Phoenix is a sprawling gridded city in Southern Arizona, it is also (according to itself) The Valley of the Sun. Surrounded by nothing but desert, airplane graveyards and rocky outcrops it is where 1.5 million Americans call home which makes it the 6th largest populated city in the country and the most populous state capital. And a place where a larger number of those residents wear wrangler jeans, cowboy shirts, cowboy boots and leather belts with huge metal buckles. But it’s not the cowboy city you might expect, it is also very chic, I saw women doing yoga, Arnold Schwarzenegger wannabes pumping iron and kids running around beautiful kept public areas.
Phoenix is also home to a famous mountain which literally just rises out of the ground to around 4000ft. It’s looks as you would expect (according to its name sake), like a camels back, but bizarrely it is not part of a mountain range, just a random mountain that rises up steeply and is surrounded by the city. According to google “the mountain is composed of geological un conformity between two rock formations. The higher part of the peak is Precambrian granite (1.5 billion years old). The head of the camel is predominantly red sedimentary sandstone from the tertiary period (25 million years)”.
Now I’m going to be straight, me and Jack called it camel toe, and it does look like one. And I think if Phoenix had thought some years back they might seriously have capitalised on tourists wanting to climb camel toe. But, as tends to happen, people grew up, got mature and called it camel back because that’s what it looks like…
You could probably walk around it in just an hour or so, and the ascent record is some sixteen minutes, however, having climbed it I don’t for one second believe anyone climbed it in such a short period of time. Superman couldn’t get up in sixteen minutes and Usain Bolt wouldn’t even get halfway.
There are two routes up Camelback, both are difficult, and both completely exposed to the sun which is brutal and offering no shade whatsoever.
Whilst both trails are classed as being difficult and not for inexperienced hikers, the hardest, yet shortest trail is Echo Canyon. We chose the second trail and the reportedly least popular ascent – Cholla Trail.
Parking for Cholla Trail is on Invergordon Road (free) and a short walk from Cholla lane, which you walk up to the trail head.
The is no water on the trail at all, no shade, and no public services whatsoever, with that in mind we plastered on the sun cream, packed 3 litres of water, 2 litres of Gatorade, a few bananas and headed off in our walking boots to begin the hike.
From the trail head you walk up some make shift steps, it’s a steep introduction on reasonable ground, it winds steeply the edge of the mountain before taking a long, gradual climb along the side offering excellent views of the city below. Having started the ascent at 7.30am the sun was already 35 degrees Celsius and by the half way point we were sweating like crazy. It’s not that it was extremely difficult, though it was hard, it was the fact there was no wind at all, no clouds in the sky and the sun was relentless. We did however manage to find a tiny piece of shade by a large rock where we cracked open the bananas, had a bit of a chill out and then set off to the final part of the ascent known as the saddle.
By the time we got to the saddle we’d been walking about 40 minutes at a good pace, I took Toby off my back and Jack took off the bag with all the water. He was drinking some Gatorade and suddenly started wretching, he threw up all over the floor and I wondered if I’d pushed him too far. He told me he was ok to go on, and reminded me we were a team through a smile which was forced, but so naturally loving. My main concern was dehydration, having just thrown up his banana and a lot of fluid it was a big decision. But I knew we had enough supplies, knew he was determined and I am highly experienced at trekking so figured we would precariously and cautiously continue.
The final part of the trek from the saddle gets steep and the trail loses it’s way as it becomes scrambling and in many parts pure rock climbing. I tightened the back carrier, put Jack in front, and together we began the ascent. Eventually you get to the final climb, and for me, this was the most difficult part of the whole climb, without kids it wouldn’t be too hard, but with a seven year old in front of me, and a two year old in a carrier on by back I was very aware of the dangers. Particularly given the drop is very steep and the pathway just inches in parts. On the way up people had told me how great Jack was doing, how hard it was and how I wouldn’t possibly get up with two kids, and so when we finally reached the summit it was as much relief as an achievement.
I took Toby off my back, sat down on a rock and the three of us had a moment together. It was one of those times you share as a family when you have pulled together, when you have existed for each other and succeeded together. Jack had carried the supplies, I had carried Toby, together we had made it.
Conscious of just how hot it had now got (I later found out it was 46 degrees) we made our steady descent. This with a back carrier was the hardest part of the whole climb, I had to be careful not to splat Toby and to ensure Jack didn’t lose his footing and fall to what would’ve been broken bones if he was lucky. On the way down the heat really started to get to us, I took my t shirt off and draped it over my head and the increased sweat was a small price to pay for the sun being stopped from burning my head. Both kids had hats on and neither complained, but by the time we had finished the decent it was clear the heat had got to Toby. Jack was still the bundle of energy he always seems to be, but as we walked back down Cholla lane we both looked forward to a king size slushie, some air conditioning in the car and the days ahead.