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!

Maternity Hiking: Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Things get super pretty right away on the Marcus Landslide Trail.

Things get super pretty right away on the Marcus Landslide Trail.

On the heels of my recent hiking accomplishment to Tom’s Thumb, we made another visit to the area to explore a decidedly less challenging, less popular, and just as beautiful trail called the Marcus Landslide Trail.

This interpretive 4-mile jaunt was stunning. With only 575 feet in elevation gain spread over 4 miles, it feels flat for most of the trail. We looked at rock formations, read the educational signs about the landscape, and enjoyed a clear-shot view to Four Peaks during the entire hike.

No snakes, no wind, and no fear-filled fantasies this time around. Just good hikin’ and good conversation. Bring a friend or a kid on this hike to really enjoy it. You won’t meet many other people on this one!

Shrooms.

Shrooms.

Marcus Landslide Trail

Distance: 4 miles

Elevation Gain: 575 feet

Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

Pregnancy Difficulty: Moderate/Strenuous

Location: Tom’s Thumb Trailhead in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Online Map & Driving Directions (click the link and scroll to bottom of page for Google map driving directions)

Easy enough, eh?

Easy enough, eh?

Description:

From the Tom’s Thumb trailhead and parking lot, enter the trail system at the signed Marcus Landslide trail, located on the southeast end of the parking lot (before you reach the shaded structure with the bathrooms).

Follow the trail east as it traces a wide, flat path. The many trail signs along the way will keep you on the right path as you pass Caballo and Feldspar Trails in the first half mile. At about 0.5 mile, the trail will veer right (southeast) and continue this direction until it bumps into the McDowell Mountain Regional Park border.

Simply stay the course and follow the signs for Marcus Landslide Trail heading south until 1.7 miles when you reach the Marcus Landslide Loop Trail. Trace the loop for about half a mile and it spits you right back out onto the Marcus Landslide Trail where you can begin your return leg.

You’ll encounter a few spurs here and there where you will discover informative signs like the one pictured below. Soak it up. Education is a good thing.

Excellent question.

Excellent question.

Like this? Want more? Buy my book!

Obligatory disclaimer for the pregnant ladies and all other humans: Check with your doctor before engaging in exercise.

Hiking, Birthing, and Bravery

That's ME!

That’s ME!

So I’m in my second trimester and I got extraordinarily lucky: I feel waaaaaay better.

And as soon as T2 hit, I started attending a prenatal yoga class which focuses on preparation for my upcoming natural childbirth. In class, myself and a handful of other pregnant ladies challenge our physical and mental stamina with endless squatting and compromising positions. This builds our confidence to help remove the fear that is often associated with childbirth. It also probably looks hilarious.

After just one class, something clicked.

I was emotionally inspired. So I decided to hike to Tom’s Thumb. Purely because the idea scared me.

I called my most trusted hiking partner and we hit the trail on a beautiful day. She generously matched her pace to mine (a super effing slow pace) and was sure to talk the whole way up so I wouldn’t use precious cardio for chatting. We took breaks, we ate snacks, and I chugged water in spite of my compromised bladder.

It's a beautiful hike, it is!

It’s a beautiful hike, it is!

The hike to Tom’s Thumb isn’t the most brutal in town (I only rated it as “moderate” in my book). But it’s a healthy 4-5 miles with a 1,300 foot elevation gain. It’s not enough to make you sore for days but it definitely makes you crave a beer (or three) after you get off the trail.

As we painstakingly climbed the switchbacks, I struggled, sure. But I also felt strong.

To my surprise, my hiking partner suddenly turned to me and blurted, “This is too much for you. We need to turn around.” She explained that I was breathing too heavy, I was hiking too slow, and that she was really worried.

Never, ever, in the history of our years of hiking together, has she said something like this to me.

I felt afraid. If she didn’t believe I could make it, how could I?

I quickly decided to bury my fear and convinced her I was fine.

But from there on out, the break in resolve wore on me and I wrestled with anxiety. Each time I’d catch a breath wrong, I’d imagine myself passing out on the trail with a dangerous drop in blood pressure. When we stopped to allow a rattlesnake to cross, I pictured poisonous fangs under every rock, ready to strike. On the final leg of the ascent, my balance was blasted by relentless wind so I often saw myself tumbling down the side of the mountain to land in a bloody heap.

I wasn't the only one who had to be brave. Kristina had to believe me when I told her I would be okay.

I wasn’t the only one who had to be brave. Kristina had to believe me when I told her I would be okay.

This is not uncommon for me — these images cross my mind with almost every hike. But dealing with my morbid imagination is soooooo much easier when I’m the only person in my body.

Oddly enough, I coped by thinking about the birth. My fear-filled imagination on this hike was surely childsplay compared to what I’ll torture myself with when I begin laboring.

So the hike turned into a scrimmage of mind control. I practiced ignoring the things my mind was screaming in order to listen to what my body was saying. Lucky for me, my body was saying it was perfectly fine. In fact, it was happy to be outside, moving, and absorbing so much oxygen.

Eventually I made it to Tom’s Thumb. And I felt really, really good.

I haven’t told very many people that I’m planning for a natural childbirth. Because almost every time I tell someone, I see a wide-eyed expression followed by some kind of negative comment. Each time, I feel a small crack in my confidence.

I just have to keep doing what I did on Tom’s Thumb: Ignore the noise and trust my body. Obviously, it knows what it’s doing and it will guide me to the right place.

 

Tom’s Thumb Trail

Distance: 4-5 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,325 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Pregnancy Difficulty: Strenuous — Probably only do-able in 2nd trimester

Location: Tom’s Thumb Trailhead in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Online Map & Driving Directions (click the link and scroll to bottom of page for Google map driving directions)

Full trail description is available on page 241 in Take a Hike Phoenix!

Obligatory disclaimer for the pregnant ladies and all other humans: Check with your doctor before engaging in exercise.

Maternity Hike: Apache Wash Loop in Sonoran Preserve

So pretty!

How could I forget YOU?!?!

Good Lord.

I’ve been kicking myself for weeks because my blog has been very heavy with hikes in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve.

Lo and behold, as I was sifting through my EveryTrail site, I discovered that I hiked in the Sonoran Preserve over a month ago and I completely forgot to write about it. They say pregnant women are more forgetful but geez, I had no idea.

The Sonoran Preserve is in the super north Phoenix area close to Anthem. Part one of the trail system opened in 2012 — just in time for me to include it in Take a Hike Phoenix. The remainder of the preserve has since been developed into a connecting trail system so we recently headed north to check it out.

My adorable husband. Dang, he is CUTE!

My adorable husband. Dang, he is CUTE!

I’d just like to add that if we had done this prior to pregnancy, I believe I would have planned a luscious, 8-10 mile hike that traversed as much of the new park as humanly possible.

But since I’m all sorts of knocked up, we opted for a 2 mile loop starting from the Apache Wash trailhead that makes a quick lap around the Apache Vista peak.

Just a teensy little walk in the beautiful desert.

Just a teensy little walk in the beautiful desert.

Apache Wash Loop (Ocotillo Trail to Apache Wash Trail to Sidewinder Trail)

Distance: 2 miles

Elevation Gain: 150 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Pregnancy Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

Location: Apache Wash Trailhead in Sonoran Preserve

Online Map & Driving Directions (click the link and scroll to bottom of page for Google map driving directions)

Description:

To begin the hike, enter the trail system from the northeast corner of the parking lot (past the restrooms). See the signs for the Ocotillo Trail to the left and follow the trail heading northwest. After just 0.4 mile, turn right to follow the Apache Wash Trail as it heads north.

At 0.7 mile total, this small trail ends at an intersection with the Sidewinder Trail. Veer right to follow the Sidewinder Trail heading northwest and to start the main climb of the day. Ignore the turnoff to the Apache Vista Trail (unless you’re feeling ambitious — this short spur will take you to the summit of this small peak). Soon enough, the climbing is over and you continue along the Sidewinder Trail as it curls south and ends at the Apache Wash Trailhead, completing the loop.

Like this? Want more? Buy my book!

Obligatory disclaimer for the pregnant ladies and all other humans: Check with your doctor before engaging in exercise.

Maternity Hike: Trail 100/101 to North Mountain

These trails have existed for a long time but this combination was new to me!

These trails have existed for a long time but this combination was new to me!

With the limited energy, small bladder, and cardio deficiency I’m experiencing during this pregnancy, I’ve been on the hunt for trails under three miles that still offer a little bit of climbing.

Oh, and if there’s a bathroom at the trailhead, that’s a sure-fire winner.

The Phoenix Mountains Preserve just keeps delivering. Armed with my Green Trails Map, I’m having a blast scouting out “new” trails (combinations I haven’t yet explored) and then heading out for a new adventure.

My newest adventure once again taps the main artery of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve: Trail 100.

When Trail 101 meets the North Mountain summit trail (Trail 44 - paved), the maternity hike is over. But the non-maternity hike can keep going!

When Trail 101 meets the North Mountain summit trail (Trail 44 – paved), the maternity hike is over. But the non-maternity hike can keep going!

This one begins in a popular area near the North Mountain Visitor Center, passes by Shaw Butte to the west, then follows a little-known trail on the north side of North Mountain. This quiet area is a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding popular trails. The hike ends at the intersection with the North Mountain Summit Trail. And aside from the yellow flags indicating sites where irresponsible hikers left their dog’s waste (oh, come ON, people!) the hike was glorious on a breezy spring day.

See how it all fits together? You could make all kinds of delicious trail combinations yum yum!

See how it all fits together? You could make all kinds of delicious trail combinations yum yum!

Trail 100/101 to North Mountain

Distance: 2.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 225 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Pregnancy Difficulty: Moderate

Location: North Mountain Visitor Center (North Mountain/Shaw Butte) in Phoenix Mountains Preserve

Online Map & Driving Directions (click the link and scroll to bottom of page for Google map driving directions)

Description:

To start the hike, find the signs to Trail 100 on the south side of the North Mountain Visitor Center building. Head west along Trail 100. At 0.3 mile, Trail 100 and Trail 306 combine and you’ll follow the shared trail south. When you encounter a small clearing with a bench (at 0.6 mile total), see the trail marker for Trail 101. Hang a left to follow Trail 101 southeast to start a subtle ascent that slowly intensifies.

At about 1.1 mile total, you have an elevated view of 7th Street below. Turn right to continue along Trail 101 following the correct trail signs (do NOT take the trail that heads north as it is clearly signed as a closed area). You’ll continue to climb until you reach the paved road that marks the intersection with Trail 44 (North Mountain Summit Trail) at 1.2 miles. Turn around here and enjoy your descent as you retrace your steps to the North Mountain Visitor Center for a total of 2.4 miles.

Option for non-pregnant people: Instead of turning around, take Trail 44 to the summit of North Mountain! This will add 350 feet (give or take) in just 0.7 mile on the way up. The trail is wide, paved, and easy to follow to the summit which is littered with large, metal towers. You’ll certainly get a FINE workout from this addition that creates a total hike of 3.8 miles with 575 feet of elevation gain. Just don’t forget to turn off of Trail 44 to return to Trail 101 on the way down!

Like this? Want more? Buy my book!

Obligatory disclaimer for the pregnant ladies and all other humans: Check with your doctor before engaging in exercise.

Maternity Hike: Trail 100 West from Dreamy Draw to the Saddle

Taken while on the way up the big ascent of the day. Photos for my blog make the perfect excuse to catch my breath!

Taken while on the way up the big ascent of the day. Having to take a photo for my blog provides the perfect excuse to take a break when I’m with a superior hiker.

So I’m the girl who wrote the book on hiking. I should be a powerhouse on the trail, right? Of course I’m not lately and I’ve conveniently blamed my pregnancy for my unusual shortness of breath and wimpy stamina.

It worked until a few weeks ago when I hiked with my brand new sister-in-law. She’s a big win for the family. Beautiful, intelligent, funny, charming, and adventurous. She’s also pregnant! I’m beyond thrilled. I adore all my cousins so I just love the fact that we have little cousins in the making!

I loved it, that is, until she totally shamed me on the trail. She was eight weeks pregnant at the time and made me feel like a big ol’ wimp. While I was gasping for air, she scaled the inclines like it was nothing. With my convenient excuse canceled out, I had to face the music: I haven’t been exercising enough.

(Affirmation: I’m not a terrible mother-to-be for not working out as much as other pregnant women.)

Anyway, I pathetically explored Trail 100 heading west from the main parking lot at Dreamy Draw with her. We started the trail by traveling underground through the tunnel that cuts under Highway 51. Then it was just a matter of following the Trail 100 signs until we reached a saddle. This side of the park is far less traveled and therefore, doesn’t feature the madness of trail-blazed paths that plague the park on the east side of the 51.

It may be easy to follow but I found the hike to be a challenge nonetheless with its somewhat-hefty elevation gain of about 325 feet in the first leg. In fact, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that this is the toughest hike I’ve done so far during my obviously-out-of-shape pregnancy (re-reading affirmation now).

Trail 100 Portion: West from Dreamy Draw to the Saddle

I admit, this one kicked my (pregnant) butt just a little bit.

I admit, this one kicked my (pregnant) butt just a little bit.

Distance: 2.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 500 feet

Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

Pregnancy Difficulty: Moderate/Strenuous

Location: Dreamy Draw Recreation Area in Phoenix Mountains Preserve

Online Map & Driving Directions (click the link and scroll to bottom of page for Google map driving directions)

Description:

From the main parking lot at the Dreamy Draw Recreation Area, find the large trail head on the north end. Follow the trail north for just a few feet until it splits. Take a left turn to head west and you’ll soon pass through the tunnel that travels under Highway 51 (you are now on Trail 100). Once you’ve cleared the tunnel, continue following Trail 100 up a short incline. At just 0.3 mile, notice the trail forks. Turn left to head southwest as you continue to climb.

It’s easy to follow the trail from here as it curls along the south side of a small peak. You will encounter one other fork in the trail at about 0.9 mile so veer right to remain on Trail 100 following the trail markers along the way. From here, you begin the main climb of the day which ascends about 200 feet in a very short distance (just 0.2 mile, ouch). Rest assured, it’s over quick when you reach an obvious saddle that offers views to the northeast of the McDowell Mountains and Four Peaks on a clear day. It’s the perfect place to turn around for the return trip of 1.1 mile as you retrace your steps back to main parking lot at Dreamy Draw.

Like this? Want more? Buy my book!

Obligatory disclaimer for the pregnant ladies and all other humans: Check with your doctor before engaging in exercise.

People Are So Nice: Ryan & Denise Photography at Take a Hike Phoenix Book Signing

Image courtesy of Ryan & Denise Photography (ryananddenise.com)

Ryan and Denise (the ones holding books) are waaaaaaaaaay nicer than me and Lou (the ones not holding books).

I consider myself to be a nice person. But then someone does something nice for me and I realize I have some room for improvement.

Last Friday at Changing Hands Bookstore as I was blabbing through my presentation to a healthy crowd, I heard the unmistakable sound of camera shutters clicking.

And it wasn’t the fake sound an iPhone makes. It was the sound of real cameras.

I scanned the crowd and saw our pals Ryan and Denise crouching in the aisles, snapping photos. These two generous people (and fabulous photographers — they shot our wedding a few years ago — look at their website and hire them immediately) surprised me by documenting the event.

I really couldn’t believe it. Talk about the nicest people in the world!

Here are just a few images they so expertly captured that night.

Image courtesy of Ryan & Denise Photography (ryananddenise.com)

In case there’s any confusion about the location.

Image courtesy of Ryan & Denise Photography (ryananddenise.com)

PacMan mouth.

Image courtesy of Ryan & Denise Photography (ryananddenise.com)

I made those!

Image courtesy of Ryan & Denise Photography (ryananddenise.com)

My captive audience…these people are friends and family so they have to pay attention.

Image courtesy of Ryan & Denise Photography (ryananddenise.com)

If I’m overly-cheery, maybe people will like me?

Image courtesy of Ryan & Denise Photography (ryananddenise.com)

My hair appointment was the next day. Please don’t judge me.

Image courtesy of Ryan & Denise Photography (ryananddenise.com)

This one’s my favorite. It makes me feel real good about myself.

Enormous thanks and lots of hugs to Ryan and Denise! Here’s their website link again.

I’m not kidding…hire them immediately. They are the BEST!