Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

September 21, 2012

To the Mountains I Must Go


by Louise Gelotte

Following John Muir, “The mountains are calling and I must go”, many Sedona Westerners annually summit Mt. Humphreys. The four and a half mile ascent takes hikers to a breathtaking 12,633 feet, the highest point in Arizona. On September 15th this pilgrimage was ably led by Mike Holmes and Pam Greene. Rough Riders, a division of the Sedona Westerners, get together every Saturday in order to tackle a challenging hike at a brisk pace. After a picturesque drive through Oak Creek Canyon with carpets of sunflowers everywhere, the enthusiastic Rough Riders reach the parking lot at the end of Flagstaff’s Snowbowl Road. Just by climbing out of the car, everyone is already at an elevation of 9300 feet, higher than any peak in Sedona! Deceptively, the trail initially follows nice and flat Hart Prairie. But once the hikers enter the cool, shaded forest of aspen, fir and spruce, the serious work begins. As they climb, Gus Rousonelos commented on all the fallen trees by the sides of the trail, fuel for a potential forest fire.

Summiteers from left to right: Scott Newth, Mike Holmes, Louise Gelotte, John Losse, Kevin O’Connor, Burton Stone, Gus Rousonelos, Mark Frank, Deborah Losse.
Photo by Clint Gelotte.

The good news for today’s hikers is that before the top cone of San Francisco Mountain collapsed, this stratovolcano would have topped out at around 15,800 feet, making it the highest peak in the lower 48. A series of long switchbacks aid the Rough Riders in their ascent. After an hour, Holmes stops at the first huge rock slide, the traditional club break spot. Refreshed and recharged the hikers continue upward. As they climb higher, hikers are finally rewarded with stunning views of the Snowbowl area. After another hour, the trail finally reaches the saddle between Humphreys Peak and Agassiz Peak. The elevation is now 11,900 feet. At this point, some hikers are beginning to get headaches, effects of the altitude and opt to remain at the saddle. From here you can look into the Inner Basin of the Peaks. The last part of the trail gives evidence to the harshness of this alpine environment. What’s left of the forest at treeline, now consists of bristlecone pines. These hardy, weather-beaten trees may be over 1000 years old. Continuing through Arizona’s only tundra, the trail now consists of loose cinders and jagged lava rock, completely exposed to the elements. It passes by an interminable number of false summits. Today we are fortunate to share the trail with Native Americans from the Acoma pueblo in New Mexico. They are one of at least thirteen local Indian tribes for whom the Peaks have religious significance. They said a prayer for world peace at the summit. As the top finally nears, examples of Fulgurite, rock melted from the intense heat of a lightning bolt, can be seen. This should be a reminder of Humphreys’ many lightning strikes and the wisdom of aborting hikes if you happen to see a thunderstorm brewing, which is not the case today. Clint Gelotte, who has summited Humphreys numerous times, said that today’s conditions were the best he has ever encountered – warm, no wind, flies, or clouds, just incredible views in all directions. From the highest point in Arizona, summiteers are able to see the North rim of the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert and Kendrick Mountain. After lunch, supplemented by delicious cookie treats, courtesy of Holmes’ wife, the elated hikers retrace their steps. Somehow, the trail seems even longer on the descent. Gus, who summited Humphreys for the first time today, sums it up, “ I think this is one of the hardest hikes we do!”