Saturday, July 24, 2010

Camelback Hikers Brave the Summer Heat, but Not Always Successfully

Camelback's been in the news and mentioned in blogs quite a bit in the last few days, so I thought I'd catch up.

First off, several notable mountain rescues occurred due to the heat. This enabled me to mix business and pleasure by publishing a blog post in Valley Fever about the incidents, and a follow-up making fun of a local TV reporter. (Sorry, Kevin!) The news coverage of the rescues also spurred message threads like this one. I'm hoping the 13-year-old kid whose parents took him up the mountain without enough water is okay.

Seeing these incidents and the community's response to them, as heart-breaking as it may be to see anyone hurt, gives me confidence that liberty still rules the day. For all this talk about the feminization, wimpification, or whatever you want to call it, of modern society, the freedom to roam on our local mountains -- up its steep cliffs and in all conditions -- trumps notions of perceived, relative safety. It's 105 degrees and you're 73, from much-cooler Wisconsin, and aren't packing enough water? Nobody's going to stop you at the trailhead and tell you not to do it.

The firefighter interviewed in the Channel 10 report on the rescues, Captain Tony Mure, (they spelled his name wrong in their caption), says "I don't care what kind of shape you're in -- the human body cannot tolerate this kind of heat and this kind of exertion." That's simply not true and plenty of people who work outside prove him wrong every day. (Tony's a good guy -- the authorities often take a scolding tone with the public when it comes to these things, to try and warn people away).

I've hiked Camelback dozens of times in temperatures of 110 degrees or higher and only once did I feel like I'd made a mistake -- (4 p.m. hike, 117 degrees). The trick is to sweat a lot, which results in a "wind chill" (ha!) factor of much less than the air temp. This is difficult to achieve when the sun is directly above, so most of my 110-plus hikes have NOT taken place between, say, 10 and 3. Most often, those hikes were in the evening -- after 6.

Hiking in the sun, (even outside the hours of 10-3) requires extra precautions, like packing 2 bottles of icewater instead of one and wetting my shirt before heading up. Sunscreen is mandatory, naturally. Some people wear long-sleeved shirts. Once, while hiking at about 4pm on a 110-degree day, I ran into a guy coming down in full camo gear, long pants and long-sleeved shirt, with undershirt, calf-high boots and a backpack stuffed with unknown gear. This guy has the audacity to stop me and say, "Excuse me, can I ask you a question? Are you wearing sunscreen?" I told him I was, and asked him why he was dressed up like that. He said he was training for officer candidate school.

Meanwhile, plenty of people besides me made it to the top this summer without nearly dying. My next featured post is from a blog called "Daily Nuggets." The picture is of the blogger's "cousin Rob" making it to the top; my screen capture includes their text as well.

I also like this one from "DaSmith Foursome" blog. They met for their Father's Day hike at 4:15 a.m. (that's their picture below). Whoa! That's early. You go, girls. They all made it to the top.

I failed to summit the first time I hiked Camelback, I must admit. I was 18 and unfamiliar with mountains back then, though I was in better shape than I am now. The defeat was 100 percent mental.

I'd been by myself, huffing and puffing up the steep trail for a while, thinking I was getting somewhere. After I cleared the headwall area, the summit still looked very far, far away. I went a little further, and it still looked far away. I realized the only thing holding me back from cool comfort was a decision. And I made the wrong decision -- I decided to turn back. It had been warm, but not that bad. I'm pretty sure I'd brought a water bottle, but I forget what my water situation was that day. Probably not good. Still, I have no doubt now that I could have made it.

Anyway, my search this morning for mountain rescue photos led to a cool January report by Channel 3 I hadn't seen about rescues. The anchor keeps referring to dramatic scenes of firemen climbing the Headwall and of a helicopter as similar to a Hollywood stunt. I hadn't heard about the accident, in which a climber on the Monk fell 25-30 while rappelling, fracturing both legs. Holy ouch, Batman! I took this screen-grab of the shot of a helicopter next to the Monk.

One last note today: As the oppressive heat of July wears on, much as I love it, the green hills of the "other" Camelback Mountain featured in many Internet sites this summer makes me wish for a vacation there. I found a "SummitPost" posting from 2006 recently in which somebody crowed about the "great-tasting blueberries and rasberries" they picked, as well as the "amazing views." That sounds pretty good.

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