Mount Humphreys is the highest peak in Arizona. The task for the STRIVE group yesterday? Hike five and a half miles up the mountain, ascending past the tree line and above the clouds to over 12,000 feet.
Wake-up was early, at 4:45, but the general excitement did a lot to kill any sleepiness (until after the hike, at least). After a quick breakfast and a drive to the trail’s base, the journey began. Most of the runs had been at around 7,000 feet and even the start of this trail was at 9,000, so hydration and smart pacing were key. The first few steps took us past a field of purple flowers and under a ski lift.
The trail then entered the forest. It was fairly consistent in its difficulty; there was a steady uphill and plenty of rocks, but few stretches were too challenging. This continued for a couple miles. The group strung out, laughing and talking while trees faded into the background and new ones came into sharper focus. As the trail began to exit the forest, it steepened significantly into a calf-burning stretch leading to an opening in the trail. By this point, we were sufficiently high that the entirety of the woods was visible, allowing for views of the tightly packed trees in isolation.
This opening was a ridge, presenting us with grand vistas of the surrounding countryside. One side of the trail was cluttered with trees and valleys and other peaks, while the other featured a few small towns scattered across a canvas of green grass. We took a quick break to catch our breath and snack, then got back to scaling the mountain.
The trail grew steeper and rockier after leaving the woods. False summits emerged a few times — the destination would appear close, only to reveal itself as a fake when the height was reached and a new peak loomed in the distance. Finally, as we navigated uneven footing and tough uphills, the true summit appeared, and it was glorious. There was ample space to walk around and take photos (and none of it developed; the natural feeling of the trail never disappeared). There were panoramic views of forests and valleys. Black birds swooped around gracefully, occasionally nipping at each other.
We spent around 45 minutes at the top of the mountain, taking a break to eat lunch and snap photos of the scenery. Carson, who has developed the remarkable skill of falling asleep anywhere, took a nap on the peak, unbothered by the fact that his pillow was a rock. The group was awed at the views, with several referring to the sights as heavenly, or close to Heaven.
The walk down was as brutal as the way up in some ways. Shoulders ached from carrying backpacks up three thousand vertical feet and quads burned from braking every step in the steep downhill portions. It took a few hours to get back to the starting point, and the group split into a few smaller clusters before reuniting near the parking lot. Hiking may be punishing at times, but it is also rewarding. Time stretches out on uphills, so people make jokes or confide in one another. All feel closer from the shared experience of pain, yes, but also achievement. And it must be said that the world is simply gorgeous from angles as high as over 12,000 feet above sea level. Our smiles in this photo at the peak are a good representation of how we felt about the day.