I had planned on driving from Tucson to give a go at Humphreys on Sunday, but a check of the weather forecast showed there is probably snow coming in over the weekend. So with one open day on Tuesday, i decided to just go for it before the conditions got worse. I was going to be hiking solo, and so i figured why hike up in a blizzard.
I arrived at the trailhead at 9:30 am. I wasn't able to get a ground conditions report from anyone, so i brought most of the full winter gear: crampons, gaiters, balacava (i never hike without Greek desserts closeby), and enough clothes to warm an albino elephant. The only thing left behind was the ice axe. Fortunately, most of the extra clothes and the gaiters didn't have to be taken out of the pack. I started out in mid-20's temps on the trail across the ski slope and into the woods. I had been on Humphreys a couple of years back when there was at least a couple feet of snow covering everything, so this time it was nice to see the trail.
Heading up the long switchbacks (a couple are over 1/4-mile long), the hike was unremarkable but nice, through dry forest. The snow on the ground gradually increased to about 4 inches, but there had been a few people on the trail the previous weekend, so now there was never more than an inch of snow on the actual trail. Temperatures rose up to about 40 degrees. I started feeling sick to my stomach and pretty weak, but this wasn't a surprise with how out of shape i've gotten since my summer hiking.
Once on the ridge, the snow mostly gave way to ice. There was some regular ice, ice that looked like snow, nasty-slick blue ice, and really cool-looking white "shard" ice. (Imagine breaking a very log down the middle, and looking at the contour of the inside of the log. Then seperate the shards and color them white...this is what the ice looked like.) I slipped a couple of times before figuring that i might as well break out the crampons since i brought them all the way up there. There was no exposure to a fall, but still i was glad to have the crampons. While i was stopped, the one person who had signed the register ahead of me, who i had seen ahead of me on the ridge earlier, passed me by and said it was late and he had to get home. It WAS late...after 1pm. I'd been moving at a snail's pace, and the trail wasn't very followable anymore. But the summit was in view, and i didn't want to be denied reaching it for a 2nd time, no matter how sick i felt.
Soon i was rounding a bend, about to reach the summit, and i saw an unpleasant surprise: another higher summit, about a 1/3 mile away, covered in snow. So the summit i thought was Humphreys, wasn't after all. Now it was 2pm, and i had a headache. "Oh cool, rocks!" became "Oh ****, more stupid rocks."
I finally reached the summit at 2:20, having trudged up the only stretch on the whole trip that had about 18 inches of snow on it. Cellphone reception was good, so i made a call, signed the register, tried to eat something, and sat down. Nice view from up there...i could see the Grand Canyon.
I headed down at 2:45. Nothing was different about the way down, except that my headache became searing as it finally dawned on me that duh of course this is altitude sickness, and it gradually got darker out. I had a headlamp in my pack, but there was just enough of the last twilight to get me back to the car at 6pm without using it. Mission accomplished. HP #35.
A couple of notes:
-The conditions for most winter climbs are harder, so don't show up expecting anything less than major snow/ice/wind.
-If the trail is clear and you're not lame like me, expect the hike to take at least 2 hours less than my time.
-There have been some reports of the snowbowl gate being closed. As far as i can figure it, this is only a concern if you are trying to leave from the upper parking lot, where there is a 2nd trailhead. The signed trailhead is from the lower parking lot, below the gate, and leaving from there only adds 1/2 mile and a couple hundred feet to the hike.
-Beaver Street Brewery was really good, again.