Walt’s got to attend meetings all day so I’ve decided to tackle Camelback Mountain via the Echo Trail.
The mountain is just a few miles from our hotel and I arrive about 8:30 a.m. with just a bottle of water to carry. I’m not carrying my backpack on a 2.4-mile (roundtrip) hike. It’s early enough and cool enough that I should be OK with just my water bottle.
The parking lot is pretty full but I still find a parking spot and head up the trail. There’s quite a few people, both going up and coming down the trail. It’s immediately rocky and steep but, as I am to learn, nothing like it will get in the top half. It’s 1,200 feet of elevation in 1.2 miles of up, so that’s a pretty good grade.
Barely a quarter mile in, I hit a rocky spot that has a metal handrail up the middle. It looks like the easier way up would be on the left side of the rail but there are people coming down, so I opt for the harder right side. It’s just boulders and a handrail, something I’ve never seen before. As a few more people come down, they are on my side of the railing so I veer off further to the right, giving up the handrail all together for a few yards before they pass and I swing back to the rail. It really does help.
After the railing ends, there’s some more up and then a fairly level spot, then more up on rocks and now we’re really hitting the rocks. There’s nothing like a defined “trail” just lots of rocks and some occasional signs with an arrow pointing to the “trail.”
It’s a little difficult to try to pick my way up the rocks while avoiding all the people coming down but I take advantage of the crowds to make some short rest stops in the guise of letting people come down the trail. At one point, I stop and motion to a man coming down, letting him know I won’t get in his way. “You sure?” he asks. “You have the right of way.” I’m shocked that anyone on this trail knows the basic rule of hiking. I smile and say “Yes, but I’m happy to have the break.” He smiles back, passes, and I start up again.
The path just gets steeper. It’s just boulders, some requiring a full-body scramble but really it’s not technically difficult, just steep.
I think I’m getting to the top but I know there’s going to be a crowd at the summit and since I don’t see a crowd, I realize it’s a false summit.
Up we go. Huffing and puffing. Almost through the bottle of water.
Finally there’s one more steep section and I pop up to the huge crowd and views that I’ve been expecting.
It’s very nice, with a panoramic view of Phoenix, Scottsdale and the mountains around them.
I sit for a few minutes, sorry that I didn’t stuff a power bar in my pocket, before heading back down. I wait for a moment when there’s no one going down immediately ahead of me. I’m positive that I will be a whole lot quicker on the downhill than most people. Because Camelback is so well known and so easily accessed from the many nearby resorts, most of the people out here are not hikers. They are families and couples in varying levels of fitness. I’m nowhere near the youngest nor the fittest but I’m sure I’m one of the most accustomed to rocky slopes.
I hop my way down, listening to the Rolling Stones, barely pausing as I encounter boulders, other people and choices in my downhill path.
By the time I’m done and back at my car, the parking lot is full with a line of people waiting to park. For the umpteenth time in my life, I’m glad I started hiking fairly early and am done before the heat of the day and the bulk of the crowds.