My greatest worry about hiking Camelback was not the hike itself, but how I would feel after hiking The Flatiron the day before. If Piestewa is Phoenix’s Cowles Mountain, Camelback is their Iron Mountain. In addition to the heat, the other challenge for this hike is the parking at the trailhead. It is currently compounded by the fact that the other route to the summit is closed for maintenance, so everyone has to take the Echo Canyon trail. I had joined the Arizona Hiking Society’s Facebook group and inquired about how early one could start, as technically the trail is open from dawn to dusk. My son was getting his first vaccine shot in the mid-morning, so I had a hard time limit (and the reason why I had to stay longer in Phoenix). I was told the lot is open, and usually fills up quickly, so a pre-dawn start was recommended. I pulled into the lot, a bit before 5:00 am and there were a few cars already parked. I put on my headlamp, grabbed my poles, and set off.
The trail began as a wide dirt path that quickly brought me to a small saddle. The city lights from this spot were lovely. There is a sign informing you to stay on the trail, as a hiker recently fell to his death. This hike has a lot of rescues, and in fact, has a helipad to assist when necessary.
After the saddle, a series of wooden stairs aided my ascent. Soon after that came one of Camelback’s signature features — the metal fence and railing section. The route became so steep that these were installed to assist hikers and to provide some safety from the drop as well. There were some notches in the rock, so I was able to get through this section without any trouble.
The route would transition mostly from a trail to a “choose your own adventure” up the steep boulders. I was thankful for my poles and my gloves as I picked my way up. Occasionally, trail signs would guide me along. Other markers were used to indicate reference spots on the mountain for search and rescue. The boulder section was nothing technical, but I am sure for someone who does not do a lot of desert hiking it can be quite the challenge.
Soon I found myself reaching the summit, just as the sun was breaking through the clouds to the east. What a sight. I had a 360-degree view of the Phoenix area, and not a lot of company on the summit. I chatted with a couple of fellow hikers for a bit before heading back down. My legs certainly were feeling the effort from yesterday’s climb up The Flatiron.
As I climbed back down, more and more hikers were making their way up. I was again glad that I started early. Around the halfway point, a gentleman in a knee brace asked me about my poles and if they helped. I told him that for me, yes. We then probably spent 10 minutes chatting about various hikes in the area, after all, I have 3 more years of my son attending ASU!
At the top of that railing section, I had to wait several minutes to descend due to the increase in traffic. Like the day before, I snapped photos that I could not take on the way up. I thought about heading over to the cave but decided I should get down to make sure I got my son to his appointment. Once back at the parking lot, it had completely filled up and there were cars waiting. I tossed my gear in quickly and freed up a spot. With that my Six-Pack of Peaks Arizona Winter Challenge was complete! My stats for Camelback were a relaxing 2:30 to cover the 2.4 miles and its 1,264 feet of gain.
I am an avid peak bagger, sometimes backpacker, and former sea kayaker living in San Diego. In 2019, I became the third person to complete the San Diego 100 Peak Challenge. Not stopping with that accomplishment, I set my sights on the harder San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list, which I completed in 2021. In addition, I have conquered several Six-Pack of Peaks challenges (SoCal, San Diego, and Arizona-Winter). Beyond attempting the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list a second time, I am looking forward to exploring new summits and new adventures across the southwest.