Hiking The Tallest Mountain in AZ: Blood, Sweat, and Tears (Literally)

Hiking The Tallest Mountain in AZ: Blood, Sweat, and Tears (Literally)

During the winter in Flagstaff, Arizona, Humphrey’s Peak is covered in snow and home to a skiing and snowboarding resort, and during the summer it’s a hiking trail for the people who hate themselves enough to actually want to climb 5 miles up a mountain.

At 12,633 feet, Humphrey’s Peak is the tallest point in Arizona,  but I had never even heard of it until I started really getting into hiking.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t make it to the top on my first try.  If you say you hiked Humphrey’s, anyone who’s familiar with it will usually immediately ask whether you made it to the top.  It’s no joke, people. If you don’t plan properly or set your expectations at a reasonable level, you aren’t gonna summit.

The first time I attempted this hike was honestly just a disaster because I’m such a bad planner.  It was the end of July, which is during the stormy season.  Pretty much every day from June-August you can expect a storm on the top of the mountain in the afternoon, and down at the base pretty often as well.  The thing is, it’s incredibly dangerous to be on this mountain if there’s a storm.  The first 2/3 of the hike is within the cover of trees, but the last third is completely open.  There isn’t a tree in sight.  There’s nowhere to take cover, and there were two teenage boys who actually died from being on the top of Humphrey’s in a lightning storm just last year.  So basically it’s bad news bears if you wind up on the top when there’s a storm.

Anyways, I really did try my best.  But I had somehow ended up at a campsite 3 hours away in Payson, not in Flagstaff, and even though I woke up at 4 in the morning I didn’t end up starting the hike until 10 am.

Then, I grossly underestimated how much time it would really take to hike this bad boy.  And the real sinker was when at 12, a storm blew in while we were on the mountain.  All of a sudden HAIL started pelting down and I had to take cover under a tree.  Then the lightning came in and I heard it hit a tree.

I turned and I saw actual Boy Scouts sprinting down the mountain and that’s when I knew sh!t had hit the fan.  Boy Scouts actually know what they’re doing.

So I had made it about halfway up before the storm derailed my plans and I had to go back down the mountain without even getting close to the top.

Luckily, I’m incredibly stubborn and I was determined to hike Humphrey’s Peak again and make it to the top, if for nothing but bragging rights.

So, I somehow convinced my friend Rayna and her friend Kyle to hike it with me a few weeks ago.  We were up at the crack of dawn, driving to the base and started bright and early at 7 a.m. with a perfect weather forecast for the whole day.  I was so ready to go, so excited to finally make it to the top.

The whole first half we were cruising, just talking and listening to music and enjoying the colder weather.  It wasn’t too steep, and we had lots of shade from the trees.  I was feeling so good, wondering what people were saying when they said this hike was a beast.

That all changed realllll quick when I passed the halfway point. The altitude really started to hit me and I had a pounding headache.   I also had to pee 3 times while on the trail so that didn’t help much either.

It seemed like we weren’t getting any closer at all.  We were still in the trees which meant we weren’t even 2/3 of the way.

When we finally got to the point where we were almost out of the trees,  I started to understand why people do this hike. The view was gorgeous, overlooking the ski slopes.  We still had a ways to go before we reached the end of the treeline, but it was a nice breath of fresh air and change of scenery.

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75B49B4E-C173-4553-BFEA-4CD161591884.jpgAfter a little more hiking, we FINALLY made it to the end of the treeline.  We stopped for a little break and some snacks and enjoyed the view.

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2C6C7F40-2D44-4E54-8FE7-5573E1F2F9AD.jpgSo the worst thing about this hike isn’t even the physical challenge.  It’s the fact that whenever you think you’re getting close to the top, you’re actually nowhere close.

Humphrey’s Peak has 2 false summits, which basically means that there are 2 different parts where there is a huge climb that looks like the top, then once you get to the top you realize theres ANOTHER climb.  Then once you get over that climb there’s another one.  It’s psychological torture at its finest.

IMG_4917-2.jpgEFCBB066-D80A-43CF-B653-E078A243AB98.jpgThis a picture from behind one of the false summits.  Before you reach that high point, you have no idea that it’s not the top.

Rayna and I were not having a good time.  We’ve been friends since we were 1, and I honestly thought that she might never talk to me again for making her hike this.

This hike gains over 3,000 feet of elevation.  Even if you’re in amazing shape, the altitude can really mess you up.  I hike all the time, and I was having to stop every hundred feet not because it was super hard physically, but because I was so out of breath.  The air was so thin and I got a pounding headache and so winded.

I’m not even kidding when I say that I was ready to quit hiking all together.  I have so many hikes on my bucket list that are way more challenging than this one and I thought, “I suck, why did I ever think I could do something with this, I should just quit now.”  I was doubting myself and wondering why I was even doing this, why I even wanted to start this blog, why I thought I was strong enough or fit enough or creative enough to do something like this.

Thank god for Rayna, because she and I pushed each other to make it to the top.  We had come so far and there wasn’t a shot in hell we were turning around now.

Reaching the actual summit of Humphrey’s reminded me of why I hike and why I would never stop.  There really isn’t a way to describe the feeling I felt when I was on the final climb, and then I could see the wooden post at the top that said “Humphrey’s Peak: 12, 633 Ft.”.  It really is just pure bliss.  I was smiling ear to ear and literally jumping up and down with excitement. I’d never stop doing something that made me that happy, whether I sucked at it or not.

Something amazing about hiking is that it’s an accomplishment that is all yours.  It’s your feet, legs, hands, and lungs that made it to the top.  No one forced you.  No one did it for you.  It never fails to make me appreciate the body that I have that can do things like that and experience feelings like that.  It’s a natural high (pun intended), and you can experience it whether you’re climbing the hill near your neighborhood or you summit the tallest mountain in your state.

This hike taught me some pretty great lessons.

  1.  It’s okay to rest.  But don’t quit.  Stop and take a breather, pause, regroup, and then keep going.  You only fail if you quit.
  2. I’m stronger than I think.  Once I got to the top, I didn’t care one bit whether I was the slowest person on the mountain or the first one to summit,  I DID THAT.
  3. I’m not all that and a bag of chips.  There’s always room for improvement.  It doesn’t mean that I suck and should never try anything that’s remotely difficult, it just means that I’m human and that I’ll do even better next time.

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But as nice as all that sappy stuff is, knowing that it’s over is a pretty great feeling too.

The actual tippy top of the mountain isn’t the greatest place to chill.  Most people just go up, take some pictures, then head back down a few hundred feet because the wind is INSANE.  It’s usually blowing at about 30 mph and the temperature was 33 degrees when we were there, so if you’re planning on hiking this, make sure you bring layers!! I started out in two jackets, took both of them off for about half of the hike, then once I got past the tree line I put one jacket back on.  Trust me, you’ll be regretting it if you think you can just hike in shorts and a t-shirt.

We stayed for about 30 minutes at the top, and then we headed back down the mountain.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a real hike without me injuring myself.  I was the kid who was a regular at Urgent Care growing up because I was always hurting myself.  I just think I’m not completely aware of where my body is in relation to space, and I trip on everything because of it.

The toe of my boot got caught on a tree root sticking up from the ground when I was on my way downhill, and basically I did a flip.  I honestly was too tired to even resist so I just let it happen.  I stayed on the ground with my head down trying to avoid talking to the strangers that just saw me eat shit.  And then I cried. After 7 hours of straight hiking, my emotional state wasn’t the most balanced. Somewhere on the way down I must have fallen on my hand, and long story short I broke my knuckle.  It really be like that sometimes.

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This was hands-down the hardest hike I’ve ever done.  I definitely won’t be doing it again anytime soon.  I don’t even feel like I can honestly say that I enjoyed it all that much.  But it was rewarding.  I got to spend time with my best friend, make a new friend, and get out in nature, and hike the tallest damn mountain in Arizona.  99% of it wasn’t fun, but 100% of it was worth it in the end.  That’s why I hike.

 

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