Tag Archives: hiking

Hike Report: Humphreys Peak in Arizona

Yes, that's snow in late June in Arizona

Yes, that’s snow in late June in Arizona

This wasn’t a fun trip but it was rewarding and educational. I don’t regret doing it. Overall, the hike to the highest point in Arizona was an ordeal. The required degree of exertion was on par with the two marathons (26.2 miles) I ran when I was in my thirties. These are the potential fun-killers I’ve identified thus far:

  1. My level of fitness wasn’t high enough
  2. I got dehydrated
  3. I didn’t eat enough on the trail
  4. I wasn’t acclimatized (aka acclimated) to the altitude
  5. I’m too old for this (60)

The Route

The trail was easy to follow but it's a good idea to have a map "just in case"

The trail was easy to follow but it’s a good idea to have a map “just in case”

I took Humphreys Peak Trail #151, the most common way to the summit. The trailhead is at a parking lot adjacent to Arizona Snow Bowl, a ski area resort.  Elevation at the trailhead is 9,320 feet above sea level. (I live at about 2,000 feet above sea level.) The round trip to the summit is about 10 miles. The tree line is at 11,500 feet and the summit is at 12, 633 feet.

Most of the trail is more chaotic than this

Most of the trail is more chaotic than this

The first half of the trip is unrelentingly upward, about 3310 vertical feet. The footing is mostly rocky. Many other portions have exposed tree roots just waiting for a tired hiker they can trip. Often the rocks and roots share the trail. There are rare patches of smooth dirt without obstacles. When you’re moving you have to keep your head down and on the trail at all times. By the end of this trip, I never wanted to see another rock for as long as I lived.

Trail crossing a river of rocks

Trail crossing a river of rocks

 

There are a few places you have to scramble over isolated boulders, meaning you have to use your hands as well as your feet. At no point do you need technical climbing equipment if you’re hiking in the warm season.

Other than the summit, the other prominent geologic feature on the trail is “The Saddle.” It’s a high-altitude ridge between two of the San Francisco Peaks, shaped like the seat of a saddle.

The Saddle

The Saddle between Agassiz and Humphreys Peaks

My Pace

It took me three hours from the trailhead to reach the Saddle at 11,500 feet. From there, you’ve got another 1.5 miles of hiking to Humphreys’ summit, which took me another 1.5 hours. This last portion is no steeper than the trail to the Saddle; the problem is the thin air. Either that or something else slowed my pace to 1/2 mile per hour!

About half way down from the peak

About half way down from the peak

So it took me 4.5 hours to reach the summit. I had to stop frequently to catch my breath and regain some energy over a minute or two. Five-minute hydration breaks were amazingly refreshing. Slogging uphill, my heart rate was consistently about 160 beats a minute. Even after sitting and resting for five minutes, my heart rate would drop only to 130. Walking on the flat at 11,000 feet was fairly easy, but adding any elevation was almost immediately taxing.

At the summit I was greeted with five minutes of very light rain and sleet.

The trip down took 3.5 hours and was much easier, with far fewer resting spells.

This trail on a Saturday morning (June 27, 2015) was what I’d call crowded. It was as busy as Pinnacle Peak Trail, a popular urban hike in Scottsdale, AZ. I estimate 800–1,000 people were hiking. The large trailhead parking lot was full and overflowing at 9:30 AM when we arrived. The serious hikers are on the trail at 6 AM (good idea). Many folks stop and enjoy the fantastic views at the Saddle, then go back down.

My daughter snapped this picture of me in the parking lot at the trailhead

My daughter snapped this picture of me in the parking lot at the trailhead

If you read other people’s trip logs, you’ll find many reporting five to eight hours to complete the hike. My time was 8.5 hours, including 30 minutes resting and enjoying the summit. A couple of times I seriously thought about quitting and turning around. But I knew if I did, I’d probably never attempt this again. It’s been on my bucket list for a decade. Plus,my  wife and children made the trip to Flagstaff with me; their presence spurred me on to complete the trip.

I don't look too miserable, do I?

I don’t look too miserable, do I?

What Could Have Kept Me From Enjoying the Trip?

1) My fitness level wasn’t high enough.

I’m not buying that, mainly because it’s now the day after and I have no muscle soreness at all. I feel good.

I’ve been training for this trip for six months. My Boy Scout troop and I did a 20 mile hike in March. For the preceding three months we did training hikes every two weeks, starting with six miles, then eight, several 10s, and finally 12 miles. Granted, all those were on the flat. To maintain my fitness thereafter, every week or so I walked Pinnacle Peak Trail, starting at my front door, walking to the west trailhead, then back home, a five-mile hike. I carried a 15-lb dumbbell in my pack to enhance the training effect during this two-hour hike.

2) I got dehydrated.

This probably has some validity. I carried with me 4.2 quarts of water and drank 3.6 quarts. I made a point of stopping every 30 minutes for a hydration break. I sweated a fair amount. I never “felt” dehydrated. Yet I never urinated during this 8.5 hour trip. That’s a huge clue.

My backpack probably weight 20 pounds at the start. The majority of that was water weight. At this altitude you don’t want to be lugging around unnecessary weight. If I ever do a similar trip, I’ll be sure to “fill my tank” by drinking lots of water just before starting, and carrying more water to drink on the trail. I’ll minimize backpack weight some other way.

3) I didn’t eat enough on the trail.

Maybe, but probably a minor issue if at all. I ate two large handfuls of cherries and 400 calories of peanut butter crackers. I had some sweet and salty trail mix but didn’t eat it. I wasn’t hungry. I wonder if that’s an altitude effect. Considering the number of calories I was burning, more food might have helped.

4) I wasn’t acclimated to the altitude.

I think this is the major reason I didn’t enjoy the trip. Our bodies need time to get acclimatized to the low oxygen levels at high altitude. How much time? Probably three to five days staying at 7,000 feet or higher; the longer the better. You might be able to speed up the process by staying at higher altitudes, if only temporarily.

A thunderstorm probably 20 miles away, but I kept a close eye on its movement

A thunderstorm probably 20 miles away, but I kept a close eye on its movement

Lots of us low-landers have trouble simply sleeping at 8,000–9,000 feet above sea level. Why? We’re not acclimated. On the other hand, if we’re sedentary and awake during the day, we may not have any trouble at those altitudes.

This San Francisco Peaks groundsel is only found on this mountain. It's a tundra plant.

The San Francisco Peaks Groundsel is only found on this mountain. It’s an alpine tundra plant.

While I was hiking, my wife and children rode the ski lift up to 11,000 feet. They all felt slightly short of breath even at rest; much more so with exertion. My daughter also noticed the increased urination many experience at altitude.

Another alpine tundra flowering plant

Another alpine tundra flowering plant

If I ever do this hike again, here’s what I would do to acclimate. Establish a base of operation in or around Flagstaff at 7,000–8,000 feet. That’s where I’ll sleep intermittently for three to five days. I’ll make periodic forays to higher altitudes. Examples would be picnics, sight-seeing, easy short hikes to 10,000 feet, even a few trips on the ski lift to 11,000 feet and spend a couple hours up there.

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On the final push from the Saddle to the summit

The most astounding thing I saw on this trip was un-athletic-looking 16 to 20-year-old girls making it to the summit with apparent ease. Good for them! A lot of hikers on the trail, you can look at their calf muscles and tell they’re either serious hikers or relatively athletic. The girls I’m talking about were slender but had calves like your typical cough potato: small, undefined. I suspect these girls live in Flagstaff, which is a college town (Northern Arizona University), and are acclimated to the altitude. Nevertheless, a 10-mile hike gaining 3,000 vertical feet of elevation is something most untrained folks cannot do even if they start at sea level.

A huge river of boulders

A huge river of boulders

Thankfully, I didn’t get high altitude sickness this trip. My wife got a pretty bad case of it here 23 years ago and did the smart thing: headed down the mountain post haste. Some people take Diamox (acetazolamide) to prevent and treat altitude sickness.

5) I’m too old for this (60)

Quite possibly, but I’m not ready to give up. I saw 15–20 people at the summit, and they were all in the 16 to 40-year-old range. Elsewhere on the trail I did see a few folks who looked older than me. For me to investigate how much of a role my age played in this ordeal, I’d have to repeat the hike, but with optimal acclimatization, hydration, and nutrition.

If any of you experienced mountain climbers have any advice for me, please share. For decades I’ve fantasized about climbing Longs Peak in Colorado; it tops out at 14,259 feet and requires a 5,000 foot vertical climb. I’m less inclined now.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: After extreme physical exertion, I get painful leg cramps over the subsequent 24 hours. I seem to be able to suppress them by taking, immediately after exertion, mineral supplements: magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Unless you know you’re entirely healthy, check with your physician before you try this.

The last 100 yards of the hike

The last 100 yards of the hike

A fake farmer's tan caused by dirt

A fake farmer’s tan caused by dirt

 

Hike: Thompson Peak in Scottsdale, Arizona

Typical Sonoran Desert flora on the gently rolling terrain of the first two miles

Typical Sonoran Desert flora on the gently rolling terrain of the first two miles

Thompson Peak is the third highest peak in the McDowell Range, at 3,982 feet above sea level. The highest elevation—East End—is 4,057 feet, and McDowell Mountain is 4,034 feet.

The antennas on top of that mountain are my goal

The antennas on top of that mountain are my goal

The trailhead after waking on subdivision sidewalk. You may find maps here, but I wouldn't depend on it. Bring your own.

The trailhead after waking on subdivision sidewalk. You may find maps here, but I wouldn’t depend on it. Bring your own.

The out-and-back hike is 9.5 or 10 miles, with a vertical elevation gain of about 2,000 feet. I did it in 4.5 hours, including a 20-minute stay at the summit. I didn’t fool around much. I would call it a strenuous hike, but it depends on your level of fitness.

The colors aren't vivid because it's 10 minutes before sunrise

The colors aren’t vivid because it’s 10 minutes before sunrise

Thompson Peak is on the right

Thompson Peak is on the right

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun

The most memorable feature of the hike is the very steep concrete road that takes you to the top. There are three sections of concrete in the last mile of the 4.7 mile trek to the summit. I estimate the steepness at a maximum of 20% grade. That means for every 100 feet forward progress, you rise 20 feet higher. I found  a review by another hiker that estimated the maximum grade at 30%, or even 40%. I was quite glad I had my Leki hiking poles to help me both up and down that steep grade. My maximum heart rate while climbing this steep portion was 172. Slow and steady wins the race.

This moss is growing on the north (shaded) side of a rock since we head a good soaking rain a week ago

This moss is growing on the north (shaded) side of a rock since we head a good soaking rain a week ago

Dirt road in between concrete sections near the summit

Dirt road in between concrete sections near the summit

My hike a few days ago started at the Fountain Hills, Arizona, Dixie Mine trailhead, which is actually in the McDowell Mountain Regional Park. After two miles you head east on the Thompson Peak trail and into the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Get maps of both areas. The start of the hike is a little confusing because you can’t drive right up to the Dixie Mine Trailhead. You drive through Fountain Hills to the end of Golden Eagle Boulevard, which terminates at a gated community. Just outside the gate, there’s a parking lot and public restrooms. Then you walk through the subdivision on a sidewalk for 10 minutes to the actual trailhead.

Four Peaks way in the distance to the east, on the horizon

Four Peaks way in the distance to the east, on the horizon

It took me 2 hours to reach the summit. Going down the steep concrete road was just as slow as climbing up. I had to be careful not to fall, and short strides were necessary to take some strain off my knees.

kk

About half way up

The first half of the trail to the summit is a great introduction to the Sonoran Desert. You won’t get much overall elevation gain, but lots of up-and-down through washes and small hills. You don’t have to be in very good shape to do it.  The trail is rocky, so you’ll want to wear thick- or stiff-soled boots instead of sneakers.

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3/4 of the way up

McDowell Peak on the left?

McDowell Peak on the left?

Judging from the soreness my legs the day after this hike, I got a good training effect out of it. Because of the uncomfortable grade of the concrete road sections, my initial thought was that I wouldn’t do this hike again. I’m not so sure now. Doing it gave me confidence that I could probably tackle Arizona’s Mount Humphreys later this year.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Summit selfie

Summit selfie

Scottsdale, Arizona, in the foreground; Phoenix way in the distance

Scottsdale, Arizona, in the foreground; Phoenix way in the distance

Looking south from the near the summit

Looking south from the near the summit

Radio and/or telephone equipment, and God knows what else

Radio and/or telephone equipment, and God knows what else

The fine print is a little disconcerting. Can you tell me more?

The fine print is a little disconcerting

Hike: Northern Region of McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Corral Trail: This is so green only because of the recent rain

Corral Trail: This is so green only because of the recent rain

This was another training hike in preparation for Troop 131’s 20-mile hike in March. Over the course of four hours and 10 miles yesterday, we covered much of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve’s northern region.

IMG_2273

 

We started at the tail end of 24 hours of drizzling rain and the sky was still overcast. There were very few others on the trails. Our course was fairly flat. All the trails are very well marked and are mostly gravel. Take a map or you’ll get lost.

IMG_2301

They call this “Balanced Rock”

 

 

I carried a 10-lb dumbbell in my pack to enhance my workout.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Details: We started at Brown’s Ranch Trailhead, taking the Upper Ranch Trail to Corral Trail, then Dry Gulch Trail, a detour up to Cathedral Rock, then
Cholla Mountain Loop Trail to Balanced Rock Trail to Powerline Road #2. Then 118th Street Trail to Latigo Trail back to the Brown’s Ranch Trailhead.

Update Feb. 3, 2013:

The day after this hike, I was mildly sore in my hips, thighs, and legs. I like that because it’s proof I stressed my body, which is a necessary for improved fitness. Also, I’m impressed by how sore my feet were during the last three miles of hiking. I hope I can toughen them up. The 20-mile walk is starting to look intimidating!

This bedrock metate was used by Indians (aka Native Americans) for grinding maize, acorns, and other foods

This bedrock metate was used by Indians (aka Native Americans) for grinding maize, acorns, and other foods. Rainwater fills this 4-inch deep rounded depression in granite.

The Amphitheater (all natural)

The Amphitheater (all natural)

Hike: Pinnacle Peak Park, Scottsdale, AZ

ppp

Half-way up to the highest point

This was just a one-hour training hike covering 2.5 miles and 523 feet of vertical elevation. I started at the west end, walked to the highest point of the trail, then turned around and came back. I carried a 10-lb dumbbell in my knapsack to make the hike tougher.

ppp

Typical trail appearance: mostly gravel

Mostly locals use this urban trail. You’ll see lots of 20–40-year-olds jogging it.

ppp

The west trailhead elevation is 2366 ft above sea level

The weather was sunny, 76° F. I thank God for another day in paradise.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: I start my mileage at the closest road near the west trailhead; it’s about a quarter mile to the formal trailhead marker.

Update Jan. 26, 2015:

I hiked the entire out-and-back trail today, starting from my front door. Carried a 15-lb dumbbell in my pack. Took about two hours. Probably five miles total.

This granite hill is similar to the geology of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge near Lawton, Oklahoma, over a thousand miles away

This granite hill is similar to the geology of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge near Lawton, Oklahoma, over a thousand miles away

East Trailhead, where most people start their hike

East Trailhead, where most people start their hike

Hike: Marcus Landslide Trail at McDowell Sonoran Preserve

FullSizeRender-3

Yesterday I started my training in preparation to tackle Arizona’ Mount Humphries in June. I and about 20 people from my son’s Boy Scout troop hiked the Marcus Landslide Trail. Near the end of that trail we created a loop by hitting the Boulder Trail, Pemberton Trail, and Rock Knob Trail. Total hike was 5.8 miles in 60-68° F weather.

It’s a mostly flat course and an easy walk. It was no physical strain at all at the time. But I had some muscle cramps in bed last night and some soreness around my hips and thighs today. The soreness is a good sign. I’m embarrassed I’m not in better shape.

The scouts are doing a 20-mile hike in March for the Hiking merit badge. I’ll be right there with them, Lord willing.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Cholla cactus

Cholla cactus

That vertical rock formation in the center is called a mushroom

That vertical rock formation in the center is called a mushroom

Hike: Tom’s Thumb – Windgate Pass – East End Trails in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

On March 23, 10 or so scouts and adults from Scottsdale’s Boy Scout troop 131 did the headlined 10-mile hike.  It was preparation for the rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike later this year.  Everyone finished in under five hours. I did it in four hours and five minutes, with few stops.  Total vertical elevation was 2,500 feet.  The trail guide says this is a “very difficult” loop.  The difficulty is mostly in the grade (slope) rather than footing.

Steve Parker MD, hiking, Arizona

The north trailhead for Tom’s Thumb trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.  Tom’s Thumb is in the middle of the horizon.

photo-41

Close to the top of Tom’s Thumb trail

Steve Parker MD, hiking, Arizona

Tom’s Thumb is in the middle of the horizon; much more impressive when you’re closer than this.

Steve Parker MD, hiking, arizona

Tom’s Thumb trail

hiking, Arizona, Steve Parker MD,

Tom’s Thumb trail

hiking, Arizona, Steve Parker MD

Saquaro cacti reaching for the sky

hiking, Arizona, Steve Parker MD,

A surprising natural spring probably between trail markers 13 and 14 on Tom’s Thumb trail, about 2,600 feet above sea level and 1,100 feet below the peak

Steve Parker MD, hiking, Arizona

These flowers will probably be gone in a couple weeks, only to return next Spring

Steve Parker MD, hiking, Arizona, exercise

River of rocks created by landslide on East End trail

hiking, Arizona, Steve Parker MD

The intersection of East End trail and Tom’s Thumb trail

hiking, Arizona, Steve Parker, Tom's Thumb trail, Windgate Pass Trail MD

Trails are marked well, so you shouldn’t get lost.

Hike: Sunrise Trail, Scottsdale, Arizona

I’m preparing to hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim in May with a Boy Scout troop, so I’m doing a lot of walking.  I hiked Sunrise trail a week ago.  It’s in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.  I am blessed to live near such a gem.

We started at the Ringtail Trail parking lot on 128th St., walked the 1,000 feet of vertical elevation to Sunrise peak, descended to Sunrise Access Area, then turned around and walked back to our starting point.  So a total of 2,000 feet vertical elevation over the 10-mile trip taking 4.5 hours.

It’s considered “difficult” according to the trail guide.  If you do it, wear good boots with stiff soles.  Much of the trail is rocky, with 2- to 4-inch diameter stones underfoot (my least favorite footing).

Steve Parker MD, hiking, hike, exercise, Sunrise Trail, Scottsdale Arizona

Scottsdale subdivisions, with Phoenix far in the distance.  You might recognize Camelback Mountain on the horizon: an iconic Phoenix hike.

Steve Parker MD, hiking, hike, Sunrise Trail, Scottsdale Arizona

View to the north, from the peak.  You can see the thin line of the trail coming in from the left.

Steve Parker MD, Sunrise Trail, Scottsdale Arizona, hike, hiking

The desert is green like this only for a month or two in the Spring, if we get enough rain.

Steve Parker MD, hiking, exercise, Pinnacle Peak, Scottsdale Arizona

Bonus picture unrelated to Sunrise Peak. Pinnacle Peak Trail. My sister and her husband and I walked it recently. Popular with young women who like to jog it.

Steve Parker MD, Scottsdale Arizona, hiking,Sunrise Trail, Arizona

Looking northeast from the peak