How to experience a hurricane in AZ...
Memorial day weekend ! I couldn’t let the extra vacation day go to waste and decided to head to Arizona for some hiking. As a warm-up for our Grand Canyon hike, we decided to do Humphreys Peak; always nice to pick up a state highpoint along the way!
I left work an hour early on Friday to make it to Kingman, AZ at a decent hour. Some accidents along the way delayed our arrival till 1am. Tired from the work week and the long drive, we only woke up at 8am and headed to Flagstaff after some breakfast.
On the way over, the weather report mentioned 45mph winds in Flagstaff. When we arrived at the trailhead at 9300 feet, it was already pretty windy and fairly cool. That made me wonder how strong the winds would be at the 12,633’ summit! It had to be pretty bad…
We started out late (a little past noon) and it didn’t look like anybody else was heading for the summit anymore. The trees where squeaking and suffering under the high wind gusts. Because of that, most people coming down only went up to the saddle. It appeared that nobody had made the summit today...
About halfway up we did meet a guy who was very excited that he actually made the peak. He told us his story how he had to crawl on hands and knees to make the last 30 yards to the summit and how his glasses and hat got ripped off his a face from the hurricane force winds. When he was taking shelter behind the rockpile on the summit, another guy held up his weather monitor and claimed to record a wind speed of 128mph?! Moreover he felt like the winds were still picking up. That sounded a little crazy to me and I had to go see for myself. People tend to exaggerate sometimes…
Ready to take on the challenge, I couldn’t wait to get up there! It felt like we weren’t making any progress as it took forever to get above timberline! I was a little confused when I saw the sign 11,400 feet and I was still in the trees?! Later I learned that Humphreys apparently has the highest timberline in the US.
Anyway, we finally reached the saddle and winds were blowing pretty strong but nothing too crazy. With the support of my trekking poles, I felt very confident we would make the summit; the gusts were probably 70mph or less. We also put on some gloves as it was pretty chilly; probably high 30s.
Making our way up along the ridge, we had to catch our breath a few times. Coming from Kingman (3448’) straight to 12,000 feet made us notice the higher altitude. The gusting winds didn’t help of course.
Crossing the 3 false peaks, the summit was finally in sight! Winds were indeed getting really strong but I was having a blast fighting through it. Man against nature! Looked like I was winning… until I reached those last 30 yards.
I felt like I was stepping through a door right into a major hurricane! I got slammed against the rocks and even pulled the strap out of the handle of my trekking pole! My girlfriend (Chrissy) dug to the ground so she wouldn’t get blown over as well. We crawled a little bit further and the gusts turned into a sustained fierce wind!! I pretty much had to lie down as I felt like I literally was going to lift off! Chrissy got scared and, as she weighs a lot less than I do, I was a little worried she might get blown off the mountain! I had no idea how the other guys made it up; they must’ve weighed a lot more or the winds simply had picked up in the meantime. For us, it definitely wasn’t possible to get up even higher; moreover small rocks could easily turn into deadly projectiles!
The only option was getting down but even that seemed to be hard as we couldn’t get off the ground. We probably sat there for about a minute. The wind was howling fiercely and my glasses were shaking on my noise as if I was using a jackhammer! It felt like my legs and face were getting sandblasted and my lips were drying out in a matter of seconds! The wind was so strong it left marks on Chrissy’s cheeks that were still visible the day after! During the time we sat there I had to think about people getting caught in storms on Everest; I can’t imagine having to deal with extreme cold on top of it! As the wind kept its force, we had to slide on our side/back to get back into the zone where it was possible to stand up.
We finally made our way back to the saddle and took cover under the trees to drink and eat a little something. This event had sucked a lot of energy out of us and the hike down was quite tiring.
So, no summit but definitely an amazing experience richer! I had been in hurricanes with 100mph winds before but this was quite a bit worse! Once again, an example of the possible dangers mountains can throw at you!