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In the morning, Kehoe is supposed to make suggestions to the trail crew on how to compromise between hard-core and soft-core hikers, how to make this section of trail look natural and still withstand heavy traffic. "I'm not going to sleep well tonight," he says.

Nothing will return the trail to more pristine days when the parking lot was gravel and a weekday's hike meant you could have a mountaintop to yourself. "The present hikers are in more of a hurry," laments Roger Maki, a longtime Squaw Peaker. "They know nothing about mountain etiquette, where hikers going down yield to hikers climbing up. It's like a fitness center. I've been bumped three times since winter by runners out of control."

The polite runners say "Excuse me" and go around the hikers--but to do so they leave the trail and crumble the fragile trail shoulders. @rule:

@body:The current trail is a battered relic of Phoenix's dude-ranch past, a bridle path maintained by the Arizona Biltmore so that 1930s hotel guests from Chicago could tie their mounts to the hitching post that still stands a few hundred feet below the summit and hike to the top.

Gil Gilbert, now 81, remembers hiking Squaw Peak in 1918 as a Boy Scout behind a leader named Uncle Jimmy. Jimmy would hike up his trouser leg after he hiked up the mountain to show his young charges where he had been struck by an arrow during the Indian wars. "The trail up was pretty much as it is now," Gilbert says. Getting there was not, however. The streetcar line ended at Second Street and Lynwood, and so the troop trekked up Seventh Street--then a two-lane road bordered by ditches and cottonwood trees--turned east at Glendale Avenue and crossed the canal, where the road withered to a wagon track. Gilbert and his family would ride horses up the mountain even at night, because the animals knew the way well enough to walk it in the dark. Once he inspired a horse all the way to the top. "Not much room for him to move around up there," he deadpans.

In the 1950s, the Biltmore turned the mountain and surrounding land over to the county for a park, partly on the suggestion of Ben Avery, the retired outdoors writer for the Arizona Republic. Now, when Avery sees the hiking hordes, he says, "Most of them don't know a trail from a boulevard. If it takes a sidewalk to save the mountain, then they should do it."


@body:Paul Diefenderfer pulls at his beard and kicks at the red dirt with a big toe that pokes out of his sandals. He never wears hiking boots, and that makes for a good conversation starter with people he passes on the trail. Diefenderfer is president of the Arizona Mountaineering Club. For the last several years, he and his fellow club members have been restoring the Camelback summit trail on their own time and money. Their work has inspired considerably less griping than the city's on Squaw Peak.

The hiker traffic on Camelback is less than at Squaw Peak, but still more than 300,000 per year, and the damage is obvious. A quarter-mile from the parking lot, the trail skirts under a high, red cliff, hemmed in by a ten-foot chain-link fence that borders private property. Once the bottom of the fence rode flat on the ground; now a three-foot gap shows how deeply footprints have worn away the soil.

Dusk on the trail above Echo Canyon Park: There's a traffic jam halfway to the summit because a rattlesnake of indeterminate size has lodged itself into a fissure in a cliff side at a particularly narrow point of the trail and sizzles threateningly whenever anyone tries to pass. Women turn around and head downhill, vowing never to return. Except for the Walkmanized persons who run deafly and dumbly past with Led Zeppelin roaring in their earphones, everyone stops to peer around the corner an instant before taking a hop, skip and jump past the snake. "It's just a little rattler," coos a thin man with an Indian accent. He's one of the regular compulsive runners. "In my country we have cobras and pit vipers--he pronouces it "wipers." "When they bite, you are going to lose income--you die. But a rattler: You will not have a record time that day, but you will not die."

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Michael Kiefer