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I Accidentally Summited the Highest Peak in Arizona and Lived to Tell About It


Setting out onto the Humphreys Peak trail.
Setting out onto the Humphreys Peak trail.

I love to throw around the word “summited.” It sounds so much more intense and involved than a simple hike.

A simple hike is what I had in mind last Labor Day when my husband, Ben, and I set out for Northern Arizona to hike Humphreys Peak. Feeling emboldened by a week of hiking the Tetons near Jackson, Wyoming, we figured Humphreys Peak would be an almost-easy feat—how big could these Arizona mountains be, anyhow?

The first stretch of the hike was lovely: long, leisurely switchbacks through cool mountain air, shaded by large pine trees. For this Seattleite-turned-Phoenician, it felt like I’d finally found a slice of the Northwest in my new home state.

And then, just like that, the trees disappeared and everything became a rocky ledge, made for toppling off. I tend to err on the side of anxiety, so I was convinced that I would be the girl who actually fell off the side of a mountain and my life would be held up as a lesson to be learned: Always be prepared, kids! Don’t go on hikes that you haven’t trained for!

Above the tree line, the lush greenery was replaced with rocks, sand and flies. One fly in particular joined me on the journey, and after a couple hours of failing to evade him, I accepted him as my guardian fly. He wouldn’t let me fall. Fear does crazy things to your brain.

Along this rocky, windy portion of the trail are three false summits. Yep, three times you think you’ve reached the end, only to notice that the trail keeps going. It’s like having your heartbroken three times in one day.

Finally, after 6 miles of walking, a few tears, a bit of crawling on all fours and one clingy fly, we reached the actual summit. The views are incredible—on clear days you can see the rim of the Grand Canyon—and for an anxiety ridden wimp like me, taking a photo next to the elevation sign of 12,633 feet bolstered my pride enough to help me make the trek back down. Slowly.

Doable adventures: For beginner hikes that won’t leave you in tears, click here.
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