Sunday, September 1, 2013

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Camelback Mountain's Echo Canyon Trail is Open for Hiking! (Well, Three-Quarters of It, and You First Have to Climb Cholla Trail to the Summit)

If you want to have Echo Canyon Trail all to yourself, there's no better time than now.

The trail isn't closed like you may have heard. As usual, the news media steered you wrong. Most of Echo Canyon is open. The catch is that you have to hike to the summit via Cholla Trail to access Echo Canyon.

It's worth it. Echo Canyon is never this depopulated without heavy rain or intense heat. A couple of weeks ago on a Saturday morning, I saw just five people on the trail at 7 a.m. when it was only 73 degrees. Last weekend, on June 8, I saw one woman on the trail during my entire down-and-up hike. I doubt many more came after us, not with the temperature rising so quickly.

Besides the solitude to be found amid the gorgeous, craggy vistas, the lack of people adds to the adventure factor. Echo Canyon always provides a potential for danger. For the solo hiker, an empty Echo Canyon becomes something akin to trails in more remote areas, where beautiful landscapes mask the potential for big trouble. Though you're never from nearby houses or the summit, as the crow flies, with all the mini-canyons and cliffs, plus my overactive imagination, I definitely got a "in-space-no-one-can-hear-you-scream" feeling. No head-to-rock contact, compound fractures or heat-related seizures allowed, not when it might be many minutes, if not hours, before help arrives.

The experienced Camelback hiker will notice that the trail has subtle clues of abandonment: extra gravel in some spots, weeds poking up where before they would have been trampled. So cool. And the workout is phenomenal, of course, with its two Camelback summits. A very solid, tough, scenic hike.

Lack of preparation is one reason the west side of the mountain isn't seeing many visitors despite a sign at the top telling people the upper three-quarters is open. The first time I hiked Cholla since Echo closed, I contemplated going down the other side but ruled it out because I didn't have the time or water. That's clearly the case for many Cholla hikers who might otherwise descend Echo Canyon and re-ascend the mountain.

Going up both sides of Camelback is one of my favorite ways to hike the mountain. Typically, I start from the Echo Canyon side, but I've have started from Cholla as well. It's a long hike, though. Cholla's 2.8 miles round-trip, and Echo is 2.4 -- so, 5.2 miles with 2,400 feet of vertical. I take anywhere from two-and-a-half to three hours to complete what I call the "Full Tour." (Less time with the currently shortened Echo Canyon trail.) I bring two one-liter Nalgene bottles packed with ice and water when it's warm or hot. An inexperienced, out-of-shape hiker might take twice as long.

The turnaround point is an ugly fence at the top of the steep handrail section. I was shocked at the sight of it. How dare they fence me out! Just till the fall, I kept telling myself.

How did everyone come to believe that all of Echo Canyon trail was closed? That's what the news media reported. I inadvertently spread some of the misinformation. But don't blame me and my ilk too harshly.  City officials told us the whole trail would be closed. It also says on the city's website that the "Trailhead and Summit Trail are closed through fall."

I'd been avoiding Camelback since the Echo Canyon closure, hitting the McDowells and South Mountain more often in its place. I love Cholla, but when it's crowded, it's too narrow for my liking. Worse than Piestewa Peak. But now with most of Echo open again, I've added C-back back into the mix, which is a great thing. Having missed it for a while and done trails nearly as steep, such as the east-side Tom's Thumb trail, which has a lot of switchbacks, I still believe Echo Canyon beats everything in the Valley in an effort-per-meter contest, not to mention the fact that it's the prettiest little red mountain outside of Sedona.

Cholla Trail in the morning.

Echo Canyon Trail, about 7 a.m., at 73 degrees on a Saturday -- and no one's here.

End of the line -- for now.

Smart water, dumb people.

I picked up about 20 empty water bottles in my last two Cholla hikes. Part of the reason trash accumulates on Cholla rather than Echo Canyon is the chossy down-slopes right off the trail. Easy for the occasional idiot to chuck a bottle, but tough for someone to clean up. When I have time, I enjoy the opportunity to down-climb those slopes, looking for solid rock to step on and being careful to avoid loose boulders and what look like cryptobiotic soil crusts.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Bob Owens on Camelback Mountain's "Suicide Cliff" and the Kachinas, Arizona's Legendary Climbing Club

Bob Owens, 1948
Following my review of Camelback Mountain's Suicide Direct climb, I received three messages correcting info I'd passed on about the route's first ascent.

One was an awesome comment by Roger Banan, who wrote that he climbed the route in 1969, with Dane Daugherty, who'd said nothing about establishing the first ascent. That would seem to contradict the word of Steward Green in Rock Climbing Arizona. Plus, Banan's description makes Dane too young in 1969 to match up with the 1949 date given for the FA by Dane and his brother in Waugh's climbing bible, Phoenix Rock.

The second and third messages were from Bob Owens, an 84-year-old from Utah and member of the legendary, post-WWII climbing arm of the Boy Scouts, the Kachinas. As many local rock climbers know from the guidebooks, the Kachinas pioneered modern rock-climbing in the Phoenix-area and other parts of the state. The group led the Phoenix Explorer program, the Arizona Mountaineering Club and the Central Arizona Mountain Rescue Association, says CAMRA's website.

Kachina badge
Owens put a message on a quickie blog post I did about chuckwallas, saying he and other Kachinas climbed "Suicide Cliff" in 1947, and that he led it again with Gary Driggs (first ascender of the Praying Monk and author of the top-notch coffeetable book, Camelback: Sacred Mountain of Phoenix) in 1950.

Owens also sent me an email that was cc'd to Ben Pedrick. Yes, that Ben Pedrick - the guy whose name is immortalized in two routes at Camelback, Pedrick's Chimney and Pedrick's Split.

Here are some excerpts from Owens' letter to Pedrick:

This is just an update glimpse on status of Kachina Legacy in Arizona.

I've heard no more from Greg Opland, who was working on a history of climbing in the Superstitions, and to whom we furnished some photos and material.

I checked the web yesterday, since it's been 8 years since our last Kachina reunion, and used the search term "SUICIDE CLIFF, Head of Camelback",  which turned up some interesting stuff. An excellent book entitled "ROCK CLIMBING, ARIZONA" By Stewart M. Green was published in 1999 in the Falcon Guide Series, which I think I was not aware of at the time of our 2004 Reunion.  About half of it is online, and it seems to slight the Kachinas big time, in the portions I read.  We gave a lot of material to Karabin and Opland in 2004, but too late to find its way to Green's book, obviously.  Example:  It seems to credit  Dane and Lance Daugherty for the "first ascent of Suicide", and never mentions us.  Do you know them? Rock climbing and mountain rescue was still our default monopoly in 1948, which rapidly changed in the next few years, as Kachinas left for college and military.

This Daugherty credit has been recently picked up and repeated by Ray Stern, a reporter for the Phoenix New Times... [Note: Camelback Phoenix is my own website. -RS]
Owens & friend on top of 1st pitch of Suicide Direct
I will attach some of these purloined photos and materials for you, since I know you have a love for ancient history and fossils.
Also, the Internet has some nice, color graphics of the route itself.  Do they match our route?  My memory after 64 years says, yes.  It is called "Suicide Direct" now.  Marty Karabin also has created his own  route, to the right of ours. The labeled "start of the 5.8 pitch" is what I have always called the ledge, but I recall the overhang being closer to the top.  I don't remember any "Fun Approaches".  I think I see a cross at the skyline top.  Was that put up by the French  ASU student's family when he fell to his death here, or is it a mesquite or other shrub?  (Andre Dauvergne).

Also, I wonder who waters those yellow marigolds along the route?  I don't recall them, from 1948 or 1950.  They make a pretty border, an esthetic touch for climbers.
          And another route, left of ours, named "Spice Box" (Foreshortened view):
As for the facts on Suicide, apparently none of us wrote a report at the time.  We left a few expansion bolts in the rock we used to call Arizona crud, (it has other names now) and possibly some of my hand-forged pitons from dad's forge, since I was still too broke at 19 to acquire any store-boughts.  That may be where Karabin reclaimed those home-made relics in his museum.

Ben Pedrick
My memory is that we made several prior attempts, or rather bolt-installing trips, possibly as early as 1947, and did the actual through-climb sometime in the first half of 1948.  (I went on my two-year mission July 4, 1948).  Much later notes listed Ray Garner, myself, and Ben Pedrick, as finishing the climb, after taking turns on the iron mongering, with Garner first over the overhang portion.  There could have been one more there--Roy Gray?  

After I got home in July, 1950, I did the Suicide climb with Gary Driggs, with me leading, (there was no new hardware in the rock yet), and I climbed half the route again a few years later with some of my senior scouts from the 16th LDS Ward, with color photos this time.  (circa 1964-5?).  They were still novice belayers, so I chickened out from going all the way to the top, particularly on that cliff.  We went as high as the ledge, I took a picture of Bruce Mabb and [Dave?] Harmon,  then we prudently rappelled back down.

Does all this so far match your memory, Ben?  Shall we noise it around that you and I had been planning a trip from California and Utah to Camelback for one more nostalgia Kachina climb, (like Glen Exum did on Grand Teton)  then dawdle in actually carrying out that plan, like Abe Lincoln on peace talks in the Civil War?  It will give speakers at our funerals something positive to talk about.
At 84, I might still be able to manage the lowest "class four" segment, even though  I have a growing balance problem, but if you lead  that pitch, Ben,  I can still hang on a rope as second, without visibly staggering.  

I ordered Greens book ($13.39, Paperback, Barnes & Noble)  and will check back with you after I read it, if damage-control is needed.  When I get time, I'll make a similar online check on some of our other first ascent icons, (Agathla, Pinnacle Peak, Eagletail Peak, Mount Brussels in Canada) to see if history is tampering with them, too.


Bob Owens

[All images in this post sent to me by Bob Owens]

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Camelback Mountain's Praying Monk Christmas Garbage & Other Camelback Trash

Merry Trashmas

Someone put up another Christmas Tree on the Praying Monk this year. This time it didn't work out so well.

I'm no longer mentioning names, but they wrote about it online:

"Somebody cut the lines it was rigged with, tossed the tree off the Monk, and took the gear that I anchored it with. The tree was broken into little bits, and was very difficult to carry down. "

Coincidentally, I noticed Christmas garbage strewn all over the Praying Monk plateau during two separate scrambling sessions in January. The people who put the tree up in the first place are responsible for the trash, even if "somebody" else cut the tree down.

The tree was gone during my climbahikes, but broken and intact ornaments could be seen scattered around the Monk's base. (I didn't pick them up, having no pockets or a bag to put them in, but I'll get them eventually if no one else does.)

Several gear tags were lying around. Hundreds of tiny, green pine tree needles were littering the chute leading from the plateau to Rappel Gully. They appear to be plastic and not biodegradable -- if so, they'll be up there for quite a while, mixed with the gravel. Annoying.

For years, I've also been bugged by the goofballs who decorate the top of Camelback Mountain with holiday decorations and a Christmas Tree each holiday season. I've noticed holiday litter at the summit in past years, too.

If you feel compelled to spread Christmas cheer to every mountaintop, literally, ask yourself if Jesus would want you to celebrate his birthday by trashing one of the few natural areas in the city.

Climbing Litter

Now, when I see an empty Gatorade bottle or crumpled snot-rag or other trash along Echo Canyon or Cholla trails, it's expected because of the sheer number of people on Camelback Mountain. The mountain is usually quite clean, but it only takes one litterbug out of every 10,000 hikers to make a mess. Very few people, relatively, scamper up the Headwall to the Monk plateau. So when I see garbage up there, it's more disappointing because it means that a much smaller proportion of the climbing population than hiker population is littering. Yet climbers, in my humble opinion, should be much better stewards of the land than average hikers. They visit more pristine, sensitive areas, and they should know those areas are less likely to ever be cleaned up by anyone, being more difficult to access and to move and up and down the slopes and cliffs with trash bags.

Most climbers believe strongly in self-reliance, and this ethic extends to the idea that you pack out all trash, barring some good reason not to. This applies to old webbing and other climbing-specific trash. Yes, climbers may leave webbing tied around boulders or trees after using it as a rappel anchor. That's not littering -- it's survival, and not the same thing as leaving sliced, sun-decayed webbing lying at the base of a popular climb.

More annoyances

Next, an example of Camelback graffiti. Fortunately, this sort of thing doesn't appear on the rocks as frequently as it could. Phoenix doesn't have an excessive graffiti problem in general. If I had to guess, I'd say "SL" stands for S*%^ Licker:

The Ultimate Garbage Sin

Finally, I must bring up the trashy act that makes me more furious than any other: Leaving dog poop on the side of the trail in a tied-up plastic bag. I mentioned this in a previous post but it's worth talking about again because so many people do it. I come across these poop bags on the trail once every two or three times up the mountain, and sometimes see two on the same day, in different types of bags, meaning more than one of these boors had been there. I've never caught anyone doing it, but would certainly say something if I did.

The poop-bag method is even more annoying to me than the idea of dogs pooping freely on the ground. While it's possible that some of the poop-heads who do this plan on picking up the bag on their way down from the mountain, most clearly don't. They leave it there, believing falsely that if they have housekeepers, groundskeepers and janitors at their beck and call, so does Camelback Mountain.

Last time at the mountain, a couple of weeks before the Echo Canyon closure, I talked to a ranger about this strange and obnoxious behavior.

"Hey, thanks so much for the service you guys provide -- picking up all those little bags of dog poop that people leave," I said with a smirk.

She got my drift right away and she snarled, "Oh, there's no service! They think there's a service, but there isn't. I don't pick them up!"

"I know! What is wrong with those people?"

"Actually, I do pick up the bags, sometimes," she confessed. "But only when I'm positive that no one is around, so no one sees me do it. Otherwise, they'll think there really is a service."

Listen up, poop-baggers: Do NOT leave your animal's crap on the trail, even for a minute. If you have a plastic bag, that's wonderful -- take it with you, whether you're hiking down or are still on your way up. There is no valid excuse for doing otherwise.