Agassiz is Arizona’s forbidden fruit. Viewed from Flagstaff, this 12,360-foot peak looks loftier than neighboring Humphreys (Arizona’s actual high point; Agassiz is second). Summit-baggers yearn for its conical top, while skiers covet its north-facing powderfields. And, in fact, winter offers the only legal window of opportunity: To keep hikers from trampling the ultra-rare San Francisco Peaks ragwort (a fragile tundra flower that grows only on Agassiz and Humphreys), the Forest Service prohibits walking on bare ground above treeline—and snow rarely blankets these wind-scoured ridges (rule-breakers incur a $500 fine).
“You need a 2-foot storm followed by calm, which almost never happens,” says Flagstaff powderhound Brad Schorb, who’s summited Agassiz just four times in 12 years. And the same snow accumulations that permit a legal climb spike the avalanche danger. But if you can conquer this summit, you not only bag one of the state’s highest, most coveted peaks, but skiers can enjoy euphoric powder turns on the return.
– Limited weather windows
– Avalanche danger
– Plush powder turns
– High point bragging rights
DO IT Obtain a Kachina Peaks Wilderness Access Permit from the USFS (free; 928-526-0866; valid for the entire winter). Check storm accumulations at the Arizona Snowbowl (a ski resort on Agassiz’s lower slopes), consult kachinapeaks.org for avalanche forecasts, and monitor winds via noaa.gov. “More than 25 mph, and there’ll be no snow left,” Schorb says. Equipped with avalanche safety gear and know-how, start skinning or snowshoeing from Agassiz Lodge (at 9,500 feet) no later than 6:45 a.m. in order to clear the ski area boundary by 8:00; follow Snowbowl’s recommended uphill route, posted daily on the corkboard by the parking lot. (Option: If the resort’s backcountry zones are open, you can take the lift up to 11,500 feet.) At treeline, take off skis and put on microspikes to bootpack 700 vertical feet up the ridge to the summit, where views extend 70 miles to the Grand Canyon. Info fs.usda.gov/coconino