From a misunderstood impact crater on the floor of the high desert which was mistaken for a volcano, to an actual ancient volcano that raises to a height of 5,000 feet above the surrounding plains. At 12,633 feet Mount Humphreys is the highest point in the state of Arizona. For a state that is known for searing desert landscapes and cracks in the Earth (The Grand Canyon State) it seems oddly out of place for a mountain of this magnitude to reside here. But it does and it is strikingly beautiful.
We began our long haul up this gem of a mountain later in the day than we should have. This was due to the fact that we had been 40 miles down the road gazing into a colossal gash in the Earth’s surface formed by a meteorite 160 feet across. Earlier in the day while standing on the rim of the crater, Mount Humphreys showcased itself dominance of the Western horizon. Hours later, standing on the foot of the immense dormant volcano we stared up at the snowless ski runs winding down the mountain. Beyond the last visible chairlifts the barren rocky slopes above tree-line marked our destination.
The parking lot at the base of the mountain had been full of cars. I took this to mean that although we were entering a wilderness area, there would be little solitude on this popular day hike. However, being that it was later in the day my hopes were that most of the cars owners would be on their way down. Ideally this would leave the summit unoccupied by the time we climbed our way to the top. This assumption was looking to be correct based off of the numerous hikers we passed descending the uneven rutted path and returning to their cars. One such hiker called out to us as we approached. Becky reached this man first and and began to make sure he was alright. With a nasty slash on his forehead he recounted a dangerous fall he had suffered high up on the talus slope of the mountain. The gnarly wound formed a large goose egg above his right temple and at first glance appeared to be deep and substantial. Thankfully it had already fully clotted on its own. Stitches may still be needed, but for now the surface laceration did not seem life threatening.
What I was immediately worried about was the mental state of this gentleman, specifically if he had suffered a concussion or not. After speaking with him for a time it became clear that he was going to be just fine. He was shaken up, but in good spirits and fully cognitive. The assurance that his wound was not life threatening is what he really needed and was looking for from us. With an unpleasant contusion on the top of his head he was unable to assess his own injury, which would concern anyone. Think about it, if you weren’t able to evaluate the severity of an injury you’d suffered, you’d probably be freaking out as well. He confessed to us that he was worried that his brains were hanging out of his skull. Thankful this was not the case, and from our appraisal the wound on his head would heal.
With brilliant low level light reflecting off the playful clouds surrounding us and the volcanic landscape abound, the scenery awaiting us at our lofty destination was superb. As anticipated the top was ours alone to revel in. Having built up some heat through the exertion and effort it took to reach the peak, we hadn’t immediately realized the drop in temperature at the exposed summit. However, this quickly become noticeably apparent the moment we stopped to reflect upon the setting. A cold fall wind ripped across the crest of the dormant volcano and rapidly chilled our exposed limbs. This was not a place we were meant to pause for long. Before beginning our descent we both agreed that only from above the true magnitude of this mountain can be appreciated.
Only after we were thoroughly confident that he would be fine to continue down the mountain on his own, did we resume our own expedition. Also during our assessment of his wound and mental condition another hiker joined us who was himself heading down and would accompany the injured man.
As we advance to the upper slopes of the mountain this man’s accident occupied my mind. Not because I was worried that he wouldn’t be OK, I was sure that he would be just fine. But because I was concerned that Becky might also have troubles navigating the precarious slopes of the summit. She is not known for being overly surefooted on average terrain, let alone steep jagged mountain tops. Thankfully our last push to the top was uneventful. Although the trail was rugged and exposed, it proved to be nothing extreme.