The weekend of February 26th-27th myself and two coworkers took off from San Diego for Arizona's San Francisco Mountains and an attempt at Humpreys Peak. The southwest had been hammered by several storms for several weeks prior to our journey, so most of the week before had been spent checking and rechecking weather reports from several sources(weather.com and the Arizona Snobowl). Finally come Wednesday before our trip the reports had stabilized to mostly cloudy with a 20% chance of snow on Sunday(our climbing day). With this good news myself and Kristina(coworker) planned to head out in early hours of Saturday Feb 26th, with our other coworker following several hours later(since he worked Saturday).
Saturday February 26th
5:00am sharp I arrived at Kristina’s house, and we packed all her gear into my Acura and headed off on the long drive through the desert toward Flagstaff. The trip started off beautifully, with a radiant sunrise over the Anza Borrego Desert above the fog. By 1:30pm we had reached Flagstaff after driving through several hail storms.
3:00pm We arrived at the Snobowl where light snow was falling. Upon arriving at the Aggasiz lodge we discovered that to obtain backcountry day permits one had to be at the lodge between 930am-1130am on weekends, wtf? Well we played around at the Snobowl for 2 hours, then snow began to fall. With several inches piling up in an hour or so. We followed the plow out with the idea of returning later that night to camp near the lifts.
7:00pm After meeting up with Phil in Flagstaff we grabbed a quick dinner then all three of us headed back up toward the ski resort in his Jeep, since my Acura wouldn’t handle quite as nicely in snow. We returned to the Aggasiz Lodge parking area now under clearing skies, our first good omen of the trip. The three of us crammed into the back of Phil’s Jeep and at 930pm attempted to get some rest. None of us slept well, and the one time we were all actually sleeping we were jolted awake by 4 bright lights staring strait in the side window. Then a soft thud as the car was knocked sideways. It took Phil and I a minute to figure out what was going on. The snow plow was attempting to clear the parking lot, frustrated by seeing a car still there, he was boxing us in.
Sunday February 27th
700am I awoke first and roused everybody. It was tough getting out of the sleeping bag, due to the 15 degree temp outside. The entire car was coated in ice, inside and out. We still managed to get our gear together and down some food before heading off.
8:15am We were finally off, heading up ski run. We had decided to try a more direct route, heading up a spur ridge toward the false summit at 12098ft. Not long after leaving the ski run we realized that may have not been the best route. We did our best to follow skiers tracks through the dense forest and knee deep powder. Phil and I took turns breaking trail with Kristina not far behind. Due to the dense trees, soft snow, and constant route finding progress was much slower than expected.
1130am As the trees started to thin we got a glimpse of the open bowl to our left, we had initially intended on traversing over and up this toward the main ridge line. With all the new snow, and uncertainty on how consolidated it was we opted to head strait for the ridge.
1230pm We finally obtained the saddle on the main ridge at 12000ft. Now began the long traverse up the ridge. The snow on the ridge was nicely windblown, creating a solid top layer. So we ditched our snowshoes(which hadn’t left our feet all day) and strapped on our crampons. We headed up the ridge line at a steady pace, Phil in front and Me in the rear in order to protect Kristina, who was feeling a little nervous now.
We plodded up the ridge line making steady progress. All the while the weather was cooperating beautifully. Clouds had been blowing over all day, threatening to enclose us at times, but now the sky was mostly clear and the wind was non-existent.
230pm With Phil and Kristina both feeling the elevation by now we finally hit the last false summit. Only a couple hundred yards and 100ft of elevation to go. We paused and I forced them both to grab some food and water, then led the final charge up to the summit. We topped out at 300pm, a beautiful afternoon, visibility was great in all directions. The sun was out and to our surprise someone the previous day had dug the register out from the 4ft of snow that covered it. We were all overjoyed that the day had been a success and we all had topped out.
330pm It was finally time to head back down. We made a brisk pace down the ridge, returning to the saddle in 40min(took us 2+ hours up). On the way down Phil and I decided it would be better to traverse toward the Aggasiz/Humphreys saddle and then drop into the bowl, which was tracked out by skiers at this point so no fear of avalanches.
Phil and I ran/skied down the steep bowl on our snowshoes, while Kristina followed a little more cautiously behind. We reached the ski runs right as the resort was closing, so we had the place to ourselves for the home stretch back to the Aggasiz lodge. By now the clouds were almost gone and we were all in good spirits(a little tire).
545pm We stepped through the trees and returned to Phil’s Jeep, which was parked not far from the Aggasiz lodge. We were all very pleased with the outcome of the day, but also relieved that our bodies could finally rest. We changed clothes, packed up our gear and headed back to Flagstaff for dinner.
700pm After a quick dinner we were off on the road back to San Diego. A lot of caffeine and 8.25 hours later we arrived back in San Diego at 215am Monday morning. Exhausted, Phil and I were ready to pass out after having climbed and driven all day. So ended our journey and climb of another state highpoint.
Eric J Lee, San Diego, CA