By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 1/29/2020
Occurred: 2/19/2012
Topics/Keywords: #EchoCanyon #CamelbackMountain #Phoenix #Arizona Page Views: 3188
Jason and I attempt the Phoenix area's toughest hike.

I originally resisted moving to Phoenix. In fact, I only moved here from Snowflake, Arizona (where I moved to from New Hampshire) because I needed airport access for my then-job of teaching computer programming all around the country. I resisted the move because 1) Phoenix is HOT; 2) I don't like cities, and 3) Phoenix is HOT!!!.

As it turns out, of course, Phoenix heat only comes in the summer, isn't really unbearable when you get used to it, and as a city, Greater Phoenix has huge numbers of parks and undeveloped areas. South Mountain Regional Park is the largest in the world.

So I changed. I've grown to love the Phoenix valley, with its buttes, parks, and hiking opportunities. Jason recommended his favorite place, Echo Canyon, at the "back" of Camelback Mountain, a Valley landmark.

So Jason and I went there today.

I have loved hiking for years, but this past year, with my lengthy hospitalizations and recovery periods, hasn't seen much of it. In fact, several trips that involved hiking resulted in my going back to the hospital. So I've changed. I've had to realize that, now that I'm 60, I can no longer take my health for granted. Jason has been trying for the past year to help me see this. He's been totally supportive of my getting out and doing things, but is always on the alert for possible injuries to me, which would almost certainly result in another infection and hospitalization.

So he suggested the Echo Canyon hike as one that would be a challenge, but not be dangerous as long as I kept my bad leg covered with denim…in other words, I had to wear jeans, not shorts.

I've lived in shorts for at least since 2003. They are, for most people, the only practical pants in the Valley. But I've changed; my leg can't be exposed like that any more. So I wear jeans to everything. (Luckily, another change I made was losing 40 pounds, so my old jeans that I cleverly saved even after I no longer fit them, now fit me again!)

We have determined that I must lie down, feet above my heart, for about the same amount of time as I was sitting, standing or walking. That's because the lymph system in my foot and leg hasn't completely rebuilt itself. If I don't take that break, my ankle swells painfully, and I risk another bout of cellulitis if I don't lie down right away. Plus, because I have literally been lying down for most of the past year, my endurance has been compromised and hiking even a short distance can leave me gasping for breath. But I don't want to be an invalid or couch potato the rest of my life. So I am working to change that, too, by exercising, which includes hikes that are within my abilities, stretching my endurance a little each time, without risking my health.

With all that in mind, Jason proposed the Echo Mountain hike. "We probably won't make it to the top this first time," he warned. "It's known as one of the toughest hikes in the Valley, especially that last stretch. But the first part of the hike is also tough enough to be a good workout, and it's beautiful so you can take pictures. And we'll turn around whenever you start to get tired or sore."

We left early to get a good start. So did dozens of others, as we found when we reached the entrance to the Echo Mountain Trail park. It was mobbed. It took us about 45 minutes just to find a parking space.

As we walked toward the trailhead, we noted four porta-potties (with a line of folks waiting to use them) and a couple of girls at a truck handing out free samples of "Muscle Milk", a pre-digested protein drink. (I always wonder, pre-digested by whom?) Jason and I each accepted one, and we started up the trail, which began with a steep stretch of steps.

Jason at the head of Echo Mountain Trail.

Camelback Mountain is composed of a geologic unconformity between two separate rock formations. The higher part of the peak is Precambrian granite (about 1.5 billion years old). The head of the camel is predominantly red sedimentary sandstone from the Tertiary period (about 25 million years old). The lower section through which we hiked is conglomerate, a mixed material made of sandstone laden with rocks of other types. Sandstone is relatively soft, so we spotted a number of "holes" in the rock through which daylight could be seen.

Daylight peaks through the sandstone.

Since I live in a third-floor apartment, I have gotten used to walking up and down stairs. So the first stretch of the walk wasn't so bad. And, as Jason had promised, the scenery was spectacular! From up on the mountainside, even the endless little boxes of Paradise Valley seemed picturesque.

Your blogger on Camelback Mountain.

I love rock formations, and we came into close proximity of many—in other words, the Tertiary period was within touching distance!

Jason near the Tertiary Period.

Jason encouraged me to make many stops, and I was able to find rocks I could lay on so my leg could be lifted above my heart to ease the swelling, which had already started. The resting was also helpful and gave my pounding heart a chance to slow, at least to that accelerated rate the exquisite scenery inspired.

Rock formation on Echo Canyon Trail.

Jason had described the gorgeous panorama visible from the peak—which, he repeated, we would probably not get to today. But I found the view of Phoenix from our midway point to be hard to beat. (Look closely at the photo below; the skyscrapers of downtown Phoenix can be seen at the left.)

Phoenix from Echo Canyon Trail. A steep section of Echo Canyon Trail.

We then came to a section that Jason had warned about. In fact, as we approached, Jason warned we might should turn around now. It was a section so steep that handrails had been installed to assist hikers going up…and down. But I looked at it, and decided I could, at least, make that section as long as we took plenty of breaks.

The fence, which I also used to haul my carcass up, I supposed is intended to prevent hikers from falling into Paradise Valley. But it didn't spoil the experience, because I was far too engrossed in not falling simply down the trail to pay attention to it.

Jason considerately waited for me each time I rested, though he could have easily run up the entire stretch. (In fact, he told me, when he and Mike used to hike here, they got so they could run to the top in about 45 minutes!) It took me about 45 minutes to navigate this one stretch.

After that, and more resting, we continued on a short, fairly flat segment, before coming to another handrail stretch. Jason remembered this second stretch as being tougher than the first, and again made sure I knew it would be okay to turn around. But it didn't look so bad to me, from the bottom, so after more resting and more time with my leg up, we made it up that one, too.

View from Echo Canyon Trail.

As we rose we began to encounter more of the granite that makes up the bulk of the mountain.

Granite slabs of Camelback Mountain.

Even though it's February, the temperature had risen to a lovely 72F and wildflowers grew profusely.

Wildflowers along Echo Canyon Trail. More wildflowers on Echo Canyon Trail.

We were also able to approach some of the local residents, who seem perfectly happy even though they are not living in one of the $2 million homes located not a mile away.

A resident of Echo Canyon. Jason finds his niche.

We made our rests as enjoyable as the hike. Jason found a niche he could sit in while I stretched out on a comfortable sofa-shaped boulder. Despite our proximity to Paradise Valley the only city sounds we could hear were the occasional muffled roars of jets taking off from Sky Harbor Airport. Other than that, we heard breeze, insects, and sometimes bits of conversations of fellow hikers.

One of whom was—Physician Assistant Tim, who works for the surgeon who saved my life (and my leg)! He was climbing up, passing us, of course, without noticing us. But Jason was certain it was him.

And then, after resting, we moved on.

Jason on Echo Canyon Trail. Your blogger on Echo Canyon Trail.

We had now gotten about three-quarters of the way to the top along this 1.2 mile trail. Jason pointed out the last stretch ahead of us, the one that led to the summit. It was steeper than anything we'd yet encountered, and I had to admit, I was getting pooped. Jason was entirely gracious, far more concerned with my well-being than with making it to the top.

So we hung around a bit, resting and enjoying the beauty of our surroundings, before attempting the trek back down.

Jason and Your Blogger on Echo Canyon Trail.

It was at this point that Jason and I decided to enjoy our free bottles of Muscle Milk. Mine was strawberry flavor. I took two swallows. It tasted almost completely unlike muscles, milk, or strawberries. It tasted like random chemicals had been mixed together and, just by luck, contained nothing to actually melt the container. Jason's was as bad, so we capped the bottles and pocketed them to be thrown away into the trashcan at the trailhead.

I felt bad that Jason hadn't had the workout that I had (because he hasn't spent months in a hospital bed) so I asked him to climb a rock so I could get his photo.

Jason on a pinacle.

While we were climbing down one of the handrail sections, we again ran into Tim, who had been to the top and was now hurrying down. This time, he recognized us and shook our hands. Then he looked at me. "Good job," he said. "I certainly never thought you'd be hiking so soon after your surgery!"

I shrugged. According to Tim's boss, the surgeon, I was lucky to be breathing so soon after surgery.

People like to think that life is static. That once I have that house, or car, or job, or spouse, everything will be perfect and will never change. They like to think their friends will never change, either.

But the fact is, as we achieve each goal, that alone changes us. When we get that house, surely we are different than when we lived in an apartment. (After all, that's why we bought the house!) When we fall in love, we choose to devote time to our relationship that, previously, had been used for other pursuits. We use that time for our relationship because we'd rather. We hope to improve our lives with each change, and often do, but some of our old pastimes fall to the wayside. For example, when I first started blogging, I posted almost every day. I did all that writing because I had nothing I'd rather do. I enjoy writing, but I'd rather hike (and then blog about it).

I haven't blogged, or hiked, or camped, much this past year. How could I? I was in hospital and heavily sedated for much of it. 2011 seemed like it was one crisis after another. But now that I seem to be recovering, albeit slowly, I know I can look forward to doing more of the things I love, and then posting about it afterwards.

Change isn't always fun, but it's always good. Because it is in our adaptation to changes that we grow into the persons we wish to be. Even when we are not sure who, exactly, those persons are!