Companions: Frank Vers, Chris Curtis, Phillip Steele, Brandon Swezey, Susan Nader, AJ Chakraborty, Melanie Thomas
When I moved to Arizona (and finally had my weekends free again), I decided to finally pursue a long-time goal of learning technical climbing. Despite years of experience scrambling around Sierra granite, I had only done a handful of roped climbs and I was looking to expand my abilities. I signed up for a two week course with the Arizona Mountaineering Club as I found it to be the most comprehensive climbing course in Arizona with over 40 hours of instruction. After multiple classroom sessions and a full weekend on the rock, we were ready for our “graduation climb,” splitting into small groups to climb various classics around Phoenix. When assigning the climbs the week prior, I jumped at the opportunity to head up “The Hand,” a prominent rock fin in the Superstitions requiring 3 pitches and a 150′ rappel. We met early Saturday morning at a shopping center in Mesa and carpooled to Lost Dutchman State Park with a total of five students and three instructors. After organizing and distributing gear, we headed out on the Treasure Loop Trail which weaves around the north face of The Flatiron.
Even from the parking area, we could see the narrow fin of rock in the distance we would be climbing. A number of use trails break off from the Treasure Loop Trail, but we took whichever path headed towards the hand and found ourselves at the base in under an hour. The route, known as the Razor’s Edge, follows the East Arete for three pitches, culminating in a 5.6, very exposed crux.
We put on our harnesses and rock shoes, dropping around to the East side to the start of the first pitch. We each tied into a rope and had one trailing behind us, forming an assembly line that would allow the instructors to top belay each subsequent student at each pitch. Frank, leading the climb, headed up the first pitch while Chris, one of the volunteer instructors, belayed. The first pitch is quite easy, and aside from getting over an early chokestone at the start, is basically class IV.
Once Frank set the anchor, Chris followed to belay him up pitch 2, and to belay Philip, our third instructor, up next. This chain continued until we had an instructor at the top of each pitch to belay us up. From there, things moved along quickly as Susan headed up the first bit of class IV to the start of the second pitch. I followed shortly thereafter, and hung out with Philip on a narrow ledge as Susan climbed on above.
The exposure of the climb and difficulty increased on the second pitch, rated ~5.4. The holds were solid the entire climb, but the drop offs to the side were increasingly significant. I stopped halfway up the second pitch to grab a shot of Susan climbing the third pitch above, and down to the start of the second pitch below.
I popped out on Chicken Ledge, a narrow notch that signifies the start of the third and final pitch. Once Susan was anchored in at the summit, it was my turn to try the 5.6 crux. Again, the holds were solid, but the line was closer to vertical, with about 100′ of thin air on either side. I felt my weight shift away from the rock briefly and thought I was falling, but found a nice handhold above to recover. A few more moves and I was on the summit with Frank and Susan, anchored together in single file on the narrow fin of rock. I was lucky to been able to ascend earlier in the group, and hang out on the narrow summit while the others joined us one by one.
Once the five students made the summit, Chris and Philip climbed up, with Philip immediately rappelling to provide a fireman’s belay from below. One by one, we took turns clipping into the double-rope rappel, dropping 2-3′ to test our weight in the system, and finally giving all our trust to an Austrian Death Knot for the rappel down.
When it was my turn, I stopped about 1/3 of the way down for a few photos before joining the others at the base.
We were all back on solid ground by about 2PM, and received our AMC graduation patches for a group photo. We repacked our gear and hiked out with The Hand to our backs, waving us goodbye (or more likely flipping us off).
From there we headed to Bluebird Mine giftshop for some cold beers before heading to the graduation party in Scottsdale.