Skip to content

False Summits

False Summits

I don’t always get above 13,000 feet but I did a few days ago and I learned a valuable lesson. For every mountain you think you have climbed a false summit is there to crush your dreams. But only if you let them.

Finding a False Summit in the Wild

I’m a big believer in the philosophy, “If you can see it, it is real”. So I had a hard time believing in the concept of the false summit. But, last week I decided to put my head down and tackle a 13er, or 13 thousand foot mountain peak.

From the trailhead I saw the hill I needed to get to, confirmed it on the map and began my methodic slog towards the top of the hill. I was doing well but my legs were burning. Sweat was starting to drip from my brow and sting my eyes. The wind that was soft as a feather when I started the hike was now blowing as if it came from a jet engine. Slapping me in the face with each gust like a piece of sandpaper in the hands of a giant.

But I can see the finish so I push on. I (try to) suck in my gut and dig my boots in deeper. I power my way to the peak I have been staring at. Just a few more yards. I’ve got this. Right as I make it towards the precipice of the hill, I am ready to celebrate…wait, what in the all things holy son of a biscuits and gravy tom foolery kind of joke is this! A false summit. A moving mountain.

There is no worse feeling than coming to the top of a hill that turns out to be a false summit.  Here the trail continues from the top of the hill down another ridgeline.
No worse feeling than coming to the top of a hill and seeing the trail continue.

The Moving Mountains

I feel like every time that I try to climb something in the high country mountains decide to move on their own. By the time I make it to the peak, my exuberance turns to exasperation as I see the trail continue around this tiny mound I thought was my end goal.

I don’t think there is a more defeating feeling in the world than a false summit. It is like beating Michael Phelps in a swimming race only to find out the next heat is against a hungry shark in chummed waters. From the trailhead it is easy to mistake peaks. Depending on the angle you may or may not see the final destination so when you get a glimpse of that high hill you feel confident that the X marking the spot will be atop what your eyes tell you. You feel you can measure what it will take physically. When that peak decides it is nothing more than a halfway point you can actually feel the soul leave your body for a second or two.

It’s the Mountains Fault

And hey, I don’t blame the mountains. How boring it must be for them to sit in the same spot all day every day and have people climb all over them. If I was an inanimate collection of rocks I would certainly move around the trail just to mess with folks. I also blame those first over achieving explorers. Would it have been so hard to stop at the first hill and put a blanket over the higher peaks or something?

I am not the type who is looking to put in extra effort in accomplishing a task. Work smarter not harder comes to mind but really it is a “You’re done, now stop” approach. So as I am gasping for breath and heading to what I think is my final destination, I pace myself to finish with a flurry of unbridled and inefficient effort. That last charge to the finish line is some of my fastest work. So to see that burst of energy wasted on a false summit is like eating dessert first. Sure it’s good but you still have a lot of work to do to get your money’s worth. Nothing drops my heart to my toes faster than seeing another hill to climb at the end of that twenty yard power walk.

Seeing a peak another mile away while standing on a false summit is a terrible feeling.  Here a peak looms large in the distance while standing on a false summit.
When you see a peak in the distance while you are standing on what you thought was a peak.

Fighting Back Against the False Summit

False summits can beat you in a number of ways if you let them. The towering towers of taunt can win physically, emotionally and mentally on a hike. Each attack from the mini-me version of the real summit can be handled in a different way.


If the rock has you beat physically it is time to tip your cap and realize it isn’t your day. While the mountains might move they will always be there to be conquered on another day when you are feeling better. Great job on getting this far!


If the false summit beats you emotionally you might still have a chance. That pit in your stomach can actually be used to your advantage. It is a little known fact but false summits actually hate tears. It is like kryptonite to them. So if you are emotionally drained and need to shed a few tears on the evil pile of rubble you will actually do the entire hiking community a favor! After shedding those tiny drops of relief and helping vanquish the evil mound you may feel good enough to continue on and up to the real reward of the views from the top.


Now, if the false summit beats you mentally there are also a few things you can do to help collect yourself for the rest of the trip to the top. I have found that like tears, false summits also hate the stomping of feet, being slapped by a hiking pole and mostly by being called by the wrong name.

The false heap of rocks not cool enough for the real summit hate being referred to as the F-alse you summit, the What the F-alse summit, or the stupid F-alsing summit! What ever outburst you choose just realize that all of these are for the common good and really make the Fakey McFakeFace summit feel bad…in turn making yourself feel better about climbing to the Cooly McCoolFace summit you were hoping for.

When you finally make it to the summit it feels great.  Especially when you can look back at the false summit and know how far you have come.
Finally the top and the reward of amazing views.

False Summits Everyday

It makes me think about life and the goals we set. How the end line seems to drift as we get closer and closer to the finish. Sometimes you can power through and catch up to the task. Sometimes as far as you stretch the goal is just past the fingertips. The outcome can be so close and far at the same time but that is what goals are all about. If you choose goals that are always within your sights and stop when you get there, you may miss out on something better that is just a little higher up that moving mountain.

Missing a goal can have an effect on you physically, mentally, and emotionally as well. The goal will still be there while you take a moment to collect yourself. If you need to scream into a pile of laundry, cross your arms and pout like a toddler, or make up little nicknames for your goals in order to refocus, then that’s what you have to do. If the goal is unattainable, like me beating anyone in a swimming race or learning how to use apostroph’ies, then maybe it’s time to reevaluate. But if the mountain is just moving and you can find a way to make the false summit a base camp, the peak will be within your grasp again and this time the real summit won’t be able to hide. You’ve got this!

More from the Fatman

If you enjoyed this post you may enjoy more of the posts on my Fatman’s Rambling page. Blogs such as “Hiking Alone not Lonely Hiking“, “Winslow, Arizona” and “Screw it, I’m Trying” as well as many others may interest you there. If you have any comments or topics you would like me to cover, feel free to email me at Or you can keep the conversation going by following me on any of the below social media platforms.

2 thoughts on “False Summits”

  1. Pingback: Hiking with Mom - Fat Man Little Trail

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: