Camelback Mountain • Range highpoint: Phoenix Mountains
• Central Maricopa County


East side, Cholla Road
 

Still kind of low on the slopes
 

The main saddle, looking up
 

Knife-edge walking!
 

At the summit, looking northwest at Piestewa Peak
 

Looking back at the route
 

Sidehill trail
 

The Phoenician grounds

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Date: (1) October 1992; about two hundred times since • Elevation: 2,704 feet • Prominence: 1,334 feet • Distance: 2.5 miles, sometimes 4 miles • Time: 70 minutes is typical • Gain: 1,200 • Conditions: Cold, hot, dry, rainy • Teammates: Half of Phoenix

Camelback Mountain is the most recognizable peak in metro-Phoenix, its attractive symmetrical hump (and lumpy camel's "head") visible from virtually all of Phoenix and surrounding environs. Hundreds of people hike the peak daily and it is arguably the best fitness hike in the Phoenix area.

I moved here in August 1992 and when the weather cooled, made my first ascent that October. I quickly became hooked and during that first fall-winter-spring here, hiked the peak two or three times a week, easily 40-50 ascents in that first year. I always came in from the west (Echo Canyon) side. The route is well-described in many reports. It is rocky, steep, minorly exposed in a few spots, but overall a great hike with a mix of trail and rough rock-hopping. I always felt like I got a great "all-over" workout since I was using so many different muscle groups in managing the terrain. It's not a trail in the usual sense, but the navigation is extremely straightforward.

I have had a long-time ebb and flow relationship with Camelback. I'll hike it over and over again for a year or two, then burn out on it and not touch it for a year or so (often alternating my allegiances with nearby Piestewa Peak). Nevertheless, very conservatively I have climbed Camelback at least 200 times and very probably over 300 times since 1992. There are people who climb it every day, and probably a few hardy types who have ascent counts in the many thousands. My usual up-time is 40 minutes, and 35 for the descent. My best up-and-down time is an hour exactly.

The trail is often crowded and a good mix of hikers and pretenders. I've seen guys drinking beer on the climb, people holding infants, women wearing pumps or other elevated shoes, it goes on and on. There are rescues on the peak regularly. Most people who get in trouble probably just limp back to the car, hopefully slightly wiser. It's also babe-central up here too. The views from the top are outstanding. If the weather is clear, distant Picacho Peak can be seen. I've been up here in summer, but not lately. What's there to prove? The heat is a butt-kicker.

I've been up on Easter when the summit had about 150 celebrators, including our governor, but he was hidden among the throng. I've been up when all the out-of-town football fans come in for the Fiesta Bowl, all wearing their team's colors. It's not a wilderness hike, but I enjoy the workout and the variation of humanity. For training, it is unbeatable. For many years now I use the term "camelback" as a unit or measure: 1 camelback is roughly 1,000 vertical feet with one mile of hiking. So when I'm on a real peak, and I round a bend and see the summit still up there 2,500 feet and 3 miles distant, I'll say to myself, "just two and a half camelbacks, Surgent, don't wimp your ass out now."

Since we moved to Scottsdale in 2010, and live now just a mile or so from the east base, I now come up from the east side ("Cholla Route") instead of the west side. I came up this way once back in 1997 or so with my dad. He got kind of spooked on some of the rockier slopes up high and did not go to the top. And that was it until last year when I came up this way again. The trail had been re-routed a little bit, with people now obliged to park out on Invergordon Road, which runs north-south directly east of the base of Camelback. The famous Phoenician Resort is located at Invergordon and Camelback Roads, southeast of the peak.

Parking is usually the limiting factor: I have had to park well south of Cholla Road, so that my "approach hike" might be a mile of city-street walking. The walk up Cholla Road into some million-dollar homes is nice. The trail is well-marked. I must say, I like this east-side approach much better. It winds up desert slopes, sidehills across a subpeak, then comes to a saddle. From here, it's some minor class-3 scrambling up rock, with some minor knife-edge sections. There are blue dots to guide you, but I find these not very helpful. The east-side hike can take over two hours round trip if I have to park way far away. Still, it's a fantastic hike. I still love, all these years later.

The photos at left are from a hike I took in May, 2011. The weather was spectacular this day: warm, clear and lovely.

For many years, Camelback Mountain's summit elevation of 2,704 placed it in a tie with South Mountain's interpolated summit elevation of 2,700-2,710 feet as the highest points within Phoenix city limits. However, since Phoenix has been expanding its city limits north to nearly Lake Pleasant, an unnamed hill east of Lake Pleasant, with elevation 2,866 feet, now holds the honor as the highest point inside Phoenix city limits. For a complete list of the city highpoints of Maricopa County, see this link.

This highpoint status may change. The unincorporated community of Anthem includes Daisy Mountain, at 3,106 feet. Should Phoenix eventually absorb Anthem, then Daisy Mountain would assume the city highpoint status. However, this seems unlikely, but don't ask me why.

(c) 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.