Monday, September 24, 2012

Crawling over Flatiron Mountain (also known as " legs")

I have one word for Flatiron Mountain: KILLER. 

Flatiron Mountain is about an hour out of Phoenix by Mesa.  I had heard about this place from my long-time friend Dave who works at the TV station I was at in Sacramento. He had climbed it in the past and when he learned I was moving to Phoenix told me I had to check it out if I got the chance.  He also told me it was hard. Naturally, I didn't believe him.  I assumed he thought I was wimpy or something.

Little did I know he was right and my legs would hate me for three days after climbing the thing.
So here's the scoop in case you want to try it yourself -- because you know, misery loves company and right now I'm needing the company.

The Siphon Draw Trail at Flatiron starts at Lost Dutchman State Park and it is 6 miles long  – which sounds like nothing until you actually do it.  This is because, the higher you climb, the harder it gets – and my friend and I also went when it was 106 degrees.  Yes, it was hot.  Way too hot to be climbing a mountain, but whatever.

If you go, at first you are going to think I’m a wuss because the first mile of the trail is easy.  It’s well-maintained and marked.  But keep going.  The farther you walk up the trail, the more rugged the path gets. 

Soon the dirt path disappears and is replaced with small loose rocks and the higher you climb, the more narrow and rough the path gets.   There are giant boulders to climb over and a large smooth stone basin which probably has water in it part of the year, but was completely dry when we went in September. By the time you get to the basin area, you've already reached a 1,000 foot elevation gain.

From there, the trail (if you could call it that), leads towards Flatiron, which is the flat plateau on the top of the Superstition Mountain. It's another 2,000 foot elevation from the basin to the top and the brochure recommends that only experienced hikers in good shape should attempt it.

I was considering to do this mountain alone, but was glad I went with a friend.  The path is kind of marked (you have to look for faded blue spray painted marks on the boulders), but even with that, we got lost and made up our own route for part of the way. 
Then there’s the climbing. This is what was challenging for me. I’ve hiked, but never actually had to climb and pull myself over giant rocks before.  Of course, I’m wearing normal sneakers and not hiking shoes as I had no idea the climb would be so intense.   And then just when you think you’re done and can see the top, there is a 12-foot vertical rock wall. 
I admit, I didn't get that far. I had to wimp out about 10 minutes before reaching the top. 

This is because just before giant vertical wall was a slightly smaller (yet, still too big for me) boulder area and I couldn’t pull myself over it.  Yes, the mountain defeated me and if they hidden cameras in the area, I would totally be on the blooper reel as I am not a graceful climber.  I'm more like the people on that show "Wipe Out" with arms flailing everywhere and hanging on any which way possible.

But what I really needed to make it to the top was two people: One to pull my arms and someone behind me to push my butt up from behind -- or maybe catch me as I slid back down.

My friend (who went on ahead) tells me that if I would have been able to scale the 12-foot rock wall, I would have been at the top of the mountain. close, but not close enough.
I don’t have any regrets though. I was exhausted just getting to where I got to, and going down was just as hard as going up. 

You see, going up you can use your hands to claw and clutch your way up, but going down, there is no clutching.  There is only scary sliding down on your butt and hoping your feet find a little hook in the rock to stop you. I swear, I crab-crawled my way down the mountain and was glad I had my biking gloves with me or else my hands would have been shredded.

So will I do it again? Yes. But here’s what I would do differently:
-- Bring more water
-- Start earlier and not at 11 a.m. when it’s super hot
-    -- Do more upper body training so I can make it over the rock wall

- Buy some sort of repellent to deter the giant wasps that live up there.

   If you want to go, Flatiron Mountain is in Maricopa County in the state of Arizona (AZ). It climbs to 1,693 feet (516.03 meters) above sea level and is located at latitude - longitude coordinates of N 33.570037 and W -112.832399.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Climb every mountain – in the Phoenix area

I’m not exactly Maria from the “Sound of Music,” but lately I feel like I’ve been climbing every mountain I can find around Phoenix.

Part of the reason is because I am totally loving the Arizona landscape. Who would have thought it would be so beautiful here? Before I moved to the area, all people told me was that it was hot and desert-like.

Yes, it’s hot. Extremely hot, but the desert is interesting.

But I digress. The real reason I’m climbing the mountains in the area is because they are there.



My first one and the one that got me hooked was Pinnacle Peak.

This little guy is located just outside of Phoenix and I did it twice in one day. The first time I ran/walked up and then because it was so beautiful, I did it again, but the second time I brought my iPhone so I could take photos on the way.

It’s absolutely gorgeous and one of my favorite ones in the area so far. The hike is only 1.75 miles (one way) and you climb approximately 1,300 feet with the highest point of the trail at 2,889 feet. It’s not a loop trail so you go down the same way you go up.

These photos were taken in the fall after the heat of the summer, but one of the reasons I love this trail so much is that the landscape changes so much throughout the year.  I did this one almost every week so was able to see the spring flowers bloom in March/April, the green of the cactus during May and June and then the browns of the fall.

One of the pluses of this trail is that it’s well-marked so you won’t get lost. They also have guides that walk up the path an hour before they close (at sunset) to make sure everyone is off the peak – so no chance of being left behind.

The only downside of Pinnacle Peak is that it can be crowded on the weekend.

I tried it one Sunday morning and even at 6:30 a.m., it was crazy busy. It’s less busy during the week.

Want to go for a hike? It’s located at 26802 N. 102nd Way in Scottsdale.


Every day on my way to work, I drive past this amazing red mountain. Turns out this is the infamous Camelback Mountain. It's really only famous in Phoenix as people always want to know if you've climbed it.

I have climbed it but only the Cholla Trail side.  There is a reason for this.  I was going to climb the Echo Canyon side which they say is shorter, but steeper, however, the week before my set date to climb a bunch of killer bees attacked a group of hikers and one of them died.  He fell off the side of the mountain. His buddies were just badly stung.

Now I know I hung out with the Bee Whisperer this summer in Carmel Valley, but those were honey bees. These were African “killer” bees. I wasn’t sure I was ready to mess those big boys.

So I did the Cholla side, which some say is a little harder because you don’t have any ropes to pull yourself up. You have to hoist yourself up over the rocks.  In fact, the last 1/8 of a mile to the summit is all rock scrambling.

So here’s the scoop with this hike. You have to go early. Really early. Like just as the sun is getting up early.  Otherwise you are not going to get parking in the area and you’ll not only be crawling over rocks, but people in your quest to get to the top.

What is fun though is that while I think this climb is harder than Pinnacle Peak, dogs can make it up to the top.

 If you want to try it, the Cholla Trailhead is located at the end of Cholla Lane, which is off of Invergordon Street (N. 64th Street).  It’s 3.5 miles round trip from trailhead to the top and back.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Red Rocks and Drumming in Sedona (Vortex Tours)

Rahelio - I had to steal this from his
website as my camera didn't work.
If you visit Phoenix, then you have to take a daytrip to Sedona.  It’s gorgeous – and very red. 

The rocks are red, the dirt is red and even the buildings are red. People told me about the redness before I went, but you need to see them to believe it -- especially at sunrise or sunset. It's breathtaking.

But what Sedona is really famous for is their spiritual vortexes which are supposed to enlighten, renew and empower you. 

When I found out about the Sedona vortexes, I did a little bit of research (because you know I had to check them out as they sounded very "Dr. Who-ish") and there are number of tour groups that will take you there.  One of the most popular ones are these pink jeeps.  But here's my question:  why take a pink jeep when you can have a shamanic guide, who also does Sedona sweat lodge sessions, take you to the vortex location?
Yup, that’s right.  You know me. I can’t do the normal tour.  I have to do the weird one….and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I found Rahelio and his  mystic tour by random chance on the internet.  He doesn’t have a fancy website (, but on the site he said his Sedona Vortex tours were for those “who might be awakening in consciousness or who are on a spiritual quest.”  On the tour, he said people may experience a powerfully transformative encounter with the mystical presence of a sacred land.

Am I on a spiritual quest? I don’t know. Maybe?

So I called him up, and instead of answering with a fancy company name, he answered with a simple “hello.”
I was sold.

When I called up Rahelio, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  He told me to meet him outside this organic grocery story around 3:30 p.m. because he was doing a sweat lodge session in Sedona the night before and needed to sleep in. 

I hung up thinking this guy is really sounding like my type of tour guide -- not fancy and likes to sleep in. Works for me.  Plus, I figured this way I could take my time getting there.  In my mind I imagined us and our little group hiking through red rock country for two hours in search of the sacred vortexes.  I would get this fantastic workout AND be spiritually enlightened. The ultimate in multi-tasking -- and you know how I love to multi-task.

Rahelio drove up exactly at 3:30 and he was in shorts and flip flops.  It was then I realized, we would not be hiking very far.  But what would we be doing? The answer: drumming. Yes, drumming – and it was more cool than I could have imagined, and something I had never done before. 
Rahelio drove our little group of 5 up the mountain to one of the vortex areas.  He grabbed mats from the back of his truck, his drum and ceremonial flute and then led us to this gorgeous area overlooking the red rocks.  I have no pictures of this as my iphone crapped out on me that day, so you’ll have to take my word that it was amazing.

He laid out the mats in a row and told us to sit or lie down on them. He then let us experience the energy of the vortex as he drummed, chanted and sung about Mother Earth, Mayan prophecy and the shamanic teachings he’s learned over the years. 

It was a relaxing and inspiring journey that I never expected. Laying on earth, the experience with the vortexes was much more intimate that it would have been on a jeep tour. I'm not sure how enlightened I was, but I’m glad it turned out the way it did and that I met Rahelio.

I could go hiking any time, but how often would I get to hang with a shamanic guide and listen to drumming as the sun set over the Sedona mountains?

I’m already thinking that next time, I may try his sweat lodge encounter the next time I go to Sedona.