Hiking Piestewa Peak and Echo Valley Trail Under the Sun in Phoenix

November 18, 2014

A nice thing about Phoenix in the winter is I don’t have to worry about being cold!  The seventy degree temperatures were a nice break from the single digits in Denver.

Today I took two hikes.  The first was up Piestewa Peak, previously known as Squaw Peak.  Piestewa was renamed to honor the first Native American woman to die in combat in the US military.  At 2,610 feet, the peak is the second highest point in the Phoenix mountains located just a mile from the Biltmore where I was staying.

Signs warned the trail was difficult which I thought were posted for tourists that over-estimate their ability and forget a water bottle during the summer months.  Being from Denver, I didn’t think the path should be a problem.  Thankfully, “sea level” conditions compared to what I am used to helped my climb, but admittedly gaining 1,208 feet in 1.2 miles isn’t simple.

I took my time climbing up countless stairs to the summit.  Though others sounded like they might collapse any minute, as they hurried up the path.  Given its close proximity to the city, many locals use the trail for exercise.  While the close proximity is a plus, the amount of people enjoying the outdoors was con!  It didn’t stop me from enjoying the view of the city, checking out the cacti, and spotting a bird pecking at its prey, a grasshopper.

After my descent, I enjoyed some time at the Biltmore, a lovely desert oasis that offers chess on the lawn, a fancy pool, tennis, golf and even my own private pool at my bungalow.

For the afternoon, I set out for my next hike on Echo Canyon Trail to the summit of Camelback. Echo Valley Trail is 2.3 miles roundtrip and gains 1,300 feet in elevation.  I figured it couldn’t be any harder than Piestewa Peak, but surprisingly it was a challenge.

I enjoyed a short stroll up a wide, smooth and ascending path to the saddle.  After that, I climbed stairs made of railroad ties that passed by enormous an enormous wall of rock.  Soon I reached a steep climb up a gulley.  I mistakenly followed a macho guy who didn’t think the handrail was necessary, thus I had to set my water bottle down to use both hands to scramble up the slope. Thereafter, I was left to maneuver my way through a boulder field for a mile.

Thirty-six posts marked the way.  Many were only about 30 feet apart in order to mark the weaving trail through the rocks.  While some people run the rocks, I chose to take it slowly as to not twist an ankle or fall on the uneven terrain.  I’m certain there are quite a few injuries and rescues on this trail despite all the warning signs.  Just over mile to Camelback Peak doesn’t sound like much, but it takes close to an hour to reach the summit, or at least it does with a water bottle in one hand and a camera in the other.  I suggest scrapping the camera and wearing a Camelback reservoir of water.

The trail is a great outdoor workout.  No need for a stairmaster at the gym and a good way to enjoy a nice dinner at all the amazing restaurants in Scottsdale.  I indulged in several tasty meals during my visit!  What a nice summer vacation in the winter.  ETB

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