Category Archives: Camelback Mountain

Don’t Look Down

While southbound to Cincinnati on I-71 a couple of years ago, Zach and I laughed over a few favorite memories from an Arizona trip the previous spring. His bold assurance as we clambered up and down the sides of mountains and canyons had given height-wary me additional amounts of courage and strength. During our car ride, he admitted to having experienced a couple of less than absolutely confident times himself.

Not surprisingly, his moments of unease coincided with a few of my own white knuckle memories: A couple of “don’t look down” spots on the side of Camelback Mountain (we both looked!) and on the side of an almost bald outcropping on Bear Mountain where sudden hail and wind gusts made hugging a scrubby bush more about survival than about any warm environmental feelings.

Anytime you get to push a shoulder into your own boundary and expand the edge line out a little further, you facilitate your own growth. When you can do that in the company of someone you care about, you have a witness with whom to frame and commemorate the change.

“What a great trip!”  Not sure which one of us said it first.  But either one of us could have stated the obvious.

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Climbing Camelback

Urban hiking usually includes designated crossings and coffee shops. Public transportation is a safety net option should you get lost or out-hike your return trip energy. Camelback Mountain in the ultra urban Phoenix/Scottsdale area offers but distant views of those niceties.  One of several mountainous globs that emerge from the flat desert landscape, it is in the city but not of the city.

The first time I hiked Camelback, it was along the Cholla Trail where darkness turned us back short of our summit mark. It was the smart safe choice.  Sheer drop-offs and dim lighting are kind of an oil and water combination for most serious hikers.  But it felt unfinished. In my heart, I knew I’d have to hike it again.

Zach and I found the Echo Canyon Trail the afternoon before we were to fly home from Arizona last spring.  We’d spent a week hiking the Grand Canyon and in the Sedona area and wanted one more mountain before heading back to relatively flat Ohio.

Like my previous hike on Camelback, it was a good workout.  Continuously steep with varied boulder height, it used my legs well and required handholds as we neared the summit.

We spotted the occasional chuckwalla, but most of the non-plant life was human.  It was easily the busiest trail we traveled during our week in Arizona.

But the views were memorable, and the hike itself was another good mental challenge for my height-wary self.  And the biggest surprise at the top wasn’t the 360 panorama but that a hummingbird had also found its way to the top of Camelback Mountain.

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A Bug is a Bug (Unless its a Photo)

If I’d spotted it creeping across my carpet, I’d have crushed it into a paper towel with a shiver and no shame. But as this bug was moseying across red sandstone on Camelback Mountain, I instead dropped down to the best camera angle, thinking it quite spectacular.

As was the view… Camelback Mountain rises some sixteen hundred feet above downtown Phoenix. The incongruity of this heap of a mountain is striking as one gazes down into the flat basin of desert city below. Similar lumps of reddish rock loom in the distance, bold backdrops to Sky Harbor International’s constant air traffic. During my recent visit, a friend and I clambered up a trail labeled “strenuous” hoping for a good late afternoon work-out.

We got our work-out and then some! As a cardio-nut, I didn’t find it strenuous so much as “scary.” And altogether lovely… Sheer drop offs, sliding gravel, and the occasional wind gust made an inward lean preferable. Ascending the uneven terrain was akin to stepping up the equivalent of three or four stair steps at once. The climb required focus and a constant momentum, more than a little bit of nerve, and a lot of photos.

Camelback’s granite base soon gave way to sedimentary rock cemented with a pleasing rust colored sandstone that provided wonderful contrast to the sparse foliage along the way. Purple lupine sprouted steadfastly in unlikely places. The occasional palo verde tree clung tenaciously at cliff edge. Cacti such as yellow brittlebush, jumping (or “teddy bear”) cholla, hedgehog and barrel provided occasional splashes of color and texture.

The ascent was the easiest part. After a water break and panoramic elation, the rapidly approaching sunset chased us back down the mountain. We descended quickly, knowing how fast the flash from afternoon to darkness can be when shielded by a mountain. Climbing down felt a lot like downhill biking with the brakes on and made for good “jello” legs when we finally walked contentedly out from under Camelback’s shadow.

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