Monday 20 April 2020

A failed attempt on the San Francisco Peaks on the Arizona Trail twenty years ago

The San Francisco Peaks from Fremont Saddle

On April 20, 2000, I set out to climb the San Francisco Peaks. These are the highest mountains in Arizona, reaching 3850 metres (12,633 feet) on Humphreys Peak. At the time there was no official Arizona Trail route, though it was planned to cut below the summits, as it now does. I wanted to climb them, even though they were snow-capped and I wasn't equiped for snow.

Morning before the ascent

The night before the ascent I camped in a beautiful grove of aspens. The temperature fell to -3C and there was a cold wind. Frost coated the inside of my tarp.

Below the snow

The sun was soon warming the air however and the initial walking was easy as a good trail led through beautiful forests. Soon though snow patches appeared, some knee-deep in places. My boots were quickly soaked and my feet cold. The snow became continuous, a mix of soft deep drifts requiring arduous post-holing and bands of hard old snow that I had to edge carefully across - a slip would have sent me sliding into the deep ravine below. After three and a half hours I reached Fremont Saddle on the edge of the Inner Basin over which I could gaze at Humphreys Peak. I'd walked just 6.4km (4 miles).

I could also see the route stretching out ahead, steep and snowy. I had no ice axe, no crampons, no gaiters. I had no idea how stable the snow was, or how icy on some long traverses above big drops. Reluctantly I turned away. My attempt on the San Francisco Peaks was over. Fremont Saddle at 3292 metres (10,800 feet) would be my high point.

Looking back to Humphreys Peak

An hour and three-quarters later I was back at my campsite, having descended straight down some of the snow drifts. A lower snow-free walk around the southern slopes of the San Francisco Peaks led to a campsite on the edge of a meadow looking back to Humphreys Peak. It had been a good day.

You can read the full story of my Arizona Trail walk in my book Crossing Arizona (Countryman Press).


1 comment:

  1. Recently got a copy of Crossing Arizona - perfect reading while being at home. It's great to see the photos in colour. Thank you for posting.