Camelback Mountain might be just a walk in the park for Phoenix fitness buffs. For a flatlands guy from Kansas with a post-wedding hangover, it was a serious ass-kicker.
I flew to Phoenix on Wednesday evening to serve as a groomsman in a friend’s wedding. We played golf on Thursday, and the wedding was Friday night.
When I booked my flight, however, I tacked on an extra day and a half to make the trip more of a vacation and have extra time to hang out with friends. In addition, I wanted to have time to enjoy some of the area’s outdoor recreation opportunities. In particular, I’d targeted Camelback Mountain — the highest point in the Phoenix area.
Towering above the surrounding suburbs, Camelback Mountain juts 2,704 feet into the air. It’s a local landmark, and the view of its beautiful red rocks always captivated me when I viewed them through the airplane window as a boy on my way to visit my grandma.
I knew better than to go during the afternoon. Given my personal knowledge of Arizona’s weather, as well as recommendations I’d seen about climbing Camelback, it was clear that morning was the ideal time to climb it.
A fun-filled wedding day, followed by an after-party that roared at the hotel until about 3:30 a.m. made an early-morning departure for the mountain unrealistic. Sleep was a priority, as was breakfast.
Against my better wisdom, I hopped into my rental car around 12:45 p.m. and headed to Camelback. I arrived with backpack, energy bars and plenty of water in hand and hit the trail at 1:30 p.m.
Almost instantly, the effects of Friday’s festivities — the minimal sleep, the endless flow of drinks and the side effects of wearing rental shoes — settled in. My legs felt heavy, my lack of pre-hike hydration slowed my pace and my shirt was soaked like a sponge.
Railroad ties provided steps along the early portion of the trail, along with plenty of loose scree. Quickly it gave way to steep inclines requiring both hands and feet to proceed. Large boulders encompassed most of the trail and turned the hike into a full-body workout.
It took about 45 minutes to go from the Echo Canyon Trailhead to the summit. It wasn’t far — a little less than a mile and a half — but it was strenuous and exhausting. Along the way I encountered a few female track athletes from Arizona State who were using Camelback to train. A few trail runners jogged some of the way. Some of the hikers used it as training to strengthen their legs for a marathon. Some handled it better than others, but everyone at the top showed signs of fatigue and paused to enjoy the reward of their work — the panoramic view of the city below.
After about a half hour of enjoying the scenery, sipping on my water bottle and catching my breath, I headed back down. The large rocks and steep inclines that made the ascent challenging made the descent more difficult.
The round trip — ascent, descent and break at the top — took about two hours total. It provided a definite sense of accomplishment and a killer workout. It also made me long for the opportunity to live in a place where such outdoor playgrounds are just a short drive away.
I fly home Sunday, and the extra days added onto the trip were well worth it.