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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How To Spend Two Days In Zion National Park

How To Spend Two Days In Zion National Park

National Park trips were always a tradition in my family growing up.  Most of our vacations involved doing something outdoors, especially in Utah since we had a lot of family there and it’s pretty close to home.  Living in Arizona, we’re only a 5 hour drive from the Utah border, which is home to some of the most amazing National Parks.  Zion is one of those must-see parks with so much to do.

Beautiful red rocks, huge canyon walls, and a river splitting down the middle makes this National Park a super hot commodity in terms of exploring.  The last time I was in Zion was when I was 9, so I was due for another trip.

Somehow I convinced my friend Daniel to take this random and spontaneous trip with me, so we packed up the gear for our weekend trip to Zion.

We wanted to camp, but campgrounds inside National Parks can sell out even 6 months in advance so it can be tricky to just pick up and decided to visit.

One of my biggest weapons in my travel arsenal is Hip Camp.  Basically it’s Airbnb but for campgrounds and you can find tons of campgrounds that you can reserve all over the country.

We camped at the Zion Wright Family Ranch and it was absolutely amazing.  This campground is actually on a fully functioning ranch and the people who own it open it up to campers, and you can just drive in and set up shop anywhere on the allotted property!

We had to drive on a dirt road for 7 miles to even get into the ranch, and the night we got there a HUGE storm was blowing in.  It was high key terrifying to drive through the washed out areas because I was like “Well I guess we’ll just see how deep these puddles really are” and went for it.

Not gonna lie, once we entered the ranch, Daniel and I drove around with both of our phones out yelling at each other saying “I only have one bar,” or “I got 4G right here”, “NO WAIT I HAD LTE PUT IT IN REVERSE” until we found a place where both of us had service (no shame lol).

Once we got all settled, another storm came in and this one was wicked.  There was lightning EVERYWHERE and it started to pour.  We ended up having to eat Lunchables and candy for dinner since we couldn’t start a fire and then put our seats all the way back and slept in the car because, ya know, we didn’t want to get struck by lightning.

Besides the obvious fact that sleeping on a seat in the car isn’t the preferred method of sleeping, we slept well and then woke up at the crack of dawn to head into the park.

Our campground was about 30 minutes outside of the gates of Zion, so we made that short drive over and were soon surrounded by the towering mountains.

During the summer in Zion NP, it can get insanely crowded, so to remedy that they have a shuttle bus that runs through the canyon.  There are NO cars allowed in the park during the summer months whatsoever so you have to take the shuttle.  The good news is that during these really busy times it runs every few minutes so you never have to worry about waiting around.

We took the very first shuttle at 6 a.m. into the canyon fully ready to take on Angel’s Landing which is arguably the most iconic hike in any western National Park. Then as we were riding waiting for our stop, they announced that it was closed because of the storm that hit the night before.  Angel’s Landing is a dangerous hike as is, so if there is ever any weather issues it would be downright deadly.

I was SO disappointed because when I planned this trip, the two hikes I had my heart set on were Angel’s Landing and The Narrows.  So we improvised and it ended up being one of my favorite hikes I’ve ever done!

Day 1: Observation Point

Even though we couldn’t do Angel’s Landing, I was still determined to do a challenging hike.  We talked to some other people on the bus who had to change their plans too and they said they were going to hike Observation Point instead.  We didn’t really have much to go on, so we decided to say fuck it and go.

This 8 mile round-trip hike was no joke, but to say the view was worth it would be an understatement. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

The craziest part of it all is that we were literally looking DOWN on Angel’s Landing from the top of this trail, so this hike ended up giving us an even better view of Zion and its beauty. Funny how things work out.

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After this long hike we were pretty wiped out, so we decided to just head back to our campground and relax for the rest of the day.

Day 2: The Narrows

Chances are if you’ve seen any pictures of Zion National Park, you’ve seen pictures of this place.  It’s the iconic “hike” where you’re trekking through the river surrounded by the sheer canyon walls on both sides.
This place has been on my bucket list for a hot minute, and I was so worried that we wouldn’t be able to do this hike either.  The Narrows is incredibly dangerous if there’s a storm because it can flash flooding there is zero high ground.  So if there’s even a chance of rain it’s bad news bears.
Luckily we got an early start (since it’s more likely to storm in the afternoon in the summer) and were blessed with the perfect day.
Once again, we took the earliest possible shuttle and the whole ride I was buzzing with excitement.  I love the feeling I get when I’m about to experience something I’ve been imagining for a while, and I think that’s something so beautiful about nature is that it never fails to excite and inspire me.
Once we got off the bus, we took the short paved walk to the entrance of the Narrows and we waded into the river and started walking!

As soon as I stepped into the water I was in awe. The canyon walls were so tall and incredible. Listen, I had high expectations for this hike but it was better than I even thought it would be.  The beauty of this place can’t even be capture in the pictures.

It was so peaceful since we got out so early in the morning, and we took our time walking in the river and then trekking on the banks.  In the beginning of the Narrows there are some parts where you walk along sand on the sides, and as you get deeper into the canyon it’s all water from there.

Around one of the first bends in the canyon was a legit WATERFALL coming down the canyon wall.  I definitely made Daniel take 12348793 pictures of me because I’m an asshole and because it was too pretty not to.

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I mean look at this.  I N S A N E.

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Word to the wise: if you do this hike make sure to bring hiking poles.  You’re gonna need them to judge how deep the water is so you don’t eat shit every 5 steps. You’ll thank me later.

We hiked about 3 miles in and then turned around to head back.  You can hike essentially as far as you want but in order to do the through hike, you need a permit and you also need to be crazy enough to do 16 miles of wading, hiking, and swimming through this water.

The Narrows blew my mind in every possible incredible way.  It was hands down the highlight of my trip and I left completely satisfied and proud of everything I had accomplished.

If you’re down for some challenging yet completely rewarding hikes, Observation Point and The Narrows are definitely two must-sees for a summer trip in Zion National Park.