Safety Guide for Phoenix Summer Hiking

With the recent tragic death of a 23-year old on Camelback Mountain, safety on the trail has been on my mind.

I never want to discourage anyone from hiking. But in the summer, it’s tricky business. Doable…but you have to know what you’re doing.

In addition to the general safety tips hikers should practice (carry a first-aid kit, map, etc.), these are the rules I recommend following when hiking in the heat:

This is what one liter looks like. In the summer, it's good for about 2 miles. That's it, no more.

This is what one liter looks like. In the summer, it’s good for about 2 miles. That’s it, no more.

Rule #1: Water, Water, Water, Water…

Water! So I generally bring one liter for every two miles. And I always, always have an extra liter in my pack. How much is a liter? Excellent question. It can be answered easily by checking the label on your water bottle. I’m making you work for this answer because checking your water is an important part of your preparation for hiking safely.

(Or you can look at the picture to the left.)

Regardless of how much you bring, the general rule is to turn back when your water supply if halfway gone.

It’s important to note that one-liter-to-two-miles ratio is NOT sufficient for a hike in mid-day summer. Which brings me to my next rule…

Rule #2: ONLY hike at sunrise or sundown.

For evening hikes (my preference), I get to the trailhead about 30 minutes to one hour before sundown. This way, I’m catching the serenity of sunset as I watch the desert come alive. Depending on your fitness level and the hike’s difficulty, you can potentially fit in 2-4 miles.

For morning hikes, I’d follow the same timeline and hit the trail about an hour prior to sunrise if you can. If you do the morning hike, keep this in mind: unlike a sunset hike, weather conditions increase in intensity the longer you are out. So make sure you know what you’re in for.

Rule #3: Know Your Trail

This is a rule that is downright critical to follow in the summer. Stick with the trails you’re already frequenting so you don’t accidentally make a wrong turn or get in over your head.

Know the mileage. Know the elevation gain. Get familiar with what 2 miles with an elevation gain of 1200 feet feels like to you (that’s Piestawa Peak, btw). Google, read, buy a hiking book. Start with easy hikes and gain an understanding of your body. Know yourself, know your trail and you’ll know safety.

Rule #4: Stay in the Shade

If you follow rule #3, you’ll know where to go for good shade.

During the winter months, I scout trails that have excellent evening shade potential. Relying on vegetation for shade is a joke so take note of trails that trace the appropriate side of a mountain or canyon wall for the time of day you plan to hike.

Example: For evening hikes, hit a trail that follows the east side of a mountain or canyon wall (blocking the sun when it sets in the west).

I’m partial to the Phoenix Mountains so my favorites are the Quartz Ridge Trail 8A, North Mountain, and Trail 100 from the North Mountain Visitor Center. If I’m in the South Mountain area, the Kiwanis Trail also does the trick.

Glorious shade (and quartz)!

My pre-pregnant body celebrating the glorious shade (and quartz) on Trail 8A in the Phoenix Mountains.

Rule #5: Be Self Aware

I have been a total MORON on the trail many times. I”m almost ashamed to admit that it took many frightening moments of almost overheating on the trail for me to finally know how to swallow my pride and cut a hike short.

Don’t be like me. Accept that some days, things are just off. Maybe you had too many beers the night before or not enough protein in your breakfast or the moon is pulling at your chakras wrong…whatever!

If you’re not feeling it, you’re not feeling it. Turn around and head back to the car while your brain is still working well enough to make good decisions. Then resolve to redeem yourself when you’re feeling 100%.

Rule #6: Avoid Exploring New Trails in the Summer

Unless you are a super-pro survivalist who excels at reading trails, maps, and a compass, just save the exploring for better weather. And if you’ve never hiked before in your entire life, summer may not be the time to try out this hobby (unless you have a trusted, experienced friend to guide you).

Rule #7: Don’t Rely on Your Cell Phone

Dead battery, lack of reception, or a drop down the side of a mountain can turn that lifeline into a hunk of useless plastic. Bring one, sure, but assume that you’ll have to survive without it.

Rule #8: Help Tourists

A few summers ago, we had cousins visiting from Ohio. They mentioned they were planning to hike Camelback Mountain the next day, starting around 10 a.m.

Uh, no.

We convinced them to hike with us. Start time was 6 a.m. and we chose a less challenging trail. We also insisted they borrow our extra hydration pack.

“When we started, I thought I was going to die!” my cousin said when the hike was over. They both drank all the water in their packs. Just imagine what would have happened on Camelback at 10 a.m. Scary!

It’s your responsibility as a Phoenix hiker and host to visitors to provide the right guidance. When possible, do the hike with a visitor so they start early enough, bring enough water, and stay on the correct trail.

Safety aside, your dog deserves to look this adorable.

Safety aside, your dog deserves to look this adorable.

Rule #9: Pay Attention to Other Hikers…Including Dogs

If you see someone on the trail who is flushed, dazed, or looking ill, approach them. Tell them they look like they’re overheating and ask if they are feeling okay. Offer water. Offer to sit with them in the shade until their mind clears. You may have to insist.

Overheating messes with your brain BIG TIME. So if a person is in that state, they will often lose the ability to make sound decisions. This is why it’s a good idea to have a hiking partner. I don’t think that hiking alone shouldn’t be an option but know that you’re much safer if you have a pal looking out for you.

When it comes to dogs on the trail, please know that your dog is less capable of regulating his body temperature. Whenever you are thirsty, your dog is, too. And be mindful of how hot the trail is on their paws! Those things can blister, burn, and bleed if they are out too long on hot surfaces.

Consider buying dog paw booties. I mean, they’re adorable anyway so why not?

Rule #10: Buy My Book

I couldn’t think of a 10th tip so here’s a link to buy my book which has an entire chapter dedicated to hiking safety.

Did I forget anything? Want to add your advice? Leave a comment!

My First Full Moon Hike

Hiking by moonlight is my new favorite thing!

Hiking by moonlight is my new favorite thing!

If you haven’t experienced a full moon hike, OHMYGOD do it!

I can’t believe it took so long for me to try this out!

(That’s sort of a lie, actually. I can totally believe it because I’m a nervous ninny. I have an overactive and morbid imagination [which I wrote about here] so when considering moonlit hikes in the past, I always came up with excellent anxieties that ultimately led to my decision to stay home. What if we’re breaking the law and we get arrested and then a local newspaper writes a story about the hiking book author that broke the law while on the trail? What if I trip, tumble down the mountain, break my leg, then start hearing the narration from I Shouldn’t Be Alive in my head? What if dangerous drug dealers/psychopaths/rapists hide out on the trail at night and we run into them and then they shoot Lou/throw me in a van for God knows what/ignore my rape whistle and rape me anyway?

You would think that the many ranger-led moonlit group hikes scheduled at the Maricopa Regional Parks would be good options for me. But I have one for that, too: What if a stranger strikes up a conversation with me and I say something stupid and then things get awkward?  Boom. Just like that. I’m staying home.)

Anyyywaaaaaayyyyy, last week on a full moon night, Lou calmed my fears and we hiked North Mountain.

This was new to the both of us. As we strapped on headlamps and laced up in the parking lot, we kept glancing at the shadowed silhouette of the mountain.

We’ve hiked North Mountain about 500 times but at night, it looked completely alien. We preferred to keep our headlamps off so we could soak up the moonlight. Sure, I caught a toe here and there on an unexpected dip in the wide trail (it’s an access road) but for the most part, my feet were confident.

Instagram in the night! You can barely see Lou on the lower right corner.

Instagram in the night! You can barely see Lou on the lower right corner.

Good thing — I was so distracted by the moonlit sights, I hardly watched my feet. The rocks cascaded new shadows, the surrounding desert plant-life carved mysterious silhouettes, and I noticed small peaks or ridges I had ignored before. And, of course, I saw the lights of the entire city sparkling in all directions. The only thing blocking out the sea of glitter were the surrounding mountains that had lost their depth in the darkness and looked like cardboard cutouts.

I admit it. I was moved.

We weren’t the only ones discovering this darkened desert. We ran into a handful of other hikers in the moonlight. As always, the people on the trail were polite and cheerful (and not rape-y at all!).

And though I’m not yet brave enough to try a rocky or narrow trail, Lou and I are officially hooked. I’ve got my heart set on Shaw Butte for our next full moon hike.

I’d love to hear more trail suggestions!

Vintage Take a Hike Phoenix

Do you follow Vintage Phoenix?

Oh, you should, you should!

They are almost solely responsible for my ability to compile the following images that constitute this blog post. These vintage postcards and photos show landmarks, mountains, and parks that are featured in my book, Take a Hike Phoenix.

North Mountain (Page 46 in Take a Hike Phoenix)

1951 (Hatcher and Central)

1951 (Hatcher and Central)

Piestewa Peak (Pages 59-70 in Take a Hike Phoenix)

119??

19??

19??

19??

1930s (Arizona Biltmore)

1930s (Arizona Biltmore)

Camelback Mountain (Pages 75 & 78 in Take a Hike Phoenix)

1920s

1920s

1960s (Thomas Mall)

1960s (Thomas Mall)

19??

19??

1970s

1970s

Arizona Falls (Page 81 in Take a Hike Phoenix)

Arizona Falls c.1900

Arizona Falls c.1900

Hole in the Rock (Page 84 in Take a Hike Phoenix)

1907

1907

1940s

1940s

Papago Park (Page 87 in Take a Hike Phoenix)

1920s

1920s

1934 (Amphitheater)

1934 (Amphitheater)

1950s

1950s

Hayden Butte aka A Mountain (Page 90 in Take a Hike Phoenix)

1880s

1880s

1950s

1950s

1975

1975

South Mountain (Pages 125-144 in Take a Hike Phoenix)

1960s

1960s

Holbert Trail to Dobbins Lookout in South Mountain (Page 134 in Take a Hike Phoenix)

1940s

1940s

Saguaro Lake, Butcher Jones Trail (Page 162 in Take a Hike Phoenix)

1957

1957

Weaver’s Needle, Peralta Trail to Fremont Saddle (Page 195 in Take a Hike Phoenix)

19??

19??

Superstition Mountains (Pages 185-204 in Take a Hike Phoenix)

19??

19??

19??

19??

Neat, right?

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.

Not Safe for Hiking Blog

If you're squeamish or easily offended, don't click the link below.

If you’re squeamish or easily offended, don’t click the link below.

I try to keep it clean on this blog, I really do.

But hiking is dirty business. And when you’re a lady and you’re hiking, you have a unique set of challenges. And that can lead to some dirty conversation.

For a vulgar list of tips and tricks on how to manage your lady business on the trail, click here. If you’re squeamish or easily offended by raunchy crotch talk, please disregard.

You have been warned.

Best Solitude Hikes for Beginners in Honor of National Take a Hike Day

This Sunday (November 17th) is National Take a Hike Day!

I’m excited. But given my pathetic blog stats lately, I very much understand that not everyone is a hiking nut like me.

I get it. Exercise — an activity that requires you to wear tight clothing, grow sweat rings, and potentially expose your lack of cardiovascular endurance — is not something everyone wants to share with other humans.

So for those of you who hate getting sweaty in front of others, I propose you give one of these trails a shot. Each is easy, short, and offers plenty of privacy so you can try out this hiking thing without feeling too self-conscious.

Tip: Click the hike title for a link to its EveryTrail review and be sure to scroll to the bottom right corner of the EveryTrail page for driving directions.

You can so totally do this. I promise.

You can so totally do this. I promise.

South Central Valley: Judith Tunnell Trail in South Mountain

This is a barrier free trail. Which means it’s wheelchair friendly. I was sure to include wheelchair-friendly hikes in every chapter of my book and I regret that I did not feature this one (2nd edition, here we come!) because it really is lovely. The trail is beautifully paved and was totally deserted when I explored it with my family a few weeks ago. At just 1.3 miles total with only a few small inclines (inclines that would totally make my arms fall off if I were in a wheelchair, btw), this hike amounts to a leisurely stroll if you’re a walking person. It also features plenty of benches and shaded structures with educational plaques to help pass the time.

West Valley: Black Rock Loop in White Tank Mountain Regional Park (Free admission on National Take a Hike Day!)

Flat. Short. Deserted. Easy. There’s not much holding you back from trying this trail out. And it has two options: The Long Loop at 1.2 miles and the Short Loop at 0.5 mile. Yes, you can take as much time as you want on this little-known trail that simply walks through the flat desert around a couple large black rocks. Your biggest challenge will be avoiding the cholla that surrounds the trail.

Central Valley: Mohave Trail 200 in Phoenix Mountains Preserve

Okay, so if you haven’t been to the gym lately (And why would you? Too many judgmental eyes!), this one might be a little tough. But who cares when you can openly curse your burning lungs and take as many breaks as you wish because there’s no one around to silently mock you? I’ve hiked Mohave five or six times and I think I’ve seen one other person on the trail. I assume it’s because everyone else is busy killing themselves by hiking up the neighboring Piestewa Peak. Mohave is only 0.6 mile up a mere 300 feet to a tiny perch that offers a spectacular view to South Mountain and the city below. After soaking up the scenery, you make an easy descent back to the trail head to total a scant 1.2 mile.

Blevins is so beautiful, it's CRAY.

Blevins is so beautiful, it’s CRAY.

East Valley: Blevins to Cat Peaks Loop in Usery Mountain Regional Park (Free admission on National Take a Hike Day!)

I recently took my sister-in-law on this hike in the east valley to prove to her that I wouldn’t force her into anything too hard-core. It worked. We enjoyed a breezy, 3-mile walk on the flat terrain of this desert trail that is off the radar for hikers. If you can walk across a parking lot, you can easily manage this trail. The only human contact you’ll have is with the locals who choose to enjoy this trail on horseback. So even if you’re working up a sweat, there’s no shame. At least you’re not making an animal do the heavy lifting.

North Valley: Sears-Kay Ruin Loop in Tonto National Forest

This one requires a bit of a drive. But consider the distance your insurance policy against the peering eyes of health elitists who might cruelly judge your muffin top (jerks!). At just 1 mile total, this little loop is one of my all-time favorites. You’re out in the middle of nowhere, climbing a small hill, and touring the ruins of a 900-year-old Hohokam village. With plenty of informational plaques, you’ll have all the excuses you need to take breaks between breaths (this one’s great for kids, too).

Have a happy National Take a Hike Day, everyone!

Hike from the Heart

I hearted the heck out of this hike.

I hearted the heck out of this hike.

A few weeks ago, my bookshelf exploded.

Had you walked into my office, you would have seen a 32-year-old woman on her knees, desperately rummaging through a messy pile of unfolded trail maps and dog-eared hiking books.

I was trying to pull together my anniversary “gift” for Lou. And I only had 45 minutes before the guy got home from work.

Leather? Crystal? They can suck it. I give you the desert.

Leather? Crystal? They can suck it. I give you the desert.

Lou and I decided that instead of purchasing leather or crystal gifts for one another, we would celebrate our 3rd anniversary with a hike. This is a part of our strategic effort to form special experiences and sentimental memories together. This is also indicative of my many child-of-a-divorce hangups but, whatever. It’s worked pretty well so far.

So there I was, flipping through maps, failing to find any trails remotely resembling a heart (how about a hike shaped like a pickle instead?), and beginning to believe that I should abandon this whole idea.

Dear City of Scottsdale, Thanks for this. You've done well. (Brown's Mountain)

Dear City of Scottsdale, Thanks for this. You’ve done well. (Brown’s Mountain)

Then I found it. And I’ve never been so grateful for the City of Scottsdale.

Just a couple weeks prior, I attended Scottsdale’s Brown’s Ranch Trailhead Grand Opening Event in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Northern Region. True to Scottsdale style, the trailhead is gorgeous, shiny, and well-equipped (running water and real bathrooms woo-hoo!). They even provide free, paper trail maps.

See that? Aw YEAH!

See that? Aw YEAH!

On this particular trail map, I found my “Hike from the Heart”. At 5.5 miles, the loop was the perfect length — time enough for solid conversation without hitting my six mile grumpy hour.

Because the City of Scottsdale is so generous, I had grabbed multiple maps at the Grand Opening. I quickly cut one up, traced the heart shape in red marker, then glue-sticked that sucker to the front of some other crummy card. It worked. On the morning of our anniversary, Lou thought I was a darling wife when I presented it to him.

Go me!

If you want to see photos, a trail map, and other details about the Hike from the Heart, check out my EveryTrail entry. If you want to know more about the area’s Brown’s Mountain Summit Trail or the Cholla Mountain Loop, click those links for write-ups from one of the best hiking blogs in AZ.

And, as usual, if you want the ultimate guide to Phoenix hiking, order my book, Take a Hike Phoenix.