While I had read about hiking Phoenix, Arizona’s Echo Canyon Trail, my takeaway wasn’t that of its double diamond designation or “extremely difficult” description. No, my takeaway involved the challenge of finding a parking place.
At the same time, I wasn’t buying the notion that an up-and-down hike of 2 1/2 miles could possibly take 2-3 hours.
Who is kidding who here?
It’s with those thoughts that my youngest daughter Britt and I would set off on an adventure.
We were staying in Scottsdale last week on her spring break and Google Maps said the trail was only 16 miles away. We each filled a water bottle, ate a banana and piled into the rental.
We left at 6 a.m. and arrived 30 minutes later (one wrong turn).
We parked near the front row (winning already).
The first thing we did was take the obligatory photo in the parking lot. The lighting wasn’t great, but I snapped a photo of Camelback Mountain and texted it to my wife, Marnie, who was staying back in our room, and my daughter Aili, who was back at college after her spring break.
Our first impression was really cool, but no big deal. The trail was well defined and the hiking was easy. We even saw what looked like a group of work buddies on the trail — If I didn’t know any better, I’d say they make a collective trek to the summit 2-3 times per week.
The easy part of the hike wasn’t lost on my daughter.
“I like this part,” she said.
Soon, the trail turned a bit more challenging, but a safety fence came into play, as did a hand rail.
“The fence is annoying,” said Britt, “but I’m sure glad it’s here.”
We stopped at the top of the rail for water and to take a few photos. The views were amazing. Below was the city of Phoenix. Above was the bluest of blue sky, without a cloud in sight. Beside was an orangish/reddish rock that stood hundreds of feet tall.
We put our waters back in the pack and moved onward and upward.
By now, the trail wasn’t so well defined. You knew where you were going, but barely.
There were other hikers on the mountain. They weren’t leaving breadcrumbs, but you could see where they were going.
We were passed by some of the faster hikers. They didn’t look any different, or any fitter, than we were. They were just faster hikers.
Other than a few “Good mornings,” there wasn’t a lot of talking on the trail.
There was, however, lots of heavy breathing.
Most were dressed like we were, wearing shorts, T-shirts, running shoes and caps. All carried water bottles. Some had hiking shoes, some had hiking sticks.
“If I brought sticks, I’d throw them down the mountain,” said Britt.
The last part of the trail is why someone tagged it “extremely difficult.”
You’re no longer hiking, you’re climbing. And no, rocks are not your friends.
There’s not a right way or wrong to do this. Correction: There is a wrong way to do this.
On average, there are about 200 search and rescue efforts in Phoenix every year. The majority of these happen on Camelback Mountain. Don’t be a statistic.
While she might have been a bit dramatic, and morbid, Britt summarized the home stretch with a single sentence: “One wrong turn,” she said, “and you’re planning a funeral.”
Eventually, the boulder-rock scramble gives way to the summit. After drenching your sense of accomplishment with a few big swigs from your water bottle, you’re left with the amazing views, which keep you atop the mountain for longer than you’d planned.
We took our own photos, offered to take photos for strangers, and then had these same strangers take our photos. It was all good.
If I remember correctly, the trip up the mountain took 1 hour and 10 minutes. This included a couple water breaks and more than a couple photo shoots.
In spite of way more people on the trail, the trip down went faster.
It was also uneventful ... until it wasn’t.
“I almost took a lady out at the bottom of the rail,” said Britt. “It’s where I scratched my ankle.”
Britt blamed her slippery grip.
“If I ever do this again,” she said. “I’m wearing gloves and I’m wearing better shoes.”
At the bottom, she qualified her experience.
“I don’t know,” she said, “I either underestimated the trail or overestimated my ability.”
My watch said the trip, including our stay at the top, took 2 hours and 39 minutes. We covered 3.3 miles, gained 1,384 feet in elevation and burned 598 calories (I would have guessed more).
I loved it and wanted to do Chola Trail (same mountain but different entry point) later in the week.
Britt said no.
“You can’t take a different trail and end up at the same place,” she said. “Why would anyone do that?”
Because you can?
Note: The parking lot was completely full when we left (vindication).