Saturday, September 24, 2011

Highpoint: Arizona. Humphreys Peak (12,637 ft). September 18, 2011

Humphreys Peak Trail. 9.5 miles roundtrip, about 3500 feet of elevation gain.

Our first high altitude hike!

Though both my girls are strong and adventurous, we approached this summit with kid gloves. Altitude sickness is no joke -- it can quickly lead to nasty things like High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). Since I wanted to keep Alex and Sage healthy and happy, I insisted on a slow and careful acclimatization process. We proceeded as follows:

Day One: Drove to Humphreys Peak trailhead (9300 feet), hiked a couple tenths of a mile to 9500 feet, sat down and read for six hours. Descended and slept at about 7500 feet.

Day Two: Hiked Humphreys Peak trail to 10,200 feet, sat down, read for four hours. Girls moved all earthworms off our section of the trail and played in the dirt for two hours. Descended and slept at about 7500 feet.

Day Three: We wanted to hike to 11,400 feet and read/move earthworms, but a mile into our hike, the familiar trail disappeared underneath a zillion fallen trees. To me, it looked like a microburst occurred sometime between the time we left the area the day before and the time we arrived this morning. Massive fallen and twisted trunks and branches buried the trail. We climbed through what we could while I kept an eye on our surroundings above -- the trees had not yet finished falling. Quite a few leaned precariously over the trail, their root systems bobbing up and down in the newly loosened soil. We turned back without making much headway. The damage seemed to go on and on, the wind was high, and I worried we'd get smushed by an unstable tree. I drove to the nearby administrative offices of the neighboring ski area and reported the damage to the rangers. I was later told a tornado had actually touched down. Their web site calls it a "wind event." Whatever it was, it happened not long after we descended the day before.

EDIT -- It WAS a tornado!

Day Four: Hugh arrived the previous evening. We took him to see the damage, then we rode the ski lift up neighboring Agassiz Peak and hung out at 11,500 for a few hours. Sage started coughing -- sounded like a cold, there were no other symptoms.

Day Five: We rode up the ski lift again. I asked the medics up top about Sage's cough, they watched her run around and said it probably wasn't altitude related. They told me not to worry unless she exhibited other symptoms. We hiked up to 11,800 feet, read, ran around, and played all day.

Day Six: Summit Day!

We hit the trail not long after sunrise.

View from the meadow on the very first part of the trail...

The rangers had put up a sign warning hikers of the mess ahead.

We hiked cautiously through this section, which thankfully lasted a mere one or two tenths of a mile.

It was nice to find clear trail again.

Up up up...

Breaking out of the trees, one can see neighboring Agassiz and the top of the ski lift...

We reached 11,400 feet without any problems. Sage's cough was there, but infrequent. No one had a headache or felt dizzy -- we were all systems go.


Views from the saddle, about 11,800 feet...

We ate, we drank, we moved on...

There are three Evil False Summits on this hike. We knew this ahead of time and mentally prepared ourselves. Here, Sage contemplates the first.

Looking back after conquering two of the three.

Rounding the third and looking at the real summit of Humphreys Peak.

Approaching the summit!

Sage reached it first.

Alex caught up and the girls posed.

Hugh was next.

Views from the top of Arizona!

We hung out for about half an hour before beginning our descent. We took it slowly -- both girls were complaining of slight headaches.

The beautiful side of Agassiz...

We returned to our car safely; the headaches went away with the decrease in altitude. Both girls were happy and proud of themselves, and we ribbed Hugh about having been outdone by his six-year-old daughter (Hugh's first high altitude hike was Canada's 11,620 ft. Mt. Temple when he was eight -- Sage beat him by a thousand feet and a year and a half).

This was an enjoyable hike. The slow acclimatization process helped tremendously -- we'll do the same for future high altitude ascents.

Both girls want to continue this game, so we'll head west again next year and hopefully pick up New Mexico, Colorado, and perhaps Utah or Nevada. We had planned on trying New Mexico's Wheeler Peak this year, but Sage's cough turned into a full-blown, nasty cold and she was in no shape to hike the weekend we had planned on ascending Wheeler. Alex now has the same cold, so we're spending the last few days of our trip holed up in a low altitude hotel watching movies and drinking NyQuil.

Before we return to New Hampshire, we will stop by New York City and have lunch with Sydny Miner, our editor at Broadway Books/Crown, and my agent, Laurie Bernstein. We look forward to finally meeting them both!

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