Three years ago I hiked nearby Hayden Butte, also known as Tempe Butte and “A” Mountain for the big “A” on its face (for Arizona State University). I made it most of the way up, but turned back before reaching the top, because after negotiating what was for me a very challenging rocky area, I came across another patch like it and didn’t want to press my luck.
But recently I bought a nice pair of hiking boots and a trekking pole, and I’ve committed myself to hiking regularly, and I thought maybe I could try “A” Mountain again.
I took the light rail to downtown Tempe. There are two stops at the foot of the butte. I got off at the Veterans Way/College Ave stop.
The first part of the trail is a gravel path which is sometimes a gentle slope, but mostly steep steps reinforced by wooden railroad ties. I stopped often along the way to take pictures.
This is the desert, folks, as you can see from the landscape along the trail.
Pretty desert wildflowers (click on the smaller photos to enlarge):
A little-bit-better view of the “A.”
After a while, the gravel path connects to an asphalt one, which is rather steep, but has a hand-rail. It ends at a level area with benches and a trash bin, a good spot to take a break and snap some photographs. Then we’re back to an unpaved trail.
It seems to me that the trail has deteriorated a lot in three years. The soil has eroded to such a degree that some of the steps are almost three feet high, challenging for a little old lady like me with two artificial hips.
Here’s a hazy view of Sky Harbor Airport (upper left; control tower center) and the Phoenix skyline.
Arizona State’s Sun Devil Stadium is nestled right next to Hayden Butte:
Eventually you get high enough to see what’s on the other side of the butte: State Farm Insurance’s new headquarters and the Tempe Town Lake, built out of the dry Salt River bed.
Also, by this time we are on the stretch that caused me so much distress last time. The path is steep, uneven solid rock with lots of nooks and crannies. I think I wore ordinary sneakers last time; hiking boots are much better on this kind of terrain. I carefully watched where I put my feet so that I wouldn’t turn my ankle.
Because my eyes were down, I didn’t notice that the handrail on my right, which I was hanging onto for dear life, abruptly ended. Unfortunately, another handrail, to my left, would not be within reach for two more steps. In my surprise, I awkwardly swayed on my steep footing until I could maneuver my trekking pole into service. Can you make out the gap between the handrails in the picture below?
Despite the posted policy requiring hikers to stay on the trail, some find lofty vantage points to check their phones:
After that point, there was one (or maybe two) tall staircases fabricated out of concrete. Then there was another stretch of uneven solid rock. It was there that I turned around last time. This time I continued onward and was rewarded by a lovely view of Camelback Mountain (near the left horizon; from a different angle, it is easier to make out the camel’s head, neck, and hump; in this picture you really don’t see them unless you know what to look for).
After that rock path, there is a short, maybe 6-step staircase made of concrete; a small level area with a trash can; and to the left another short staircase leading to a chained and padlocked gate. That’s as far as you can go. There’s no platform at the top to relax and take pictures; you’re better off stopping just before you get to those two little staircases. (This picture doesn’t capture it very well. I took it after I’d already started down. But you can see the handrail to nowhere.)
It took me about 35 minutes to go up, taking photographs along the way, and about 25 minutes to come down. A lot of people, especially college students, passed me coming and going, so it is possible to do this hike in a significantly shorter time. You use different leg muscles coming down, and it’s steep, so I walked with care. I decided to take the asphalt path all the way down and bypass that first stretch of railroad tie steps. I ended up having to wander a long way around the base of the mountain to get back where I started.
If you’re interested, a very well-written online review details hiking the butte with kids.