Climbing Humphreys Peak, NW of Flagstaff Arizona

Highest Mountain in Arizona in the San Francisco Peaks



The hiker is given key information about the Kachina Trail in the Snow Bowl up to 12,633 foot Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona.

The five-mile long trail to Humphreys Peak begins in the Snow Bowl Ski Area seven miles northwest of Flagstaff, Arizona at the trail head of the Kachina Trail. There is no other way to get here but by private car where there is enough parking for at least forty cars or so.

The starting point of the Kachina Trail is 8,800 feet above sea level. Hikers should sign the trail register just above the parking area. The best times to climb Humphreys Peak are late spring through early fall. Be aware that freak blizzards can occur in early June. The worst times to climb this peak would be from late October through mid-May.

There are no man-made hazards on this five-mile trail but the hiker should be wary above tree line of loose volcanic rocks and the possibility of afternoon thunder storms. Once the hiker is on the way, she will shortly enter a large and flowerful meadow that , at the height of summer, will be coated with black-eyed susans and tall, purple lupines.

A Striking View of Humphreys Peak

From the upper end of the meadow, the hiker is afforded at striking view of Humphreys Peak rising 3,800 feet above. After a half mile from the starting point, the trail enters a sweet-smelling Ponderosa pine/aspen forest that harbors in mid-summer, dozens of mushroom clusters along the trail side. In this pine forest grow many white columbines (elsewhere, usually they are blue) and deep blue Penstemon flowers. Shortly after entering the woods, the trail begins to switch back and forth to gain altitude at a twenty to thirty degree angle. Pause to listen for the jack-hammering of sapsucker woodpeckers and the screeching of Chickaree squirrels.

Broad-sweeping Views of Volcanic Terrain

As the trail gains altitude after a mile to a mile and a half from the trail head, there are broad-sweeping views of volcanic terrain to the west and northwest. With the increase in elevation, the pine forest has changed to mostly spruce. Be careful up here because there are now many exposed spruce-tree roots crossing the well as lumpy rocks.

At three and a half miles in, the trail comes to a saddle where one is afforded views eastward of the entire volcanic basin San Francisco Mountains with jagged peaks rising above the ancient crater. Agassiz Peak to the south is one such peak, and it is important to note that this peak is closed to climbers as it is a ceremonial site for the Hopi Indians who plant prayer plumes on its summit for their desert corn crops to get sufficient rain from the kachina spirits.

Four False Summits Lie Ahead

The last mile or so of the trail rises abruptly toward four false summits. The hiker should not get his hopes up until he sees clearly the true summit of Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona. Going up and down over the loose scree of the false summits can be dangerous. It is important to maintain balance and never look at the views until you are completely stopped.

Once past the false summits, the trail zig-zags up to the lofty summit of Humphreys Peak. From up here the reddish-colored north rim of the Grand Canyon can be seen as well as perhaps a quarter of the State of Arizona if the weather is clear.The hike takes up to a full day with a vertical gain of over 3,800 feet. Bring sufficient water as there are no water sources on the Kachina Trail nor are there any restrooms.

You can pick up a trail map at the Coconino National Forest Headquarters in Flagstaff or download one from Coconono National Forest webpages or the USDA’s website.

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by David A. G Fisher, From the depths of the lush, dense, humid jungles, way up to the cloud-covered pinnacles of towering, ice cold, glacial peaks...

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