Guest Blog: Kate Crowley with REI’s Advice for Phoenix Summit Challenge

Lilia is currently not taking a hike. Hopefully, she’s taking a nap. In the meantime, fellow hiker and Phoenix lover, Kate Crowley offers up some fantastic info about the upcoming Phoenix Summit Challenge. Thanks Kate!

The Phoenix Summit Challenge...can't wait!

The Phoenix Summit Challenge…can’t wait!

Liz Smith from South Mountain Park and Joe Impecoven Phoenix Outdoor Programs & Outreach Market Coordinator REI Tempe gave an awesome and extensive presentation at REI Tempe (Phoenix Summer Challenge- Are You Ready?) in early August about attempting the Phoenix Summit Challenge. Many of you followed Lilia’s rainy journey last year and this year, I’m signed up to do the PHX 4 for the challenge as well…so needless I say, I paid attention.

Here are ten takeaways from the presentation.

1.  Buy (and train in ) your shoes now.

You definitely don’t want to wait to break shoes in. So buy shoes or boots now, get to your training, and feel more than comfortable the day of the event. Best part: If you’re an REI member, you can return any pair of shoes purchased to the store, within a year’s time, if they don’t work out.

2.  Find a driver or carpool.

This is a great tip especially if you’re doing all 7 summits. There’s lots of driving and towards the end of the day you could be quite tired. Plus, your only “downtime” is in the car. If you can carpool with a friend, it will make parking easier and the two of you can switch off on driving.

3.  Walk everyday

Joe recommended walking everyday, even if it was just walking your dog. Of course, this is on top of any hiking you’ll be doing. This helps you get used to being on your feet for long periods of time.

4.  Practice your day

Yep, make sure you practice your hydration and nutrition well before the day of the challenge. And on the day of the challenge void trying anything new! If you haven’t been using it all along in training, don’t try it for the first time during the challenge. This includes avoiding mistakes like adding in fizzy drinks to your regiment suddenly or wearing a brand new shirt. Also, test your gear; especially water holding packs or bottles.

You can't know it until you do it!

You can’t really know it until you do it…and that’s the fun part.

5.  Dress in layers

Last year the weather was cold and rainy. Bring layers! The summit may be cold or windy and if you’re drenched in sweat, you’ll shiver all the way down. Pack a lightweight, crushable rain or wind layer.

6.  Use your car as home base

Keep a cooler, snacks, water and changes of clothes/socks in the car. Your car is your home base and can transport all of your needed items so you don’t need a heavy pack.

7.  Travel the course

Before the challenge, try doing a few of the hikes back to back. This will familiarize you with the course and with driving routes.

8.  Sunscreen

Yes we’re desert dwellers, and we know SPF is important. But Joe made a point that some higher level SPFs (50+) contain ingredients that can actually sit over pores and trap in heat. Choose your sunscreen carefully.

9.  Try training on large, loop trails

Get in a long hike on a loop trail. Go for a 10 to 15 miles hike on a series of trails or a loop trail (Lilia includes several in her book) so that if you get out there and decide to change mileage based on how you’re feeling or for weather, you’ll have options.

10.  Be courteous

Liz noted that there are some participants who run the race! If you are on the descent, step aside for those heading up. If you see someone running (and it’s not your team), move out of the way!

Kate is a writer and PR and marketing consultant from Phoenix. She’s a runner, swimmer and tri-athlete in training. You can follow her adventures, travels and hikes @katecrowley on Instagram and twitter. See what she’s written most recently at and

Phoenix Summit Challenge: What You Need to Know

What a treat! This was taken on Summit #1 Holbert Trail in South Mountain.

What a treat! This was taken on Summit #1 Holbert Trail in South Mountain.

If you follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, you are well aware that my husband and I completed the Phoenix 4 Summit Challenge this past weekend.

This was the first year I participated in this event. And I must say, IT WAS AWESOME!

The City of Phoenix, along with their sponsors, runs this event every year. For 2013, participants could sign up for the 4, 5, or 7 Summit Challenge (the All Access Challenge was also available and includes wheelchair-friendly trails).

Naturally, I picked up a few tips along the 16 miles and 3,543 feet of elevation gain we completed (yes, I’m bragging here). So if you want to sign up next year, here’s what you should know.

Registration Begins in August & Sells Out Immediately

Be sure to follow the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association to stay in the loop for next year’s event and take note that you have to be Johnny-on-the-spot with that online registration. There are only 250 available spots in each challenge. This year, the registration for the 7 Summit Challenge sold out in 14 freakin’ minutes! The 2014 event will be the 10th anniversary of the Summit Challenge so mark your calendars now and plan to stay up until midnight the day that thing goes live. I know I will!

Dude, they had hot chocolate waiting for us! Summit #1: Dobbins Lookout from the Holbert Trail in South Mountain.

Dude, they had hot chocolate waiting for us! Summit #1: Dobbins Lookout from the Holbert Trail in South Mountain.

Try to Sign Up for the 5 Summit Challenge (At Least)

I don’t know about the other 4’s out there but I sure felt like a big ol’ wuss when I was on the trail. My friends and family may be impressed with my hiking the 4 Summit Challenge but when I was crawling up those trails with the 5’s and the 7’s, I felt like a heel. Of course, it didn’t help that when Lou and I asked a fellow hiker to take our photo on the final summit, she said, “Are you a 5 or a 7?” We had to sheepishly admit that we were “just” 4’s.

Registration Costs Money

In 2013, registration cost $75 for the Summit Challenges. All proceeds benefit trail maintenance and repair. Considering that I get to hike the City of Phoenix trails FOR FREE whenever I want, I say this is well worth it.

Kablammo! This one was the easiest of the day. Summit #2: Lookout Mountain.

Kablammo! This one was the easiest of the day. Summit #2: Lookout Mountain.

The Event Organizers Will Take Care of You

I’m a bit of a stress cadet when it comes to planning (What time should I show up? What if I can’t find parking? What if I have to pee real bad and too many people are around???) The communication from the City of Phoenix and the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association was top-notch. I signed up for their e-mail list and on the day of the event, I knew where to go, when to show up, and what to bring. Parking was a dream and each location had restrooms complete with stall doors and running water! These people seriously know what they’re doing.

Be Sure to Train

Even though we did the wimpiest of the Summit Challenges, we took the training seriously. Weeks prior to the event, we were sure to hike each of the 4 trails to familiarize ourselves with the location. The weekend prior, we hiked 3 out of 4 of the summits. Armed with practice and preparation allowed us to start the challenge feeling like capable, strong hikers. Until we were shamed for our measly 4 summits, of course.

Watch the Weather

When I started training for this, I was hiking in the heat. Then that crazy storm system rolled in and I had to reach to the back of my closet for my rarely used and  ill-fitting cold weather hiking clothes. As unattractive as I was, the rain gear, layers, and turtle fur kept me cozy and dry the entire day. Weather forecasting is a wonderful thing.

I had a super big smile for summit #3. The toughest of the day. Piestewa Peak!

I had a super big smile for summit #3. The toughest of the day. Piestewa Peak!

Pack Heavy, Travel Light

I’m no novice when it comes to all day hikes. But I’m usually on one trail with all my essential items strapped to my back. This time around, we had the luxury of hopping in and out of our car between each trail. Which meant we packed that thing with extra gear, food, drinks, clothes, and other maybe-I’ll-want-this hiking items. It was glorious. But we still managed to forget our most-needed item: extra bandanas (eye roll).

Go to the U Rock Festival

Under normal circumstances, my shyness would encourage me to skip the post-hike U ROCK Festival. This year, however, I was determined to attend so I could do a little face to face marketing for Take a Hike Phoenix. Of course I chickened out with the marketing but we had a blast at the party! We, along with other jolly hikers high from completing the challenge, stuffed our faces with delicious food from the local food trucks, cheered at the raffle give-aways (I didn’t win the $1400 REI backpacking gear prize, grrr), and drank the most delicious beer I’ve ever tasted in my life. YUM.

Embrace the Crowds

I’ll admit that the idea of hiking with 750 other people was not my idea of an ideal situation. But once I dropped my introverted attitude, I found that I was in total appreciation of my fellow hikers. The stream of folks doggedly pursuing each summit was downright inspiring. I ran into a friend from high school, a pal from work, and an old friend who now volunteers for the Central Arizona Mountain Rescue (seriously, what a badass!). I summitted Shaw Butte while chit-chatting with a dude in his 70’s, took photos of other hikers at the summits, and witnessed a blind woman (a blind woman!) climb the mountains with her two guides.

I love hikers, I really do. And I love the Phoenix Summit Challenge.

Managing a smile in spite of feeling like a wimp. Also I HATE the way the bandana in my pocket makes my stomach look all bulg-y. Ew! Summit #4: Shaw Butte.

Managing a smile in spite of feeling like a wimp. Also I HATE the way the bandana in my pocket makes my stomach look all bulg-y. Ew! Seriously, though, it was an awesome moment. Summit #4: Shaw Butte.