One of the most dangerous climbs in Arizona: 'Suicide Direct' on Camelback Mountain

- It's called "Suicide Direct" -- a cliff on the north side of Camelback Mountain. You can easily spot it from the trail that many people safely hike every day, but Suicide Direct is very different from that trail.

It's a steep, exposed climb that can be deadly, claiming at least two lives after climbers got in over their heads. 

This is how most of us know Camelback Mountain -- a challenging, but well traveled trail -- a great workout. But others take Camelback to the extreme, with their lives sometimes ending at the base of these towering red rock cliffs.

Suicide Direct is possibly the most dangerous climb on Camelback. Located on the west side of the mountain, it has claimed at least two lives. The last being a 20-year-old woman who fell some 100 feet here in April of 2016. She attempted the climb with little experience and no safety gear -- and believe it or not, it's something a lot of people are tempted to do here.

"Especially if they see me or someone like me climbing it and having a great time, they don't realize how dangerous it is to be there because the mountain doesn't care whether you can hang on this or walk on that and that's why I use a rope because this stuff does fall off," said Manny Rangle.

Rangle is not only a very experienced climber, he is a former member of the Phoenix Fire Department's technical rescue team. He has climbed Suicide Direct many times and he agreed to take us up for a short climb.

It's amazing watching him move up the wall. The first part of this climb is done without any belay or safety line. You can see the small finger holds he has grab onto. At this point, he is about 50 feet up and any false move or slip means he will likely tumble down that sharp rock studded cliff face. It's called cheese grating and it would mean severe injury or worse.

About halfway up the first pitch, he attaches to a safety bolt and then scrambles to the halfway mark of Suicide Direct. The hard part of the climb is still ahead.

Manny was here as a firefighter for a death on this very stretch back in the 1980's.

"They were up above us when one fell at the most difficult part of Suicide Direct and he fell to the ground and his troubles were ended, but his friend was hanging onto a bolt, screaming about 40 feet above me.. for hours," said Rangle.

With that thought in mind, I gear up and try my hand at the climb.

I'm not an experienced climber, but unlike Manny, I have a belay or a safety line. It's attached to Manny above and also a bolt in the mountain.

It is strenuous and frankly, very unnerving. My fingers search for tiny spots to grab. My feet, even in special climbing shoes, feel like they never have enough rock under them for me to feel truly secure and looking down is not productive at all.

Fear is part of the rush for these climbers and I definitely feel it, even though I know the safety line will keep me from falling all the way to the ground. A slip for me will almost surely mean some sort of injury.

About half way up, I decided I'd gone high enough to get an idea of what this climb is all about and it's nothing to take on unprepared.

"Well, it looks okay, but you need to learn.. you need to find the appropriate guide or a club, like the Arizona Mountaineering Club.. and there's plenty of guides in the area that will teach you and give you a good start to the basics. After that, there are other climbs here you can do that are not quite as frightening and don't have the same level.. potential for death," said Rangle.

We are able to rappel down and climb another day, but those who don't heed the advice of experienced climbers -- they don't always get the chance.

The bottom line is Camelback is a great place to get out a hike, but stick to the trails unless you really know what you're doing.

Up Next:


  • Popular

  • Recent

Stories You May Be Interested In – includes Advertiser Stories