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"Like walking over the whole world"

"Like walking over the whole world"


Postby HalfManHalfTitanium » Tue Jul 05, 2016 9:43 pm

Date walked: 29/10/2007

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If you could have one single mountain walk that you've done over again, what would you choose?

Of course I'd consider my trips abroad: the Andes, Himalayas and Alps. And equally inspiring days closer to home in England, Wales and Scotland.

But for me, the choice would be very simple. My most enjoyable and memorable mountain walk was the day I and my two children (aged 8 and 5 at the time) climbed Humphreys Peak, Arizona (3,851m / 12,633ft).

My daughter described the walk up and down this huge mountain as "like walking over the whole world." see - http://www.peakware.com/peaks.html?pk=115&view=logs&log=21228

Our trip to the USA started with a flight from Manchester to Las Vegas, which we visited purely for the purpose of hiring a car. We drove out into the extraordinary scenery of Utah and Arizona.

Delicate Arch, Utah at sunset, with the snow-capped La Sal mountain range in the distance.

ImageIMG_0855 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

The river Colorado below Dead Horse Point, Utah

ImageIMG_0918 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

Landscape Arch, Utah, with a span of 300ft

ImageIMG_0671 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

Crossing the state line at dawn into Monument Valley, Arizona

ImageIMG_1130 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

Sunset Crater, Arizona - this volcano was active until the eleventh century AD. The contrast between the two types of volcanic rock, the black basalt and red rhyolite, can be clearly seen.

ImageIMG_1607 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

The telescope used to discover Pluto (Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona)

ImageIMG_1900 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

Meteor Crater, Arizona, made by the impact of - well, a meteor.

ImageIMG_1966 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

Obligatory Grand Canyon photo

ImageIMG_2491 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

And the Canyon at dawn the next morning

ImageIMG_2676 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

A deer at the Canyon's edge

ImageIMG_2725 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

It was also very interesting to meet many of the Navajo people who are the majority of the population in this area, and learn a little about their beliefs and traditions which are still very much alive in Northern Arizona. Flagstaff is a wonderfully relaxed and welcoming town set amid forests, canyons and crags at the foot of the Kachina range of peaks, of which Humphreys is the highest (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kachina_Peaks_Wilderness).

The Kachinas dominate Flagstaff rather in the way the Skiddaw group dominate Keswick: a cluster of tall cones that seem to loom over every street corner. In this view, the big peak on the left is Agassiz Peak (3,767m / 12,360 ft). Just left of the traffic light in this photo, a lumpy ridge can be seen on the skyline, which looks like a lower part of Agassiz, but is in fact higher and further away: that's Humphreys Peak.

ImageIMG_1723 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

Before the ascent, I had considered the walk very carefully. It starts from a high car park which is a winter ski resort - think Coire Cas in the Cairngorms. So although Humphreys is of Alpine height, the amount of vertical ascent involved, and the overall distance of the walk, are comparable to Ben Nevis from Fort William.

However, the last mile is along a narrow (but not dangerous) summit ridge of big basalt boulders, with some scrambly sections and three false summits. And like Ben Nevis in summer, it could be cold and windy on the top, with a chance of snow. I checked the weather forecast very carefully: a fine day was predicted.

This aerial photo (on Summitpost at http://www.summitpost.org/humphreys-peak/150241 ) shows the route (in winter conditions, which we didn't have!). Humphreys Peak is on the left and Agassiz Peak on the right. The car park can just about be made out, at the foot of some diagonal ski runs about three-quarters across the photo. Left of the car park is an open area (white splodge on the photo) which is used for general and family skiing.

The trail goes left from the car park, crosses the open area and then zig-zags upwards through the large area of forest in the centre of the photo. It then bends rightwards to slant up to the lowest point of the ridge between Humphreys and Agassiz. From this col, it follows the summit ridge leftwards.

Image

Would the children be up to it? They had previously climbed only Cnicht, Snowdon, and Red Screes, but were very keen to have a go at this giant mountain, which looked such a monster compared to anything back in the UK.

In fact, I felt pretty certain we would not make the summit - we would just walk back down to the car as soon as the children said they were tired. I thought it would be a major triumph if we reached the col between Humphreys and Agassiz. The col is a worthy objective in itself, giving a view down into the hidden caldera (giant crater) at the centre of the Kachina range, and a close look at the remarkable Bristlecone Pines (more about them later).

We took plenty of food and drink, had an early and very ample breakfast at our hotel, and set off.

We left the car park and crossed a broad prairie-like field, which in winter is the skiing area prominent in the aerial photo. Beyond the field we entered a dense forest. The most iconic scenery of the American West normally features deserts and rocks - but in fact Arizona has vast areas of both pine and broadleaved woodlands. A huge pinewood, the Coconino Forest, surrounds Humphreys Peak. Here's a view of the early-morning moon through the trees.

ImageIMG_2109 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

Coming from the UK we are used to more "managed" forests. This forest reminded me of my trip to Finland: vast, genuinely wild native woodland, with dozens of fallen trees across the trail, all of which had to be scrambled under or over. Typical forest terrain can be seen in the background of this photo - our first water stop.

ImageIMG_2107 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

Despite the obstacles, navigation was easy - the route of the trail was clear, and anyway, there were no other paths! As the morning went on we gained height steadily amid the endless trees. A feeling of wilderness beyond anything in the UK was tangible. I had researched the potential dangers: the Coconino Forest has black bears, but these only attack if provoked. The forest also has a population of pumas (also known as mountain lions or cougars). Pumas have on rare occasions been known to attack unaccompanied children, but not a group including an adult. So I kept the children close to me throughout the forest part of the walk.

Eventually there were a few clearings among the trees, and we could look back down and see how far we'd climbed. In this photo, the field we crossed at the beginning of the walk can be seen as a pale area above the top of the nearby tree on the right.

ImageIMG_2166 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

Higher still, we began to get glimpses through the trees of Humphreys' summit ridge high above us. The highest point visible here is the lowest of the false summits.

ImageIMG_2165 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

Eventually the pines thinned out, and we began to see some specimens of the high-altitude Bristlecone Pine. These hardy trees grow at altitudes of up to 10,000ft on the Kachinas Peaks. They have one of the longest lifespans of any living thing. This specimen is probably around 5,000 years old.

ImageIMG_2151 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

Amid the Bristlecone Pines, we reached the col that divides Humphreys from Agassiz. Time for a sit down and a lunch stop. I had expected this to be the highest point we would reach, but the children were enjoying the walk, with no thought of turning back.

ImageIMG_2157 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

Here's a closer view of the small natural arch that can just about be made out on the skyline in the previous photo. The layers of basalt and rhyolite are visible.

ImageIMG_2163 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

The view east from the col. This area is a "caldera" - it was occupied by a gigantic volcano which exploded around 2 million years ago to leave Humphreys, Agassiz and the other Kachina peaks as the broken caldera rim. This explains the narrow summit crest of Humphreys, uncharacteristic of volcanoes.

The caldera is the centre of the San Francisco volcanic field (nothing to do with San Francisco, California) - details at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco_volcanic_field . As the North American tectonic plate moves over a hotspot deep beneath the crust, eruptions occasionally punch through the plate and create new volcanoes. There are 600 volcanic craters in total - Sunset Crater, pictured earlier in this TR, is the most recent.

ImageIMG_2111 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

This photo shows Humphreys Peak's summit ridge from the eastern edge of the col. The ridge rises from left to right, over three false summits - the second and third ones can be seen. The summit of the mountain is at the far right-hand end of the crest.

ImageIMG_2160 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

From the col, the trail climbs steeply - from the foreground of this photo, around the boulders to the left and then a steep scramble up sharp-edged basalt rocks onto the summit ridge.

ImageIMG_2112 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

Amid a jumble of huge boulders, we reached the crest of the ridge. Time for another stop!

ImageIMG_2114 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

A bit further along the ridge we reached the first of the false summits, then down a dip on the far side of it. None of the false summits have names, but I think Munro would have called them Tops, and Wainwright would no doubt have given each of them its own chapter.

This is a view back from the dip beyond the first false summit, looking towards Agassiz.

ImageIMG_2147 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

A slightly higher viewpoint showing the view down into the caldera.

ImageIMG_2146 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

On the ridge, looking back to the second (centre) and first (left) false summits. The rock type changes abruptly to rhyolite in the foreground, but soon after reverted to basalt.

ImageIMG_2138 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

A close up of Agassiz from near the third false summit.

ImageIMG_2140 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

Looking eastwards over a basalt boulder field: we are now at around 12,000 ft.

ImageIMG_2143 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

Looking back over Agassiz and the caldera from our last stop before the top. Sharp-eyed readers will notice that this scene is the mirror image of the skyline in the "traffic light photo" early on in this TR.

ImageIMG_2142 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

The summit! We found this wooden plaque atop the summit cairn, announcing the height as 12,633 feet.

ImageIMG_2121 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

it was a bit hazy but we could make out the Painted Desert to the north-east, the line of the Grand Canyon to the north-west and the location of Meteor Crater away to the south-east. I pointed out these distant features to the children: however we were mainly just enjoying a sit down and feeling chuffed with ourselves for making it to the top!

The caldera from the summit.

ImageIMG_2136 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

Agassiz Peak in the background. Just to its left are some distant white spots which are buildings in Flagstaff, including the Lowell Observatory.

ImageIMG_2116 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

There's a log book to fill in for those who reach the summit - a tin contains a school-style exercise book.

ImageIMG_2137 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

The pages of the book were in fact full, so we wrote our names and ages on the cover. My daughter later checked Peakware and Summitpost, and believes she may be the youngest person ever to walk all the way to the summit without being carried.

ImageIMG_2123 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

ImageIMG_2132 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

At this point the first person we'd seen all day also arrived at the summit. As well as chatting about the differences between walking in the UK and in the backcountry USA, he kindly took this photo of us.

ImageIMG_2129 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

Time to head on down. The ridge seemed every bit as bouldery and long on the way down, and we were very pleased to get off the jagged rocks and onto the col. Here's the caldera from the col again, lit by the late afternoon sun.

ImageIMG_2162 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

Descending from the col was unexpectedly tricky. The volcanic dust that forms the "soil" here had dried out during the day. When we were ascending this section, it had felt reasonably grippy under our boots. Now, with the moisture evaporated, it seemed to have turned into millions of tiny ball bearings and was very slippery. We descended this section in a kind of controlled stagger. All three of us slipped several times during this descent and ended up covered in dust.

Then, it was down through the endless woodland. Wary once more of the pumas, I kept the children close - my son, in particular, had a tendency to run ahead! There seemed to be at least twice as many fallen trees to climb over as there had been on the way up - but we managed them all and finally got back to the open prairie above the car park.

ImageIMG_2167 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

The sun was setting as we approached the car park. Here's a closer version of the previous picture: a view over one of Humphreys' many subsidiary volcanoes towards the sunset over the distant mountains of the western Mogollon Rim.

ImageIMG_2168 by Half Man Half Titanium, on Flickr

It was a day that the children will always remember.

They also slept very well that night.
Last edited by HalfManHalfTitanium on Sun Jan 08, 2017 6:07 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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HalfManHalfTitanium
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Re: "Like walking over the whole world"

Postby Mal Grey » Wed Jul 06, 2016 1:54 pm

Great stuff! What a fantastic day out, I see why its a special one to you.


To answer your question, the one I'd repeat again and again is probably Beinn Liath Mhor, but its a close call with about 100 others!
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Re: "Like walking over the whole world"

Postby HalfManHalfTitanium » Wed Jul 06, 2016 3:57 pm

Mal Grey wrote:Great stuff! What a fantastic day out, I see why its a special one to you.


To answer your question, the one I'd repeat again and again is probably Beinn Liath Mhor, but its a close call with about 100 others!


Thanks Mal Grey!

That's quite a coincidence - because, when I was first writing this TR, I did liken Humphreys' summit ridge to Beinn Liath Mhor - it is very similar in length, the many ups and downs - and the sharpness of the boulders.

However I then realised I had written a whole paragraph on the similarities and differences between quartzite and basalt boulders.

It was clearly time for some ruthless editing of my text.

cheers

Tim
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Re: "Like walking over the whole world"

Postby ChrisW » Wed Jul 06, 2016 6:27 pm

Fantastic write up as always HMHT, it brings back so many memories for me, in October 07 I was living in Oklahoma and visited Utah/Northern Arizona many times. I couldn't do any serious hiking back then due to injury but I still got around some incredible stuff. I love the desert states I really do.

The kids put me to shame with this one, fantastic effort from the 'young uns' . :clap: :clap:
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Re: "Like walking over the whole world"

Postby dav2930 » Wed Jul 06, 2016 8:54 pm

What an amazing achievement for the kids! No wonder that's your chosen mountain. Superb and really informative account with great pics. Fantastic :clap:
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Re: "Like walking over the whole world"

Postby ancancha » Thu Jul 07, 2016 12:13 am

A great achievement for your children and a lifetime memory :clap:
Stunning scenery and photos :clap:
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Re: "Like walking over the whole world"

Postby HalfManHalfTitanium » Thu Jul 07, 2016 12:22 pm

ChrisW wrote:Fantastic write up as always HMHT, it brings back so many memories for me, in October 07 I was living in Oklahoma and visited Utah/Northern Arizona many times. I couldn't do any serious hiking back then due to injury but I still got around some incredible stuff. I love the desert states I really do.

The kids put me to shame with this one, fantastic effort from the 'young uns' . :clap: :clap:


Thank Chris! Good you had the opportunity to explore this area - sorry to hear you weren't well enough to do much walking at the time.

We only had 2 weeks in the area, so we had to be very selective. We did Arches National Park and the wonderful Moab area, then the Navajo lands and then Flagstaff, where we stayed for a few days. We then did the Grand Canyon, Williams and Route 66, and then back to Vegas for our flight home.

Every day was extremely full and we had to miss out so much e.g. Zion and Bryce Canyon. When we retire I hope to travel Montana to California over a few months and get to see it all!

Tim
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Re: "Like walking over the whole world"

Postby ChrisW » Fri Jul 08, 2016 7:21 am

HalfManHalfTitanium wrote:Every day was extremely full and we had to miss out so much e.g. Zion and Bryce Canyon. When we retire I hope to travel Montana to California over a few months and get to see it all!

Tim


Careful Tim....it's addictive, I've been back 3 more times now :lol: :lol:
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Re: "Like walking over the whole world"

Postby HalfManHalfTitanium » Fri Jul 08, 2016 7:16 pm

dav2930 wrote:What an amazing achievement for the kids! No wonder that's your chosen mountain. Superb and really informative account with great pics. Fantastic :clap:


Cheers dav2930! Thanks very much :wink:
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Re: "Like walking over the whole world"

Postby HalfManHalfTitanium » Fri Jul 08, 2016 9:24 pm

ancancha wrote:A great achievement for your children and a lifetime memory :clap:
Stunning scenery and photos :clap:


Cheers Ancancha. PS Enjoyed your report on Mullagh More - the Burren looks like a remarkable landscape!

Tim
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Re: "Like walking over the whole world"

Postby trailmasher » Fri Jul 08, 2016 9:58 pm

Great report and pics :clap: Well done all of you for summiting especially the young ones and what a great day out :clap: :clap:
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Re: "Like walking over the whole world"

Postby HalfManHalfTitanium » Sat Jul 09, 2016 11:05 am

trailmasher wrote:Great report and pics :clap: Well done all of you for summiting especially the young ones and what a great day out :clap: :clap:


Thanks trailmasher! Enjoyed your recent report on Scafell Pike - a very different route from the crowds!

Tim
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Re: "Like walking over the whole world"

Postby HalfManHalfTitanium » Mon Jul 11, 2016 12:16 pm

ChrisW wrote:
HalfManHalfTitanium wrote:Every day was extremely full and we had to miss out so much e.g. Zion and Bryce Canyon. When we retire I hope to travel Montana to California over a few months and get to see it all!

Tim


Careful Tim....it's addictive, I've been back 3 more times now :lol: :lol:


Totally addicted already - but it's been 9 years since my last fix :shock:
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Re: "Like walking over the whole world"

Postby john923 » Fri Jul 15, 2016 8:18 pm

What a brilliant achievement for the kids (no 'pikes of terror' this time? :wink: ) and it certsainly sounds like you crammed a lot into 2 weeks. My wife keeps nagging me to drive her down just that road into Monument Valley so it was interesting to see what else you included on the trip. What time of year did you go?
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Re: "Like walking over the whole world"

Postby HalfManHalfTitanium » Mon Jul 18, 2016 1:11 pm

john923 wrote:What a brilliant achievement for the kids (no 'pikes of terror' this time? :wink: ) and it certsainly sounds like you crammed a lot into 2 weeks. My wife keeps nagging me to drive her down just that road into Monument Valley so it was interesting to see what else you included on the trip. What time of year did you go?


Hi john923 - thanks! We went in October, as we like autumn colours (which were indeed spectacular) and we don't like hot weather. But in winter, parts of the area are snowbound...

We did cram in a lot - it was a great holiday. Careful route planning was the main thing, and not trying to do too much, e.g. we had to miss out Bryce Canyon and Zion.

Also we planned variety so it was not just scenery, we did Route 66, plus lots of other stuff e.g. the excellent Pioneer Museum and Riordan House in Flagstaff as well as spending some time in the Navajo community at Page, Az., as well as the Lowell Observatory, and we did classic American stuff like ten-pin bowling and a trip to the cinema, and even Wal-Mart (hmmm). We also splashed out one night and stayed at the Bright Angel Lodge, Grand Canyon and took a helicopter flight.

We also had 2 days in Vegas at the end - it was extremely interesting and unforgettable even if not our usual sort of holiday!

Here is our route -
Utah Arizona.jpg
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