Monday, February 17, 2014

Echo Canyon Re-Opens, and More From Pioneer Bob Owens on Early Days of Camelback Climbing

This is the sweet image that ran with my January 16, 2014, cover article in the Phoenix New Times on Camelback Mountain. It was a great experience to be able to do that story, which had the nice hook of being timed roughly to coincide with the re-opening of Echo Canyon Trail following the closure. As it turns out, our timing couldn't have been better. We had the article planned for the 16th, and then the city announced the re-opening would be on the 15th. Since the online version of feature articles appears the afternoon before the print copies hit the streets, the article actually came out on the 15th. Here it is:

Camelback Mountain Combines Beauty, History, and Adventure in One Fragile Phoenix Park

The highlight for me was interviewing Gary Driggs, the Camelback climbing pioneer who bagged the first ascent of the Monk. Driggs' two books on Camelback are the authoritative sources on the history and iconic nature of Camelback as a Valley landmark and source of beauty and adventure. Much was left on the cutting-room floor of this story, most tragically the interview with ASU geology professor Stephen Reynolds and his fascinating info on the composition and evolution of the mountain. We're writing for general audience and I appreciate my editor's cuts, but I'll post that info here at some point for posterity's sake.

I went to the media preview of the Echo Canyon re-opening, and also showed up on opening day. Here's the blog post I wrote about that:

Echo Canyon Recreation Area at Camelback Mountain Reopens with Parking Problems

Then there was the slideshow that ran online with the both of these articles, featuring pictures by photographer Andrew Pielage from his jaunt up Cholla Trail:

Closer Look: Hiking Camelback Mountain's Cholla Trail in Phoenix

As usual, I'm behind on my Camel-blogging. I've saved up a few things that I hope to crank out in 2014. Last year turned out to be second-least-productive year on this blog, with four entries, better only than in 2009, when I managed to squeak out only two. Truth be told, I'd rather hike Camelback than write about it, much as I love to warm up a keyboard.

I've hiked the new Echo Canyon trail twice now. I really like it. The first part winds nicely through Echo Canyon, giving dramatic views of the nearby cliffs, and you can barely tell where the old trail was. I do miss the shock of the first railroad-tie part, which sapped strength within seconds of starting the trail and always made me feel like I either stretched out too much or not enough before getting on it. That being said, I like the fact that it's slightly longer, allowing more time to take in the scenery while marching up the incline. The new railings further up seem prudent, as the trail hugs a couple of corners with new, wicked drop-offs of five-to-ten feet that would have definitely caught the newbies and veterans alike off-guard. The new signage is fun and the redeveloped parking lot and bathrooms is what it is. The new trail entranceways in Scottsdale like Gateway and Tom's Thumb set an unfairly high bar and Phoenix would have been criticized if it had spent too much. The bathroom facilities and entrance plaza are adequate for their purpose. The parking lot is still too small on nice days, but will be twice as empty on hot days.

On my second run up the trail, I took some time to freesolo up the headwall and to the Monk plateau. Didn't see any of the Christmas garbage I reported from the year before, so if the adventure-traveling teens cleaned up after themselves, I commend them.

Bob Owens contacted me again after my article ran, and he gave me some more info about the early days of climbing in Echo Canyon. As my previous post on him detailed, he's the guy who made the first ascent of Suicide Direct. He told me on February 14th that he'd talked to Ben Pedrick, (of Pedrick's Chimney fame), the day before by phone.

I'm just gonna go ahead and re-print his entire email to me, so everything that follows in this post is from Owens:

Bob Owens - (photo submitted by Bob)

PEDRICK'S CHIMNEY.  It was  first climbed by Ben in the Summer or Fall of 1946.  He climbed it both up and down without aid, and there was no sign of a previous climb. He said prayers first.     Another boy named Curtis was with him.  Ben had helped him up the front wall, but Curtis remained at the bottom of the Chimney.  This was before the Kachinas had been organized, and Ray Garner had taught them climbing techniques.  Garner was a professional photographer of Documentaries, and had learned rock-climbing on the Palisades of the Hudson River in New York, and had later been a guide in the Tetons, along with the big names there, Fritz Wiessner, Glen Exell (Do I have that right?)

During 1946 and 1947, what were apparently first ascents were made by Dick Hart on the Hart Route, and Ed George on the George Route.  Ben's younger brother Lee Pedrick (later killed in an airplane crash) did a first ascent on the neck route, before any access hiking route had been built to it.

At the East end of the Head, along a ridge on the left side, Ben did a first ascent on what they called the Echo Canyon Route in 1947 or 1948.  Ben described it as between Suicide Cliff and Echo Canyon.  Their first mountain rescue there was of Chris Tountas, with an article in the Gazette.  There was another hiking route or scrambling route on the South.  On the north side was a short route on a boulder called Pateman's Split, Ben thinks. Ralph Pateman died during the Korean War from a helicopter crash, I believe -- I never knew him, but I found his ashes in a labeled bag on top of the Head circa 1950.  By that time most of the "old Kachinas" I had known were leaving for the Service or college.  There was also a boulder called "Doug's Dandy" on the north side. On the ground, our memories for location of landmarks would likely be better, but that will probably not happen.

Ben recalls the Hart Route as a friction pitch, and only did it once.  I don't think I ever did, but did do the Neck Route and Echo Canyon Routes each once, and Pedrick Chimney several times.  After I joined we neglected Camelback, made a climbing movie, and most of our climbing was in the Superstitions, Eagletails, Kofa Range, and assorted pinnacles like Vulture Peak, many of which turned out to be scrambles, and then the Tetons.  Ray Garner and Lee Pedrick did a first ascent on Agathla in Northern Arizona.  I went  to Law School in Tucson, and except for 3 climbs of Baboquivari, mostly climbed stairs.