Hikers at Camelback Mountain were supportive of the measure to close its trails between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday after the National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning on Monday.
Phoenix’s Parks and Recreation Department posted on Facebook on Monday that trails on both Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak would be restricted during those hours on both days.
It’s the first closure since the department adopted a new policy limiting access to trails on the two mountains on days when extreme temperatures are forecasted.
A local firefighter union sent a letter to Phoenix’s Parks and Recreation Board in early July requesting restricted trail access when temperatures exceed 105 degrees. The letter came after 12 firefighters were sent home for heat-related issues following three back-to-back rescues on both mountains.
The board then enacted a pilot program in mid-July restricting trail access when the National Weather Service has an excessive heat watch in effect. The program will run from July 16 through Sept. 30, after which the board will review if it needs to alter any aspects of the policy.
Connor Kidney, 18, has been climbing Camelback Mountain every Tuesday for the last several weeks. He said it’s a “pretty nice” hike but that it’s necessary to come earlier in the day to avoid the heat.
“Around 9 o’clock is when it starts picking up, getting a lot hotter,” Kidney said. “You can definitely feel right when it switches to being a little bit too hot to do anything.”
Kidney was hiking with 18-year-old Richard Dominguez, who said the closures will “save unnecessary efforts” and resources for mountain rescues.
“I feel like it makes a lot of sense,” he said.
“It doesn’t even sound like fun,” Kidney said, on hiking during the now-restricted hours. “It just sounds miserable. You’re going to be hot and sweaty the whole time. I don’t even know if it’s safe at that point, if it’s 120 out and you’re not hydrated enough — you don’t want to be out there.”
They got to the mountain at around 8 a.m. and finished by 10 a.m., an hour before the closure took effect.
Though both Kidney and Dominguez said heat-related injuries can happen at any time of day, Kidney said it ultimately comes down to hikers knowing and not pushing themselves past their limits.
“You just have to listen to your body, listen to yourself,” he said. “If you feel like you’re going to overheat, take a second, cool down as best as you can. Take a drink, take a breath and then just continue if you can. If you can’t, it’s not a big deal — you just have to stop.”
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Braxton Wheeler, 18, hiked Camelback Mountain for the first time on Tuesday while visiting from Ohio. He started the hike at around 8 a.m. to avoid the worst of the day’s heat, which he said can be “dangerous” — particularly for visitors who can be caught off guard by the extreme temperatures.
“It’s definitely something you have to get acclimated to,” he said. “It’s tough if you’re not from here because it’s way hotter than anywhere else.”
He finished his hike by 10:30 a.m., unaware of the closure that would take effect half an hour later.
“It’s gonna be good because it does get really hot and you end up going through more water than you think you will, especially if you don’t do it that often, so I think it’ll be a lot better for safety,” Wheeler said.
Abby Bogden, 40, said the closure was “probably appropriate” given the number of rescue calls made during the summer.
“Some people that aren’t from around here think they can do it and they don’t do it appropriately, so that I don’t have a problem with,” she said. “I’d rather save some lives than other people get hurt. It doesn’t really bother me.”
Bogden is from Michigan but has hiked Camelback Mountain on previous trips to Arizona. She has hiked it midday during the cooler months of the year but said only early-morning jaunts are doable in the summer.
She was at the trailhead along with two other people on Tuesday but said they were only planning on taking some photos and perhaps walking a short distance up the trail, adding that it was too hot to do anything more.
Though she acknowledged that injuries can happen at any time of day, Bogden said she thinks the closure will likely make a “big enough” impact to reduce rescue calls.
“They do it for a reason, there’s plenty of people that get hurt or end up up there with heat exhaustion and die from it,” she said. “I don’t think they’d do it unless there was an actual reason for it.”
Arizona Republic reporter Perry Vandell contributed to this report.
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