Dangers of hiking Camelback Mountain
I think the rules of hiking should be laid out for people like me. The first rule of hiking: Don’t wear Vans. The second rule of hiking: Don’t wear Vans. This and other examples showed my inexperience in hiking Camelback Mountain, and if it weren’t for a couple of hikers, a park ranger and my Couchsurfing host, I don’t know how I would have made it down.
The trek up Camelback is tame at the beginning. Hikers are greeted with some stairs down from the parking lot, where another area of wooden stairs helps hikers gradually ease up the mountain. That’s the easy part. It’s when hikers hit 3/8 of a mile that Camelback starts throwing in the ruggedness that can tire someone with a 30 pound pack (The third rule of hiking: Bring only what you need).
The trail ended, and all I saw was a steep slope with a gate on one side and a guardrail in the center. This mountain doesn’t make it easy for hikers to climb it. Once I thought that was done, I encountered an obstacle exactly like it. Although I was slowing down, I was still determined to make it at the top.
I made it to the halfway point and stopped to talk to a woman who was clearly exhausted, possibly suffering from heat exhaustion. After giving her some of my water, I learned Carol from Atlanta was hiking with her son who had moved to Phoenix. While he went to the top, Carol stayed behind to relax. I had only been speaking with Carol for a few minutes when her son came back to check on her. Concerned, I left her son my phone number and told him to call me if anything were to happen. Luckily, that didn’t happen. I got a text about 10 minutes later that read the pair had made it to the base of the mountain.
After the half mile point at Camelback, trail ceases to exist for 90 percent of the journey. It has turned into rock, and the path markers are non-existent. At times, I would wait for other hikers just to make sure I was staying on the path. It was difficult to tell what was the path and what was just rock. The last 1/4 mile is vertical lunge after vertical lunge to get to the top. This is when I started to feel fatigued. Before this point, I only took breaks to shoot pictures and do interviews. Now, I needed to take breaks because I was starting to run out of water (The fourth rule of hiking: Don’t listen to people who tell you to bring plenty of water. You’ll underestimate. Instead, bring four giant bottles for you, one Gatorade and a couple of snack bars).
Finally after three hours, I made it to the top of Camelback. It was such an amazing view. I could see all of the Valley below me. Downtown Phoenix was to the west and other mountains were clearly visible from the summit. I stayed for about 20 minutes to catch my breath and enjoy the view before I headed back down.
I thought that the hike down the mountain would be easier. It’s just as tough. Instead of lunges and thigh workouts, my knees and heels started to bear the brunt of the descent. Every time I would jump down to a different rock, my knees would feel pain, but that wasn’t as painful as landing the wrong way on my foot in Vans (See rules Number 1 and Number 2). Luckily, nothing was twisted, but I was lucky.
I took a break with a group of hikers at about 7/8 of a mile. They were all hiking up, and I would see all of them pass me on the way down. I consider this group my guardian angels. Without them, I probably would have had to ditch the pack or call in the rescue helicopter. One girl gave me an entire water bottle, but it still wasn’t enough for me to get down past 3/4 of a mile.
That’s when I encountered Bobby again. Bobby is like an ox. At 200-plus pounds, he offered to carry my backpack down the mountain. I agreed because I was just that desperate. Bobby told me that he had once been in my place before. He told me he hiked in Northern California and nearly froze to death. He said were it not for some Boy Scouts, he probably would have died. I guess he repaid the favor with me.
Without my backpack, the journey down Camelback went much faster. It took me three hours to climb, and about an hour to make it down 1/8 of a mile. With Bobby’s help, we probably made it down the rest of the way in 20 minutes. I asked him how I could repay him. All Bobby wanted was a handshake. We said our goodbyes as I sat in the shade by the parking lot.
A park ranger was nice enough to give me some cold water, but I think at this time I was starting to suffer from heat exhaustion. I began feeling nauseous and waiting outside for my Couchsurfing host, Chris, didn’t help. When he got off from work, he rushed over. It had been an hour, and I was lumbering over to his truck.
I tried to make light of my situation on the ride home. He pretty much said, “I told you so,” without saying it. Chris had warned me about hiking Camelback and had suggested some of the easier routes around the Valley. I didn’t listen because I push myself and think I’m invincible. This hike has taught me that I’m not. So, I would warn anyone without hiking experience to heed my advice and make sure you’re equipped with enough food, water and sports drinks and please, please, get some hiking shoes. Never, ever wear Vans.
*Personal note: Thank you to the park ranger, the female hiker, Chris and Bobby for helping me. If it wasn’t for you, I probably would have been on a trip to the hospital.