It's been more than six years since Chelsey McHale lost her older brother, Clint. An experienced hiker, Clint was hiking on Camelback Mountain when he decided to go off-trail and tragically, fell to his death.
Since that life-changing day, Chelsey has made it her mission to educate as many people as possible about the dangers of hiking on Valley mountains — even going undercover at Valley resorts to find out if they were giving people the right information.
As part of an ABC15 Taking Action event, Chelsey went undercover along with one of our crews to find out if resorts were giving out the right information and if they've improved since the first time she did this in 2016.
Chelsey says her brother always brought a smile to everyone's face.
"He was a good big brother," explains Chelsey McHale. "He was goofy. He made everybody laugh and that's what he strived to do."
Now, Chelsey is striving to educate people about how dangerous — even deadly — Arizona mountains can be, working alongside the City of Phoenix to get the word out.
On Camelback, there's even a reminder with her brother's photo to warn people about what can happen —even to athletic, in-shape hikers like her brother.
Camelback Mountain: 2,700 feet high, but sometimes, the dangers can be even steeper.
"Resorts were basically saying, 'Hey, it's a great day to hike,'" explained Capt. Tim Cooper with Scottsdale Fire.
But Capt. Cooper explained the resorts weren't always doing the best job with educating tourists about the dangers. He says he has been performing technical rescues here in the Valley for more than 25 years — a scenario Chelsey is all too familiar with.
"You're not invincible, " she explains. "No matter what shape you're in. My brother who passed away was in shape. He hiked this mountain often. He thought he was invincible."
Together, we decided to undercover at four Valley resorts; something Chelsey has done in the past. We wanted to see what messages and warnings they were giving to hikers before sending them out on the trails.
We went on a warm, rainy day in August. Highs for the day were slightly below 100 degrees. We wanted to know if resorts would say anything about the rain. Two of the resorts got points for giving us specific warnings to change plans because the rain could make the mountains slippery.
Next, we asked about water. How much do we need to bring? All four resorts did an excellent job of offering us water to make sure we had enough, but only two gave us specific warnings about how much we may need, both basically telling us once our water supply is halfway gone, then it's time to turn around.
The Shoe Debate
They say if the shoe fits, wear it. But more importantly, what will the resorts say when they find out Chelsey isn't wearing shoes at all? Instead, she's opted to climb Camelback in her flip flops!
Three of the resorts get points for noticing the potential footwear fiasco right away, specifically explaining hiking in flip flops wasn't such a good idea.
One resort got bonus points for offering to take us to a nearby store to buy better footwear. But there was one resort that Chelsey felt had one foot in and foot out.
At first, we were told, "It's tennis shoes or hiking boots." But then, the hotel staff told us this: "People can do flip-flops, but you're asking for it. And if you do do it, just go really slow and plant your foot to make sure you have good footing."
"Flip flops should not be allowed on any trail out here," explains Chelsey."
Safety experts agree. Having the right footwear, even if you're not going all the way to the top, is essential.
Overall, Chelsey felt as though the resorts did a pretty good job of explaining the general warnings. In the future, she'd like to see more specific information about water and also she'd like to see more safety information given out. The City of Phoenix has provided area resorts with a one-sheet printout they can hand out to hikers; we didn't see any when we went undercover.
The City of Phoenix tells ABC15 rangers will continue to reach out to hotel concierges to make sure everyone is on the same page. Last year, the Phoenician hosted a concierge outreach event alongside the city to try to spread the word about hiking safety.
To see how your favorite hike stacks up, click here.