Camelback Mountain in Summer Heat Too Much for Some Hikers; Several Rescued Since Friday

We stepped out of the house just before 6 a.m. yesterday to hike Camelback Mountain and nearly jumped back inside. It was about 90. The air was warm and fluffy, like we'd climbed into a sleeping bag in a sauna.

We weren't deterred, though, and sweated our hiney off while hiking Echo Canyon trail. Forget about "dry heat" during monsoon season. Sunday's slog was tougher than the same hike at noon just two weeks ago, when it was hotter but not as humid.

Later, we heard that firefighters rescued eight people from the mountain that day for heat-related illnesses, plus another two on Friday.

The hikers didn't bring enough water and weren't prepared for the rigors of Camelback, says Captain Tony Mure of the Phoenix Fire Department.

TV news media exaggerated the incidents somewhat, but the rescues should make all summer hikers think twice about their hydration situation.

The first person needing a rescue on Sunday started up the mountain at about 6 a.m., (we didn't notice anyone having a major problem during our hike, which we began at about 6:30).

A 39-year-old woman from Phoenix and her husband were looking for something to do with a friend who was visiting from California, and decided on Camelback, Mure says.

After spending too much time flailing up Echo Canyon trail, they ran low on water. The friend, who may not have summitted, continued down without the couple.About 11 a.m., someone called 911 -- Mure isn't sure who.

The husband turned out to be fine, but his wife needed to be walked down by firefighters, Mure says.

The firefighters who had climbed the mountain for the rescue began passing out water bottles to people who appeared peaked, and that's when they noticed a family of five from Missouri who seemed to be suffering more than others.

Mure says the father in the group later told rescuers they'd heard Camelback was a great hike, but they had meant to get an earlier start. The couple and their three kids, age 10 to 13, didn't get on the trail till after 9 a.m. They were still making their way down at 11:45.

The man's 13-year-old son suffered severe cramps, and the younger daughter kept vomiting as firefighters led them down. Mure did not have an update on the condition of the boy, who was hospitalized.

"He was in serious condition," Mure says of the boy. "We administered two large IV bags. His blood pressure was still low and he wasn't sweating. It was borderline heat stroke."

On Friday, firefighters brought a 73-year-old woman down Camelback's easier, eastern trail on a "big wheel" stretcher.

The woman and her 53-year-old daughter, in town visiting from Wisconsin, had started up Cholla Trail about 6 a.m. and had plenty of water. They were beaten down by the intense heat after a whopping five hours on the mountain.

Mure isn't sure why the women were on the trail for so long. That's a slow pace even for out-of-shape hikers, in our opinion.

The women were "quite demanding and rude" to firefighters who helped them down, possibly out of embarrassment, Mure says.

The older woman in the stretcher whined about the bumpy ride and they both demanded frequent water breaks, even though firefighters preferred to get them down more quickly, he says.

Of course, they were also complaining about the heat, Mure says.

Ken Waters, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Phoenix, says the high temperature was 109 yesterday (rising from a low of 89), and that the Valley's been humid for the last few days, with a dew point around 60, as the monsoon storms settle in.

This morning's low was 94, with a relative humidity of about 27 percent.

The fire department has been going out on similar calls to Valley mountain parks like Camelback, South Mountain and the Phoenix Mountain Preserves nearly every other day for the last two weeks, Mure says.

UPDATE: Also see our Ten Tips for hiking in the heat.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.