By: Tom McDonnell
Starting your hike on the desert floor is not so bad. I’ve done that before. But in the past, a couple of hours of hiking would leave the desert below as the slopes of the Sierra were ascended. That was not the case today - this was my first DPS hike. For quite some time I had perused the DPS outings schedule and my calendar for opportunities. Weaver’s Needle and Superstition caught my attention for an early Halloween hike and there was room on the calendar. These are two fine peaks in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona.
Garnet Roehm did a splendid job of planning this trip and we met him near the junction of Peralta Road and Carney Springs Road on Friday evening. As the evening progressed our group came together as other participants wandered into camp. We closed up fairly early in anticipation of the early morning start. The morning was typical dark start, with a wake-up call at 4:30 a.m. Breakfast by headlamp, and load the pack with the 10 essentials, lunch, and two quarts of water. And another quart of water. And one more quart of water. Garnet had suggested four quarts of water for this trip, twice as much as I typically carry. However, the 95-degree daytime temperature yesterday and knowledge that there was no water on the route made it an easy choice. I had been used to the idea that water could be replenished along the way, not so today. Also, into the pack went my share of the community gear (ropes, etc.) as we planned to travel on some 4th class terrain.
We caravanned to the trailhead, attended to the parking arrangements, and began hiking at 6 a.m. with just enough light to leave the headlamps in the pack. As we headed into the Superstitions along Peralta Canyon the dawn slowly developed. As we hike along gaining elevation with the sunlight creeping across the desert the views were very impressive. We managed a moderate pace even though Garnet set an up-tempo pace, because the group took numerous photo breaks. Dawn in the Superstitions was truly spectacular. We continued along Peralta Canyon then switching to Barks Canyon, as the temperature began to creep up. Eventually, we reached a saddle from which Weavers Needle came into view. It seemed quite a distance from us separated by some very rough looking terrain. We could see our route and it was impressively vertical. I wondered if there would be an elevator on the 4th class pitches. We continued to catch views of the Needle as we sorted out the gullies and ridges that comprised the approach.
Garnet led us up the southeast slope to the base of the Needle proper and then traversed north along the East Side. We established a staging area at 9 a.m. at the base of the 4th class chute that leads to the notch between the two horns of Weavers Needle. We organized a sequence of belayed climbing and everyone moved up the chute. Although the belayed climbing was not quick, it seemed safe and efficient for our group. The route from the notch to the summit was not as dramatic as it appeared hours earlier from a mile away. A fixed line was set in a couple of places to provide for self-belayed climbing. By noon we were all trading high-5s and enjoying the dramatic view. Departing at 12:35 p.m., two rappels were set descending to the notch to expedite the rougher terrain. One full-length rappel delivered us from the notch to the base, which we all completed by 3:15 p.m. We circumnavigated the south end of the Needle along the base to nearly the western side of the notch. A use trail was encountered descending to East Boulder Canyon and the Peralta Trail, which we encountered by 3:50 p.m. Returning to camp via the western side of the Needle provided us with the full range of views from east to west. We returned to the trailhead frequently looking over our shoulders at the spectacular desert peak that we had been fortunate enough to visit. We reached the cars at 5:50 p.m. —just under 12 hours for the trip. Bill Oliver, who had been our stalwart assistant leader for the day, immediately broke out the “Victory Brownies”. This could only mean one thing. It was time for happy hour.
Back at camp the festivities got into full swing. Chips, salsa, and dips of every type were displayed. Most of us that reached for a cold drink found that they were actually a comfortable room temperature. Note to self – bring much more ice on next DPS hike. Just when the frenzy seemed to be subsiding, Garnet called us to his stove and served a very fine corkscrew pasta dish with sautéed mushrooms and “special meat sauce”.
On Sunday morning, our group organized itself again and set out for Superstition Mtn. Although, somewhat anti climactic following yesterday’s adventure. The hike to Superstition again provided us with the spectacular desert views that came in the early morning. I was impressed with the navigational challenges that the desert gullies and ridges could offer. The route to Superstition seemed to encounter more of the armored desert flora than did the route to Weavers Needle. Our group tried various dance steps to avoid being poked. Most were successful. The view from the summit of Superstition provided a wonderful view of the Tonto National Forest to the north and east. The view to the west included the greater Phoenix area. The return hike went smoothly. Our camp gear was hurriedly loaded into cars and we began the trip home.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first DPS outing and look forward to many more. Thanks to the leaders Garnet, Bill (Weavers), and Gary Craig (Superstition). Also on board: Jane Gibbons, Nile Sorenson, Linda Roman, Shane Smith, Matt Haynes and Fred Smith.
Notes from Garnet Roehm:
A route finding tip for the east side cross country class two slopes leading up to the base of WN’s East chute is as follows: Drop down to the flat area on the use trail. Now study the huge class 2 alluvial slope that is below the ramparts of Weavers cliffs. Pick out the right bulging crescent shaped gully that ends near the far South shoulder of Weaver’s South peak. Follow this gully up the best you can, then climb the relatively easy ground at the base of the headwall all the way up to the base of the East chute. This is a vast improvement over a direct traverse of the slope directly to the chute’s base.
On Superstition Mt., the middle third of the route has change from what is in the latest DPS Guide. One ends up on this newer route pretty much automatically just by following the paint spots, the ducks, and the painted arrow at the 3680+’ saddle. This saddle is where you depart from the West Boulder Trail but you don’t know you have left this trail as the that trail is not maintained and hardly used if at all beyond, so most will not even know they have left it at an obscure junction. This newer segment is for the most part quite easy to follow and is much less of a bushwhack than the older route.
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