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Name: B-24 Crash Site Mount Humphrey Author's Rating:
Author: Matt Marine Avg. User Rating: (based on one vote)
Type: Hike Difficulty: (Difficult)
Time: 5 - 7 hours Region: Northwest Arizona
Length: 7.5 miles (out and back) Elevation gain/loss/change: +~1800 / -~1800 / +0 (out and back)
Type: Out and back Avg Elevation: 10,000 ft
Best time to go: summer, fall, spring Fees: NA
Fitness rating: High Educational Merit: Medium
Danger/fear rating: Medium Scenic Beauty: High
Hours of Operation: NA Last updated: June, 2014
See the Feature Story, Hiking to a B-24 Crash Site and Eating Dry Cat Food for the story of our adventure on this hike
Short Description: A difficult hike up to a B-24 crash site on the side of Mount Humphrey in Flagstaff
Geocaches: A few geocaches in the area. B-24 Crash Site; Hole in log2; High in Arizona
References / Contact Information: Hike Arizona; Lost Flights; Aviation Archeology; Azdailysun
Points of interest: B-24 Crash Site, Mount Humphrey Peak, Historic Flagstaff, Twin Arrows Truck Stop
Special Considerations: Getting to the B-24 is difficult. Route finding very difficult. GPS HIGHLY recommended. Getting lost while searching for the B-24 a real possibility. Hiking at this altitude can lead to increased dehydration (your body needs ~ four times more water than at sea level) and altitude sickness. It can be difficult to catch your breath at this altitude. Make sure you bring plenty of water and high energy food. Mount Humphrey trail can be crowded.
How to get there: The trail head is at one of the large parking areas at the Arizona Snowbowl and can be accessed by passenger cars. Park at the Mount Humphrey trail head. From Flagstaff, head north on US 180, then turn right at the Snowbowl entrance. Follow this road about 6.5 miles until you reach the trailhead. Click here for directions.

Trail Description

This is a wonderful hike through the tall trees on Mount Humphrey (Arizona's tallest peak). The first section of the trail is on the Mount Humphrey summit trail and can be very crowded during peak summer months.

The trail begins at the main ski lodge at the Arizona Snowbowl. It starts off on a flat grassy ski run, then quickly heads into the tress. Once in the trees, you stay in them (no good views) until you reach the lava boulder fields at the plane crash.

The trail switchbacks up the mountain and you'll find yourself counting the switchbacks until you reach the one that you'll take to the crash site. The main trail isn't too steep, but if you're like me, it will leave you gasping for air in a few spots.

The "trail" to the crash site can be very difficult to follow and a GPS is highly recommended. The terrain is very steep here and if you get off the trail you will find yourself going up and down small, but steep canyons that will exhaust you.

Even with a GPS telling you the direction to go, route finding can be difficult. The forest is very thick. I was very lucky to have someone who had been there before. Even so, we got off the trail on the way back and searched the entire way for it during our return to the main trail, even crossing the trail a few times, without ever "finding" the trail.

The B-24 crash site is on a steep and large lava boulder field. Footing here can be very treacherous. First your legs and feet are already tired. Second, many of the boulders (even the big ones) are unstable and shift when you put your weight on them. Even a thirty foot trek here can be exhausting. Twisted ankles are a high probability.

The remains of the plane are spread over a large area. If you're looking for huge pieces of engines or the fuselage or cool instruments, you're going to be disappointed. These have long since disappeared (or never survived the crash). But there's still lots to see. Large chunks of the wings, pieces of the engines (I've heard there's one that's fairly intact, but we didn't find it), landing gear and other miscellaneous parts.

If you are very ambitious, when you're finished with the B-24, you can head all the way up to the summit.

General Information and History

On September 15, 1944 eight men left Bakersfield, California in a Consolidated TB-24J Liberator (training version of the famed B-24) for Kirtland Army Air Field in New Mexico. They never made it.

At approximately 3:30 am, the airplane crashed into the western slopes of Humphrey's Peak at roughly 11,300 feet in elevation. The official cause was pilot error as the plane was determined to be 15 miles off course at the time of the accident. it was a dark, moonless night with overcast clouds that could have been a factor in the crash.

For more information see the following sites:

Lost Flights: cool photos from trips in 1991 and 2013 showing the difference between the two

Aviation Archeology: scanned copies of official accident report

Azdailysun: story about a person trying to collect the history of the accident

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The Trail

Park in the large dirt parking lot next to the Humphrey Peak trailhead (WPT0001). The trail starts out heading across one of the ski runs in an open grassy field. The view from here is nice, but just wait until you get a little higher!

After about 1/3 of a mile, you will enter the thick forest and your views will disappear until you reach the lava fields at the B-24 site. That's not all bad news. The walk among the tall trees is wonderful and beautiful. And the shade is nice on warm sunny days.

The trail becomes rocky and crisscrossed by tree roots as you get deeper into the woods. After about 3/4 from the trailhead, you will come to your first switchback at Waypoint WPT0002. You will want to count switchbacks on your way up. You are looking to make it to the seventh switchback (WPT0008) and take the side trail to the B-24 from there.

The trail isn't super steep, but it is a steady climb that will get most people's legs burning and heart pumping. After the first leg, the switchbacks are fairly close in length and you can time yourself between waypoints to gauge how long it will take you.

When I hiked it, I was doing about 20-25 minutes legs (taking my time). I'm sure they can be done much quicker, but that depends on if you're in a hurry and how fit you are.

Keep heading up the switchbacks, going past Waypoints 003 - 007 for seven switchback and a total of 3.2 miles from the trailhead. There is a shortcut trail at Waypoint 003 that I will talk about later.

At Waypoint 008, you will see a very faint trail leading off at the apex of the switchback. This trail can be very difficult to follow and if you're not experienced or have a good GPS (or both), you could find yourself getting lost very quickly.

Follow the faint trail through the woods and over some lava boulder fields until you get to a very large boulder field. You can see the shiny pieces of the plane from the boulder field's edge. We came into the boulder field about 1/4 up from it's bottom.

When crossing and climbing on these boulder fields, use extreme caution. At first glance, the boulders seem steady, but many will shift under your weight. A good set of trekking poles is extremely handy here. The boulder field is also at a decent angle and it's a tough climb up and down looking at the wreckage. I would also recommend using a bright colored cloth to mark your entrance/exit from the boulder field. This would have helped us during our visit.

Take some time to survey the wreckage. My two favorite pieces are the propeller and the landing gear that's upside down and sticking straight up in the air. It almost seems as though someone did this as a monument to the crew.

Also take time to take in the view from this point. It's incredible. I was concentrating so hard on my foot placement that it took me by surprise and I got a little bit of vertigo when it hit me (as you can see from the video).

When you're finished hike back to Waypoint 008. If you think you're able, you can hike the remaining distance to the top of Arizona (highest peak in Arizona) or head back down. Going down is a lot easier and faster than going up. When you've had enough, head back down the way you came.

The "shortcut" can be accessed from the parking area and lodge up at the top. At the time of our visit, the area was under construction and trail access was difficult. You can walk up the road under the lift and then cut across the ski run to Waypoint 003. Taking this shortens the overall distance by over a mile.

Have fun and be safe!

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