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.