Camelback Mountain in Phoenix Claims Second British Hiker in Past Year

The body of a man visiting from England was found on Tuesday near Cholla Trail on Camelback Mountain.
The body of a man visiting from England was found on Tuesday near Cholla Trail on Camelback Mountain.
Andrew Pielage for New Times

Stephen Vanderhoeven of England just wanted to find a chuckwalla, a stubby cousin of the iguana that inhabits the cracks and boulders of Camelback Mountain in Phoenix.

His body was found at the bottom of a cliff on Tuesday afternoon, making him the latest statistic in a recent tragic streak of deaths in one of the city's most popular mountain parks.

The 56-year-old Vanderhoeven was the seventh fall- or heat-related fatality at Camelback in the past two years, and the second victim from England within a year.

On July 7, 2015, Ravinder Takhar of Solihull, England, died of heatstroke, prompting city officials to post additional caution signs around local hiking trails and ramp up its "Take a Hike, Do It Right" safety campaign.

Police say they're not yet sure how Vanderhoeven died; an autopsy is scheduled. Neither foul play nor suicide seems to be a factor, says Officer James Holmes, Phoenix police spokesman.

"We don't know what happened to the guy," Holmes says. "We have no idea how long he was out here."

What police do know is that Vanderhoeven arrived in Phoenix on Friday, June 10, in search of chuckwallas. He rented a car and checked into a local hotel. On Sunday, he contacted a friend in England.

Police first learned of Vanderhoeven's visit at about 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, when they were informed that he had failed to arrive home in England as scheduled. Holmes wasn't able to provide the man's hometown.

Police dispatched a helicopter, and the pilot soon reported a possible body in a steep area just off Cholla Trail, the easternmost of two summit trails on Camelback. Park rangers found the victim and pronounced him deceased at the scene with "obvious signs of injury."

Vanderhoeven had water with him, but the heat may have played a role. Heat victims often become disoriented, wandering off the trail into even more trouble. The short, 1.5-mile length of Camelback's summit trails can fool people into complacency, but the trails are super-steep, rugged, and require a lot of effort to conquer. Although hardy souls continue to hike the trails at Camelback and other Phoenix-area mountain parks even in triple-digit temperatures, experts recommend that people don't attempt it, because even healthy hikers who stay hydrated can fall victim to heat-related illnesses.

One clear factor emerges when looking at recent deaths on Camelback: Out-of-town visitors seem to be at especially high risk.

Takhar began feeling ill soon after her family reached the summit on a hot day last year. She told her husband and son to go on without her. She was found dead in a ravine a few hours later.

In September 2014, Emanuel Rodrigo Biana Costa Bezerra, 22, of Brazil, collapsed and fell 10 feet on Echo Canyon Trail while hiking with friends, after complaining of heat-related symptoms. In June of the same year, the disappearance of 23-year-old Eric Fernandes of Seattle, who was last seen hiking to Camelback's 2,704-foot summit, sparked a three-day search. His body was found far off the trail in a rugged area, and an autopsy showed he died from the heat.

Camelback has also been the site of notorious climbing-related falls in the past couple of years, including the April 2016 death of Makayla Castro, an 18-year-old Grand Canyon University student.


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