Sunday, February 12, 2017

Hiking Camelback Mountain, Paradise Valley, AZ

Caution: hiking Camelback Mountain during the summer is not a joke. Bring an abundance of water. Do not underestimate this hike.

Trail Description

Length: 2.6 miles round trip
Trailhead Elevation:  -- ft.
End Elevation: -- ft.
Elevation Change: 1253 feet
Difficulty Assessment: Medium
Trail Type: Out and Back

Camelback Mountain is one of the most iconic hikes in Phoenix. Located in the city of Paradise Valley, Camelback's popularity seems to stem from its centralized location in the valley, its balance between difficulty and time required to complete the hike, and of course, the view.

All throughout the week, the trail can be seen teeming with hikers of all shapes, age, and sizes.

There are two ways to approach the hike: the Cholla Trail and the Echo Canyon Trail. Which one is tougher seems to depend on who you ask. For this particular post, I will be talking about the Cholla Trail.

During the summer, the best time to hike is either in the early morning (6-8am at trailhead) or in the evening (after 5pm). But even then, you have to be careful. People underestimate how difficult Camelback is due to its trail length; but it's not the length you need to be wary about, it's the extreme heat, the lack of shade, and crowds that make this a difficult hike. Be diligent in your preparation and mindful of how much water to bring.

In the winter however, any time is fine. Remember to still bring water though. Cooler temperatures can trick you into thinking you're not as thirsty as you should be.

The Hike

To get to the Cholla Trail trailhead, you need to park on North Invergordon/N. 64th Rd (they are the same road, depending on which direction you are coming from).

Park anywhere between East Jackrabbit Rd and Camelback Rd. Pay attention to the signs.

Once you've parked, walk towards East Cholla Lane and turn in. After a 5 minute walk or so, you should be at the trail-head. The entrance should be next to a golf course hole.

Over the years, the city has done an amazing job of making the hike safer for all its visitors. Not only are the trails more clearly marked, but an abundance of warning signs have been posted to better educate hikers.

Dogs used to be allowed on Camelback, but no longer. This change came for a number of reasons. For one, the trail isn't large enough to always accommodate pets and humans safely. Occasionally unleashed dogs would go dangerously off trail or force their way past hikers. For another, dogs would sometimes respond uncomfortably to the proximity of either other dogs or humans. People were also having issues keeping their pets safely hydrated.

The trail itself is very straightforward and practically the entire hike is at an incline. Losing the trail should not be an issue at all. Even in absence of all the hikers, you would have to try hard to get lost.

The trail begins right alongside one of the golf course holes and affords a nice view over some neighborhoods.

Very quickly though, you'll find yourself fixated on the path ahead of you as the effects of the incline hit your legs.

Along the way up, there will be a few "rest" spots that you can stop at. But be warned, there is very little shade at any of these rest spots. In the winter, this isn't an issue, but during the summer it can be.

It might be worth it to take these rest stops as an opportunity to look around. Remind yourself why you're suffering and you may find yourself surprisingly refreshed. Or not.

At some point in the hike, there will be some scrambling involved. This takes place in the final 20% of the hike. I don't feel like it's overtly difficult, but it may test some people and what they're comfortable with. At this stage of the hike, it is not uncommon to see a line of hikers being held up by one or two hikers scared of climbing down or experiencing some difficultly pulling themselves up.

Once you've hit the part with the scrambling, you probably have only an additional 10-15 minutes more of hiking until the top.

There at the top: enjoy the view, have some lunch, take some selfies, and start planning who to bring the next time you attempt the hike.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Bouldering at South Mountain, AZ

A few weekends past, Liz took me and Brandon to South Mountain for some bouldering. To get there, park at Pima Canyon trailhead, Maricopa Trail, Phoenix, AZ. There is a developed lot with bathrooms and picnic area. Be mindful of the time as the park gate closes between  certain hours (typically near sunset).

To get to Pima Canyon Trailhead, park at the following address:

From the parking lot, get on the National Trail. Walk along the National Trail for a mile or so until you pass the old stone Ramada. At this point, walk off the path and follow the dried river bed for another half mile towards Pima Canyon (the coordinates where you should start looking for the dried river bed: 33.360756, -112.004855). It might be best to go with someone who has been there to find the river bed path. But here's a snapshot of where I got off from the Ramada.

A good indicator that you're on the right path are the old petroglyphs on the boulder right at the entrance of where you migrate down.

Eventually, you should come to a welcome wall as seen by the picture below.

There, we only had time to climb on two problems. The two problems were Hookers Are Fun (V2-V3) and The Tongue (V2).

The Tongue is a great problem to warm up on and the trick to starting the problem involves two parts. The first part is the tiny foot underneath the over hang as you start. The other part is where you position your right foot, also during the start, as you pull yourself up and begin the problem. If you're falling instantly, but have good strength in your hands, your right foot is smearing too far right. Experiment with different right foot placements as you attempt the sit-start.

Next, Hookers are Fun. Hookers are Fun is an especially fun V2-V3 problem. The start is a straightforward shimmy but becomes difficult upon reaching the pocket. The trick to this transition is to, as you're hanging upside down, first bump your left hand up onto the crimp. Once you establish that hold, make the right hand transition. Most people won't get the larger pocket first, they'll grab some smaller hold first. If you do, I would suggest making a quick bump to get that better pocket, it'll help with conserving your energy. After you get that move, the rest is easy and simply a matter of whether you still have any energy left.

There are two variations of how you can finish this boulder.

An overly attached, concerned, puppy wondering what her mom is doing hugging a rock.

After completing this problem, we moved on towards the amphitheater.

There, we checked out some more problems in the area. However, most of them were beyond our climbing level and the ones we did want to climb, we were unable to find. Eventually, we called it a day because the sun was setting and we hiked back towards the lot.

From the amphitheater, you can either backtrack completely, or scramble up a bit and find the latter part of the National Trail. The view scrambling up is quite nice.


Why I Climb

I enjoy climbing for many reasons. And although I believe some of those reasons are subconscious, I'll try to the best of my ability to speak on the things that I can think of.

To sum it up, I love climbing because it speaks to my love for the outdoors, competition, and community.

Ever since I was young, it was a tradition of sorts for my family to go hiking on the weekends. At the time, I hated it. I hated waking up early for anything that wasn't cartoons and I especially didn't like spending my weekends hiking. Whether it was a cultural thing or simply something my parents enjoyed, it wasn't until years later that I organically took to being outdoors.

Climbing reinforces that love for the outdoors. Aside from the gym and metro locations, climbing typically takes place in the desert, forests, beaches, or mountains. Whether its sport leading, trad-climbing, top-roping, or bouldering, they all can take you off the beaten path to areas seldom explored. The journey to the start of the climb can vary. A climb can be as easy as parking and walking for 5-10 minutes, or it can involve scrambling, hiking, and even some "creative" exploring for an hour or more. It's this latter element of adventure that I enjoy.

Then there's the sense of competition. To a small degree its about competing with your friends to see who can accomplish a difficult route first. But to a larger degree, its about the competition between yourself and the wall. It's an intimate antagonism that takes place both on a physical and mental level. There will be times where you know you can physically accomplish a hold, but mentally, you feel the stakes are too high. In the end, you have only yourself to blame when you fall, and its this stark honesty that's invaluable for self-improvement.

Finally, there's the community aspect of it all. I like meeting new people, but I love meeting people with similar interests. Whether I'm a victim of an echo chamber or not, the climbing community truly is an amazing resource for outdoor enthusiasts. It's a community that not only revolves around exploring the wilderness but also about being physically active, considerate of the environment around you, and opening yourself to new experiences. It spans not only ethnic boundaries, but also across many age groups. Subsequently, its a very diverse community of experiences and cultures.

So fingers crossed for many more years of adventures and fingers crossed for new friends I've yet to meet.
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