Bees and a mountain tragedy

A warning sign near Fat Man’s Pass on South Mountain.

I’ve written about bees several times. But this is the first time with bees as the enemy, as killers.

Yesterday three hikers were stung by a swarm of bees on what is usually a strenuous but routine urban hike on Camelback Mountain north of downtown Phoenix.  One of the hikers, as yet unidentified, fell 150 feet to his death.  The other two took refuge in a canyon, each suffering more than 300 bites, a story in the Arizona Republic said.  Details were skimpy.  No mention whether they were African bees, though they almost had to be from that excitable tribe.

I’ve hiked to Camelback’s summit several times, the last on February 17 going up the mountain’s rocky eastern spine on the Cholla Trail.  The hikers yesterday were taking the steep western route, through Echo Canyon.

In all the years I’ve hiked in Arizona, I’ve yet to see a swarm of bees.

But last January I did see a sign on South Mountain.  I was hiking up the Mormon Trail from the north, and as I approached the entrance to  Fat Man’s Pass I saw the sign:  “Bees in the Area.  Use Caution.”   I did not think much about it and proceeded to do the loop, never seeing a single bee.  I don’t know if there was a bee sign near Echo Canyon.  But now my own antennae are up with the tragedy on Camelback.

Most of the bad predicaments  in which I have found myself on the trail is of my own doing.  Like the time I was hiking the Big Canyon of the Hassayampa River and passed the last water without filling up my canteen.  It was a warm day and I soon emptied the canteen.  I sucked on a river rock for 30 minutes until I came across a wet spot in the sand, dug down and found the river’s underground stream.

I don’t know how you prepare for bees.  It is like a lightning strike.  A long shot, just an unfortunate moment when you know your time is up.  In this case for the deceased, a perfect storm of events.  The bees attack at a particularly treacherous part of the trail.

But I do know one thing.  I’ll pay a lot more attention now to bee signs.

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