There are approximately 200 people rescued from Phoenix mountain preserves and desert trails each year, according to data provided by the City of Phoenix. A large number of these rescues takes place at Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona.
Camelback Mountain is a popular hiking spot for many Paradise Valley, Phoenix and Scottsdale residents. Its two trails, Echo Canyon and Cholla, are challenging and cause hikers to need emergency rescue more frequently than other trails across the Valley.
“I would say that the majority of our calls end up being from people who are hiking the mountain and end up having a medical emergency,” said Capt. Reda Bigler with the Phoenix Fire Department. These medical emergencies include overheating, overexertion and falling off of the trail.
While there are many reasons for people needing rescue and assist while hiking Camelback, City of Phoenix Park Ranger Mark Sirota believes that the majority of problems are rooted in hikers’ lack of preparation. The trail is rated as a double black diamond, which indicates extreme difficulty.
Factors such as sunscreen, proper clothing and shoes, water and prehydration are all necessary components to safely hike the Echo Canyon trail. Park rangers often stand by the trailhead to assess hikers coming through for proper preparation.
“We look at them and do a triage. We look at their clothing, their gear, their footwear, their children, their age … those are the determining factors,” Sirota said.
Camelback Mountain is a park, not a preserve. Because of this, hikers are able to go off-trail to base jump, rock climb and boulder. While most of the hikers who chose to go off-trail bring the appropriate equipment, there is still a high risk of danger.
“We lost a couple of hikers last year because they were off-trail. We like people to stay on the trail. We ask people to stay on the trail,” Sirota said, explaining the “hike-at-your-own-risk” view of the park.
Though the high temperatures of Phoenix make the Camelback hike even more dangerous, the cooler months are actually when people need more help. When the temperature starts to lower, people want to enjoy the nice weather and don’t think they need to be as prepared as they would be if they were to hike in the middle of the summer.
“It starts getting warm, and the rescues actually go down,” Sirota said. “Now that it’s starting to get cooler, when the temperature is in the 80’s and 90’s, we actually have more rescues and deaths.”
Chandler resident Jake Plichta has been hiking consistently for three years and does not believe that the Camelback hike requires more experience, although he acknowledges that it does have a steeper incline than most of the trails in the Valley. Even so, he only hikes Camelback in the winter months.
“The main reason I do not hike in the summer because of how hot and dangerous it can be,” Plichta said.
The Phoenix Fire Department and the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department have begun to work closely with the public to increase the safety of hikers, specifically those wishing to hike Camelback. One of these efforts is a concierge education program throughout hotels across the valley. Through conversation with guests wishing to hike Camelback, resorts and hotels are able to asses the ability and skill level of guests, and redirect them to a more appropriate trail if necessary.
The Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department has also started their campaign “Take a Hike. Do it Right” to promote hiker preparation and awareness. This campaign consists of signs around Phoenix desert parks and mountain preserves, online promotion and conversations between park rangers and hikers.
“The mountain is tough,” Sirota said. “We care about you. We want you to have a safe, enjoyable hike. Sometimes that means going to a different trail, not Camelback Mountain.”
Though there are efforts to reduce the amount of rescues from Camelback and other desert parks and preserves across the Valley, there is still a significant amount of rescues that occur.