An experienced mountaineer, I had always dreamed of conquering six peaks:
K9 ( I hear it’s a real dog)
The legendary, formidable Tumamoc Hill.
As I sat at base camp in my CRV listening to Eb Eberlein’s “Desert Trails” on KXCI, I decided this was the optimal window for my ascent. If that wildflower-gazing saguaro hugger Doug Kreutz could conquer the mighty Tumamoc so could this hobbit.
Here, then, is my journal:
11:30 a.m. — I park illegally, south of St. Mary’s Hospital, at the base of Tumamoc and enter the trail of agony where many an ankle has been sprained and many a recipe for enchiladas has been swapped. I pause at “The Luminous Mother” shrine where pilgrims pray for strength and endurance. I pray for a mobility scooter and a Sonoran hot dog.
Soon I am ascending a straight slope of naturally occurring Sonoran asphalt. A pride of señoras on their phones pass me. A morbidly obese man getting in shape stops to ask me if I’m OK. A desert tortoise wearing wrist weights passes me. I am undaunted.
I practice a slow deliberate stride, conserving energy. It’s the “Old Man Shuffle” first seen in 1969 on the Carol Burnett Show, developed by the late great Tim Conway. I panic. Is there time for me to reach the summit and descend before night falls?
11:37 a.m. — I find the remains of a climber who didn’t make it. A hiker, loping past me on crutches, suggests my find looks more like part of an unlucky Lucky Wishbone chicken. Minutes into my ascent I’m out of breath from greeting bizarrely cheerful mountaineers. Perhaps it’s the altitude. My thighs are in pain. My calves are mooing.
“Are you OK?”
“Oh, yeah. I always wheeze like asthmatic burro.”
“Señor, you don’t look well.”
“I’m good. Que será, será.”
Moses, heading down from the summit, admonishes me as he glides by. “You forgot the 11th Commandment: Wear sunscreen, lobster boy.”
11:47 a.m. — I make it to “Park Bench,” the second base camp, where I review Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air” for summiting tips while nibbling life-preserving pork rinds. With my nifty pirate telescope from the dollar store I can see the Ikea in Phoenix. Onward.
11:53 a.m. — I arrive at the old lab. I consider breaking into their greenhouse, but, seeing no tamale trees to devour, I move on.
The “Devil’s Switchbacks” loom ahead. A pregnant mom pushing a stroller ferrying triplets startles me by barking “Beep, beep!” behind me.
I nearly abort my summit attempt because of allergies. I weave tissues out of soap tree yucca leaves that make my nose bleed. I make creosote tea. I soldier on.
12:05 p.m. — The path is steep. Some Cholla kids breeze past me. One gave me the honorific of “Tortuga Viejo.” I am touched. It must mean “Vigorous Mountaineer.”
An elderly climber is impressed by my walking stick.
“Cool walking stick.”
“Thanks. It’s 100 percent wood.”
“It’s a stick.”
“Where’d you get it? Summit Hut?”
“On the ground. It’s a stick.”
The next switchback is so steep I yell at the mountaineers below. “Turn back and save yourselves!” The jogging fools ignore my pleas.
I hallucinate. I see saguaros drinking piña colada Eegee’s. I begin to crawl on my hands and knees and weep. I see an angelic winged Doug Kreutz descending from heaven to rescue me. A passerby wonders aloud what I did to merit, “such penitencia. Vaya con Díos, vato.”
12:12 p.m.— A toddler toddling uphill in a baby walker passes me. She coos and gurgles. I wheeze and wave. The summit is in sight. I hear the theme to “Chariots of Fire.”
12:15 p.m. — I make it to the top of Tumamoc Hill after the most harrowing 45-minute journey of my life. The view is spectacular. To the north I see the Tetons. To the West I see Japan’s Mount Fuji. To the northwest I see Sarah Palin on her front porch in Wasilla.
I preserve this historic moment with a selfie. Not easy to get a clear shot with thousands of other pilgrims, moms, grandmothers, centenarians, couples, fitness addicts and little kids milling around the summit.
12:30 p.m. — With little more than 6½ hours of sunlight left, I begin my descent immediately. As Sir Edmund Hillary said when he descended Everest, “I wish I had roller skates for the ride down. Holy jalapeños! What an awesome slalom!”
Returning alive to base camp I am proud of my historic achievement. I feel like a god, for I have conquered the Olympus of the West, the Everest of Arizona, the imposing, beautiful and majestic Tumamoc Hill.
Try it. You’ll like it.