Ding Ding, Hiking Tips Please: Phoenix Hotel Concierges Educate Guests On Hiking Safety

By Annika Cline
Published: Thursday, June 23, 2016 - 5:50pm
Updated: Thursday, June 23, 2016 - 5:55pm
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(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
Phoenix Parks and Recreation has signs at some trails to educate hikers about hiking safety.

The number of hiking-related rescues in Phoenix has climbed over the last few years, and there have already been 136 rescues this year. The data doesn’t show exactly how many of those hikers are from out of town, but it’s enough to concern rangers with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

So they rolled out a new program this week to try to catch visitors to the Valley before they hit the trail, and educate them about hiking safety. The people they picked for the job are hotel concierges.

That’s because a concierge is the first person a tourist might go to when they want to know, "What is there to do around town?" With just a ring of a bell the concierge will tell you all the best spots.

“We’re here to know about the things to do, the attractions and sights to see,” said Michelle Caldwell, chief concierge at the Phoenician, a resort right on the tail-end of Camelback Mountain. 

The Cholla trailhead is within walking distance, and Caldwell said that makes it seem like it’s no big deal to walk over and go for a hike.

“I’ve had guests come up in flip-flops thinking well I’m just going to go walk a little bit,” she said. “Or I’ve had guests come up with very small children.”

“We classify that as a double black diamond,” said ranger Mark Sirota of the Cholla trail.

Some websites classify Camelback’s Echo Canyon and Cholla trails as moderate hikes. Sirota disagrees.

“Those are our two toughest hikes in the Phoenix area,” he said. 

They’re also two of the most popular. The Concierge Education Program aims to train concierge staff in 27 hotels, and they’ve already started working with the Phoenician. 

“The 27 that we have targeted are all within 10 miles of mainly the Camelback Mountain and the mountains that we have a lot of injuries and, unfortunately, deaths,” Sirota said.

They’ll equip these concierge desks with safety tips and trail descriptions, so staff can recommend the right trail for a guest.

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At the Echo Canyon trail head, the hike might seem like no big deal since it’s only a mile and a quarter, but there’s also the 1270-foot incline.

On a recent morning, I met a couple people who just finished jogging the last stretch.

“Did you do the whole thing?" I asked them. They did. 

The temperature was 101, at 10:30 in the morning.

“I am exhausted but I feel really great. A little heated,” laughed Rory Nowlin, who was visiting family with her brother, David.

They’re from Kansas, and it was their first time in the Valley. 

“It’s not extremely difficult. It’s treacherous a little bit,” she said.

It was definitely doable, at least for the Nowlins. A little ways away, ranger Jim Sweazy stood and observed returning hikers. 

“Each day I’ve had to catch people and say ‘Hey how are you feeling? You’re very shaky, I see that you’re not really sweating in spite of the heat’,” Sweazy said.

He said quite a few of those hikers were from out of town. 

“It’s a big mistake to come here, get off the plane, and decide to hike,” Sweazy said. “You need to be here in this heat a week or two weeks to really get acclimated and unfortunately most folks don’t have that much time when they’re on vacation.”

He said despite rangers’ attempts to recommend that people don’t hike when it’s too hot, “folks don’t always want to listen.”

Back at the Phoenician, Caldwell said they keep tabs on guests now who say they’re going hiking.

“We start with a cell phone number, I know where my hikers are going, I know the time that they’ve left. And we do follow-up on them to make sure that they are back to the resort,” she said.

That’s not a typical concierge duty, but the park rangers hope that more hotels will do the same after the training program. Maybe next year, the number of hiking rescues will stay lower than the temperatures we’ve been seeing.

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