Weavers Needle 4553′
Total Time: 10 hours
Roundtrip Mileage: 8.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 3400′
Companions: Alex Wallace
Trailhead: Peralta Trailhead- trash, pit toilets
The Superstitions are the most legendary mountains in the American Southwest. A combination of federal and state land, the extremely rugged range is said the contain a the legendary ‘Dutchman’s Lost Gold,’ and people flock to the range year round in search of the treasure. While there are many variations of the legend, the general story involves a hidden gold mine operated by Jacob Waltz and Jacob Weiser, two German immigrants (hence, Lost Dutchman) who either discovered the mine or were shown it by the Peralta family depending on the version you read. In the most common version of the story, these men were attacked by local Apaches (who also supposedly attacked the Peralta family in the Peralta Massacre of 1850), but were able to share the location of the mine on their deathbed to a Julia Thomas, who is then able to draw a crude map to the mine. In an offshoot of this story, a physician by the name of Dr. Thorne treats an Apache chief injured in the Peralta massacre, who is blindfolded and brought to the gold mine as a reward, but unable to recall it’s exact location. In every version of the legend, Weavers Needle, a dramatic rock spire in the center of the Western Superstitions, is said to be one of the keys to finding the lost mine. Although stumbling on the gold mine would be nice a nice bonus, my fascination with Weaver’s Needle was driven more by my peak-bagging obsession, and it has been on my short list since moving to Arizona. With the temperatures warming quickly, I had at most a few weekends left to attempt the grueling climb, and I didn’t want to wait until Fall for another opportunity. So I made plans with my fellow resident (and climbing partner from Toms Thumb in the McDowells) to plan an assault in mid-April. We met at my house at about 6:20, and made it to the Peralta Trailhead a little over an hour later. By the time we organized our geared, lathered on sunscreen and finished our coffee, it was about 8AM.
There were plenty of others on the trail going up to Fremont Saddle, the hike offering an incredible view across East Boulder Canyon to the Needle. The trail to Fremont Saddle is deceptively long, about 2.5 miles of steady grade to get up to the saddle. With our packs loaded with climbing gear, we were a bit of a curiosity on the trail, with comments from other hikers ranging from admiration for our adventurous spirit to condemnation for our foolishness in doing something so ‘dangerous.’ It took us a little under an hour to reach Fremont Saddle and get a good like at Weaver’s Needle rising over 1000′ from the canyon floor.
It looked well beyond my abilities from this angle, with it’s eroded volcanic cliffs seeming near vertical. While this wasn’t far from the truth, our route would take us up the West Gully, rated ~5.5-5.6 with four pitches of climbing. While the East Gully was technically the easiest rated at 4th class – 5.easy, the approach was considerably longer with very loose rock in the gully. Unfortunately, to reach the Needle from Fremont Saddle, we had to drop several hundred feet into East Boulder Canyon until we were near perpendicular with the West Face. As we passed through a number of campsites, we found the cairned turn off we were looking for, dropping into the scrub of the canyon floor before climbing the loose, steep slopes below the West Face. As we climbed, the route began to open up, with the notch between the lower south peak and high north peak clearly visible.
There were a number of ducked trails heading up the slopes, but they all seemed to lead to the same place and would rejoin and split again at random. The steepness of the slope was made all the more difficult by our heavy packs, each carrying a harness, helmet, collection of pro and 60m rope. Nearing the base of the Needle, we re-entered shade, and the trail transitioned from class 1 to 3 as we scrambled up some volcanic slabs. Shortly above the slabs we reached to start of the first pitch, and dropped our bags to racked up and break out the ropes.
The two most interesting pitches are the 2nd and 4th, with the 1st and 3rd pitches being short class 4. Alex wanted to climb the more exposed fourth pitch, leaving me with the second to lead. We carried a second rope in a pack to use for a double-rope rappel down the second pitch; a single rope not quite long enough to make it down. Alex led the first pitch, only about 12′ of class 4, not even bothering to place a piece with the main difficulties lower down when I was spotting him directly. He positioned himself behind a rock and belayed me up, and we walked to the start of the second pitch. He transferred the rack to me, and I started up the low angled slabs to a metal pipe jutting out of the rock and secondary belay bolt (for those with a single rope), placing my first piece. Up to the pipe was class 3 at worst, but that quickly switched to a more technical grade. The tendency during the climb was to stick to the deep crack running up the gully. But the moves were thin at times, mostly because the holds looked a bit loose deep in the crack, the steeper rock to the left providing more solid holds. The main criticism of the climb by seasoned rock climbers is the loose rock, making the route more dangerous then higher rated climbs in the Superstitions with cleaner lines. Make no mistake- this is an adventure climb. The crux of the climb (5.5-5.6) was about halfway up where the crack narrows considerably which I worked past with some awkward stemming, transitioning on to the rock face to the left to reach a second steel pipe hammered into the rock.
Just below the notch between the north and south pinnacles and top of the second pitch is a huge chockstone blocking progress. You can either climb left (5.4), right (5.2) or under it (5.0), and I wasn’t quite sure what route I was going to choose. When I was directly beneath it, not in a terribly difficult spot with plenty of holds, my sweaty right hand slipped and I lost balance, almost slipping off the rock. I had just placed a cam, but the little scare made me opt for the easier route underneath the chockstone. Squeezing underneath the boulder was one of the best parts of the climb, and I squirmed through to the notch with a gorgeous view of the Superstitions opening up at the top of the pitch. I built a quick anchor with the cams I had left and started bringing up Alex.
He cleaned a total of 9 pieces over the 150′ pitch (including slings around two pipes), a reasonable number for the length. Since the second pitch had been so long, I told Alex to lead the third and fourth, and after ditching our second rope at the saddle and reapplying sunscreen, he started up the short 10′ class 4 pitch, again not bothering to place a piece for the short distance. Above the third pitch is a series of class 2 and 3 ledges, and we each coiled half the rope and climbed in unison several hundred feet, curving around the SW face to the base of the fourth pitch.
Alex started up as I belayed from below, and he climbed the 50′ exposed pitch to the slopes just below the summit. After setting an anchor with some large boulders, I started up to clean the route, and was impressed by the exposure but very fun climbing. The route had huge jugs for holds and was probably one of my favorite spots of the day.
At the top of the pitch, it was a short walk up a use trail the remaining distance to the summit. The views were truly 360, with Four Peaks, Battleship Mountain and Geronimos Head to the north, The Flatiron and Superstition Peak to the west and south (and Mount Lemmon way in the distance) and Tortilla and La Barge Mountain to the east. The only bad part of the summit is that you couldn’t see Weaver’s Needle! Despite the heat, I was in no rush, this summit was a long time coming.
We ate the various snack foods we were able to stuff in our pockets from the base, and killed the water we had brought with us. The register contained 3 different books and was quite full, a popular summit indeed. We headed back to the top of the fourth pitch and found the very new looking rappel station, a bit south of the pitch itself allowing for a fun, free hanging portion. Alex dropped off first and I followed after, ensuring to snag a mid-rappel photo on the way down.
Hiking down to the top of the third pitch, my leg went into spasm in the middle of a class 3 downclimb. I worked through it slowly, but when it came time to downclimb pitch three (we couldn’t find a rap station) I moved at an overly cautious pace, worried about sending my leg into another spasm while hanging on the rock face. I made it down after an embarassingly long stretch of time, and we scrambled on top of the chockstone for the double bolt rappel station for the long second pitch rap. Tying our two ropes together with an European Death Knot, I threw the ropes down the gully and rappelled off the chockstone towards the base. Unfortunately the somewhat irregular path of the gully with many ledges meant I had to stop mid-rappel to rethrow the ropes 3 different times, an autoblock being a real life saver for the descent. The two ropes just made it all the way to the base of the first pitch, and I took off my climbing gear as Alex started his rappel.
It was our first time back in the shade for hours, and we slowly reorganized our gear and rehydrated before heading back into the sun on the steep descent back to the trail. Despite the looseness, we somehow made it back to the trail without falling (although Alex did stumble and catch himself on a sharp Buckhorn Cactus). The sun was starting to get low and we flirted with the shade on our hike back up to Fremont Saddle. I was surprised we didn’t encounter many hikers on the way out, with the lighting and temperatures in the canyon perfect with the low sun.
As we descended, our thoughts quickly shifted to food, and we began to obsess about the burgers at Wilderness Brewing Company. We hit the trailhead at 6PM, taking about 10 hours total with a solid break at the summit. We threw our packs in the trunk and tore down the tire road to Gilbert for some celebratory burgers and beers before heading home after what would be my last climb in the Superstitions for the season.