Three Camelback hikers who decided to take a side route up a climbing trail encountered a swarm of bees on Monday afternoon, and one man died after falling 60 feet.
The other two men were stung about 300 times each, says Captain Scott McDonald, Phoenix Fire Department spokesman.
A beautiful, fall day on the popular Echo Canyon Trail turned into pandemonium, with dozens of firefighters -- some in white bee suits -- closing the mountain and performing a tricky, helicopter-assisted technical rescue. Some of the bees flew to the main trail and parking lot, stinging several other hikers, McDonald says.
The two survivors, having climbed into an area from which they couldn't escape without down-climbing, were forced to huddle in a rock hollow with hundreds of angry bees in pursuit.
McDonald did not release the hikers' names or hometowns.
He says the men were scrambling on George Route, a climbing route in Icebox Canyon, a few hundred feet from the main trail.
Echo Canyon Trail goes to the left of the Headwall in the picture below, but the bee-attack victims went right, as our arrow shows.
The Headwall can take you up to the landmark Praying Monk formation, though proper climbing equipment -- rock shoes, at least -- is advised. Following the base of the Headwall to the right gets you into Icebox Canyon and a north-facing wall. This is George Route, as our second picture from Jim Waugh's Phoenix Rock guidebook shows (below).
After climbing the face, (which requires a few dicey moves), the hikers were attacked by the swarm and apparently got into those crevices just below the white line denoting the route.
A nice, flat surface on which you can run as fast as possible would be the best place to be attacked by a swarm of bees. George Route would classify as one of the worst.
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The general area was the site of another bee attack in 2009 -- a guy in his 50s was climbing solo and was unable to flee. He suffered about 120 stings. As we mentioned in our post from yesterday, bees on the popular Hart Route at Camelback caused a man to panic, slip and fall to his death in 2004.
Robert Mackley of Tucson lived through the worst case of bees swarming on a trapped climber that we know of. While instructing some friends at a short climb on Mt. Lemmon in August of 2010, Mackley found himself stuck at the top of a route for hours, unable to untie himself as an estimated 1,500 bees stung him.
Makes us want to carry a can of Raid on our harness.
For sure, anyone climbing at Camelback -- or anywhere else in this region of the country, where Africanized bees fly -- might want to contemplate an escape plan for this sort of emergency.