Jonathan Buford

I’ve spent much of my time in Arizona exploring and photographing the state’s 90 wilderness areas, and one of the spots closest to home is the Four Peaks Wilderness, northeast of Phoenix. As residents of the Valley of the Sun know, the Four Peaks are a spectacular landmark on the horizon in any weather, but I especially enjoy watching the clouds engulf Brown’s Peak, the highest of the four summits, whenever a storm passes through the area. Having scouted this peak on hiking trips, I knew there was a scene there, so this past November, I headed that way.

First, though, I had to get to the summit, and that involved a hefty 2,000 feet of elevation gain as I hiked into the clouds. But that was the easy part. With about 300 feet to go, I reached an infamous scree “chute” that can be treacherous for hikers — particularly hikers who are carrying 25 pounds of camera gear. To make matters worse, it was raining and water was running down the chute. I spent two hours negotiating with myself: Is this worth it? Can I get back down? I’m normally a hard charger, so these conversations are rare. 

Ultimately, the rain stopped and the water slowed, and I decided it was time to make my move. I hurled my gear up onto a small ledge and thought, Out of my reach lies $5,000 in camera gear. At that point, I had to commit. I heaved my body up the rock face like a bighorn sheep, but a lot less elegantly. From there, it was only 200 more feet to the top of Brown’s Peak — where I had the good fortune to capture the breaking storm from inside the clouds.