New 'trail rating guide' to inform hikers of trail difficulty

PHOENIX - With many of you heading out to Valley hiking trails, officials will soon unveil a new system to try and keep you safe.

A new 'trail rating guide' will soon be released for hiking trails across the Valley. The guide will detail how easy or challenging a hiking trail is, with the use of symbols similar to those you find at a ski resort.

The rating system will consist of six symbols. A "white circle" will represent paths with the lowest intensity level and will be posted on trails that are relatively flat. Two "black diamonds" will represent paths with the highest intensity level and will be posted along trails that are steep and have drops.

According to the Phoenix Parks Department, an example of a "two diamond" trail would be Camelback Mountain's Echo Canyon.

"We realize that we're not going to be able to stop everybody," said Kathi Reichert with the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, about preventing hikers from choosing too difficult of a trail or veering off the trail.

The new guide is a result of a collaborative effort, with agencies such as the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department and Phoenix Fire Department pursuing the change. Reichert said the guide will first be available online in the coming weeks and then will be posted near hiking trails and in local businesses.

Last year, there were 177 rescues at Phoenix trails and parks.

As ABC15 spoke with officials at Papago Park about the new guide, two Valley teenagers were spotted on one of the mountains trying to climb down a steep crevice after apparently getting stuck on top.

"It was a rough way down," said 18-year-old Porter Roundy, who temporarily got stuck on the mountain.

The new hiking guide aims to help prevent these problems, as hikers can better judge how difficult the trails are relative to their fitness level. Roundy told ABC15 the guide likely would have helped keep him from getting stuck.

"Absolutely it probably would have helped a little bit," he said.

Chelsey McHale, an advocate for safer hiking trails, said the rating system is the first step. McHale's 25-year-old brother, Clint McHale, died after falling off of Camelback in May 2011.

McHale is working with the the city of Phoenix to post an informational sign with her brother's picture and story.

"Most [accidents] are preventable," she said. "My brother was not a daredevil. If he saw a sign, he [might not have gone off trail]," McHale said.

McHale said the sign would likely be placed in an area where visitors would have high curiosity.

She's hoping for an increase in hiker awareness and safety. Her goal is to have some good come out of the tragedy.

The sign is expected to be dedicated on the anniversary of her brother's death, May 4.

Officials said the new guide should most impact Maricopa and Pinal Counties.

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