By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Smith recalls a cold Thanksgiving morning 18 years ago, when the department was called to save a woman who slid off a cliff while frolicking with her boyfriend. She landed on a narrow and inaccessible ledge, and rescuers climbed down to her without so much as good hiking shoes. They had to use their belts and strips of their clothing to tie the woman into the stretcher, then haul her up with a hemp rope. She died en route to the hospital.
Now there are 60 TRTs centered at two stations (the second at 12th Street and Van Buren). They've gone through 240 hours of special training that ranges from digging out collapsed buildings or trenches to plucking people from the tops of palm trees. Or off the top of Camelback Mountain.
"If people had more judgment, there'd be a whole lot fewer of us," says TRT John Halter.
There's no shortage of stupid-hiker stories: older folks recovering from heart surgery who have been told to get exercise; when the big one hits them, the top of Squaw Peak is at least a three-hour ordeal to a cardiac ward. Half of the injuries, McDonald claims, are people in good shape who are running on the trail and lose their footing. "Running down's the best way to get hurt," he says, suicide on the knees even if you don't fall. "Another quarter of them, I wonder why they're even here," people with bald heads and no hats, without water, wearing sandals. "You want to ask them, 'What were you thinking?'"
"We've had a lot of embarrassed fathers," Smith adds. Last year a dad who was fired up after taking a rudimentary climbing class took his two young sons and one of their friends to the base of "the Monk," a steep spire atop the cliffs of Echo Canyon. Climbing up is far easier than climbing down; the father hoped they'd all rappel down, but the boys froze in terror. When they didn't show up at home, their mom called for help. "She was not pleased," Smith punctuates.
One chilly night, McDonald encountered a "drunk and nekkid individual" on Shaw Butte. His girlfriend had abandoned him there. "No telling where she went to, and I have no idea how he lost his clothes," he says.
Couples climb to the mountaintops to share a bottle of wine and a sunset, then can't find the way down in the dark and drunkenness. Their cries for help resonate through Echo Canyon until the folks who live at the bottom call 911. Then the Phoenix Police Department sends a helicopter with a searchlight. Squaw Peak, alas, is far out of anyone's earshot. A couple years back, the TRTs say, two lovers hiked Camelback after dark, were overcome by passion, stripped down and went at it under the stars. When they finished, he rolled off, stood up on a rock to stretch and fell off a cliff to his death.