March 18, 2016
The hike of hikes in Phoenix, AZ. It is labeled a double black diamond in difficulty and I quickly learned why.
I was on spring break and going to Arizona was a dream come true. Hot weather. Cool pools. Desert landscape. Coming from Colorado, I was used to the snow and winter jackets. Phoenix temperatures were averaging in the 90’s and the dry heat was something to get used to.
I hadn’t realized how large the mountains were surrounding the Phoenix area and every direction you looked was another mass. Camelback Mountain was the “one” you heard about and the “one” that proved you could hike if you could complete it.
We drove to the trailhead, which actually has no parking because it is in the middle of a neighborhood, so you have to park down the road. There is free parking for certain hours during the day which was convenient, even with a little bit of a walk back to the trailhead. The street was loaded with cars and people, going and coming from the trail. There were many middle-aged adults, children, and even some elderly hikers. I thought that if the three grandma’s that passed by me could make it to the top, it wouldn’t be a problem. Boy, I was wrong. We started our climb around 11 that morning (big mistake!) and were still making our up past noon and 1, where the temperature continued to rise and was dreadful. I would suggest going earlier in the morning, when its cooler, around 8.
I cannot iterate how much water you need to bring. At least three water bottles per person (AT LEAST!). I would also strongly recommend bringing along a snack (fruit or vegetables) that can keep up your hydration and keep you from drinking more water. A t-shirt and shorts is perfect, but bring nice shoes that you wouldn’t mind getting dusty. Don’t forget to bring a hat or visor to keep your face out of the sun, and ladies–hair up! The ironic thing is the farther you climb up, the cooler it gets. The beginning of the trailhead started at about 95 degrees and slowly dropped. By the time we reached the peak, it was a warm day with a cool breeze; perfect.
The beginning of the hike begins on open switchbacks, no shade, and rocky steps. This is the easy part, with places to overlook the surrounding area, and some great cactuses to take pictures with. There is a lot of people on the trail, but it never feels too crowded. This lasts about a half hour and at the end of this section, it is lots of stepping up and around rocks, so take a break if you need it.
I had stopped a few times already going up all the makeshift “stairs”, when we reached my favorite part of the hike. This was open mountainside, with shaded areas, and stretched walking paths for about twenty minutes. There was little hard climbing to do and had awesome photo opportunities.
When this ended, you began for the “fake” peak. This was open in the sun, pretty much blistering hot, and all rocky terrain. The helicopter pad is your sign of the hike starting to get hard. This is where I really begin to break quite often. As seen in my picture below, it is legit climbing up and down formations of the rock. The trail was no longer labeled by signs, but spray painted blue dots to keep you heading in the right direction. How you next reached those dots, was all on you. There was no easy choice in most cases and you could see how much longer you had to go. You get to the top of what you think is the end of the rough climbing, just to look over and see you have another 15 minutes to go. It doesn’t sound like much, but after the past hour and forty-five minutes you’ve done, you do not want to continue.
But we had made it that far and there was no way I was turning around now. I pushed through my sweat and dirty hands and made it to the peak. The trick was not looking how much farther you had to go, but just staying focused on the next five feet in front of you. Once you get to the top, it is a flat, vast lookout. You can see for miles in all directions. There were actually quite a few people up there with us, sitting and resting after that morning workout. I would say it takes about two hours to reach the peak, or more if you break often. Many people brought their dogs, some who were extremely little, but as long as you have enough water, they seemed to be okay with climbing and the heat.
Getting to the top was good, but the journey up was what was great. I thought the views on the ascent were much better than the actual peak’s overlook, but it was still so worth it. I definitely would do that hike again (after a little break!) and although, it was difficult I wouldn’t be scared away.
As I said, Camelback was labeled a double black diamond and for good reason. I would be prepared physically and mentally for a hike like this–especially if you are not used to the heat. It is definitely on the to-do-list and I wish you the best of luck. Remember to bring LOTS OF water and take breaks. Its easy to get lightheaded so try going when it is easier in the morning. The descent was fast, still climbing but with gravity to help you, and took less than an hour. The altitude change had not affected me on the way up, but going down definitely did.We went down so quickly our hands swelled up. (I couldn’t even get my ring off because my hands were so swollen.) This is just something to keep in mind, and after a few minutes, my hands were back to normal anyway.
Overall, the hard of this climb is what made it great. Do try some more challenging climbs, stay safe, and happy hiking!