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Camelback Mountain Bees Nail Rock Climbers on Hart Route -- Again

Saturday's bee attack on Camelback Mountain occurred on Hart Route, the notorious spot where a climber died six years ago in a similar mishap, a fire department official confirmed today.

Several news outlets covered the story over the weekend, but none shared the name of the climbing route.

We found Saturday's incident interesting for two other reasons: One, another climber on a nearby rock braved the bees to help the pair stranded on the three-pitch Hart Route, which the Rock Climbing Arizona guide describes as an "easy old classic."

Two, we happened to be scrambling around near Hart Route on Saturday, about two hours before the besieged climbers started calling for help.

Camelback Mountain Bees Nail Rock Climbers on Hart Route -- Again

We snapped the above shot of climbers on the Praying Monk at about 1 p.m., and chatted with folks about the many climbing possibilities in the area. Two guys we met said they were considering going up Hart Route, and we told them about the beehive and its history.

In 2004, Keith Abbe, a martial arts instructor from Midland, Michigan who'd recently moved to the Valley, and his friend were attacked by the bees. At least one beehive is located at the start of the third pitch. Unable to fix a rappel to reach the base of the climb, they decided to untie from their ropes and downclimb. Abbe fell about 50 feet to his death.

Bee stings are commonplace at Camelback Mountain, one of the top hiking spots in the Phoenix metro area, but climbers can be particularly vulnerable to a swarm attack.

Experts advise running away or seeking shelter indoors during an attack. In the vertical world, options for retreat are limited. In August, for instance, we told you of a Tucson-area climber who suffered about 1,500 stings while stuck at the top of a route on Mt. Lemmon.

On Saturday, two out-of-state climbers reached the start of the third pitch of Hart Route and found themselves under aerial attack.

We know some of you are thinking that the state's infamous "Stupid Motorist Law" ought to be extended to cover hikers and climbers in situations like these. But in Saturday's incident, says Phoenix Fire Department spokesman Jonathan Jacobs, the two climbers neither called authorities for help nor required any treatment when they finally got down.

A hiker in the Echo Canyon parking lot called 911 to report that they heard people near the Praying Monk yelling for help, saying they were stuck and being attacked by bees. The anonymous caller said he was leaving immediately to avoid being blocked in by the fire trucks he knew would come, Jacobs says.

It's unclear why the climbers were stuck, but media reports indicate they may have had a rope problem not unlike that of Abbe of his partner. Before rescuers could reach the two-man team, another climber had scrambled up Hart Route with second rope and helped the victims rappel down. Jacobs wasn't sure whether the man who helped the climbers was stung. The act smacks of true heroism either way, as far as we're concerned.

The beehive near the start of the third pitch of Hart Route, (in April of 2010.) Other beehives may exist in nearby crevices.
The beehive near the start of the third pitch of Hart Route, (in April of 2010.) Other beehives may exist in nearby crevices.
Image: Ray Stern

The two climbers had numerous stings when they met fire officials at the bottom of the route, but were otherwise in good health. They refused treatment, and officials didn't even get their names, Jacobs says.

With all this in mind, we'd like to suggest a new guidebook description for Hart Route:

An easy, old classic. With really angry bees that'll frickin' try to kill you.


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