In a year of letdowns, Global Peace Warrior Ken Koshio lifted spirits atop Piestewa Peak with his inspiring music

There was no shortage of letdowns in 2020. But one Phoenix resident used his music to lift the spirits of early morning hikers on the trails at Piestewa Peak.

mountain in desert lit up by sun
The morning sun lights up Piestewa Peak in Phoenix Mountains Preserve

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic forced many of us to alter our lifestyles in dramatic ways. Even health clubs, where people often go to relieve stress, have had to close or limit access. As a result, people took to hiking trails in and around Phoenix in huge numbers.

For much of the year, early morning hikers who arrived at the top of Piestewa Peak were given a spiritual boost by the inspiring sounds of a Phoenix resident who’s toted his flute and drum to the top, more mornings than not.

I first learned about the man from video clips on Instagram. In one post, he was beating his taiko-style drum on top the second-highest peak in Phoenix. In another, he was playing a small, wooden flute.

Initially, I assumed the artist in the short video clips was a Native American descendant. Eventually, I discovered he is Ken Koshio.

Who is Ken Koshio?

  • Self-described Global Peace Warrior
  • Singer, songwriter, choreographer, director
  • Born in Nogoya, Japan
  • Adopted the United States as his country in the 1990s

Learn more about Ken Koshio>>

Koshio’s peaceful energy radiates from his drum on top of the mountain clear down to the desert floor below. I often hike the trails in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, accessible from the 40th Street Trailhead about a mile from Piestewa Peak, as the crow flies.

Many mornings in the year of chaos that was 2020, I heard Koshio’s drum as I hiked the flattish Trail 100 and adjacent spurs that ascend hills in the shadow of Piestewa. Each time I heard his rhythmic beat, I paused to offer thanks for my own blessings.

On the second Friday of December, I made it a point to experience Koshio’s Piestewa ritual up close and personal. I set out from the parking lot at 6:20 a.m. in complete darkness, with a headlamp turned on to light the way.

About 45 minutes and just over a mile later, I arrived at the summit in time to verify Koshio was there to do his thing. A couple dozen other hikers had already gathered. I was fortunate to find a nice flat rock on which to rest as the sun prepared to rise up from the eastern horizon.

Nearby, Koshio was getting ready to greet the day atop this popular Phoenix hiking spot. After about fifteen minutes, he peeled off his shirt and pulled a flute out of a custom sleeve, then began to play.

Rather than describe the experience in detail, I’ll let the video below help you get a taste of it.

Video: Ken Koshio delivers inspiring sunrise performance on Piestewa Peak in Phoenix

For the next 15 to 20 minutes, the worries of the world were non-existent, as I watched a man share a piece of his soul with the world around him through music and worship. I got chills a few times during Ken’s performance and felt extremely blessed to be in attendance for the unforgettable moment.

Moments after he completed his finale on the flute and did a couple one-footed yoga poses on a rock only slightly bigger than a basketball, I was blessed to meet him in person. We exchanged greetings and chatted for a couple minutes. I thanked him for helping get my day off to a great start. He invited me to come back again.

“I’m here every day,” he said.

While many of us are so done with letdowns of 2020 and can’t wait for the year to be over, I’ll forever remember my sunrise experience at the top of Piestewa Peak on December 11.

If you’re in need of an experience to help lift your spirits, consider a sunrise hike up Piestewa Peak. If you’re fortunate, Ken Koshio will be there to welcome the day with you – and his instruments. Sunsets are pretty amazing up there, too.

Preview of the hike up Piestewa Peak

How to experience sunrise on Piestewa Peak

  • Plan to arrive at the base parking lot approximately one hour before official sunrise
  • Get directions>>
  • No permit or parking fee is required, but beware: the parking lot often fills up – especially on weekends.
  • Start out on Summit Trail (300) and allow yourself 40 to 50 minutes to hike to the top.
  • It’s just a little more than a mile in length (one way) but most of the trail is very steep.
  • You’ll ascend over 1,100 feet in elevation.

Other tips for your Piestewa sunrise hike:

  • Always bring at least a liter of water, regardless of time of year.
  • You’ll be glad if you bring a headlamp or flashlight to see where you’re going before twilight makes the trail visible.
  • Many hikers find it helpful to carry a hiking stick or poles to assist with balance on the steepest sections of the trail.

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