Mon, Apr 13, 2009
I pulled into the Carney Springs TH parking just off Peralta Rd shortly after dark. The Superstition Mtns are a popular range just east of Phoenix, a wonderful mix of fantastic pinnacles and rock formations in a typically Sonoran desert setting. It liked like a very interesting range to hike about in, even in the dark. I saw no sign of Matthew and Rick when I pulled in, only one other vehicle in the lot when I settled down to sleep. I was awaken briefly in the evening hours when the vehicle's owner came wandering down the trail by headlamp to reclaim his car. A late return from Superstition Mtn? After he drove away I was alone for the rest of the night.
I was up before 5a, our agreed meeting time, and finding no sign of the others I drove to the main trailhead further up the road at Peralta Spring. Finding no one there, I returned to the original spot, just as the they came driving up the road. They had slept the night at another turnout down the road, not sure when they had pulled up in the dark if they had found the correct meeting spot or not. We took a little time to sort gear and devise a plan, leaving Matthew's car at the Carney Springs TH and then all driving together to the main TH. We hoped to climb both Weavers Needle and the highpoint of the Superstition Mtns on the same day. Both are on the DPS list, but I had yet to come across a TR of folks doing both together. It would require a bit of creative cross-country to link up the two routes in order to save coming back down to the TH at midday.
It was 5:45a before the three of us got away and headed up the trail for Weavers Needle. Matthew had chosen the DPS route "B" since it offered the better rock climbing challenge absent the dangerous, loose chute on the "A" route. Despite the early hour there was no need for headlamps - AZ doesn't believe in daylight savings time so it was already plenty light out. Sunrise came shortly after 6a as we were plying our way up the Peralta Trail to the highpoint at Fremont Saddle.
Arriving at the saddle not long after 6:30a, we were greeted by our first, and a rather impressive sight of Weavers Needle to the north. It sticks up unmistakeably from the desert, a huge pinnacle dominating the landscape. It looked utterly unclimbable but we remained confident - we were armed with guidebooks that promised class 4 routes to the summit. And guidebooks can never be wrong, can they?
We were somewhat dismayed to see the trail drop significant elevation on the other side of Fremont Saddle. This same elevation loss was adequately represented on the map we studied beforehand, but this disheartening reality did not sink in until we were staring at it in person. Rather than just accept this bit of extra work we immediately tried to see if we could get around it somehow. What about the connecting ridgeline between the saddle and Weavers Needle? The map showed a trail heading along this line for about a third of the distance. Beyond that the map went blank and we could not tell from our vantage point if the terrain was crossable or a horrible bushwhack. One thing we had learned was that the Sonoran deserts were far lusher than the Mojave deserts we were used to in California - cross-country travel was not a simple matter. Still, we ignored our instincts and going with blind hope, we set off on the lesser used trail thinking we might discover something the guidebook didn't know.
We discovered a nice use trail that led out to a rocky plateau overlooking Weavers Needle and the two canyons on either side. We discovered nice camp locations and fire rings that have been used regularly in the past by overnight visitors. We discovered a great viewpoint from which to photograph Weavers Needle. We did not discover a short cut. The plateau dropped off into what looked like horrendous brush leading over to Weavers Needle and we gave up the idea rather quickly. We found another use trail, in fact several, leading from the small plateau down to Boulder Canyon, allowing us to intersect the Peralta Trail without going all the way back to Fremont Saddle. Perhaps the most important thing we learned was that these mountains seemed to be riddled with unmarked use trails that could be used to get from one drainage to another. We would use this bit of knowledge in our search for a cross-country route in the afternoon.
Back on the trail in Boulder Canyon we dropped the required elevation as we neared the base of Weavers Needle. In looking for a ducked route leading to the "B" route, we left the trail where we found the first ducks leading away from it. It seemed a little early, but there was a duck - right? This use trail we followed led up and over the crest to the south of Weavers Needle and it didn't take long for us to realize the mistake. At the crest we stopped to consult our maps and guidebook, concluding we had taken the wrong use trail. Matthew and I were ready to back down the 600ft to the creek and the Peralta Trail to find the right way, but Rick seemed confident we could make our way across the short bit of cross-country heading north to the start of the route. It seemed worth a try and Matthew and I were content to let Rick lead us where he will, knowing we could use it as ammunition to blast him the rest of the day should he fail.
Rick didn't fail. In fact, he found an interesting route combining scrambling and bushwhacking that wasn't all that bad. It led around the southwest side of the pinnacle and connected nicely with the other use trail that we were supposed to have taken. Our confidence in the cross-country possibilities increased as a result, but in fairness we praised Rick on his fine bit of route-finding.
It was shortly after 8a when we got ourselves back on route and starting up the steep chute that makes up route "B". The class 2 soon turns class 3 and very quickly melds into class 4. In the lead, I paused above one tricky friction section to watch the others. Matthew gave it a go but backed down. "I want a rope." We carried two, one in Rick's pack and one in mine. I might have climbed higher and then tossed down a rope, but when I actually tried to climb higher I was unable to, and had to defer to the technical gear. A bolt not ten feet above me suggested it was the proper thing to do. I was about 15 feet above the others at a decent stance next to a metal pipe that had been driven into the rock for an anchor. I used this to tie into while the others got out a rope below me. Somewhere in getting out the gear it was discovered by Rick that the tricky section could be bypassed on the left up to my stance. After joining me I belayed him up the long class 4 pitch to the notch above. He was not particularly fast which did not go by without comments of a derisive nature. He tried to find an intermediate belay position in one or two spots that were met by more abuse (by me generally - Matthew mostly chuckled and offered a few gems of his own) and "Keep climbing, we have plenty of rope!"
Our abuse was simply our way of masking our own insecurities and we were both glad to let Rick do the leading, as we both found out when following. He really did do a good job and took our ribbing good-naturedly. When he reached the notch he found rap slings and several bolts for a good anchor. Matthew tied into the rope where it hung down while I was tied in to the end, allowing us to simul-climb and save some time. Most of the climbing was not very hard and I collected the rope in one hand to keep it from catching in a loop below me. In the several tough spots I let Matthew climb ahead and find a good stance before I followed up. This worked nicely and we were all at the notch just after 9:30a.
From the notch we left our rope and gear and continued up the broken, rocky route to the summit. Ducks removed most of the burden of route-finding, but with several class 3 & 4 sections at various points along the way, it had an air of excitement about it until we reached the summit about 15 minutes later. It had been a good climb, but we did not celebrate much, knowing we still had a long day ahead of us. To emphasize this point, the highpoint of the Superstion Mtns rose somewhat ominously above to the southwest - it was a very long distance away, across two major drainages. The register was standard DPS ammo can, but most of the signatures were from Arizona natives, not the DPS folks. The dates of the entries in two books did not go back very far. We added our names to the roll, and after a short break started back down to the notch. We briefly commented on the lower south summit across the notch, noting it looked far more difficult that the higher summit we'd just climbed. There was no serious talk of trying to make our way up the other one.
At the notch we combined our second rope with the original one to make one long rappel down to the bottom. Rick went first, followed by Matthew, then myself. Once the last of us was down, Rick pulled the rope (it took a good bit of yanking to get it moving) which came down in a rush, luckily not getting stuck in any of the inviting cracks and crevices along the way. We packed away our climbing shoes, ropes, and other gear, then started back down. Down the use trail we should have taken, we crossed the nearly dry creek and picked up the Peralta Trail on the other side.
Nearly noon, we were lazy in hiking back up the trail to Fremont Saddle. We stopped often to take pictures of a splendid assortment of wildflowers blooming in the desert, cacti, daisies, even California poppies. We heard voice ahead and soon came upon a handful of hikers just below the saddle, the first persons we'd seen all day. They asked us where we'd come from and sounded awed that we had actually climbed to the top, not just the base of Weavers Needle. "Is it hard?" one asked. Rick's response included something about it being "low fifth class" which was completely lost on them through no real fault of their own. There were plenty of others at Fremont Saddle when we got there, most folks it appears hike to the saddle for the swell views and then return, about 4 miles total.
When we got to the saddle Rick asked if we could take a break, Matthew concurring, and me not hearing him at all. So I immediately started looking around the big boulders looking for a workable use trail over to the West Boulder Trail, announcing, "Ah! This one looks like it will work!" Rick's less than enthusiastic response (which I did hear) was, "So... I guess we're not taking a break..." I stopped, turned, "Huh? What? Did I miss something?" Apparently I did. We were all getting tired and would have had a full day already if we'd returned to the cars. We took a break. It was hot for this time of year, about 85F and we hadn't brought as much water as we should have. So while we would have loved to chug a quart or more to rehydrate, we were all sipping and saving, trying to make our meager supplies last.
After our short rest, we set out from the saddle following a series of ducks, or rather several series of ducks that lead southwest in the direction we wanted to go. There wasn't much of a trail at all, more like ducks popping up at random, beckoning and challenging us to reach them through the rock and shrub. We scrambled, we bushwhacked, we struggled, not really believing this to be a route. Rick forked off to the left following one line of ducks, I forked right following another, and poor Matthew looked somewhat dismayed trying to decide which of two fools to follow through the brush. Luckily the wackiness of the multiple routes converged as we climbed higher to the crest of the intervening ridge and we were soon following a single set of decent ducks. This was the short cut we were looking for to combine the two peaks of the day.
It took about twenty minutes from Fremont Saddle to crest the ridgeline and reach the high plateau on the other side. The trail once again split into multiple lines of ducks and we tried our best to follow the most likely looking set. We failed, losing the ducks altogether, spent some time searching around for a duck or likely route, stopping to pull needles out of our boots, finally spotted some ducks lower down on the other side, and eventually picking up the use trail we wanted to the saddle above Carney Spring Rd and West Boulder Canyon. In all we spent 40 minutes between the two main saddles, much faster than if we had gone all the way back down to the desert floor and back up again on the other trail.
We failed to recognize the second saddle when we reached it, primarily because we didn't find the four-way junction we expected, just a three-way. Somehow we missed the trail dropping into West Boulder Canyon to the northwest and found only a trail leading to the highpoint of the Superstition Mtns. In addition, the trail we followed was not a use trail like we expected from the DPS guide, but seemed a bonafide regular trail that was easy to follow and almost impossible to get lost. There were a couple of optional forks that took one off-course, and since only the clueless would get confused over them we made sure to do just that. At the second one we encountered, where the trail intersected the SE Ridge to the highpoint, there were two choices. Any normal peakbagger would have taken the obvious left fork heading up the ridge to the summit, but with less-than-careful deliberation I figured this must be some kind of ruse and chose the fork traversing around the east side. It was only after about five minutes of following this up and down trail that seemed to gain no elevation that I grew frustrated. I blew it. We turned around to return to the junction. Part-way back I took a sharp right turn uphill to climb cross-country up the steep slope as a shortcut of sorts. Matthew watched and then followed on a slightly different tackthe summit of the Superstitions, taking about an hour a quarter from the Carney Springs/West Boulder Saddle.
At the summit it was not as warm as it had been while we were hiking the past few hours, a cool breeze blowing over the top. We took a modest break here to eat the last of our food and size up our remaining liquids. Rick had run out of water well before reaching the summit. His two quarts for the day had not been enough. I had drunk about the same amount, but carried an extra quart which I had yet to open. Matthew was somewhere in between. It was hard to get Rick to admit he was thirsty, but even harder to get him to share my Gatorade. I smiled, showing him the full bottle, reassuring him I didn't need it all, lusting for the rare chance to gloat that I had seen Rick take a drink from one of his companions. He eventually did so, but only reluctantly, and then taking only enough to wet his mouth and keep the dry tongue from sticking to the roof of his mouth.
Despite the 1,200-foot drop in elevation, it took us just as long to descend from the summit to the saddle as it had taken on the ascent. We were certainly getting tired. And clumsy too. Rick made a particularly nasty mistake in resting his hand on a particularly nasty bit of cactus. The tiny needles had gone right through his glove and into the palm of his hand, essentially sewing the glove to his hand. Rick had to peel the glove off to get at the needles, letting out tortured gasps of terror in the process. It made me squeamish to watch him suffer and I turned away - I wish I could have plugged my ears. As an emphasis of the seriousness of the injury we didn't even make fun of him, because but for the luck of the draw it could have been either Matthew or I. Ok, maybe we made a little fun of him. After he got the glove and most of the needles out I thought to take a picture, but by then it didn't look like much at all.
From the saddle we dropped down the steep trail to the south, heading towards Carney Springs. We found some ancient specimens of Saguaro cacti and paused to take pictures of them. Reaching the desert floor after another 1,500ft of descent that seemed far more in our tired and thirsty state, it took us another 20 minutes to follow the combination trail/road back out to our waiting car at the TH. Glug glug glug. Much water cached in Matthews car was consumed. We'd only been out for 10.5hrs, but it seemed much longer, most likely due to the warmness of the day that caught us off-guard. We'd find ourselves carrying a good deal more liquid the next few days even though the temperatures cooled off and we didn't really need it.
Our next day's objective was many miles from our current location. After showering at the TH we were back in the cars and heading south. Jack-in-the-Box in Tuscon sufficed for dinner, then more driving to the Tohono O'Odham Indian Reservation. We didn't want to drive both cars all the way out to the campground at the Baboquivari TH on the west side, so we looked for something suitable off the main highway south of town. We turned off at a likely spot, and while we were manuevering the cars into positions for the night we were interupted by a flood of headlights come off the highway. Four husky Border Patrol agents got out to nab some illegal banditos, but found only a middle aged white guy to contend with. I explained what we had intended to do, at which the agents relaxed and were somewhat helpful. They explained that without a permit from the reservation we weren't supposed to be south of town, as we were. It wasn't there jurisdiction to police us (they cared only about illegals and smugglers), but suggested we find a better hiding place if we didn't wanted to be waken in the middle of the night by the Indian Police. They suggested we could likely go unmolested at the end of the long dirt road just south of us that led to a remote campground (the same one we planned to drive to in the morning), and that's what we ended up doing. It was very late when we had finally reached the campground and it didn't take long to get to sleep. Thankfully, no one came to disturb our slumber...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Weavers Needle - Superstition Peak
This page last updated: Fri May 8 09:22:28 2009
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