July 23, 2016

Humphrey's Peak ATOMic Challenge

I like to hike, I really do, I just like riding my bike better. There are a handful of hikes I've been meaning to do over the years, but they never seem to work their way up the priority list. One of those hikes is to summit Humphrey's Peak, Arizona's highest point at 12,633 ft. This has been on my list for years and this year it seemed a ton of my friends had been doing it and posting pictures. My interest was renewed. I was content to do the hike like most do, park near Snowbowl Ski area and go up the main trail, but then an Instagram friend posted a picture from the Weatherford trail which she accessed from the Inner Basin. Hmmm. That instantly had my gears turning. Why? We do a popular ride around the peak using the Inner Basin trail, yet I never really connected the dots to use it as a summit route. Why not then, ride my bike from Flagstaff up to the Inner Basin, ditch it, and summit the Peak from the north side? The hike would be similar in distance from the ski resort and would give me a huge fast downhill to finish the ride. Of course the more I thought about it, I wanted it to be truly of epic proportions. I was a bit reluctant to add the normal Around the Mountain loop as there would be a few climbs waiting after the hike. So, why not go around the 'other' mountain: Mt. Elden. That route is mostly downhill, non-technical and generally really fast. Plus, there's a gas station practically on route for any re-fueling needs.
Humphrey's Peak: 12,633'
Sometime during the Bikepacking101 ride, Kelly and I were talking about this hike. She had been to the summit 6 times, but always from the ski resort side. She didn't blink when I told her of my route. She's a sucker for a good adventure. It was set, we'd head up early one Friday, camp out, then start early from town and knock it out.

One week prior to our attempt I saw a post from Ray. His bike leaning against a tree with a large backpack & baseball hat attached to it. Almost instantly I knew what he was up to!! Ray and I come from the same mold when concocting routes, it's no surprise we came up with the same idea!! He knocked it out that day and gave me a good sense of timing required for the hike.

I threw a few short rides together for our drive north. First up: Sedona and a Hiline loop since Kelly had never been on that trail, such a crime!! We rolled into town around 11a and it was already 94ยบ, so much for a cooler ride.

I had recently picked up a Dakine chest mount bag for my DSLR camera and was curious to see how it rode. It sticks out quite a bit while walking, but isn't noticeable at all when pedaling. I kind of feel like a kangaroo with it on, so many pouches.

We finally hit the trail from the Bike-n-Bean parking lot. Neither one of us had been on Made in the Shade, so why not? Well, it's pretty tough sledding, especially in the warm weather. We were sweating early on and seemed to be constantly off the bikes. I crested the high point of the trail and rolled around a drainage to a short steep drop. A minute went by, no Kelly. Another couple of minutes of silence followed. I thought she may have had enough of the trail and turned around! I called out and she replied from the other side of the drainage that a cleat bolt had fallen out of her shoe making it more difficult to ride. We were barely a mile into our ride, so we finished off Made in the Shade and headed back to Bike-n-Bean for a quick fix. (I normally have a few extra bolts, but took them out of my pack since I've been riding on flats lately)
Here's proof that we actually rode in Sedona!!
Shoe fixed, we headed back out, this time staying on the easier Slim Shady trail. Kelly had mentioned how she wasn't feeling strong, kinda sluggish. I figured the heat wasn't helping things, but when she was nowhere to be seen when I reached the Hiline junction, I thought something may be up. She was back around a bend, bike upside down and her frustration levels were 'overflowing' to say the least. The good news? We found out why she was sluggish. Her rear hydraulic brakes were not releasing. Pedal the wheel as hard as you could, it barely completed one revolution!! Total suckage. She's been having all kinds of issues with this 'high-end' bike lately and made a trailside call to her bikeshop. Not a happy camper. There wasn't much we could do, but turn around once more and head back to Bike-n-Bean to see if she could get a brake bleed done.

As soon as we walked in the door and explained what was going on, they told us there was nothing they could do as it was a warranty issue. Apparently the SRAM Guide brakes have been known to stick in hot conditions over time. As we began to wonder if we would be able to ride the next day, the guys offered a temporary solution: spray down the brakes with cool water & see if the piston retracts. There was a bike wash station out back and it did the trick!!

By now it was apparent there would be no Hiline ride today, oh well. We made up for it by grabbing some ice cream before pointing the car north once more.
Ice cream & goofiness cures all.
The radar up north was looking a little dicey. I wanted to do a Kelly Pocket loop, but the ominous clouds were directly where we were headed. We made it up to our turnoff and still no rain, so why not. Let's go for it!! We'd only be out for about an hour or so anyway.

The Kelly Pocket trail is an isolated piece of singletrack tucked in a forested ravine. It has great flow and for the most part is downhill with some obstacles to play on: logrolls, ladders, etc. I had the good camera with me, so we stopped for some photo ops along the way.
Focused and ready for takeoff!
Send it!
The Voodoo is always the center of attention, who needs a head anyway?
Smooth logroll.
Notice the crumbling left side on the landing log?
That was fun, we should do it again, but with more speed!! Ok. I went first, cleaned it, but it felt a bit more sketchy. Let's see how Kelly's second attempt went....
Solid approach.
Locked in
Over...oh, wait, remember that crumbling section?
Rut-roh!! Down goes Kelly!!
First things first, she was fine. Actually superwoman'd the landing quite nicely. I love the shot though, hand & foot coming off, but her facial expression hasn't quite caught up to reality. I wish I would have kept firing the shutter, two more shots would've been great!! :)
Forest full of ferns & hero dirt.
We didn't have much luck with this one.
Blasting off towards another climbing challenge!!
Way steeper than it looks and loose!
We took a few cracks at it, ending in a draw.
We finished off the loop and barely felt any sprinkles. Win!! The afternoon was growing long, so we loaded up on Fratelli's deep dish pizza and took plenty of leftovers for the big day. We crashed out up on Shultz Pass rd and hoped the skies would be in our favor the following day.

We were up shortly after 5a and made our way over to Safeway near Buffalo Park. From there it took a bit longer to get moving, but we were rolling out to the trails at 6:40a. We agreed on making a decision to ride Rocky Ridge when we arrived at the Elden Lookout rd. I would've been content to ride the road over to Shultz Creek, but Kelly was game for the Ridge, so off we went. I tend to forget how good this trail is, so much fun and just the right amount of tech.

We started the long slow grind up the mountain on Shultz Creek. I was a bit surprised to see so many riders out that early, both climbing and already heading downhill. Everyone seemed to be taking advantage of the hero dirt conditions! A few miles up the trail Kelly began to whine about...err, talk about, how uncomfortable her new seat was. That's one aspect of your gear you never want issues with, saddle sores suck. We kept grinding along, then I heard a very distinct chain noise behind me. Her chain dropped into the rear wheel and luckily she stopped quickly. What the hell is up with that bike, I thought. I could easily tell how frustrated she was at the situation, but we managed to get things right in a timely manner. Up at the Sunset trailhead we made some minor adjustments to her seat hoping that would help ease the discomfort as we still had 11 miles or so of mostly seated climbing to do.
Happy bikes make for...
Happy adventurers!! Photo by Kelly. (my selfie skillz suck)
We both were ready to get the hike underway. The skies looked promising and only the Waterline rd climb stood in our way. I only had two photo requests on the way up: the tunnel & Aspen Alley.
That's some wheelie determination!!
This makes me look like a good wheelie rider. I am not.
A few miles later I caught up to Kelly, she was on the verge of tears with the seat. We made another adjustment, she shook it off and pedaled on. I pulled away for a bit, but stopped at the gate near Aspen Alley. It was photo time again, except someone else wasn't quite over the uncomfortable seat situation and silently rode passed me. I've learned pretty quick to leave her alone while in the pain cave, it doesn't last long.

Our leftover pizza and fresh spring water lifted our spirits as a bunch of other riders came by. There was a good sized group doing an Around the Mountain ride for the first time. We fed them some stoke before making our final push up the upper Inner Basin trail to the Wilderness boundary.
No need to filter here. Photo by Kelly.
End of the line for the bikes.
We transitioned over to hike mode, stashed the bikes in the trees and began trekking up the Inner Basin trail. We took a tip from Ray and brought our wheel skewers. I had debated bringing my hiking poles, but forgot them in the garage!! Debate settled. I followed Kelly's cue by keeping my hands high under my pack straps.
Inner Basin trail was more loose, steeper & longer than we had hoped.
By the time we saw this rock the initial hiking excitement had wore off.
Finally reaching the Weatherford trail junction. Oof.
We met another hiker here who was waiting on a friend to come down the trail. He gave us encouragement for the upcoming more mellow trail. Spirits lifted once more, we pushed on.
Cool section of trail cutting between the pines.
It's almost a flat trail!
DSLR selfies are fun!!
Somewhere around here my GPS had a hiccup and stole 700' of elevation. My unit was only reading 10,700+ ft. here.
We were ready to experience the promised better views from this side of the mountain. Here, looking down into the Inner Basin.
The summit is still a long way off, but all is well.
ok, maybe a little winded.
Starting to leave the trees behind.
There's Flagstaff way down there, back where we started.
Splashes of purple were everywhere.
I'd love to ride this section!!
Looking back towards Fremont Peak. (11,969')
Doyle Peak. (11,460')
Near the 12,000' line.
Agassiz Peak sits at 12,358'
I'm not a fan of losing hard earned elevation just to go back up!
Yeah, we're on the trail.
Dropping down the saddle where the Humphrey's Peak trail joins from the ski resort. All of a sudden the route became a bit more crowded.
Only the final pitch remains.
Hands were required on occasion.
Top of Snowbowl Ski Area.
The first of a few false summits.
Quite a few of the hikers asked us if we rode up to the trailhead, when we told them what we were up to they were in awe. So studly. The best comeback I heard was 'Vicious!'. It was more funny when Kelly told me later that the guy said 'Ambitious'!! D'oh! I'm sticking with vicious.
Amazing view to the south.
High above the Inner Basin.
We had some hikers tell us the summit was bug free and not much wind. This gave us a renewed shot of adrenaline as we climbed up the boulder field. It was short lived as another group warned us to keep our mouths closed when taking pictures due to the swarm of flies!! So which is it?
Large posts marked the way.
There it is!! We can see the summit sign.
Woohoo!!  A fitting way to celebrate!
This was Kelly's 7th time to the top and admitted it was the toughest yet. Glad I could help!!
Finally, after all these years I stood on AZ's highest peak.
That's the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on the far right horizon.
What an amazing view. The bug situation wasn't horrible, but you didn't want to hang out too long. Temperature was pleasant, no jacket needed and the wind was light.
Happy to be here or happier that we're going downhill?
Here's an awkward DSLR selfie.
Looks like our weather window is closing, keep moving.
We had planned to get a snack at the saddle, but we heard our first light rumble from above. Gotta keep moving down the mountain, get to the trees. The uphill from the saddle put a bit of a hurt on and soon after starting down the mellow grade on Weatherford trail a light rain began to fall. A few more rumbles could be heard, but nothing nearby. Eventually we gave in and broke out our jackets. The rain remained light all the way down.
Somewhere around here, Kelly declared her legs 'dead'.
She then threatened to take Shultz Creek down to the bottom. 'If there's more than 1000' of climbing on the Elden Loop, I'm not going!' She sounded serious. I hoped she'd change her mind by the time we refilled water at the spring, but I wasn't so sure. I wasn't certain how much climbing remained, probably more than 1000' (It was closer to 2100'), but I also knew the trail was fast, flowy, non-techy and super fun. I bit my tongue on the sales pitch...for a little longer.

We rounded up the bikes and had more pizza, only 37 miles of mostly downhill terrain remained...at least that's what I hoped we'd be doing.

I don't think we were riding more than 5 minutes down the Inner basin trail when....psshhhhtt. Kelly's front tire punctured, spraying sealant everywhere. If it were me, I might have just walked down the mountain at this point. She's been getting a crash-course in trailside maintenance lately.

We tried to get the hole to seal, nada. Tried some tire bacon (apparently, if you keep that stuff in heat, it melts a bit to the wrapper and makes things difficult to use), nothing. Then it started to rain again. Great. We opted for a tube, but trying to get the bead off her rim was quite the challenge. It took both of us a few minutes to finally break it free. I think we messed with the wheel for a solid 30 minutes before we started rolling again. I urged her to keep things slow at least until the spring. That trail has too many protruding rocks over loose terrain to rip through it running a tube. I don't think she knows how to ride slow when speed is calling, but she must've let off the gas a bit since I was able to keep up.

Down at the spring I made my case for the remaining portion of the route. She listened, but didn't commit to anything, except Aspen Alley photos.
What an incredible area.
Ride up to ride down. Photo by Kelly.
We settled in to our 9 mile descent and as the minutes ticked by I was ready to concede the final miles around Elden. She wasn't going to finish this ride down Shultz solo. That's just dumb. I rode up next to her and asked how she was feeling. She said the seat felt ok and thought she could make it around Elden. If that doesn't tell you how tough this girl is, nothing will. We ripped down Waterline knowing we still had plenty of good riding to come, even in the dark.

Down at the Sunset trailhead I sent K at text on Kelly's phone (mine was dead) letting her know we were going to be late. It was time for some AZT action and I knew Kelly would tear this section up. I did warn her about a crappy climb a few miles down the trail that I often walk because I'm tired.

Well, we dropped in and I did my best to keep her in my sights. There were some sketchy moments for sure, but I was hanging on...barely. We hammered all the way through the descent and started the climb. I got dropped, quick. I walked a bit, then rode, then walked while Kelly waited for me at the top of the hill. I caught up and found her wearing the biggest grin you can imagine. 'That is my new favorite trail in Flagstaff!' Hard to argue when given conditions like we had. What about those dead legs, I asked. Adrenaline cures all. Once again: Sandbagger!!
I swear the trail is sandy here. Photo by Kelly.
We were gunning for the Conoco station before dark and just made it. It was now almost 8p and we still had 22 miles to go.
It's gotta be the socks.
Fiery sunset over Mt. Elden.
Waning light and our last pic of the ride-hike-ride.
Our route from the Conoco was finished off in a little over 2 hours. We kept a solid pace going the whole way, only slowing down when a skunk ran in front of me and wouldn't yield the trail!! We rode a few miles of AZT, Campbell Mesa, Flagstaff Loop trail then rejoined the AZT at Rio de Flag for the final miles back to Buffalo Park. Safeway was just down the hill. We clocked in at 10:28p. Whew. What a day!! What an adventure!!

We opted for some high calorie McD's just before closing. Freshened up and decided to camp out again, just too whooped to make the drive home that night. I wasn't going to get home until after 2a if we left. So, back over to Shultz Pass.

This may become an annual thing. Other than getting a little sleepy near the end, I felt pretty good. The hike was a bit tougher than I had thought, but wasn't horrible by any stretch.

I can't say enough how amazed I am at watching Kelly's day unfold and her unwillingness to give in. Rule #5 applied today. Really, just about every ride we've been on she's had to battle through some bullshit. We've only been riding together for about 1 1/2 months, if I'm recalling correctly she's had a laundry list of trail woes to deal with:

  • Doubled her longest single day ride mileage
  • Almost ran out of water
  • Stitches
  • Stolen bike
  • Bonking
  • Lost cleat bolt
  • Bent seat
  • Bad seat
  • Dropped chain
  • Seized brakes
  • Sliced tire
Over that same time span, I'm lucky if I put air in my tires....once!! Way to tough it out girl!! Thanks for being a sucker for a good adventure. Where to next?

Photo album:

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