Back when I was younger, my best friend from high school years would come to visit me in Arizona.  We were always looking for a camping adventure that was a little bit different, and I think I was the one who suggested going atop Arizona’s highest mountain, the San Francisco Peaks… early January.

The weather forecast called for typical sunny Arizona weather, with no storms predicted, so it seemed like a great idea.  I was lugging the bulky heavy camera gear and tripod in addition to camping supplies, while my friend travelled relatively light.  At least we didn’t have to carry much water!

As we found our way to the top and picked out a good spot for setting up the tent, we couldn’t help but notice that the rocks were exposed and there didn’t seem to be a lot of snow on the western slope.  We weren’t on the absolute summit, but we were still above 12,000 feet, and above treeline, and above the people skiing on the mountain below us.

San Francisco Peaks Arizona 02 -Steve Bruno
View from the summit ridge of the San Francisco Peaks looking east. Photo by Steve Bruno.

I managed to take a few photographs before the sun went down, and as we enjoyed our dinner the conditions were very calm.  Shortly after getting into our sleeping bags, however, the breeze started to pick up.  During the course of the night it continued to pick up, and by morning it was probably close to level 1 hurricane force winds.  We had very lengthy ice stakes holding down the tent, but within minutes of us being out of the tent, the winds were removing the stakes and attempting to send the tent to the bottom of the eastern side of the mountain.

Although there were some high thin clouds, there was no moisture falling from them.  This was just the result of the pressure difference from the front passing far to the north, and being exposed on a summit 5000′ above the surrounding plateau.  I managed to take one photograph that morning.  If you look closely in the lower right, you can see the snow being blown over the ridge.  What you can’t see is me huddled over the camera and tripod in an effort to keep the camera steady (and within reach!)

San Francisco Peaks Arizona 03 -Steve Bruno
High winds whip snow across the summit ridge of the San Francisco Peaks at sunrise. Photo by Steve Bruno.

Now that my camera gear no longer exceeds the weight of all my camping gear, this is an adventure I might consider again.  I know what to expect when I see exposed rocks in a snowy landscape.