Humphreys Peak And Agassiz Peak
The San Francisco Peaks just north of Flagstaff, Arizona are the remnants of an ancient stratovolcano and are part of a larger collection of volcanoes, lava domes and cinder cones that comprise the San Francisco Volcanic Field.  The highest of the San Francisco Peaks--Humphreys Peak--also happens to be the highest point in Arizona and, as such, attracts a lot of attention from peak-baggers, especially US state 'highpointers'.  On 8 October 2010, Kelly Bou and I had an early breakfast at our hotel in Flagstaff before driving out to Arizona Snowbowl resort which is at the base of Humphreys Peak.  A well-maintained trail climbs all the way to the summit, and Kelly and I spent the first couple of hours zigzagging up through the forest along with over a dozen other hikers.  Although there was a lot of snow cover well below tree line, the trail was easy to follow, and we had no problems reaching the col separating Humphreys Peak from its southern neighbour, Agassiz Peak.  At the col, we encountered a couple who were retreating down the mountain after having climbed only partway up the ridges to the north and south.  Complaining about the snow conditions being too dangerous, they were hysterically urging everyone to turn back.  The snow was certainly crusty and slippery that morning, but with the trail already broken and with the likely prospect that the snow would soften up later, I thought that they were overreacting.  Nevertheless, the hysterical couple likely planted a seed of doubt in the mind of Guy Mattson, a solo hiker from Minnesota that Kelly and I had met on the trail.  He asked to accompany Kelly and me for the remainder of the ascent from the col, and we were more than happy to share his company.  The three of us continued hiking up and around several false summits, and just before reaching the true summit, we stopped for a long chat with an experienced highpointer who was on his way down.  As I stepped on the highest point of Arizona, I began to scrutinize the long ridge leading to Agassiz Peak to the south.

While Humphreys Peak has an official trail that runs all the way to its summit, Arizona's only other 12,000-footer, nearby Agassiz Peak, is normally off-limits to hikers due to the presence of an endangered plant known as the San Francisco Peaks groundsel (Senecio franciscanus).  How the US Forest Service deems it okay to trample this perennial on one mountain but not another is baffling enough, but the fact that they also lease the slopes of Agassiz Peak to the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort makes the hiking restriction seem like a farce (there are also ongoing controversies regarding the ski resort's plans to expand and to make artificial snow using treated wastewater).  That being said, several Internet sources state that climbing Agassiz Peak is permitted if it is covered with snow.  I carefully considered this while studying Agassiz Peak on my way back to the col with Kelly and Guy.

From the col, Kelly and Guy continued hiking down the trail while I set off alone up the north ridge of Agassiz Peak.  During my ascent, I made a conscious effort to stay mostly on snow or rock and to avoid stepping on any vegetation (at the time, I was not even sure what the groundsel looked like).  A few sections of wind-blown, hard-packed snow brought back some unpleasant memories from Mount Kidd South Peak, but otherwise, I reached the summit without too much trouble.  After a brief stay, I quickly retraced my steps to the col and settled into a long but generally uneventful descent back to my car.  The trail was busier in the afternoon, and I was surprised to see so many hikers still going up given the lateness of the day.   I wondered if some of them would even make it past tree line before sunset.  After returning to our hotel and getting cleaned up, Kelly and I headed to the Bigfoot Bar-B-Q restaurant in downtown Flagstaff for dinner and coincidentally ran into Guy there.  It was a great way to end a fabulous day of hiking in Arizona.
This trail takes a bewilderingly roundabout route at the start.  It's better to look for another good trail further up the wide ski run before heading into the trees. Kelly begins the hike up Humphreys Peak (upper right) from the bottom of the ski resort.
Views are few and far in between for the first couple of hours on the trail. Kelly pauses to check out the view from the snow-covered trail.  At upper right is Agassiz Peak.
Seems a bit extreme for a plant that looks like a shrunken dandelion... This is one of several reminders on the mountain to stay on the trail...or else!
If you look carefully, you can see where the trail skirts around the false summit. The trees begin to thin out as Kelly approaches the col south of the first false summit (centre).
The wind made it a bit uncomfortable to hang out here. From the col, the summit of Humphreys Peak is visible at far right.
I love that layered horizon! Kelly and Guy climb up snow-covered slopes.
My lame attempt at being creative... Some icicles dangle "above" Agassiz Peak.
Arguably the most beautiful peak in the area. Here is a more complete view of Agassiz Peak from the summit ridge of Humphreys Peak.
More interesting than those endangered perennials, I'd say! Wind and sun have created some interesting ice formations on the summit ridge.
This was a really enjoyable ridge walk. Kelly hikes along the summit ridge.
One Arizona 12,000-footer down, and one to go... Guy and Kelly take the last few steps before the summit.  Agassiz Peak is visible at left.
I'm so glad Kelly came up with me today! Kelly and Sonny stand on the highest point in Arizona.
We were lucky to have the summit for ourselves albeit not for long. Sonny, Kelly and Guy pose for a group photo on the 3845-metre summit of Humphreys Peak.
That must have been one helluva drive up that road! Agassiz Peak is to the south.  The Weatherford Trail, an old reclaimed road, is visible on the northeast slopes.
Might be worth coming back to Flagstaff for this one. To the southeast is Fremont Peak.
Probably easy enough to bag at the same time as Fremont Peak. Also to the southeast is Doyle Peak.
Agassiz Peak is just too irresistable to pass up for me though! Kelly heads back down the mountain.
The sign indicates that this is the Weatherford Trail which is still legal to hike. This is looking up at Agassiz Peak (distant right) from the col.
Looks to me like it's snow-covered enough to be hiked legally... The north ridge of Agassiz Peak presents no significant challenges.
Hey, what's with the footprints IN FRONT of me?? Sonny hikes up the north ridge of Agassiz Peak.
More than worth a $500 fine on a gorgeous day like this! Sonny stands on the 3760-metre summit of Agassiz Peak.
Too bad I didn't have more daylight... To the east are Doyle Peak (left) and Fremont Peak.
Agassiz Peak--not Humphreys Peak--is the most prominent peak visible from Flagstaff. The city of Flagstaff is visible to the south.
I'm not sure if you can spot the lookout tower in this photo... Kendrick Peak to the northwest is a large lava dome.
Scientists have estimated the original stratovolcano being somewhere between 16,000 and 20,000 feet high! Humphreys Peak dominates the view to the north.
It would be cool to do a complete traverse of all the San Francisco Peaks in a single day. To the northeast are Aubineau Peak and Rees Peak.
An aquifer is the source of the many springs in this basin. Sugarloaf Peak, a lava dome, is visible at the mouth of the basin which is at the heart of the San Francisco Peaks.  Numerous cinder cones are also visible in the distance.
This would be an awesome ski trip in the winter. Here is one last look at Agassiz Peak from the trail.
On descent, I took a more direct route to my car near the bottom. This is the route as viewed in Google Earth.
If you're in Flagstaff, this trip is a must! Total Distance:  19.2 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  9 hours
Total Elevation Gain:  1251 metres

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