Like a Phoenix – Hiking Phoenix’s Cameback Mountain

An “extremely strenuous”, “double black diamond” rated hike up a mountain in the middle of the desert in 110 degree heat seemed like a good idea at the time.


While traveling to Phoenix for work, I didn’t want to just be stuck inside the whole time. After a long and dreary spring in New Jersey where summer never seemed to come, I just wanted to get some sun. I found it in abundance in Phoenix, and so I figured getting some fresh air on a hike would be great before getting to work. I knew it would be hot, but I figured it’d be a dry heat. On my way back down it was hot enough that if I left my hand on a rock heated from the sun for more than a few seconds it would start burning. Water spilled from my bag dried up before my eyes. It wasn’t an easy hike.


Phoenix is unique for one of the largest cities in the US in that it actually has real natural formations still within it Cameback Mountain rises along with several others within the city that seems to spread to the horizon. It’s an easy car ride or even Uber or Lyft from the downtown. That doesn’t make it an easy hike for city slickers though. Thanks to a rapid increase in elevation, slopes with loose boulders, wildlife like rattlesnakes, bees, and coyotes, it’s rated extremely strenous and recommended for the most fit hikers only.


I took a Lyft out and hiked up the steeper, rockier, but less precipituous Echo Canyon side, climbing several boulder fields that required frequent stops to catch my breath and chug water. Thankfully I was smart enough to bring a 1.5L camelbak water bag, the one I use for marathons. It ran out before I finished the hike.

At the top, I was rewarded with sweeping views over the entire city, or at least what could be seen before it stretched past the horizon. Phoenix is a huge and wide city that’s actually comprised of several towns melded together as each grew. The view was absolutely worth the hike up and I grabbed time to recover and take a few selfies. Others had stopped to make a picnic, but I wanted to get down both before it got even hotter, before I ran out of water, and before I thought too much about how hard the boulders would be to get down.


Instead of retracing my steps on the known, I decided to head down the other trail, Cholla Trail which is a bit longer, but was supposedly less steep. I questioned this assesment as I climbed down the ridge of the mountain’s spine with massive drops on either side of the narrow path. In several spots I had to clamber down on all four limbs for balance or to reach the next step. Each time I felt gravel sliding with my feet, I looked forward to the end a bit more.


I did make it to the bottom, all without seeing any wildlife other than some interesting crested birds and what I think was a roadrunner. The hike may have been difficult and technically challenging, but the views and the sense of achievement in finishing it were worth it. I’d just suggest doing it on a cooler day or at least earlier in the morning.


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