What Do You Do When There's a Naked, Raving Man on Your Favorite Hiking Trail?
Saturday morning began like any other on Camelback; then normal stopped. Just past the longest handrail section on Camelback Mountain's Echo Trail, I saw a full-grown, stark naked man (no shoes, either) having a conversation with himself on his way to the summit. "I'm sorry, Daddy," he said (switching voices from child to adult as indicated here): "I didn't mean to embarrass you. YES YOU DID. YOU'RE A DISAPPOINTMENT AND NOW PEOPLE ARE SCARED OF YOU. Please I'll be good. SHUT YOUR MOUTH."
It just went on like that.
I realized I'd already heard him up ahead on the popular, 1.2-mile summit trail, thinking it was some people fooling around. Then I saw him, in all his glory. He seemed to be in his 20s, well-muscled, a thin beard -- hairy crotch. He was totally nude. In the first second or two, I knew I was looking at someone who was possibly really high on hallucinogens or having a psychotic break -- or both.
He wasn't moving as well as the handful of hardcore hikers I've seen over the years who do the trail barefoot. Naked Guy walked slowly, mindful of his foot placements. On the steeper parts of the trail he would hunch over, using his hands where most wouldn't need to, picking his way up the trail like a slow-motion spider.
It was 65 degrees Saturday morning. The dude wouldn't have made it very far if he'd tried this in the summer. Dozens of people were going up and down the mountain, staring at the guy as they went by, some stopping for a moment, then moving on. He was creating quite a stir, though people pretty much left him alone. A few children saw him. I assumed that someone must have called 911, since he was already about halfway up the mountain.
I reached for my phone and took a few seconds of video from a distance, not wanting to provoke him. As expected, it didn't take much to set him off, and his ravings soon incorporated me: "OH LOOK WHAT'S HAPPENING HE'S TAKING A PICTURE OF YOU. I'm sorry, Daddy. HE'S TAKING TWO PICTURES OF YOU."
With a horror-movie gait, he began catching up to me as I stood on a rock higher up on the trail, filming him, then just watching him, wondering what the heck I should do. It was easy to keep a distance, since he was moving in slow motion. The hard part was figuring out whether I should stay away from him ... or abandon him. I mulled my options.
Try to stop him? Too risky. The various hikers around, including some families, wouldn't necessarily come to my aid in time if he fought back. In his state of mind, he might be unable to restrain himself from acting viciously. I had a folding knife on me. Should I take it out, and if so, do it now or after he begins pummeling me? Say I win, perhaps with the help of others, but his face gets smashed, arm broken, maybe he dies? Lawsuit time. Not to mention guilt for life.
He wasn't hurting anyone and didn't seem aggressive. Oddly enough, this was actually the second time I'd seen a nude person at Camelback. Once during a jog on the trail near Bobby's Rock, I happened upon a good-looking, blonde and fully naked college-aged woman being photographed in a rock-hollow by an obviously professional photographer and her assistant. This was a different situation, clearly, but was it an emergency? I wasn't so sure.
And I was pressed for time. I'd already decided to turn around early, whether or not I made the summit. Now Naked Guy was screwing up my day.
I started back up the trail, leaving him behind. I warned a few people coming down about what was headed their way. I wondered if I should shout and wave my hands to get the attention of everyone coming down, like you do in Yosemite when a bear wanders into the campground.
A police chopper began hovering overhead, obviously summoned. I figured rescuers were likely already on the way, though it turned out they were much farther behind than I thought.
Before my turnaround time came, I decided to head back down and see what was becoming of Naked Guy. It didn't take long before I was next to him again. A couple of people were hanging near him, trying to talk to him. He asked for water. I pulled out my bottle, still full on this cool day, and held it out. A woman hiker took it from me and held it out to the man, who shook his head and shouted, "NO WATER!"
He kept on with his ever-upward push to the summit, this time with the woman and a couple of others following, and I stayed where I was, still not able to imagine how this could turn out well without the help of professionals.
Someone in the helicopter got on a megaphone, the boxy voice lost to me in the rotor noise.
"What did he say?" I asked a couple standing next to me.
"He says if anyone has a cell phone, could they call 911."
A few of the hikers standing around heard this and looked at each other. I knew that was something I could do, so I called 911 and told the operator what was going on. She asked me to hang up, telling me an officer would call me right back, which was what happened. It was tough to hear the guy with the chopper sound reverberating on the canyon walls. I told him we were above the three-quarter mile marker, that the guy appeared uninjured and that he wasn't acting violently.
I could still see the guy moving up, now getting close to the last big saddle before the final summit approach, and it looked like those other hikers were still sticking with him.
"Does he seem despondent?" the cop asked.
"He seems depressed about something."
The cop wrapped it up: "Ok, I'll let you go."
"What did they say to do?" one of the couple asked.
"They didn't. They said they'd let me go."
That's when I decided to go down, leaving the naked man to fend for himself, hoping that if he tried to jump off a cliff, someone would stop him.
He did want to commit suicide, I found out later that evening. Hiker Ewelina Federkiewicz made a long video recording, some of which was excerpted in Saturday night's ABC-15 report on the incident. Naked Guy can clearly be heard saying on her video that he's going to jump off the mountain and kill himself. That report also quotes Federkiewicz as saying that it became obvious to her and others that the man would have be restrained to prevent him from jumping.
They threw a blanket on him (who hikes Echo Canyon trail with a blanket? Do I need to add that to my list of required items for the hike?) and "tackled" him. He was airlifted off the mountain and taken to a hospital.The news report says the woman and burly guys pictured with Federkiewicz are being "hailed as heroes."
And they are.
But I don't know how much I'd do differently if I'd known for sure he was suicidal.
I would call 911 immediately, whether or not I thought anyone else had done so before me. I'd warn more people and possibly enlist their help -- though to do what, I'm still uncertain.
What would you do?
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.