My first ever successful summit of Humphreys, and my first attempt after turning back on my first try back in 2004. The elevation killed me then, and it certainly made a difference today. I've been hiking a lot this spring and have built up my endurance for both distance and elevation gain, so I decided I would try Humphreys. It looked like all the snow was melted on the south side and I figured there would still be patches of snow along the trail higher up, but I was definitely surprised by how often the snow covered the trail, and how deep it was.
Joel and I got a late start from Phoenix, and managed to get on the trail at 12:15. I was definitely struggling with oxygen on the relentless climb. It's not really steep, just relentless, but the weather was great. Sunny, maybe 50 degrees. I had some tightness in my calves, so we took frequent short breaks to try to get a little muscle recovery. We got faked out at the switchback where you head out to the B24 bomber crash due to an error on the topo map showing the elevation of 11,600, and 11,800, when in fact it is really only 10,600 and 10, 800!! Oh well! Once at the saddle, I zipped on my pant bottoms and put a fleece over the short-sleeved shirt I had been wearing so far. The breeze was clipping along nicely around 30mph, and we pressed on for the last mile to the summit. As we reached the last short climb to the peak, the wind picked up to crazy speed, probably around 50mph, and it was cold!
Due to our late start, we were the only ones on the peak, having recently passed the last group headed back down. We took refuge in the nicely built shelters, enjoyed a beer and had a sandwich. I took a few photos, and we decided to head back to the saddle to get out of the crazy wind.
In Flagstaff on the way up, I had noticed that there was a full moon, and it would be rising at about the same time that the sun would be setting. That typically results in a huge harvest-type moon and Joel decided it would make a great photo opportunity. I agreed. We decided that the moon rising over the inner basin would be a great shot, so we decided to wait at the saddle for a couple of hours for the sun to go down. It was cold. We both put on all our layers and tried to take a nap for while to kill the time.
My GPS was telling me the moonrise was 7:07, and the sunset at 7:11. Apparently it doesn't factor for elevation, because the sun didn't set until after 7:20. And there was no moon. Bizarre. The skies were quite hazy and we were assuming that there had to be clouds on the eastern horizon obscuring the moonrise. So after waiting that long, we did get to see some nice sunset colors, but no "supermoon" rising. :-(
We were eager to get going down the mountain, since it was getting colder and we knew most of the hike would be in the dark. The parts of the hike in the snow were treacherous coming up and we knew that it would be slow-going in those parts on the descent too. Joel's headlamp wouldn't work, and my extra batteries weren't solving the problem. He was able to use them in a flashlight, but carrying the flashlight is never the first choice. Oh well.
After hiking the first few minutes in natural twilight, we turned on our lights after we missed a switchback and found ourselves off the trail. After finding the trail again, we proceeded down, and that's when the night took a turn for the worse. I was walking across a deep patch of snow when I broke through the crust, my left leg dropping down more than knee-deep. I lost my balance and my body fell downward ... but my post-holed leg was stuck. I turned my knee and screamed in pain, finally pulling my leg out and sliding down the hill in the snow.
A quick mental and physical assessment had me realize that I hadn't broken anything, and could put some pressure on my knee. I immediately instructed Joel to get the Advil out of my pack, and I had a small handful to try to keep the inflamation down.
So we were at 11,500 feet, it was cold, dark, the trail was snowy, about 4 miles from the car, and I could barely walk. I was so happy to have somebody there just to keep me calm and focused. Joel gave me his two hiking poles so that I could use them to gimp down the mountain. It was very slow going. Sometimes I could move at what might've been about 1.5mph, and other times I could barely step more than one shoe-length at a time. I knew I could get down, and we just sort of decided that it might be midnight before we got back to the car.
I hobbled, and tripped, and whimpered my way down, traversing the snowy areas with extra care, refusing to look at my topo or gps since I knew I would be frustrated by the lack of progress. The switchbacks didn't come nearly often enough. When we finally got to the trail register, I reminded myself that it is absolutely nowhere near the trailhead! It might have taken another 45 minutes from there, and we got back to the car very relieved. Surprisingly, it had only taken about 3:20 to get down, which was amazing considering our pace!
We drove to Flagstaff to get some food, but lumberyard had stopped serving dinner. Beaver Street didn't disappoint, and we chowed down. It was after 2am when we got back to the valley, and after 3 before I was in bed. A trip to urgent care this morning resulted in xrays, knee-brace, crutches, vicodin, and an appointment for an MRI when the swelling goes down. So I'll be sitting on the couch with ice on my knee for a while. It's a torn meniscus, which can be all kinds of levels of good or bad. Only time will tell.
The injury sucks, but it was still a great day on the mountain, and a satisfactory accomplishment. Thank you Joel for your help and support! It made it so much easier to overcome the challenge!