Monday, December 26, 2011

Adventure Travelers Install Christmas Tree on the Praying Monk

On the way down from our hike yesterday, I noticed a second Christmas tree at Camelback. This one was on top of the Monk.

Googling around, I found that a couple of TV stations typed out blurbs on the tree a few days ago, and then I found the Adventure Traveling blog post about the teens who'd hauled it up there and decorated it.

Though I have mixed feelings about this kind of thing, I enjoyed the story of the climb and installation. I've been planning lately to write about the Monk and a few weeks ago had come across the teens' blog, which had several fun tales about their first exploits on Camelback's most-classic route.

High-school students Thomas Rankine and Andrew Keating, both 17, are doing the blog.

The beautiful and ambitious dream of cycling to Patagonia, "climbing some mountains along the way," sparked their online effort. (At right, picture and caption ripped from their site.) Besides the challenge of avoiding the banditos, to make that South American trip a reality they'll have to show more organizational skills and less gear-mongering than in their Grand Canyon toproping adventure! (As a master of over-gearing, I'm qualified to say that. Once, as a friend and I looked at some TR routes in Red Rocks, a local sportclimber looked at our packs and remarked, "Are you guys preparing to climb Mount Everest?)

I sure appreciate this sort of teen spirit. Such a trip would be best done with outside support to either meet them or mail supplies as they go. But Goran Kropp, in his astonishing bike ride to Everest (which he nearly summitted) in 1996 proves that no dream is too big for a committed adventurer (or an adventurer who probably needs to be committed!) Thomas and Andrew have some great times ahead.

Whatever they do, I look forward to their future stories. I expect one of them to be how they took the tree and its decorations down.

Below, the late, legendary bike-and-climber, Goran Kropp (Internet shot)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Holiday Greetings From the Summit of Camelback

Our Christmas Eve hike. What a beautiful day. Perfect weather. Another summit for the kid.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Claud the Water Guy

This picture was found on a blog post written by photographer/"footballer" Jason Johnson.

Jason, a U of A grad who's from Seattle, runs into "Claud the Water Guy" and hikes to the summit with him. Claud juices up Johnson's short and entertaining description of the hike. Especially nice is his use of dialogue. He mentions how Claud tries to hand out water to "everyone he meets" has Claud saying, "It's a dangerous hill ... These city-slickers forget how hot it is. People die here... in the summer it will get to one-sixteen and they don't even bring water!"

Johnson surmises that all regular Camelback hikers have met Claud -- I certainly have, though I've never chatted with him for as long as Johnson did and didn't know his name was Claud. He hikes Echo Canyon a lot, that's for sure; he's in the top 10 of regulars I've noticed, probably because of his outfit. He's asked me several times if I needed water.

I suppose every mountain needs a self-appointed savior of foolish and unprepared hikers. Claud takes his job of Trail Police seriously.

About a year ago, I departed from Echo Canyon Trail to explore the base of some 40-50 foot cliffs above the saddle between hump and head. The gully turned bushy and I began scampering on a sidewall, having fun, when I heard a concerned voice far behind me shouting, "HEY! HEY! THAT'S NOT THE TRAIL!"

I tried to ignore him for a moment, hoping to climb out of his sight, but he kept it up: "TURN BACK! YOU'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!"

I looked up at Claud, who was several hundred feet back and up at curve in the trail, wearing the same hat and having the same general appearance as in this picture, but appearing less than an inch high to me from that distance. "IT'S O-KAY!" I yelled back. "I'M NOT LOST!"

Then I turned around and resumed traversing. He yelled one more time before giving up. I found a great spot to free solo in the class-four range for about 20-30 feet before coming to a section that I didn't want to do without protection. The downclimb was just tricky enough to put a smile on my face.

I passed Claud on the way down.

"Nice rock-climbing there," he said graciously.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Camelback on the Web

At least three other sites focus exclusively on Camelback Mountain. They don't contain climbing info, but they're very enthusiastic about the hiking.

ClimbCamelback appears to be run by two guys -- Bobby Klingler and Jason Glashan -- who want people to hire them as a guide. I'm not sure why anyone would do that, but okay. They charge $110 to take one person up, with a sliding scale up to $200 for groups of 4-6. I'm not sure if this activity needs to be regulated by the city of Phoenix or not. I could see the city wanting to get involved if a company regularly ran large groups up there.

Klingler registered the site in August of 2007, earlier than I registered CamelbackPhoenix, (Feb of '08). I'm not sure, to be honest, if his site was up before mine -- it may have been. He's done more with his site and installed some bells and whistles -- map and weather links, for example. A big focus is the list of "times of the fastest hikers." I hope he does more with it. His photograph quality has room for improvement. is like Klingler's site, but contains a blog. It's not like my blog, which is a collection of stories along with some blog-like material. HikeCamelback's blog posts are quick hits, a couple of which have more personality than others. Those two are about "Lewi" (pictured above, in the pink helmet, from a shot ripped for the site) and friends. Lewi is someone the blogger went up with who kept a "blistering" 23-minute pace. Not bad at all. My best time is 26 minutes, by the way -- that was in the late '90s. Lewi intends to do it in 16 minutes and also beat Camelback Jack's amazing record of 25 ascents in 24 hours. For some reason, these guys are dressed like male strippers near the end of their act. I first came upon this site while doing a search for Web stories about Brian Z., a.k.a. Naked Man. Their short, November 7 post on Brian Z didn't contain much detail, but it did draw scathing criticism of Ewelina, the woman who saved Brian's life and posted the YouTube videos of him. The more recent post before that, a generic list of park regulations, was published October 1. That tells me these guys are on my sort of glacial time scale. Their site has a few qualities to respect, like the professional layout.

Recently I discovered "Trails to Camelback." This one seems to be the most similar to mine in spirit, but it only has three posts. Paige Gruner, who launched it, is a journalism student who just finished an internship at Channel 5. I love Paige's vision for this blog and hope she keeps adding to it:

"She wants to share her passion for hiking the beautiful mountain, the history behind Camelback, and her knowledge of the trails leading to the scenic view of Phoenix."

As far as climbing info, I recently found ClimbPhx. Internet sites about climbing in general (see my blogroll) tend to feature more outing reports, but I like the personal style of this one.

It's still in an early phase and lists more routes than it describes. For example, the author writes about routes like Spiderwalk (5.6) at the Supes as if they've climbed it, but don't give any sort of tale to go along with it. Could be they are working on it. When I and Webber climbed that one a few years ago, we found it quite the mini-epic. Especially the junkoid summit. I got off-route on the 2nd or 3rd pitch and had to lower off a twig about 25 feet. Amazingly, it didn't snap, I got back on track and we finished the climb.

I've been familiar with the Mountain Project site for years, and it often has the sort of stories I like to read -- such as the route description and all four comments on the Spiderwalk page. MP doesn't have a ton on Camelback, though. I prefer the kind of personalized story found on this site, LA Mountaineers, about a couple of Headwall climbs.

ClimbPhx, which appears to be the brainchild of a climber named Shiloh Dorsett, has a few outing reports from Camelback. I'm hoping to read more of his trips to the mountain. At left is a picture from the site's page on the Headwall.

Yelp, TripAdvisor and similar sites also contain reviews of Camelback, usually for the hiking, which sometimes contain some color. Major differences in opinion are to be expected, naturally.

I hesitate to disagree with any of them. Camelback is treacherous, and safe. It's difficult, and moderate. The climbing is rotten, and fantastic. The park is easily accessible, the parking situation is awful. The people are nice, and sometimes rude. It's a rockpile for residents of a soulless town who have nothing better to do, and it's a near-sacred mini-Mecca of outdoor recreation smack dab in the middle of paradise.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Old Man of Camelback Mountain, Camel's Foot and More

The time on the mountain went so quickly. It was about nine a.m. when I wrote the last post at Einstein's -- I figured I had about five hours, since I needed to be back home at two. But that actually meant less than three hours of exploring, an hour to hike back to the truck, and a hour total of drive-and-park time on each end of that. I managed to do a lot in those less-than-three hours, but not as much as I wanted.

Finding this gem of a rock formation, which I dubbed the Old Man of Camelback, was one the highlights. No doubt many people have noticed it before, but I'd never heard of it.

The weather was gorgeous, with clear, cool air and a slight breeze. Much of the early part of my hike-and-climb was in the shady north side of the head area, but I shook off the chill quickly as I headed up.

I warmed up by climbing up to the top of the Camel's Ear from the west side. Pictured here (below) is the ramp leading up to a vegetated area.

A couple of friends of mine and I took this pleasant detour a few years ago, and in roughly the spot where I snapped this shot we saw what looked like wisps of smoke rising from the bush up ahead.

What was it -- a fire?

Nope. Bees. They were swarming and seemed ticked off about something.

Going through them would have been suicidal, so we backed out the way we'd come up. I hadn't been to this spot since.

This time, there was no sign of bees. The mini-gully here is peaceful, with great views.

On the east side is the down-climb, a class-three, about thirty feet of easy climbing. But it's always more interesting coming down it without gaining the hindsight of having gone up it. The way the left side of the cliff slopes down swiftly to all-vertical, with the right side a non-comforting chimney that tapers off as it descends, the start of the down-climb doesn't come easily to the eye. Having not done it in a while, I felt a mild thrill as I moved into position for the first foot-drops. This is why I'm out here.

Camelback rock ranks low on the scale of sturdiness
for rock-climbing (overlooking, for the moment, its many quality
routes) because it's an ancient mud pile. The conglomerate-sandstone mix contains a primordial glue that allows magic things to happen, like this gravity-defying boulder.

(Below) Bobby's Rock: A nifty, orange-pink glob
of sandstone opposite a huge wall.

A fun ramp
on the way
up to the
Camel's Foot.

Standing from this point,
it's hard to believe that
an easy trail takes you safely
along the edge of the impressive,
northern-exposed drop-off. (Next
two pictures.)

I decided not to take this little trail,
which leads to the small maze of humps
on the western bluffs. Been there, done that,
and although it's a great place to be, I had
bigger ambitions.

Only one thing for a climber to do when he sees
a symbol like the one pictured below. I shoed up and messed around
on this rotten chimney for a few minutes, going up
ten feet or so before deciding that it was too sketchy.
It doesn't go anywhere too interesting, I don't think.
Protectable with medium-sized cams. Maybe I'll return
with a partner.

An amazing, tiny rock-hollow
on the Camel's Foot approach
caught my eye. When I saw the
picture, I thought the holes
looked like eye sockets. The
second "face" of the day.

Getting near Camel's Foot...


there. It's an impressive formation -- eye-candy. And two climbs on the south side, a 5.1, Camel's Foot, and a 5.8, Otherwise. I've never done either one because they're short. Might be an enjoyable way to pass an hour or so.

A sublime profile of Camelback's hump and... spines? Shot this from a down-sloping, gravelly outcrop as I tried to gauge whether it's possible to descend the steep gulch bordering the south-side head. It looks like a death trap. With two ropes, it would still be a double-rap, with the second one needing to be set up on the fly. No thanks. Besides, the bottom is someone's back yard.

That's the "Copenhaver Castle" in the distance there, with the turrets. It was up for auction a few months ago -- I'm not sure if it sold.

Next two shots: South cliff...

...and a wave of rock.

Finally, I quit screwing around and decided to locate some kind of connection from the Camel's Foot area to August Canyon. This is what I tried in 2008, but failed to find anything. The south-facing cliffs appear impassable without a Bosch drill and a bag of bolts, or maybe a rack of pitons and a hammer. That's not my typical style, of course.

I located a short gully, noticed a cairn piled on a rock shelf and the short face to climb, and thought maybe I'd discovered what I'd been looking for. How could I have missed this three years ago? I wondered. Possibly there was more brush then.

No matter. The eight-foot free solo, class four to 5.0 at the top, leads only to a dead end. The cliff that stopped me was gigantic, about two-fifty to the deck, affording a fantastic, bird's-eye view of Yellow Wall. I took a shot or two there, but the lighting wasn't right at all.

A minute after returning to the Bobby's Rock trail, I found myself cranking up to the base of Yellow Wall, wanting to see it from the ground-end. From my perch up high, I was dumbfounded at how steep and dangerous it looked, with that thought in juxtaposition with the memory of climbing it a few years ago with no rope.

During that free solo, I didn't top out on the stitches-like part -- it was simply too high and vertical. My back-off point was a good 50-60 feet. Now, I needed to look at it from the bottom again partly to judge how my next free solo on it might go. And I wanted to stretch my legs and lungs out on the ultra-steep approach.

I even had a mind to free-solo a ways up Yeller and try to recreate that delicious fear I remembered the first time I'd done it without a rope. After that experience I did climb Yellow Wall all the way with Scott, through the second pitch to the top of the Ridge Route plateau. But it's a good one for free-soloing, again, up to a point.

I knew there was an old beehive next to the base of the wall, complete with curtains of hardened beeswax, so I came closer only with caution, chest heaving from exertion. Damn. There they were.

I have seen the beehive sometimes active, and other times as empty as a skyscraper in a recession -- perhaps the critters go on vacation. On Saturday, the hive was thrumming with life. This is a true danger for people who might free-solo Yellow Wall, I believe. Unlike on Hart Route, which has all kinds of rappel anchor possibilities, the single-minded nature of the vertical stitches that make up the first 75 feet or so of the climb aren't that accepting of pro, and there are no bolts until the top. Down-climbing would be the only option. But it's not a bad option because it's easy.

I didn't feel like finding out how ornery the bees were that day and buggered out of there.

Now running short on time, I jogged over to the Headwall and cruised up the Walk Up, which I often consider a 5.0 but is labeled class four in all the books and Marty's guide. I climbed it in my hiking boots, so I guess it really is a class four. Down-climbed in my rock shoes, though.

Before I started the down-climb, I overheard a kid crying at the top of Rappel Gully. The boy's dad and dad's friend had gotten him up there, and he was scared out of his mind. They were trying to lower him on belay, but the boy -- about Annabelle's age -- didn't want to take that first step over the edge. I know that feeling -- heck, everyone knows that feeling. But the poor boy just cried and cried.

He came walking over just before I lowered myself to the ground on the down-climb, meaning he got over it. Good for him.

Then it was to time to go.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

More Thoughts on Camelback Naked Man

The plan today is to explore the cliffs on the south side of the hump, and some other stuff along the way, too. We'll see how much I accomplish. I have plenty of time today, but not as much oomph in my bones as I'd like. Went on a run yesterday and a long bike ride the day before. My right knee has been bothering me in the last few weeks. Of course, it's amazing that the ACL reconstruction from 1993 has lasted so long, with the all the abuse it's had. I can't help but wonder if it's going to blow out someday. I don't think it will be today, though.

I'd like to start with a climb up the Camel's Foot formation, though I've also a hankering to do my regular jaunt up the headwall routes and see if anyone's climbing the Monk or Gargoyle wall. I've also been itching to go back up the 5.1 route up to August Canyon - the green Petzl is in my pack. But I've done all those things, so the goal must be to hit some new sites today, like the south-side cliffs.

If some gas remains in the tank after the scrambling expedition, I might go up the summit, mostly to check out the base of the cliffs on the northeast side. There are a couple of bolted routes on them I'd like to see, in the hopes of climbing them someday. I've never seen anyone rock-climbing at the summit.

Hiked Echo Canyon several times since the Naked Man incident and haven't seen any other naked people. The police report still hasn't been released. A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Nick, the naked man's friend. The naked man's name was Brian. My lengthy Jackalope post on their mental misadventures can be found here

Nick had been hiking with Brian in the beginning. Nick says he tried to stop Brian after the older man stripped down, and Brian threatened to bash his head in with a rock. He told Nick, according to Nick, that he wouldn't do it because Nick was his friend. What would have stopped him from doing the same to a stranger? Nothing, in my opinion. I feel bad for Brian, who apparently left a couple of zany comments on the above-linked Jackalope post. But dealing with young, muscle-packed mentally ill people actually is dangerous -- it wasn't just paranoia on my part. As for the other part, the question still going around in my head of whether I should have attempted a prompt rescue like the one that eventually occurred on the summit, I lose no sleep on it. The biggest problem, as I see it, is that I had no certainty that he intended to kill himself. He'd passed up so many big cliffs already. It wasn't till later that he shouted his intention to do himself harm. But even if I'd have heard him yell something suicidal, there was no question I wasn't going to deal with him myself. Gathering a "posse" of sorts would have been the only option. It appears to me that Ewelina managed to do this only over time -- by hanging with Brian, showing to others that she cared about the situation, and nagging others to take action. Even then, the action only occurred at the top of the mountain, with Brian screaming that he was going jump, with no more options available.

And now, back to my irregularly scheduled adventure...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Naked Man

I knew I was responsible for this guy in some way the second I saw him in all his nakeness.

He didn't act suicidal when I encountered him but I knew he could be -- he was raving like he had multiple personalities, in two distinct voices, and he didn't seem happy. Obviously, someone like that, out on Echo Canyon trail, might want to hurt himself. The other feeling I got was that I should be a citizen policeman and stop this man solely based on the fact that he was naked. Little kids and easily offended people would see him. No question, this was illegal.

But I knew as I watched him (and he watched me, for a time), that he was in no mood to be easily stopped. He was well-muscled and I felt sure he would fight me if I used physical force to stop him, or even if I positioned myself directly in front of him, blocking his way. In retrospect, of course, I have no idea what he would have done.

As mentioned in the Jackalope post, I passed him, then came back down to him. I can't stress enough how I felt the weight of my compressed schedule.

When I was thinking about stopping the guy upon my first encounter, there were no big dudes around. An Asian couple and their 6-year-old kid, none of whom were speaking English. Three Hispanic teenagers. A middle-aged couple. Some single male or female hikers who stayed in the zone even as they expressed shock at seeing Naked Guy. Those are the sort of people I remember being in my general vicinity at the time. Before I could have convinced people to help tackle the guy, I would have first had to get their attention and convince them why we should do it.

The next time, the "hero" woman was there and it seemed like a couple of other people were sticking with the guy. In other words, I felt comfortable that my responsibility had been watered down enough to let me off the hook. The woman, pretty sure she is the same Ewelina from the ABC-15 newscast, was in full rescue mode. The naked man asked for water, and when I pulled out my bottle of Dasani, she insisted on taking it to give to him, even though I was standing right next to him. She must have convinced herself that she was fully responsible for him. Obviously, she's not as selfish, callous and apathetic as I am.

But to give myself some credit, I did try to hang with guy a little bit. I gave him water. I tried to talk to him. I called 911 and talked to the police. But it's clear enough what I should have done: I should have blown off the fair and stuck with the guy to the bitter end. I should have been there at the top -- at the very, very least, to capture the tackling on video.

Not sure if I would have joined in on the tackling. If a couple of burly guys were trying to restrain him, I suppose I could have helped one way or another with that. But only with those burly guys. Otherwise, it would definitely have been too risky to try to restrain him myself, (or with one or two non-toughs). He could have gone crazy on me -- which wouldn't have been a big stretch in his condition.

It feels weird not to have this man's name, and to know nothing more about him than he's uncommunicative and naked. He's probably a nice guy, and I got the feeling he was familiar with the trail. I'm sure he passed a few people, even in his slow-mo way. His physique suggests he might even be a rock climber or uber-hiker.

I've put in for the police report, intending to write a follow-up article for NT. Possibly, I may be able to find and interview the man. Cops have already told me that he's 22, had had a fight with his parents on Saturday morning that may have triggered the incident, and that there was no evidence yet he'd been on drugs.

I'm glad I got involved as much as I did, (notwithstanding my pangs over what I could or should have done). I did more than most, though less than Ewelina.

It was yet another Camelback adventure, for sure.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pedrick's Chimney

Climbed Pedrick's Chimney last weekend.

It's named after Ben Pedrick, who first climbed it in 1947. Gary Driggs' 2008 book on the history of Camelback has this picture of Pedrick and another early pioneer of local climbing, Ralph Pateman. In this screen shot from the Google Books version of the Driggs book, there appears to be a mistake. Pedrick's Chimney, of course, is not on Bobby's Rock, but on Gargoyle Wall, just down the lane a bit from Hart Route. There's a Pedrick's Split, 5.3, on Bobby's Rock, but I've never bothered to climb it because it's so short. Someday I should do that one, though, and a Pateman first ascent, the 5.7 Pateman's Cave.

Here's the description of the Pedrick's route on Google Boooks. And here's the one from Rock Climbing Arizona.

Both of these sources, like the venerable Phoenix Rock by Jim Waugh, (cover of this awesome book, which supposedly is selling for $49.99 on Amazon, at left), rate Pedrick's Chimney at 5.1, and it is, by straight-up climbing standards. However, note that it's got a "consensus" rating of 5.2 on Mountain Project. I can see why. In the rock gym, it would be a 5.7, partially just due to its length. But for the leader, which I was last weekend, the climb becomes something more than a mere walk-up.

I hadn't intended on climbing anything on lead -- my pack was rigged for free-soloing. I'd intended to climb the 5.1 I did in 2008, or, more likely, the Headwall, then rappel down Pedrick's (after the 5.1 into August Canyon) or Rappel Gully (if I'd done the Headwall). Instead, my buddy Brian decided to join me, and I wanted him to do something that got us into the stratosphere, since he's done mostly short outdoor climbs. That's an important reason I love climbing at Camelback so much -- the walls there are nothing to sneer at, with some routes going well over 300 feet.

Anyhoo, because doing that route hadn't been on the agenda when I'd thrown a few things in my approach pack that morning, I didn't have enough quick-draws to properly lead the route. That didn't stop me, mind you, but it did make the lead feel a lot more like an adventure. Yeah, I know what you're thinking -- isn't that the whole theme of this blog? Well, sure -- but I'd have liked to have had two extra draws and maybe a cam or two to really sew it up. As it was, I used up the first quick draw to give myself a modicum of protection on the lower part of the 80-foot climb, so when I got to the overhang in the crack, I only had one left.

The bolt that quick-draw went into is a good 35 feet or so above the last one, so if it pulled out, there'd be a strong possibility of decking out. At best, it would be a horrific fall with guaranteed extreme injury -- again, that's if the bolt pulled. It's a fairly new, still shiny bolt no doubt left by the Arizona Mountaineering Club. Maybe in the 2000s, probably in the '90s. It probably wouldn't pull out. But I led Pedrick's as if it would have. I don't really like trusting my life to one bolt in Camelback rock. And there's a way to climb in the crack by wriggling in it like a caterpillar. Not pretty, but it's a no-fall method, as far as I'm concerned, meaning that at no point would a slip of any one hold result in a fall. I knew Pedrick's could be climbed like that because I free-soloed it a few years ago.

I've also climbed Pedrick's two or three times on lead, with the requisite number of quick draws, and found it quite easy and enjoyable. It's best to stay out of the crack near the top, it should go without saying, and stem on the outside. The rock quality here is pretty good, with all -- strike that -- most of the loose stuff in the main portion of the climb having been washed out or pulled off by climbers over time.

This is an incredibly enjoyable climb for a moderate leader like myself because it's tall, but never scary. Just a fun, vertical walk in the park. Being in August Canyon is another of its rewards -- I've written of the joys of that hideaway before.

The route is only a one-star, I'd say. But as always, that's pretty good for being in the middle of town. It would be a great confidence builder for a beginning leader. Brian, who had a few outdoor climbs under his belt before getting on this one, had a great time.

Most experienced Camelback climbers know Pedrick's as the way down, not necessarily a way up. It's the standard descent for Hart Route, Misgivings and other Gargoyle climbs. My friend Mike and I, back in the day, tried to make our way over to Pedrick's once after climbing Suicide Direct. Our path through the maze of August Canyon was blocked by bees. A galaxy of them. This was before killer bees were widespread in the Valley, but we beat a retreat and decided to rap the route we'd climbed. That turned out to nearly be a hell of a mistake. With only one one rope, we had a dreadful moment while clipped into slings on the bolted ledge mid-way up the route's 2nd pitch, when we pulled on the rope to get it down and it got stuck. Somehow -- perhaps untangled by the sometimes helpful, sometimes gremlin-like "rock gods," as we cheekily call the mountains' unseen forces.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Roadrunner Greets Crowds as Fall Hiking Season Finally Arrives

Camelback was an anthill today, as expected. That's fine with me. The weather has finally turned and it's great to see so many people out enjoying the day.

A couple of dudes pointed out a roadrunner on the way down, not too far from the top. First one I've seen up there. It had a small lizard, maybe a grasshopper, in its mouth.

Circle of life, man.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Bike and Climb

In the interest of ramping up the adventure and exercise quotient, a few weeks ago I committed to one of my favorite tortures -- a bike and climb. I live 10 miles from the mountain, so it's a decent work-out.

The Papago hills seem to be made out of the pink substance as Camelback, and I think they are conglomerate like the Head area, which has most of Camelback's climbing routes. The vertical terrain at Papago is much more crumbly, though.

When biking in this area, I always try to make it up Galvin Parkway and over the hills on McDowell. The Valley's mostly flat as a bicycling town, of course.

Even though this was in September, it was still darned hot. Hate to keep returning to this theme, but not long after I'd locked up the bike and begun hiking, I saw a guy carrying a dog on his back. About a 35-40 pounder, kind of a cute mongrel with a black snout. It was panting heavily.

"Is he okay?" I asked as they went by.

"He's just tired." Said the guy.

Almost as annoying as people who push their pets to the limit -- people who leave dog's crap in a little bag on the sides of trails. Do these people honestly think there's an official, and free, poop pick-up service? It's an outrage to see these reminders of mankind's haughtiness.

Not that I bother to pick them up. Someone else will do it.

Below, coming back on McDonald, looking south. Unless you're a CEO or use McDonald to get from south Scottsdale to central Phoenix, this isn't your typical view of the mountain.

All in all, a fun few hours. Except for nearly passing out from heat exhaustion on the way back. I felt incredibly drained. The humidity was high and the temp about 102, with strong sunlight since I began this one at about 11. After a long summer of hot hikes, this late-summer bike-and-hike tested my internal temperature controls.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Hiking at Camelback is an adventure every time. One doesn’t hike Camelback as much as climb it. The rock-steps on Echo Canyon trail are of varying height and shape, and sometimes loose. The trail includes slick-rock and gravel and high-steps and steep drop-offs and shortcuts and tree-grabs and semi-vertical faces and boulder fields and railroad ties that are fun to bound down and handrails (I have personal rules about when they can be used). Cholla’s not bad, either, with its scrambly top. Both trails have some of what I would consider Class Three terrain.

I notice sometimes that the technique I'm using when I go down Camelback is the same monkey-careful gait that I employ on more-serious mountain hikes. It’s hard to describe, and it doesn’t look all that different from mere hiking down a steep slope, but it is different. It’s more like climbing down with my feet. I’m more centered in my gravity, more balanced in the arms, more ready in case I slip than when hiking down an easier trail.

I'm not one to usually say "I'm going to climb Camelback today" when I mean I'm going to hike to the top. For me, climbing at Camelback means rock-climbing. But to hike Camelback is, in many pleasurable ways, to climb it.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Yosemites in Our Backyard

This guy at the summit recently told me he was going to Yosemite in a few days and we chatted for a moment about the waterfall deaths. That was in mid-July. Since then, the total number of fatalities has increased to 14 this summer, with a woman plummeting 600 feet after slipping on the cable route. That's the park service number. Another person, a teen, slipped on Mist Trail and suffered a fatal injury, but he didn't make the official tally because he died at a hospital outside the park.

I’ve ascended the cables twice and descended three times, (once following my ascent of the Snake Dike route). Those cables can get crazy-slippery. Each time I made some use of the gloves that pile up on the top and bottom of the cable route, and each time realized that the gloves may help the hands in terms of endurance on the thick twists of metal and soak up some sweat, they aren’t all that grippier. In ’91, my friend Kent and I descended the Dike in a thunderstorm. We topped out on Half Dome in a white-out. It hailed, then poured. Most of the hikers caught at the top were under-prepared, a few in nothing but shorts and a T-shirt. What the heck, it was July. Kent and I wore Gore-tex rainjackets (and our backpacks with all the climbing gear, including an extra rope we hadn’t needed), and would have been fine except for one of the hikers ahead of us was not only freezing-cold, but near-frozen in terror. A man, perhaps he was with her, had to resort to moving her hands down the cable for her – for a few tense moments, she could not do it on her own. We and others trying to get down the 400-foot cable-and-wood-slat ladder grumbled in frustration. The longer we lingered, it seemed, the greater the chance of losing concentration or getting struck by lightning. I had to remove the gloves at one point, worried that their surface had grown too slick. I’ll never forget the feel of that wet cable as I gripped it, hard, that sense that I wasn't grasping it hard enough and applying more power to my hands. It took serious effort, and my fingers were stiff with the cold. All the while, I was more than aware of the steep grade and how we were still very high up, above the tips of the tallest redwoods near the base of the cable route.

Spooky. But overall, a fantastic time.

The reaction of the Yosemite park rangers to the record number of fatalities this year is just what I prefer to hear from local officials – and so far, thankfully, have been hearing – every time someone gets hurt or killed at Camelback and other mountain parks. Their message: Risk, yes -- restrictions, no.

I find that refreshing.

Despite tragic deaths like that of Clint McHale’s, an even greater tragedy would be to try to clamp down on adventuring in wild places. Camelback is one of those wild places. It’s in the middle of the 5th largest city in the United States, but that fact means absolutely nothing when you’re leading, soloing or free-soloing a climbing route there. I’ve had adventures at Camelback that rival those I’ve had in Yosemite, and more of them, since it’s only 10 miles from my home. Some of these adventures were had when rock-climbing was new to me and my friends and I practiced a form of it that focused, in an amateurish and unathletic way, on the sheer thrill, exploration and independence from any authority. When winding through one of the maze-like slots of August Canyon, battling thorny Palo Verdes, mesquite and various cacti, searching for the rap-down on Pedrick’s Chimney after having just ascended a multi-pitch route like Suicide Direct -- I’ve felt downright astronautic. As in, I’m walking on the moon. Mind, body and soul are brought together by wilderness, risk and achievement.

Camelback is one of our local Yosemites. So are the Supes. A few words about the Superstition Mountains: If they weren't so darn far away from the central Valley, I'd love to live in the shadows of the western cliffs of the Superstition Mountains, the little community over by the Mining Camp restaurant. Older homes, lots of variation, zoning free-for-all on county land, some properties requiring water to be trucked in. A somewhat weird place, just east of Apache Junction. But the ability to walk out of my home and into the Supes, a federal wilderness area... Wow. I mean, this is a place where I've seen whole herds of javelina. The trails are tough and rewarding, and going back just a few miles leaves 99 percent of the people behind. The walls there are humbling because even when you're really high up, they go even higher. Unfortunately, the rock quality isn't Yosemite-like: Instead of miracle-granite, you get so-so volcanic. Some spots are solid, others crumbly. Many of the biggest walls on the western flanks of the Supes contain unclimbable coffee-cake-like rock. Whenever I hike up Siphon Draw Gully trail, I stare up in awe at the Spiderwalk wall, that behemoth, conical mass of beige stone the size of a 50-story building that I and a friend climbed one day long ago. The stunning view from the saddle of Weaver's Needle at the end of Peralta Trail is also Yosemite-esque in its grandeur. The preserve is so big and rugged that two years ago, a guy looking for gold disappeared in there without a trace, and last year, the same thing happened to three other guys.

No question: Yosemite’s beauty and climate far surpasses Camelback’s or the Superstitions. But for outdoor adventure, it sure is great to have a couple of little Yosemites in our backyard.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Accident, Videos and Others Internet Finds

My quest to troll the Internet for memorable stories about Camelback continues:

Clint McHale

I found an accident in May to be particularly troubling. It was hard to tell why the guy decided to climb, why he got himself into his predicament and why he fell. The rest was history -- I shouldn't have, but I did listen to the 911 call on one of the TV news sites. Horrible. The victim's distraught sister turned to activism: she wants the public to better understand that hiking and/or climbing can be dangerous.

I agree with her completely, and that's one of the reasons I enjoy those activities. Hiking and exploring Camelback sure beats stomping a treadmill at the gym in front of a TV screen. While it's riskier to venture out of one's home or other "controlled environments," the rewards are well worth the gamble. Not that it's much of a gamble, as long as you keep your head.

Having already injured a heel, elbow and knee, I don't need any more broken bones or severed ligaments. Making a fatal mistake -- yikes, that's gotta be out of the question. But I do take some risks at Camelback, and feel the better for it.

Why do people exceed their limits on Camelback in such an extreme way? Perhaps it's the ultra-urban location, right in the middle of the metro area, as accessible as a major museum would be in Boston or D.C. Still, climbing into the unknown at Camelback with no equipment, not even rock shoes? Camelback climbing requires the utmost caution, with extra attention paid to the rock conditions and route-finding. Only the victim and the survivor know for sure what went wrong.

I asked Adele, the NT fellow I took rock-climbing last month, if she wanted to write up something for Valley Fever based on the police report that had just been released. Here's what she wrote. The report, which I got back from her, has the GPS coordinates of the accident site, so I've been thinking about going there to scope the place out and see if it's a recognized climbing area.

360 View of Trailhead Area

I played with this for more than a few minutes. The picture quality is outstanding and I like how you can sweep up or down.

Iron Legs

The following video has some fairly ballsey stunts, including running down the slickrock section about halfway up the Echo Canyon side.

Cough, Cough

In this next video, a couple of dudes toke up on the Bobby's Rock trail, just east of Bobby's Rock over a saddle. Nice few of Phoenix from that spot. Judging by the insane amount of hacking these guys do, this is either the best or the worst dope they could be smoking. "If we fall here, we could die," one of them says.

Leaps of Faith

This was one of two videos I found featuring BASE jumping off a wall in Camelback. Seems almost suicidal to me. Too much could go wrong.

FYI, these jumps are from the big wall just south of Bobby's Rock, and they land in front of Bobby's Rock. Karabin's fold-out guide describes the BASE-jumpers launch zone as a "Huge 300' foot wall." I think it's much bigger, possibly in excess of 500 feet, which is considered a minimum safe height by most BASE jumpers.

Karabin's guide also notes a Karabin first ascent on the wall called Three-Star Nightmare, (also seen on, which he only gives two stars.

Subject: Camelback

The level of detail in the next video gets a bit mind-numbing, but I liked Mr. Bennett's amateur videography and his glowing review of the hike. He thought it was at least twice, if not three or four times as challenging as Piestewa Peak. I don't agree with that and would say it's more like 15-25 percent tougher, having many times hiked both in the same week. Echo Canyon has a few sections that are steeper than anything on Piestewa, while Cholla presents scrambling opportunities near the top that Piestewa doesn't offer until it's final thirty feet. Bennett's Thailand interlude is mildly entertaining.

1.27 Miles - My Hike Up Camelback Mountain from David Michael Bennett on Vimeo.

Tough Hike

This one is so-so, with a guy who claims to be afraid of heights hiking Cholla Trail. One thing I found amusing -- at the end the main guy shows off his Vibram Five-Finger shoes and confesses that wearing them wasn't a good idea.

The video appears to be a promotion for a T-shirt company. I'm leaving this one on here for one reason only: To let you know these guys suck. I gave them money for a T-shirt but they didn't send it or respond to e-mails.

Monday, July 4, 2011

An Early Start, and More Dogs

Starting the trail at 6 a.m. felt like cheating.

The temperature was supposed to be 117 on Saturday, though I don't think it ever made it quite that high. For some reason, the lows hadn't caught up to the extreme heat the Phoenix area suffered last week. The days had all been in the 111-114 range, but the mornings were still nice. It was probably about 85 when I began. Beautiful. But not the intense challenge from the week before.

Still, it was probably going up a degree or two every few minutes. I'd parked at my usual spot, 44th and Camelback, and biked in. Gotten up at 5:05. Not typical for me. After the slow-moving death march from last week, though, I needed a break from the ultra-heat.

Funny, but my theory about getting passed during the particularly hellish days still holds up. Last week, when I started at 11 a.m. and the parking lot was less than one-third full, I got passed by three guys and a gal. There were very few people on the trail and I passed maybe five. On Saturday, just before 6, the lot was overflowing and the trail thrumming. I passed 30 or 40 people who'd started at roughly the same time before first saddle, plus quite a few more on the way up. All told, I was passed by only three dudes. My theory, of course, is that the extreme heat brings out a much great proportion of the hard-men and women who are stronger climbers than I am.

Since I wrote that last story on dogs I was more attuned to canines on this hike. There were four dogs being treated to the early-morning hike, which honestly was nothing like "cool" but was refreshingly nice by comparison. The first one was a Yorkshire Terrier. It's owner, a Hispanic girl about 18 or so, was encouraging it to climb the steepest portion, the first handrail section.

"Is he going to make it?" I asked with obvious skepticism. The dog was already panting heavily.

"We're gonna try!" the girl replied.

Near the top was a thirty or forty-something, in-shape woman with what looked like a small Collie mix. I passed them, but they were making good time.

"How's he doing?" I asked the woman.

"He's fine. He's a professional," she said. And it looked like she was right.

Another small, well-muscled mutt and his owner passed me going down. Near the top, there was a big, mostly black, overweight dog -- looked like a Rottie -- panting heavily and on its way down. A couple with the dog looked concerned for its health, but it had made it pretty far and there was no turning back. I was a little worried about that one.

Then, about halfway down, I ran into the woman with the Yorkshire Terrier again. This time, the poor thing looked like it was about to have a stroke. A middle-aged guy, who was possibly with them, told the dog's owner, "He's done." The girl seemed to understand and I assume she turned around at that point.

Top picture: Late sunrise with haze/brown cloud from summit. Above: Looking the other way at downtown Phoenix. Below: Took this one about a week ago. I love this angle of the mountain, looking south near Tatum and Lincoln.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Dog Tired

Most dogs I've seen on Echo Canyon Trail seem to do quite well. The little ones amaze me, the way their tiny legs move so quickly up the stairstep-like rocks. Camelback must be like Mount Everest to those guys. If it's true that dogs take after their owners, evidence of that old saying can often be found on steep trails like Echo.

Other dogs, including some I've seen on Camelback, are mismatched with their owners. They're the couch potatoes -- or just old -- and their owners more resemble human chihuahuas. I use that breed as an example because chihuahuas have a lot of energy, but they're not all that smart.

One day last year, I saw this sad-looking black dog looking extremely peaked at the top of the mountain. After I arrived at the summit I spent a few minutes watching as the dog's owner tried to get moving down. The dog was simply done hiking. Or so it thought. Of course, it was just halfway. It had no intention of walking any further. The guy at the end of the leash coaxed his animal repeatedly, getting it up and moving a few feet at one point. But it just plopped back down like a sack of rice. The man pulled on the leash, gently, for a few more minutes. Then he picked up the dog, straining as he lifted it by the chest and butt. He draped it over his neck and began hiking down the gravelly summit area, moving slowly because the dog was obviously pretty heavy. At that point I began heading down myself and didn't see them again.

A couple of years ago in late June I noticed a similar situation and blogged about it in Valley Fever. I mentioned that the mutt weighed about 85 pounds, causing a reader to say he/she didn't think that was too much for a Golden Retriever. I'm not sure what it weighed, but it looked fat to me. The same reader also took me to task for the crappy picture, which I'll reproduce here because no one can stop me.

The worst, though, is something I haven't taken a picture of but might someday: Ultra-hiker parents taking their non-ambulatory infants to the summit and back in a baby backpack. This drives me crazy and I never did that with my kids. I realize that it's too easy to be critical of other people's parenting skills and I'm not perfect, but I think taking a baby up Echo Canyon trail puts the child at too much risk. The incline means a misstep and trip puts you on the ground with much more impact than on level ground. Even though those backpacks have shoulder straps, the child's head could strike a rock, causing a concussion or breaking its neck. And speaking of neck, infants have heads that are too large for their bodies -- they aren't designed for constant bouncing on serious hiking trails, and I can't help but think their necks are straining too much. Looks like it, anyways. True, I've never heard of a kid dying or getting hurt in this manner in all the years I've been observant of Camelback news, but I can't help but think this behavior isn't wise. I felt the same way once upon seeing a woman rollerblading on a beach boardwalk with her infant in a front-loading baby bjorn.