At nearly 90, Utah man still hiking, exploring Utah trails

Henry Miles hikes the "Y" trail above Brigham Young University in Provo on June 29.

Henry Miles hikes the "Y" trail above Brigham Young University in Provo on June 29. (Mike Godfrey)

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PROVO — Most of the time when hiking, it's the terrain, wildlife, unique vistas and the challenge that leave the most lasting impact. But every once in a while, for good or ill, it's the fellow hikers that leave the more lasting impression.

It could be small children conquering a trail that would challenge most adults, or a couple disruptively sorting out their domestic strife in hiking boots. Sometimes, however, it's a friendly, familiar face.

This year, while training for an endurance hike, I've crossed paths with one such individual dozens of times. He's not loud. He's not flashy. But he stands out in the best way. His name is Henry Miles and, at 88 years old, he's a friendly novelty on Utah trails; occupying a space on the hiker bell curve so narrow, it's always inspiring to see him out conquering his favorite trail in open defiance of conventional limits.

Clad in his white sneakers, grasping trekking poles, Miles moves deliberately up and down the Utah Valley mountainside as part of his routine. It's a trek he says he's made more than 60 times this year. After numerous encounters, I decided that I needed speak to the octogenarian and get more of his story.

Born in Idaho, Miles says, "I'd be dead now, except when I was 18, my bishop convinced me to quit smoking and go on a mission." It's advice he heeded — going on to serve a Latter-day Saint mission in Alberta, Canada, before earning a masters degree in economics at American University in Washington, D.C., and becoming a foreign service officer in Ecuador, where he was stationed for 10 years.

When asked about his dedication to hiking, Miles says, "It's just been part of life wherever I've been."

His hiking resume is impressive, to say the least — he was highlighted in a small-town newspaper in 2010 after completing 400 hikes in one year.

But dig deeper and his hiking stats get even more impressive. According to Miles, he has hiked his favorite trail in Utah Country more than 4,000 times since settling here more than 30 years ago.

It's a surprising figure, even for an avid hiker like myself. But armed with his notepad and pencil, Miles faithfully logs each hike, along with his time, which he later enters into his computer to keep track of his treks.

In discussing our mutual passion for time on the trail — his face painted with an ear-to-ear grin — Miles regaled me with stories of climbing sputtering volcanoes in Ecuador, coming face-to-face with Utah's iconic wildlife like bighorn sheep and once happening upon fresh cougar tracks in the snow.

Having cultivated a habit of regular hiking throughout the years, consistency seems to be his "secret sauce."

When asked what advice he has for those who aspire to hike well into their into their 80s and perhaps, beyond, Miles said, while laughing, "Well that depends on what their age is." He adds, "Just keep doing it, I guess."

When encountering Miles on the trail, you can't help but question conventional limits and expectations ... and ponder the state of your own retirement plan, and whether you're paying the same attention to your physical health as you do to your bank accounts.

Thanks to Miles, I'm thinking a lot more about my vitality 401(k) these days, and whether I'll be up for hiking and enjoying Utah's mountains at the ripe old age of 88.

Whether you're 18 or 100, remember to use good judgment. Chose trails appropriate to your skill and fitness level, and communicate with family or friends where you are going and when you intend to return: a practice followed consistently by Miles, who calls his wife to check in once he reaches the top of every trail.

Even if you haven't hiked thousands of miles like Miles, or have never even set foot on a trail, Utah's natural resources offer so much to all of us. As fountains of water, air, adventure and inspiration, they bind all of us together across all generations —regardless of our age or persuasion, protecting and preserving Utah's natural treasures is one thing we can all agree on.

Take care of and enjoy Utah's trails and treasures, and maybe one day you'll be grinning ear-to-ear trekking your favorite trail, inspiring the young and young-at-heart to defy conventional limits, regardless of what the calendar says.


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Mike is a writer, filmmaker and public speaker, who, along with his wife Michelle, owns and manages At Home in Wild Spaces Films, a film studio that produces informational outdoor adventure media and resources. Mike graduated from BYU with a degree in film and animation, and occasionally writes about entertainment and current events.


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