Humphreys Peak Trip Report (#3103)
- Signed By: Bob McReynolds
- Date submitted: May 25, 2003
- Number of People Encountered:
A PEAK BAGGER'S DELIGHT #2 SORT OF
Humphreys Peak May 24, 2003, 9:20AM
hhhh, the ability to knock off a peak while on the way to do something else. Humphreys Peak sort of qualified as a peak bagger's delight. It was a side trip during a mission that had absolutely nothing to do with highpointing. Being in Arizona, it was out of the way of a regular route as this would only be my 4th or 5th trip to this state in my lifetime. However, I had to be there, at least I made it that way.
We had arranged for my middle daughter and child #3 out of 4, Meredith age 11 years, to accompany my sister, her family and some of their friends on a once-in-a lifetime trip to Italy. Meredith was extremely excited to be afforded this opportunity and we were grateful to give this 16-day vacation to her. I think the most appealing thing about the trip was the opportunity to spend this special time with my sister's daughter and Meredith's first cousin, Katie. Since the first time they had met, they got along well and really enjoyed each other's company. Even with the age difference, Meredith being 11 years old and Katie only being 7, they adored each other. In the weeks leading up to the trip, Meredith and Katie talked frequently on the telephone about the upcoming trip.
Now, how did this trip lead me to Humphreys Peak? Well, the flight arrangements for the Italy trip were to begin in Phoenix, Arizona. My sister had arranged for the group to leave Phoenix on Lufthania Airlines at 3:05PM on May 23, 2003. This required Meredith to travel from our home in Knoxville to Phoenix that morning and I eagerly volunteered to accompany her on this first leg of the trip. Then, once we met up in Phoenix and they were off to Italy, I would "sneak" up to Flagstaff, Arizona, spend Friday night, climb Humphreys Peak on Saturday, and return home to Knoxville on Sunday. A perfect opportunity for everyone involved to allow me the shot at climbing Humphreys Peak.
Humphreys Peak, at 12,633 feet, was no piece of cake. Any mountain, in my opinion, over 10,000 feet is a major challenge. Being at altitude previously on Mt. Whitney and Middle Sister, I had felt its effects quite clearly. Once above 10,000 feet, you are easily fatigued, and once you reach 12,000 feet, you get dizzy, light headed, and nauseous. Even though this peak was only a 4 ½ mile "hike" that should take no more than 4 hours to reach the summit, it was a concern. I was concerned about being affected by the altitude and having to turn back, but I knew what I had to do to combat it; drink plenty of water the night before, the morning of, while on the trail, and push through any discomfort associated with the altitude. I was concerned about falling; I hate heights. But I knew what to do to combat it; relax and remain calm, don't look down, and stay in the middle of the trail. I was concerned about being caught high on the mountain in a storm, however, I had checked the Flagstaff weather for days leading up to the climb and all indications were that there would be excellent weather. Further, I would be climbing in the morning and should be down off the mountain by noon, thus avoiding those super-charged afternoon thunderstorms. I just had to keep reassuring myself that everything would be fine everything would be fine everything would be fine. The other concern was hiking alone. However, I let my wife and sister know exactly where I would be and at what time, and made arrangements to check in from the summit and once I was down safely to the car. Also, being Saturday, I anticipated a crowded trail.
The trip started with a very emotional goodbye between Meredith and her mom. Meredith is a laugher, joker, and cut-up. However, just like me, she has a deep emotional side to her. When trauma appears, just like me, she can have a substantial breakdown and that is exactly what happened when we left the house to head for Nashville. I have only seen her cry like that once before and that was when Missy and I were telling the kids we had separated. However, once we got away from Knoxville and on the road to Nashville, her bravery, adventuresome, and sense of humor started to emerge. I admired her for taking on this adventure and being separated from the ones she loves so deeply. At age 11, I would have never been able to take these risks, of going to a foreign country at a time when worldwide safety was a major concern, of being separated from my family for over 2 weeks. I had tremendous separation anxiety as a child and still do to this day.
After the emotional goodbye with her mom, I started to fear the worst. Would she really be able to go? Would she break down again in Phoenix and not be able to break away from me? What would I do? Should I call Missy and ask her want to do if she had an attack? Should I call and talk to my sister about it? I certainly didn't want Meredith to be a burden to her during their vacation. However, the further we got down the road toward Nashville, the better she became. By the time we got to Nashville, she was her old self again.
We awoke early, loaded up our bags, and headed to the airport. Everything went quite well until Meredith had another breakdown shortly after takeoff from Nashville. I hugged her, held her, and cried along with her. She looked startled when she saw I was crying, too. The sight of me crying straightened her up quite fast and she settled down for the long flight to Phoenix.
We arrived in Phoenix about 35 minutes early and had a 3 hour wait until Becky and the rest of the Italy-bound group was expected to arrive. After each of us wolfed down a double cheeseburger from Burger Kint, we sat around, calmly albeit. Meredith played on my laptop while I read the paper. I felt confident she was over the emotional part of separation anxiety and was looking forward to greeting Katie and cutting up with her. Everything was going to be A-ok, at least that is what I thought. However, there was a tragedy brewing, a catastrophe, a calamity of astronomical proportion.
Becky, Gary, Katie, and Lee, Carol, and Ethan, arrived just after noon. We hugged and talked for a few minutes. I introduced Meredith to Lee, Carol, and Ethan but she didn't seem very interested in talking to them. I gave Becky Meredith's passport (I was so glad I had got her there with it) along with some other information she would need. I covered her return flight and what we needed her to do to insure Meredith made it back to Nashville. Then, they got their bags and headed over to the ever-growing Lufthansa Airlines check-in line to check their bags and get their boarding passes. I stood in the back, about to witness one of the biggest disasters ever.
Lee, Carol, and Ethan got checked in quickly, then, Becky, Gary, Katie and Meredith approached the check-in counter. They handed them all the passports, the bags to be checked, and some other information. They stood there waiting and then, the "bomb". I wasn't quite sure what had happened but Becky buried her face in her hands with a look of shock. I thought someone must have forgotten their passport because I only saw the clerk hand back 3 passports. Then, Lee walked over to me and said "Becky's passport is expired." I was shocked, too. The look on Becky's face was horrific. Here were her friends, her family, me, and Meredith all in Phoenix readying for the trip of a lifetime and there was a problem, an unsolvable problem.
After about 10 minutes of talking to the clerk, they walked back to me with their bags and said it wasn't Becky's passport that was expired but Gary's passport had expired about 2 years ago. How could someone make a mistake like this? Maybe you could lose your passport. But wouldn't you know when it expired or check it before you ever even made overseas the travel arrangements? How stupid!
Then, the calamity began. Nightmare on Elm Street.
There were phone calls. There were breakdowns. There was digging for quarters to make more phone calls. There were trips to get change to make even more phone calls. I dared to ask what they were trying to accomplish. All I was doing was offering my spare change for more calls and my cell phone if it was needed. After about 20 minutes of phone calls, Becky broke down completely and went to the restroom. Carol chased after her to console her. Gary was saying "They can go without me." I just stood back in amazement and just watched the show.
For Gary, there were 2 options. He could apply for an expedited renewal of his passport and it would take 5 business days. The other option was for him to make an appointment in Los Angeles to meet with a Customs official and obtain a passport on the same day. That was the first thing they tried to accomplish; get Gary an appointment in LA on Tuesday morning to obtain a new passport.
As for the trip, there were many options. My suggestion, backed by Lee and Carol, was for the girls to go ahead and Gary come to Italy after he obtained his passport in Los Angeles on Tuesday. There were no guarantees that Gary could get the passport on Tuesday. What if the person he had an appointment with called in sick? What if there was a terrorist attack at LAX airport? It just didn't seem worth the risk of spoiling 7 people's vacations when, for the tradeoff of 4 days for 1 person, you could make sure at least 6 people went on the vacation.
I'm not sure who made the decision, whether it was Becky, Gary, or them together, but they decided to return to Tucson, fly to Los Angeles on Monday, try to get Gary a passport on Tuesday, and then fly to Italy late Tuesday.
Well, they made the arrangements with Lufthansa to fly to Italy on Tuesday. Whatever. I was ready to book Meredith back to Knoxville with me on Sunday and just forget about it. Lee, Carol, and Ethan went on to Italy with plans to pick them up at the airport in Pisa on Wednesday morning. I hugged Meredith one last time. Then, Becky, Gary, Katie, and Meredith departed for Tucson, and I departed for Flagstaff.
The 130 mile drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff is one of my favorites. Once you get out of the traffic of Phoenix, I-17 begins a climb up into the high country of Arizona. The thing that interests me most about this drive is the fact there are road signs every time the elevation changes 1,000 feet. Right outside of Phoenix, you start the climb and see the signs; 2,000 feet, 3,000 feet, 4,000 feet, 5,000 feet. In addition, you have the distinction of passing over rivers with unusual names, such as Skunk Creek and Deadman's Wash. Being in the desert, however, these "rivers" are just dry ditches. Also, there are Saguaro cactus all along the interstate, down the median, and on both sides. It is said that you can tell the age of a Saguaro Cactus by the number of its branches. For every branch, the cactus is said to represent 50 years of life or so. Some of them had 5 branches so they were older than our country!
Another thing about the Saguaro Cactus is that they are a protected plant. Destruction of a Saguaro Cactus is punishable by a substantial fine and, sometimes, jail time. I have heard stories where people have run off the interstate, hit a cactus, and ended up in jail.
About 50 miles outside of Flagstaff, you descent into the Verde Valley. During this descent, you probably drop from 5,000 feet to 2,000 feet. The views are breathtaking. As I descended into Verde Valley, I looked up and there it was. The objective. The mountain. What I had come here for. Humphreys Peak. There was no mistaking it. I remember exactly what it looked like from the trip to Arizona and the Grand Canyon with Nicholas and Natalee in 2000. It was a volcano with no top. Only the teeth of the volcano remained, which were known as the San Francisco Mountains. Humphreys Peak, Agassiz Peak, and the others. But there was something funny looking about it. There was some sort of shiny stuff on the mountain, a white-looking something that didn't really look like snow. It was probably the reflection of the sunlight I reasoned, knowing well and good that it was snow and that I might have a problem.
Then, down in the Verde Valley, I didn't see the mountain again until we climbed back up into Flagstaff. Flagstaff is 6,800 feet above sea level and when we arrived, after going through everything I had been through that day, I had a headache. I stopped at a market and picked up 2 bottles of water to try to combat the beginning symptoms of altitude sickness. I hadn't drank a drop since the calamity and dehydration is a principle cause of altitude-related symptoms. Staying hydrated is a must at altitude.
I drove directly to the trailhead, just to get a good look at the mountain, see if the white-looking stuff was really snow and if it was going to cause problems. Arriving in the parking lot, I was excited to see about 6 or 7 cars in the parking area knowing there were people who had hiked the summit and were still on the mountain at 5:30PM. That was a good sign, a very good sign, that this was a doable mountain, that it probably wasn't that dangerous a peak to try to accomplish, even alone.
After waking up the trail about 100 yards to get an even better look at the giant, I went back to the car and headed back to Flagstaff to get a room, eat and prepare for tomorrow's summit attempt. There was something that did bother me. Flies, great big noisy flies, were swarming around me during the brief time I was on the trail. Where was my bug spray? In Knoxville, of course.
I awoke the next morning at 4:45AM. I drank 1 cup of coffee and a quart of water as I drove to the trailhead. It was a crisp, beautiful morning, not a cloud in the sky. I hit the trail at 5:45AM, about 15 minutes ahead of time. I had anticipated hitting the trail at 6:00AM and summiting by 10:00AM. I took a couple of self-portraits at the trailhead with the signs in the background since no one was around and a shot of the mountain itself, then started up the well-marked trail. I was dressed in a long-sleeved Zip-T shirt, shorts, and was carrying my trusty old North Face daypack. I brought along a shell jacket but left my shell pants, fleece jacket, gloves, and toboggan in the car. It was pretty obvious they would not be needed for this climb.
The first quarter mile or so the trail crosses a ski slope. It was not steep at all but I could feel the altitude. The only symptom I had was light-headedness, which was normal. No nausea or headache, of course, I had loaded up on Ibuprofen before starting. After crossing the ski slope the trail ascends through a densely wooded forest. Again, the slope was not real steep, probably comparable to the upper slopes of Mount LeConte. There were, however, substantial snowfields under the trees but none that caused any problems. After a couple of switchbacks and about 7:00AM, I figured I was approaching 10,500 feet. Everything was going great. I wasn't hot or cold, the trail was great, and I was making good time. I started to feel really good about things and even started fantasizing being the first person to summit today.
Then, I ran into a backpacker coming down the trail. I stopped and talked to him a little about the trail. He was from Michigan and had camped just below tree-line the night before. He said he summitted at 5:00AM and saw the sun rise at 5:10AM. Well, so much for my fantasy of being the day's first summiter.
I questioned him about the trail. He said it was in really good shape. He said there was a rockfall that he took up to the top. A rockfall? Why would he take a rockfall instead of the trail that he said was in really good shape? He said it was a shorter route but was grueling and there was substantial snow and ice to navigate through. He said I should have already crossed the rockfall at least once and the switchbacks crossed it several more times above. I acted dumb, then said "Yea, I remember crossing it." Liar!
I asked him about the saddle and the trail up the south ridge to the summit. He said no snow on them, that they were in really good shape, and once I obtained the col it was about 45 minutes to the top.
Not more than 5 minutes after I talked to him, I hit it. It was a boulder field about 100 yards wide, 500 yards down, about 700 yards up, and about a 45 degree angle. It reminded me of the boulders we encountered on the 97 switchbacks of Mount Whitney, only there was no trail. I couldn't tell where I was other than the trail just ran into the boulder field, or rockfall as he called it. I was still well below the tree line and the trees were really dense. I really wanted to stay on the trail, but where was it? Where did it go? Out into the middle of the rockfall? I climbed to the other side at the angle I anticipated the trail should ascend hoping to run into the trail on the other side. Wrong. There was no trail over there. I saw 2 pens someone had laid on the rocks which appeared to be pointing to the other side. Do you think that was a signal that the trail was really on the other side of the rockfall? I thought so and started back across the boulders hoping I would hit paydirt.
I made it back but not without a couple of near spills. I was not very adept at boulder hopping and my trekking poles were more of a liability than an asset at the task at hand. There were about 3 near-severe sprains of my right ankle.
Back at the original side of the rockfall, there was no trail either. It was like the trail ended in the boulder field. Ok, let's go with plan B so up the boulder field I went. I had no idea if I was going in the right direction or not. I checked my compass continually and it showed I was going East, and I was climbing, so I assumed I was going in the right direction. The climb was grueling and I estimate it was at about a 45 degree angle. But, after about 30 minutes I got the hang of it. I got rid of the trekking poles and I would go about 30 feet and rest. My heart was trying to beat out of my chest but my breathing was ok. I stopped for several water breaks and finished off the first quart going up the boulder field. It was really becoming apparent that the cardio work I had been doing for 2 years was paying dividends. My legs were getting quite tired and I anticipated having some muscle soreness from the workout but my breathing and high heart rate were very tolerable.
Then, a funny think happened. The rockfall ended. It ended into a thick forest of evergreen trees, and lots and lots of snow. You know, the deep variety that causes you to posthole. It still couldn't see if I was going in the right direction or not. The trees were entirely too thick and tall. Every now and then, I could see a glimpse of the crest of the ridge above me but I could not see any peaks anywhere. And the trail, you know, that "yellow brick road" to the summit, was nowhere to be seen.
It was trouble getting through the thicket of trees, and the snow was a real hinderance to making any kind of progress. I zig-zagged from opening to opening and tried my best to stay away from the snow. In some cases, I could make really good time but in others, my legs would break through above my knees. In one unexpected breakthrough, I opened up a real nice gash and scrape on my left knee. The blood flowed freely down the shin of my leg. I though about cleaning it up with my state-of-the-art first aid kit but decided to put that process off until I reached the summit.
Finally, I broke through the trees and into another rockfall. This rockfall was comparable to the other one, only I still could not tell where to climb to. It appeared I had come way to far to the north and was actually climbing the West Face of Humphreys Peak nowhere near the actual trail. There was a ridge in the boulder field to my right so as I climbed I tried to bear off to the right somewhat. This rockfall also contained snowfields but I was able to avoid most of them as I headed for the ridge hoping to finally get a glimpse of where I needed to be going; low point between Humphreys Peak and Agissaz, or the saddle or col. As I climbed in an area I now knew no one else would be clumsy enough to end up in, all I could think of was one of those boulders rolling down and trapping my arm, just like the dude in Colorado that had to cut his arm off to survive.
I obtained the ridge in the boulder field and could now see I had, in fact, climbed about half the West Face of Humphrey's Peak. I could now see what I thought was Agassiz and what I thought might be the summit of Humphrey's Peak. I could also see what I thought might be the low point in the ridge between these 2 peaks and headed straight for it, rock hopping all the way.
I obtained the saddle at 8:38AM, almost 3 hours after leaving the trailhead and 1 ½ hours in the rockfall and backcountry bush on a 45 degree slope. The views to the West and the East were stunning. I sat there, sipped water, and rested for at least 10 minutes. I could clearly see the snow bowl and the parking lot I had parked in. I aligned my compass to the snow bowl and wrote down its coordinates, exactly 240 degrees. If worse came to worse on the say down, I would just make a beeline on a heading of 240 degrees and hopefully run right into my car. I also noted that if I lost the trail to bear left, or to the South so as to run directly into one of the many ski slopes on Agassiz Peak.
It appeared the trail up the south ridge was well-marked and I was probably home-free. It took me about 40 minutes to climb from the col to the summit, a little less time than it took the Michigan dude, which made me puff my chest out a little more. There were at least 3 false summits and, finally, after seeing the sign at the top from about 400 yards below, I knew I was going to make it.
Then, I heard voices. I turned and noted 2 hikers coming up the trail at a really brisk pace. I kicked it in and was determined to be the 2nd summiter on this day, not the 3rd or 4th. I summitted #2 for the day at 9:20AM. 12,633 feet above sea level. It was really high.
I called Missy to tell her about it and called David as well. The connections were horrible. Missy congratulated me as she lounged by the pool. Oh, what a delight it would have been to be sitting by a cool, refreshing pool right now. David answered the phone Everest Base Camp. I told him we weren't in good enough shape to be mountaineers, that I was tired, soar, and really beat up from the climb up. He could hardly hear a word I was saying. I sat down and started looking at my knee. I pulled out my state of the art medical kit expecting to find some of those alcohol wipes to clean the wounds, Neosporin to apply, and band aids to cover them from further damage. I searched the kit and there were no alcohol wipes, no gause, or anything else to clean them with. There were no band aids either. So much for that state of the art medical kit. I did find some Neosporin and applied it to the bloody spots.
The 360 degree views from the summit were awesome. To the south, you could see the parking lot I had started from. It looked so far away and so far down. I felt like I could easily parachute down to it. To the north, you could just barely make out the Grand Canyon through the building haze. To the East, you could easily see that you were standing on the West rim of an extinct volcano. To the South, you could see Agassiz Peak and Flagstaff. The summit itself was no more than a rock plateau. A wind fort had been built in the middle of it, obviously to protect those that dared camp at this place. Undoubtedly, no one had camped here recently as the fort was full of snow. It was rather cool and a steady wind of about 10 to 15 knots was blowing from the East. I donned my North Face Kichatna jacket to knock off the chill that I was starting to feel.
The other guys summited about 10 minutes after me. They had hit the trail at 6:15AM and must have been just behind me most of the way. They were from Flagstaff and were your typical outdoorsy types. Long hair, beards, real down to earth dudes. But they were nice and we chatted for about 30 minutes. They snapped a couple of shots of me and I took several of them. They had been living in Flagstaff only since March and this was their first time up to the top. One of them was from Wisconsin and the other was from Montana via Alaska. I asked him if he had done any big peaks up there and he said he was not versed in crampons and ice axe use.
They also said they got caught in the boulder field, too, but were able to navigate back to the trail pretty quickly. The dude from Alaska had a GPS. I think I need to get one of those devices because I am terrible at following a trail unless it is a trail in the Smoky's. I almost always miss the switchbacks and continue too far, losing the trail and having to backtrack to try to reacquire the trail.
I scanned the horizon for signs of bad weather. See no signs of any problems, I departed the summit at 9:54AM after chewing up some Beef Jerky. I felt pretty confident that the ride down would be much easier than the ride up. How wrong I would end up being. The 2 dudes said "Good luck. And stay on the trail this time." I needed the luck but staying on the trail was a bit dicy.
I passed another hiker as I followed the trail back down to the saddle, or at least the place I had come up to the ridge. It was 10:16AM and I had made it to what I thought was the saddle in about 20 minutes. But a funny thing happened there, too. The trail kept going across the saddle for another quarter mile or so. On the way up, I hadn't even reached the saddle. I had reached the South Ridge much further up from saddle, even after making some Southerly adjustments during the Great Boulder Climb.
Well, I was determined to follow the trail all the way down. I went on down to the "real" saddle and there were a couple of signs there. One pointed up to Agassiz Peak, the other to the snow bowl. I wasn't going to Agassiz Peak, I had had enough of mountain climbing for one day. So, I started the descent down the face of the mountain.
All the literature I had read on this "hike" was that it was a well-marked trail all the way to the top. Well, the first mile or so was easily followed, and the last mile, from the saddle to the summit, was well marked. But the in-between? It sucked!
Once below the saddle, the trail disintegrated into snow, mud, loose dirt, and small baseball-sized boulders, and bushy evergreen trees. I was pretty sure I was on the trail as there was a lot of snow with easy to follow footprints. After about 20 minutes of the worst slides of my mountain climbing career, I came upon a rather large group of 10. They were ascending and claimed to be on the trail. They reassured me I was on the trail as well and to just follow their footsteps to the bottom. The lead dude said he had been up here before and this was a bad time of year to be climbing the peak as the snow disrupted the trail. I told him about my escapade of getting lost in the boulder field and climbing the West Face. He said it happened a lot this time of year, that it happened to a friend of his about a month ago, and he was sorry to hear about it. I wasn't sorry. I was just glad to be finally going in the right directly.
I followed their footprints for no more than 5 minutes when they disappeared. The mountain was so steep I kept falling, sliding down, sinking into the snowfields, and having to navigate around these trees with prickly evergreen limbs. I was launching boulders down the slope left and right and considered yelling "Rock!" like they do on real mountains. I scraped my right knee up pretty good, too, so now I had matching knees. I also skinned by left shin after a really sweet unintended glissade down a dirt slide. I was really becoming concerned that I was going to get hurt. This was not a trail. It was a steep slope with loose rocks, scree, dirt, snow, and ice. Obviously, I had lost the trail again.
I could see a major ski slope off to my left and began a half controlled slide toward it. I had to navigate trees, snow, and more loose dirt before I finally reached it. I sat down and took another drink and emptied the rocks out of my Timberland hiking boots that had accumulated on the descent. I had worn the Timberland's instead of the La Sportiva's, otherwise known and the "Blister Factories", to preserve my feet for the upcoming trip to Mount Hood and Mount Shasta the following week. I really felt home free now, and I could see someone else who had elected to descend this ski slope as well. I couldn't see the snow bowl and there were doubts popping into my head that maybe I had made a mistake. It was turning quite hot as the sun beat down on me. I was starting to sweat for the first time of the day.
Eventually, the slope turned into a gravel road. I went by several chair lifts and was pretty sure I would make it as I drained the last drops from my 50 ounce water bottle and started a controlled jog down the dirt road. Soon, the dirt road ended in a dirt parking lot filled with cars. But it wasn't the parking lot I had parked in. The parking lot I had parked in was off of a paved road. The road leading to this parking lot was a dirt road. Where was I? There was a building up the road and I hiked up to see where I was. I thought maybe I was at some other place besides the snow bowl and would need to hitch a ride back to the trailhead. Wherever I was, it was 11:35AM and I had made it down to "somewhere" in less than 2 hours. I stopped and asked a lady if she knew where the snow bowl was. She said, "Right there in front of you." Confused, I walked up to the building, looked around. I then became cognizant of the fact that the trailhead parking lot is much lower than the snow bowl and walked down the road for 10 minutes through a couple of switchbacks about a quarter of a mile to my nice, comfortable, cool car. I had made it. I had knocked the bastard off. And, I was still alive!
Driving back to Phoenix, I felt pretty good about things. I was listening to 90.9FM, a Christian station, and praising God for getting me up and down the mountain safely. I had taken a Hydrocodone for prevention of pain in my right ankle so I was zoning out on the drive back. I knew I had knocked the peak off and everything was going to be fine. Yeah, right.
About 40 miles outside of Flagstaff as I descended into the Verde Valley, a van I was following suddenly swerved to the shoulder and slammed on its breaks. I veered to the left to miss it and, right in front of me, was a mother Duck and about 7 or 8 ducklings crossing the interstate. I slammed on my breaks and swerved back to the right. Skid marks and smoke came barreling out of the car. I tried the best I could to keep from hitting them but I splattered at least one, maybe two babies as I tried to keep from losing control of the car. I heard the dreadful, heart-dropping bang of the front tire striking the ducks as the car started to spin to the right out of control. Luckily, I gained control of it and looked in the rearview mirror to see the results. The group continued toward the median but there was at least 1 baby crushed in the middle of the road.
I was in shock. I always try to avoid hitting animals on the roadway, even to the extent of causing myself to be in a wreck. That was exactly what had happened here. I didn't know whether to be relieved I had not wrecked the car or remorseful for hitting the baby ducks. It affected me for about 10 more minutes at which time I felt this event was a message from God to keep my arrogant attitude about bagging Humphreys Peak under control and not gloat so much.
The rest of the trip back to Phoenix was uneventful and I found a really nice Holiday Inn 5 minutes from the airport. The bath and shower felt so good. The best part was washing the blood off my knees and shins and discovering the wounds were not as bad as they had appeared on the mountain. You know, a lot of blood can make things look much worse that they really are.
You know what? I think I need to continue keeping my guard up. I need to continue to expect the worst because every time I expect something more or feel I am "out of the woods", something always goes wrong.