Hiking Mt. Humphrey’s with Near Frozen Feet

By: Izabella Rhomberg

We started our hike a slightly humid, but crisp day. This was the day of my amazing but scary adventure, and it started just like any other. It began with the sun creeping over the tallest mountain in Arizona, Mt Humphreys (12,613 ft.).  I didn’t know it, and I didn’t even sense it but, the day ahead of me would be a story I would be telling for a very long time. The trails ahead of me would become wet, frigid and scary, and yet oddly satisfying. I would soon  be climbing up and back down with a painful thumb and frozen feet. Of course, on some parts of the rocky trail, I would be towed like a toy sled by Jager, my very loyal and powerful Rhodesian Ridgeback.  He was just as excited to hike the trail as I was, so I held on for a while.

Our small group of four (which included Jäger) went through a large meadow at the edge of Snowbowl ski area.   There was a sign at the edge of the meadow that had our  trail info.  Five miles to the peak, and three thousand feet of elevation gain.  That means theres alot of switchbacks.  Now I could smell the sweet smell of pine trees. We  stopped quickly for a picture, “Smile”, Click, Snap went the camera. Further up the trail we were about to pass a small group of people, who were sitting on a log, munching on some trail mix. I clenched Jäger’s leash tightly, for I knew how he greets people (with a couple of kisses and a sniff sometimes where it probably shouldn’t be) and I didn’t want that to happen.  As we sped up, to rush  Jager past the people, I put my hand down a rock to  balance myself on the next large rock step.

lower trailI guess I must have kept it there a second to long, because Jäger continued to pull upward, and my hand caught on the rock and caused thumb’s nail to flip halfway back and off, tearing it from the skin under my nail. It also scraped my knuckle a bit. Under my nail had nearly turned black, it was purple. I clenched my hand and started to cry a bit because of the pain. We stopped at the log  and wrapped my Grand Canyon bandana around my wrist and hand to block the pain, but not enough to completely cut off circulation. After that our small group got back on the trail, we had some time to make up.  The faster I hiked the more my thumb throbbed.  I wanted to see the summit and a sore thumb was not really a reason to turn back.

As we continued hiking, switchback after switchback, the wind picked up.  The rocky trail got more and more exhausting. Then, finally our group saw the saddle between Mt. Humphreys and Agasiz. Soon we made it to the saddle for a rest and a quick snack. Everyone else was stopping and resting in the sunny saddle and eating too. We had a quick break and started our way to the summit!!!  As we left the saddle, we felt, and saw the clouds blowing up toward the peak.  We knew we had to hurry, even though it was only a little after 10:00 a.m.  Now we were above tree line and more exposed to the weather. It was an extremely rocky outcropping, that you could see both sides of the mountain from.  It felt pretty cool to be so high.

We passed so many people, which was not so easy on the narrow and rocky trail.  Just when you think you are near the end, the real summit appears!  It looked so far away at first, then it disappeared in clouds. We kept hiking, thinking it was just around the next corner.  Then, we arrived, it was hard to tell we were there at first, since the clouds were now all around us.The clouds were so thick that you could only see about 100 ft  around you. The weather was getting bad it, was cold and foggy. My iza humphreys mom and I had dealt with weather like this before on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, back in June. After 30 very long minutes we were finally at 12,633 ft in elevation, the summit!!!!!! Everybody (except for Jäger) signed the little log, took a few pictures, and  (since the clouds were rolling in even more) left for our very long descent down the mountain.

The weather was getting  even worse, it seemed like Mt. Washington but not as cold, and it mysteriously wasn’t raining. We were still on the outcropping when I saw a huge flash of bright light. I knew exactly what it was, it was lightning!!! I crouched down in shock, I waited 1…2…”BANG!” it was a huge crackle of thunder. Luckily when I froze everyone else did, too from complete shock (I think) . Everyone even me, had a shock wave of fear go through their bodies because every single person and pet took off at a faster pace than before. We heard a few more really loud crackles of thunder, which were especially louder to anybody above tree line, for we were in the clouds, so everything was closer.

Once we had gotten to the saddle it felt like rain, no stops in the saddle this time! Our group, along with every other group ran right into the tree line.  Then, what I saw was crazy, people were still going up, they didn’t even have the proper gear! I looked on the side of the trail next to me and saw hail!  “Hail!” I exclaimed and went faster but not too fast or I would slip. The hail hurt a lot when it landed on my head or my hands. Before we knew it we all were standing and walking in one and a half inch deep hail, that was even extremely wet and soggy. My mom , Jäger and I all stopped and huddled together like a bunch of penguins underneath a thick tree. We were going to wait out the hailstorm, because hailstorms are often very short and don’t last long. And sure enough, the cloud was so extraordinarily large that it lasted at least one and a half hours. After about five minutes or so it was actually getting worse! Both of us knew we had to keep going. I felt so bad for Jäger for he had no protection or anything, all he had was a short fur coat. Again, before we knew it, we were wading and slipping in about two inch deep hail. But still, people were still hiking up!!! I said to myself multiple times, “That’s crazy they must be really crazy.” My shoes weren’t waterproof and they didn’t keep enough heat in. I tried to stay on the upper side of the trail, the hail had partly turned to slush so I kept sliding no matter how hard I tried. The lower side of the trail was a tiny river and the icy hail floating in it. Unfortunately I kept slipping into it. making my feet even colder, considering the fact that there was already hail coming in around my ankles into my shoes! I soon lost all feeling in my feet, they were cold an numb with some pain at times.

I had put my rain coat on back up on the saddle, but it was only  one of my three life savers I had that day, which included a plastic poncho and a pair of rain pants. When I looked at the ground again I saw how the hail’s depth was about three inches!,   My toes felt frozen solid for every step I took was strange, and I was glad I didn’t trip on the tree roots I saw on the way up.  My mom held my arm tight and walked next to me for balance and also to keep me moving at a fast pace.  We were trying to get to the warmer lower elevation as quick  as we could.  We let Jäger off the leash and I got a ride on my Mom’s back, I was crying for my feet hurt so extremely bad. We came around a bend and what I saw was the cutest and sweetest thing. Jäger was standing in a four inch deep, muddy, puddle with hail floating in it he was shivering, but no matter how cold he was it didn’t matter but he was waiting just for me. Jäger ran up ahead again and we all continued our moaning and groaning especially me. Our only worries were either Jäger or I would get hypothermia. At some moments it felt like every minute was a hour and every second seems like a minute.

Finally, (after the bad weather) we caught sight of the meadow, I even caught a glimpse of the Landy!!!  When we arrived at the meadow, we all felt relieved.  It was strange, I was scared for the past two hours, but then I suddenly wanted to laugh, we all did.  We just started joking around, and wondered what the rest of our group was up to at the campsite.   We all looked back at what nearly was a total disaster for Jäger, and I saw a mountain that looked like it was covered in  snow, but what it really was, was deep hail and there even was another big, dark cloud on its way.  We quickly removed our wet packs and coat and hopped into the Land Rover and turned on the heat full blast, and just sat there for awhile before leaving.   We dried off Jäger before we left the parking lot. Each of us ended our adventure with a bagel in one hand and hot chocolate in the other hand (except Jäger who has no hands and slept nder a blanket the rest of the day).   I was extremely lucky to escape without hypothermia. So that was my amazing, but scary experience on Mt. Humphreys.

I will always, for the rest of my life remember the day

The End

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