Humphreys Cirque

While the west side of the San Francisco Peaks is inarguably beautiful, I tend to think of it as the boring part of the mountain. The west side includes the Arizona Snowbowl, and as you'd expect on a volcano, the terrain is quite modest.

Not so the mountain's Inner Basin—literally the interior of the volcano, formed when the mountain blew its top (or perhaps just collapsed) somewhere in the vicinity of 200,000 years ago.

You get a peek at these lines from the top of the Snowbowl's Arizona Gondola (formerly the Agassiz Chairlift), but until you crest the rim of the basin, you really don't get a sense of just how expansive and inspiring the terrain is on the interior of the mountain.

Steeps and cliffs abound, on a wide variety of aspects. On this day, Dave and I intended to ski Abineau Canyon, on the mountain's north side, but when we summitted Humphreys Peak, we found that side of the mountain stripped by wind.

So, instead, we decided to descend into the mountain's Inner Basin (and out of the wind), skiing the "big obvious badass" line from the false summit down through the cliff bands on Humphreys Ridge's southeast aspect.

This is another one of those back-in-the-day classics for me. The young me and friends skied several lines off this ridge way back in the early 90's. On our primitive touring bindings paired with Alpine race skis and boots, we thought that 500 vertical foot climb from the top of the lift to the rim was a big deal. :)

The ideal way to catch these lines might be in spring corn season. All of it definitely qualifies as avalanche terrain, and should probably be treated with a great deal of respect.

If you'd like to explore the area, there is a small but active backcountry community in Flagstaff, and you could probably find partners/information by reaching out to the Kachina Peaks Avalanche Center.

— April 12, 2024

Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents

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