Out and About- A close look at Humphreys Peak trail

Photo Stan Bindell/NHO<br>
The entrance sign stands out among the aspens.

Photo Stan Bindell/NHO<br> The entrance sign stands out among the aspens.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.---Lightning can be interesting to watch, but it can be equally entertaining to watch people's responses to the light show put on by nature.

Watching people and animals respond to lightning in their homes can be interesting. Some folks cringe, some go about their business and others stop to watch the storm. Dogs will often find a place to hide.

Lightning can be even more entertaining on a trail, although it can get dangerous quickly. About 25 years ago, this hiker knew a Navy Seal Vietnam veteran who would dance in puddles of rainwater during lightning storms. He did this about 100 times and never got zapped. While this is not recommended for most humans, it has caused this hiker not to take lightning as serious as most folks.

During another lightning storm experience, a camp counselor went on the public announce system to tell the young campers that the world was ending in 10 seconds. He did the slow countdown, while the thunder boomed, to only tell the screaming young campers at zero: Just joking.

Most parents would not approve.

One place to see lightning during the monsoons is the Humphreys Peak Trail. During a recent Prescott Hiking Club trek on this trail, the thunder roared and the lightning was evident. At the start of the hike, there was no sense of lightning and few clouds. However, after a couple miles, the hikers started to hear thunder and see lightning off in the distance. It kept coming closer, but still seemed a bit of a ways off.

Trail leader Fred Stellbrink and myself were within about a quarter mile of the top. The goal on this trail is to reach the top because it's not only the top of the trail, but the highest point in Arizona at 12,633 feet.

Lightning then hit a rock just off to the right a bit ahead of us. We went up to the rock and could hear it sizzling. By this time, another hiker from the east coast had joined us at the rock.

Stellbrink and I looked at each other as we both enjoyed the sizzling rock. The smarter third hiker was spooked by the sizzling rock and lit off down the hill as quickly as possible. Stellbrink calmly said it was time to turn around. I couldn't disagree.

We were both disappointed with not reaching the top, but we had already gone just a tad further than the others in the group. We reluctantly started back just before the rain. At least, this hiker had been to the top previously. I felt sorry for those who had come a long distance, hadn't reached the top and may not ever come back to the site.

Aside from the thunder, Humphreys Peak is a great trail because of the scenery, the flowers and the strenuous workout. Don't take this hiker's word for it. The August edition of Arizona Highways has it as the hike of the month and Arizona Highways Editor Robert Stieve lists it as one of 13 summer hikes in that magazine's hiking guide.

For those that can't hike, just driving to the parking lot is awesome because viewers can see a panorama for hundreds of miles. Hikers are quickly greeted by signs, Orange sneezeweed flowers and Rocky Mountain Iris. Despite the high altitude, there are flowers most of the way including columbine, Blue Bonnett lupine, Franciscan blue bells, wild rose and Richardson geranium.

For the first three-tenths of a mile, hikers are walking through a flower meadow with the panorama view. The hikers then enter an alpine forest which is totally shaded and on this day a bit moist, probably from the previous day's rain.

Arizona Highways rates the hike as not only strenuous, but as one of the toughest hikes in Arizona. The 9.2 mile hike starts at 9,327 feet.

Once the hike reaches 11,500 feet, most of the trees are left behind with the exception of the Bristlecone Pines, which a sign near the hike entrance states is the oldest tree on earth. The trees on the lower end of the hike include evergreens, Engelmann spruce, corkbark fir, ponderosa pines and aspens.

The Agassiz Saddle is where the trees are left behind except for the Bristlecone Pines. The hiking also becomes tougher at this point due to the higher elevation, more scree found on the trail and the need to hop some rocks.

Arizona Highways says that bears and mountain lion are in this area along with other wildlife, but we didn't see any on this day.

The one drawback to the hike is Snowbowl is putting in the water pipes for snowmaking machines and the construction can cause waits to get up the road. Of course, the San Francisco Peaks are sacred to Navajo, Hopi and other tribes so they oppose the ski area and the snowmaking machine.

There is no water on this hike and plenty is needed from the sweating hikers will do due to the climb.

There are restroom facilities in the parking lot. Dogs are allowed, but must be leashed. Horses are prohibited on the trail.

For more information, telephone (928) 526-0866 or log onto www.fs.usda.gov/coconino.

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