I finally conquered the Humphrey’s Peak hike in Flagstaff. And I feel super accomplished for it.
I was a little nervous going into it because even though I’m a fairly experienced hiker, I wasn’t sure I was going to have the mental grit to finish and I was really hoping that I wouldn’t get any altitude sickness. I know what you’re probably thinking…altitude sickness, in Arizona? Yes! The top of Humphrey’s Peak is 12,633 feet according to the sign at the top. For a desert dweller like me who lives at roughly 1,100 feet….this is a steep incline. Luckily, we’ve been to Colorado and other high altitude spots a lot recently. The Humphrey’s Peak hike starts at just over 9,000 feet so you get a few thousand feet in elevation gain.
Once we arrive at the parking lot, we eat a muffin and nectarine each, put our gear on, and off we go. A good part of the hike is under the tree lines and through the forest. We were there early and it was nice and shady with spots of sun beaming through. There were still some patches of snow here and there. There are trees to jump over that had fallen across the trail and tree roots and rocks in your path to watch out for. In one spot, there’s even a nice tree branch hanging out about halfway across the trail. Only, I had a hat on and was looking down. Yep, ran right into the branch and thought I was going to have a black eye. Luckily, it was just red for a bit. How embarrassing!!!
We get to the 11,000-ish elevation mark and sit to eat a protein bar and take a few deep breaths before continuing on. After a while, my legs began to feel like I was drudging lead pipes up the side of the mountain but I kept trucking along determined to finish what I started.
My husband asked me if he could go ahead of me and I kindly obliged because I simply can’t keep up with him. Here’s where my mental toughness had to kick in. Typically, when my husband goes ahead of me he is going to reach the top and then he’s going to run back down to me and go back to the top with me. Such an overachiever, that one.
In any case, it works out to my benefit because this pushes me to get as far as I can as fast as I can so I’m as close to the top as my body will allow before he catches me. I figure I was maybe a 1/2 mile from the top when he caught me because he logged an extra mile total on his Garmin than I did on mine.
Humphrey’s Peak, as the title implies, has so many false summits! Seriously… so many. I look up and see a sign with lots of people around it and thought, oh my gosh, I’m actually here already? I make my way to the people and, nope. They are all resting. I turn around and look to my left and see people climbing what looks like straight up the side of the mountain. Yikes. I figure I better get moving…
The rest of the hike from here on out is 100% exposed with no shade. I rest only briefly, maybe 60 seconds, to chat with a fellow hiker and then decide against staying there any longer for fear my legs will get cold. I continue on and make my way up the hill I just begrudgingly watched others go straight up. I get near the top and much to my annoyance, it’s not the top. In fact, I see several more peaks. But, hey, at least these ones look like they’re more leveled out and not as much of a stair climber. One foot in front of the other…
I make my way over these peaks and guess what… still not at the top. I now see people climbing over additional peaks way off in the distance. At this point, I literally start repeatedly singing one line from Vanilla Ice in my head: “Will it ever stop? Yo — I don’t know” because I am not sure the false summits are ever going to stop. How demoralizing.
Oh hey, back to reality– there’s my husband…back by my side and I hear people (that he had passed) asking him, “You already went up and came back down?” He modestly answers yes. Then they get a look on their face that I can’t quite describe when they realize he is voluntarily going back up to the top with me. I think it’s funny. Others think he’s crazy. Hey-Oh, he’s got Spartan’s to train for people! I realize seeing him is a promise that the false summits are almost to their end because he’s been there and is back to me. Thank my lucky stars. He tells me that it’s just that peak right there and we’ll be at the top and I know it’s the truth. I finally have real hope that the real summit is in front of my face.
We now continue making our way up to the real summit of Humphrey’s Peak. In a few minutes, we make it there (though mother nature did not make the last part easy. It’s like walking up an avalanche rock slide).
And, apparently, something hatched recently because there were millions upon millions of bugs. We took 15 seconds to get a photo at the top with the elevation sign and it was 15 seconds too long. It was so disgusting. I literally had to pull bugs from my eyelashes, my hair, etc… (You can see them on the sign in the photo below). We later learned that it’s like that up there for 2-3 weeks a year. So gross.
We had to hike back down a few hundred feet in order to get away from them and shake them off. We found a spot to eat and downed some shot blocks and trail mix. It is super windy at the top. I had read this previously so I brought a windbreaker/jacket and was perfectly fine.
After we rested for a few minutes, we made our way back down, even trail running portions of it. But, it’s really easy to slip because there is a lot of loose rock. We made it out fairly uneventfully and quickly without stopping too much other than to make sure others were okay if they appeared to be struggling and of course to take a couple of photos.
We got back to the car and devoured the watermelon we had left in our car for after the hike. And we were still starving. Next time, we’re also bringing a peanut butter and honey sandwich. (Yes, I said next time). Even with a million never-ending false summits, I still want to go back and do this hike again. Preferably during a time of year when the bugs aren’t there.
We did see a lot of people struggling on this hike. Other than my legs feeling super heavy, I felt great. Things you must take with you if you do this hike:
- LOTS of water (and hydrate 24 hours in advance as well)
- Enough food (your body is going to burn through whatever you’ve eaten and you will need more)
- A windbreaker-type of jacket for the top
- A Hat/Sunglasses
- Walking sticks if you normally use them
- Good hiking shoes with grip that you know are comfortable
- A trail map if you go when there’s snow on the ground. You can buy one here:
Please, please, please, drink enough water and bring enough food on this hike! If you’ve ever been curious about exactly how much water you should be drinking, check out this article. Humphrey’s Peak is not an easy hike and it is common for people to have to turn around. If you can’t make it to the top, don’t force it. Come back another day and conquer it. It’s okay. And remember to take some time to do some good, deep breathing as you go to get oxygen into your lungs. If you feel nauseous or get a headache, you might consider turning around and going back down in elevation.
If you can make it to the top, the views are absolutely stunning. I was so glad that I kept moving my feet forward and made it to the top because it was so incredibly worth it. The hike took us 6 hours round trip and I logged 10.46 miles on my Garmin. (Though, we parked at the Kachina Trail parking lot across the street and I did start/stop my watch there. I think most of the conventional wisdom online says the hike is about 9.5 or so round trip from the Humphrey’s Peak parking lot). Here are the screenshots from my Garmin app:
I recommend staying the night somewhere in town instead of a day trip if you are from anywhere more than 30 minutes from Flagstaff. Unless you’re superhuman, you’re going to be hungry and tired afterward. We personally love staying at this cute little B&B, The England House, and it’s within walking distance from several restaurants.
Are you planning to hike Humphrey’s Peak? Let me know in the comments below! I’d be interested to know if the bugs are still there and what time of year you hiked this trail. Happy hiking, friends.