Thanking God for an awesome weekend and for protecting us all the way through. :)

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