Miner’s Needle, Superstition

Needles' shadows from summit

Needles’ shadows from summit

Frustrated with the cold, dry weather at “home,” I threw some food, clothes, and a bike in the car and headed back to southern Arizona, where everything sticks, stings, or stinks, with two goals: to revisit the Superstition Mountains, and to tick off some ultra-prominence peaks. Ironically, I finally found snow on the drive south, which took an hour longer than expected thanks to nervous Arizona drivers on the snow-packed roads between Springerville and Globe. I finally pulled into one of the camping spots on the way to the Peralta trailhead, set my bike outside, and turned in for the night.

Superstitions from camp

Superstitions from camp

My first goal was to tag Miner’s Needle and Superstition Peak. Unlike Weaver’s Needle, which is barely visible from Highway 60 if you know where to look, Miner’s stands out impressively on the southern edge of the range. It had caught my attention on the drive home from Weaver’s, but I found little online about its difficulty. Superstition, while not much of a climb, is the range highpoint and an interesting-looking peak. Linking them up makes little sense, but would give me a chance to hike/run some new trails.

Saguaro and rock spires near TH

Saguaro and rock spires near TH

This being a weekend at a popular trailhead, I saw a number of cars drive by before dawn, and several more between dawn and when I summoned enough motivation to crawl out of my sleeping bag in the cold. It was cold enough that I took the time to heat my morning “Cup of Sadness,” and nearly froze my hands dealing with the stove and stowing gear. By the time I hit the trail at 8:00, there were 20 or more cars in the lot, and several groups milling toward the Peralta Trail and Fremont Saddle.

Miner's from WSW

Miner’s from WSW

I, on the other hand, headed east on the Lost Dutchman trail, which parallels the south edge of the range, passing through a saguaro forest before heading north up the drainage east of the needle. While Miner’s looks like a single, tall rock formation from the east or west, it is actually three separate spires, with a gradual slope leading to within 50-100 feet of their summits from the north. Leaving the trail at the logical place, I found occasional cairns and bits of trail peeking out from the snow, leading to the saddle east of Miner’s.

Exposed step-around

Exposed step-around

I saw two possible routes to the summit: The first climbs a 30-foot exfoliating slab to a chockstone on the (shady) east side. The second makes a few wildly exposed, face-y moves around to the gully that splits the south side. While the slab offered a painful-not-fatal fall option, the step-around looked like something I could climb in rock shoes. I switched shoes, put my camera on my belt, then spent a few minutes psyching myself up before making the delicate moves around south. The rock (bonded tuff?) is more solid and sticky than it looks, but the handholds are small enough to make it intimidating going up, and slightly more so going down. If I had to guess, I would say it is about 5.6.

Final grovel-chimney with cheater step

Final grovel-chimney with cheater step

Above the step-around, a bit of 3rd class scrambling leads to the spiny-thing “garden” between the three summit blobs. A final, awkward grovel, made easier by someone’s rock step-stool, leads to the summit.
Superstition (l) and Weaver's (r) from Miner's

Superstition (l) and Weaver’s (r) from Miner’s

After not finding a register, I stayed only briefly before retracing my steps. I found a rappel sling at the top of the slab, but that was useless to me, so I retraced my steps, once again taking a minute or two to psych myself up for the step-around.

The technical part of my day complete, I now faced a long hike west, around Weaver’s Needle to the range highpoint. This was deliberate: while I could have done the two peaks as separate outings, I wanted to see more of the Superstitions’ interior. Continuing on the Lost Dutchman trail, I jogged past some campers on the way to a surprisingly lively stream, where it meets the Bluff Spring trail. Heading upstream, I passed more campers before turning right at the next junction, toward Bluff Saddle. The Superstitions are probably a miserable place to backpack for most of the year, but it seems people were taking advantage of the recent snow’s water and cooler temperatures.

Weaver's from SE

Weaver’s from SE

The trail deteriorated after Bluff Saddle, eventually disappearing in a flat, brushy area near Weaver’s. Heading cross-country up the wash south of the Needle, I soon found cairns and bits of trail along the obvious route connecting Needle and East Boulder Canyons. I following the main trail back to Fremont Saddle, where the usual crowd had gathered to admire the Needle from a safe distance.

Leaving the trail once more, I followed a fading line of cairns through the snow to the west. After suffering through snow and spines on the faint-to-invisible route, I found a sign and well-trod path at the saddle above Carney Springs, where I joined the standard route to Superstition.

Rock spire near Superstition

Rock spire near Superstition

On the way to the summit, I met a man finishing a long traverse from the Flatiron, and another group of three coming back from the peak. Though the summit is a cluster of rock spires, reaching it requires only a couple easy third class moves. After a few minutes looking over the perfect grid of Phoenix streets, I jogged back down to Carney Springs, then took a trail along the wilderness boundary back to the still-crowded Peralta Trailhead.

4 responses to “Miner’s Needle, Superstition

  1. Pam Fabricius-Olsen says:

    Hey, Sean! Glad you’re getting out and about. Erik and I have also been frustrated by the dry conditions, so we packed up and went to the Tetons! Skied out to the Ranch in deep snow, and under a sunny sky. Also skied maiden runs at JHMR and trucked over to Targhee one day. Sure wish we could get some decent snow around here since that was IT so far as travels north are concerned until late spring.
    Looking forward to more posts!

    1. drdirtbag says:

      Maybe those were your tracks I saw on the webcam… I’m enough of a wuss about winter Jackson levels of cold to prefer cactus-whacking, even when it involves some snow. Despite that, your ski trip sounds amazingly fun, and I’m a bit jealous. I miss skiing, but time, money, and location haven’t cooperated recently.

  2. Chris says:

    Hi Sean – a small correction for sure, but I believe the high point of the Superstition range is the “even less of a climb” Mount Mound in the eastern part of the range (6265 ft).

    I enjoyed the report. This is a cool range to explore

    1. drdirtbag says:

      “Mount Mound” has to be the least inspiring peak name in the world (unless there’s a “Mount Lady Chastity” or “Mount Utter Indifference” somewhere in the Canadian Rockies). I guess I was thrown off by the SummitPost page, which says “Superstition Mountain is the highest point along the Superstition Ridge line.” I’ll make sure to tag Mound the next time I’m in the area.

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