Communication lessons from Camelback Mountain

by Betty Lochner on February 13, 2013

At the top At the top

On our recent trip to Arizona, and in search of a good local hike, we discovered a sign for Camelback Mountain.  We did some verbal research – asking a few random people how far it was and how long it would take. The locals and a credible cousin all indicated  that is was a good, relatively short hike and would take, oh, about 45 minutes.

Perfect. We headed to the trail head the next afternoon and couldn’t find a parking spot in the small lot.  Sweet. This must be a good one!  We decided to come back later when the crowds were lighter. When we returned we couldn’t get in to the parking lot again. This time not because of crowds, but because of four emergency vehicles blocking the entrance way. We turned back again with a plan to return in the morning.

Third time’s a charm

The next morning we arrived ready to go.  Parking spot – check.  Hiking boots – check.  Since it would be an easy hike, I wore a comfy skirt.  And, off we went.

The first set of stairs were more than we expected, so we figured it would just get easier from there. That’s when we saw the railing to hold on to to get you up the first of what we later learned were many huge inclines.  When we looked up, it was hard to tell where the trail was, because it was primarily rocks – not the soft northwestern paths we are used to.  I think it was at about the 45 minute mark when we decided that either all the locals were crazy or we were incredibly out of shape.  Turns out it was a little of both.

We passed people of all hiking levels, some virtually skipping over the rocks and “lapping” us, and some that turned back when the going got tough.  We learned that most first timers on the mountain turn around and that they lift people off the mountain daily that couldn’t make it or got hurt (hence the emergency vehicles from the night before). We came across one man with heat exhaustion with a relay of messages to get a ranger to him.

We hung in there, one rock climb after another.  We asked the hikers coming down how much further and the answer was always “not too far” and “the view is worth it.”

Just when we thought we might pass out from heat exhaustion and thirst (of course we didn’t have enough water), or from hand sores (should’ve worn gloves for navigating sharp rocks), we made it to the top.  As promised, it was a beautiful 360 view.  And, yes, well worth the effort.

Lessons Learned from our morning turned to day hike

1) It is never a good sign when you see an emergency vehicle at the trail head. Ask “why” from the experts. We could have been better prepared if we’d just asked a few questions.

2) Sometimes we overestimate the familiar. In this case the locals who hike this mountain regularly had a very different perspective on the difficulty and length than we did.  A few clarifying questions would have been in order.

3)  One person’s challenge is another’s routine.  The woman in the picture below hikes the mountain twice a week with a toddler on her back.  She told me it’s her “yoga time.”

4) Wearing a skirt on a hike is never a good idea. You never know when you’ll be hiking down rocks on your bum.

5) Sticking with the task is always worth it in the end.


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Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation through better communication and is the author of Dancing with Strangers and 52 Communication Tips. Both are available on She’s a northwest native who loves to hike.



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