The San Francisco Peaks are the highest mountain range in Arizona and are located in the northern part of the state just north of Flagstaff. I had climbed Humphreys Peak (12633 feet), the state’s highest mountain, in August 2018. Arizona’s next 3 highest mountains are Agassiz Peak (12356 feet), Fremont Peak (11969 feet), and Doyle Peak (11460 feet). They are all located near Humphreys, and it was my plan to climb the 3 of them on the last day of a 4 day road trip through Northern Arizona. I slept in Lot 2 of the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort the night before. I don’t think this is technically allowed, but no one bothered me. I woke up very early in hopes of getting as many miles in before the sun came out and softened up the snow. I moved my car to Lot 1, which is where the main Humphreys Peak Trail starts. I began hiking at 3:27am from 9279 feet above sea level.
I walked up the paved road past more parking lots and the Hart Prairie Lodge. At the eastern end of the resort area, I stepped onto the snow and began hiking up underneath the Arizona Gondola ski lift. This was around 9600 feet.
The slope started out fairly gradual but got steeper as I ascended. Eventually I put on my crampons.
I made very good time heading up the slope. The snow was in perfect condition and the grade was steady. It was like a frozen highway. I reached the top of the lift at 1.8 miles at 11464 feet.
From there I made one switchback up a service road and then continued cross country towards Agassiz Peak. I took off my crampons at this point.
I encountered patchy snow on the ridge up to Agassiz. It is actually illegal to climb Agassiz unless there is snow on the ground because of a small, endangered plant that grows on the peak called the San Francisco Peaks Groundsel. I was able to mostly stay on the snow and was careful to not step on any plants when hopping across the boulders.
I reached a false summit at 2.3 miles at 12041 feet. It was getting very windy now and the temperature dipped below freezing. I entered a cloud layer as I neared the summit.
I reached the summit at 5:44am at 2.5 miles!
There was a small wind shelter on the summit. I couldn’t see anything due to the clouds.
I did not stay on the summit very long due to the cold and wind. I began descending the eastern side of the peak towards my next objective, Fremont Peak. Just as I stepped off the summit to begin climbing down, the clouds began to break.
I was treated to a magnificent sunrise.
I put my crampons back on as I encountered some steep, icy snow while descending the eastern side of Agassiz.
I found much more snow as I got below the tree line once more.
Eventually I reached the Weatherford Trail around 11500 feet.
I followed the Weatherford Trail as it cut south across the eastern face of Agassiz. It then turned east as it passed Fremont Saddle, which I reached at 3.3 miles at 11316 feet. There were no boot tracks on the trail, so I was really just hiking through the snow.
I left the trail here to climb directly east to Fremont Peak. I encountered soft deep snow and began post holing to my knees. I trudged around for a while but couldn’t make any progress whatsoever. I really need to get snowshoes.
I made it to about 11500 feet but was still 400 feet short of Fremont Peak. I decided to give up on the idea of climbing Fremont and Doyle. Even if I made it to Fremont, there was no way I was going to have time to climb Doyle as well. Plus, I had a long drive home and didn’t want to be out the entire day. I turned around and trudged back to the Weatherford Trail. I then climbed partway up Agassiz again.
My plan was to climb up to the saddle between Agassiz and Humphreys. Depending on how long that took, I would either hike straight down via the Humphreys Peak Trail or climb Humphreys Peak first and then descend. I reached the Weatherford Trail again at 11800 after cutting a few switchbacks. I then hiked north towards the saddle with Humphreys Peak visible directly in front of me.
Soon the trail disappeared underneath a large snow-covered slope.
Crampons and ice axe were crucial here as I traversed across the steep icy slope.
At 5.2 miles I reached the ridge the connects Agassiz and Humphreys. I looked back on Agassiz and could see the top of the Arizona Gondola below on the right.
I took my crampons off and continued north towards Humphreys.
At 5.5 miles I reached the Humphreys-Agassiz saddle at 11800 feet. This is where the Humphreys Peak Trail meets with the Weatherford Trail.
I still had a lot of time in the day thanks to my early start, so I decided to press on to Humphreys. I had about a mile to go with 800 feet of elevation gain. The trail was rocky and only partially snow covered the rest of the way.
Initially the trail stuck to the west side of the ridge which was mostly dry.
I climbed up to a false summit.
I reached the false summit (Point 12297) at 6 miles.
It had been windy all day, but it really picked up as I got close to Humphreys. Near the summit the wind must have been 50 mph. It was perhaps the strongest wind I had ever experienced in the mountains. I had to be careful it didn’t blow me off the ridge!
I reached the summit of Arizona’s highest peak at 9:57am at 6.5 miles! I had to hold onto my phone for dear life while taking pictures so the wind didn’t blow it out of my hands.
There was a cool sign on the summit.
I tried to photograph the surrounding area as best I could in between the cloud layers. Doyle and Fremont can kind of be seen below, while Agassiz is hidden behind the clouds on the right.
I got a quick glimpse of Kendrick Peak to the west.
I was eager to get out of the wind, so I didn’t stay long on the summit. I headed south back along the ridge.
I had spotted a couloir on the west side of the mountain on my way up that I thought would be a cooler descent route than the standard trail. The snow was patchy in the couloir but there appeared to be a continuous line of snow all the way to the bottom. I knew it would deposit me north of where I needed to be so I would have to cut through the woods to get back to the parking lot. My only fear was I would encounter soft deep snow in the woods (this would prove to be true). I reached the top of the couloir at 7 miles, put my crampons on, and began descending.
The snow was nice and firm, so I made good time down the couloir.
The grade lessened as I neared the bottom. I stuck to the left side of the couloir where there was still a thin line of snow.
I reached the bottom at 8 miles. I had descended 2000 feet in a mile. Then, as I feared, I had to cut southwest through the forest to reach the trailhead. This part was awful as I was essentially post-holing with every step.
About halfway through this part the snow became less deep, so I was able to pick up the pace a little. Descending the couloir was fun but I almost regretted the decision because of this part. I finally reached the trail at 9.1 miles. From there it was a short walk back to the parking lot. I reached the car at 12:56pm. This hike totaled about 9.9 miles, 4800 feet elevation gain, and 9.5 hours. These numbers are approximate because my GPS stopped recording for a short time between Point 12297 and Humphreys Peak. I think the stats below are missing about 0.5 miles, 350 feet elevation gain, and 30 minutes.
It was the end of a great 4 day trip through Northern Arizona. I packed up and made the 8 hour drive to San Diego.