Camping on top of the needle... What an experience.
The morning started badly... I had planned to meet the group (which was comprised of a couple people I know and several I didn't know) at Peralta Trailhead at 6AM. At 6:07 AM I woke up in Jon's guest room (stayed at his house Fri night, as Queen Creek is quite a bit closer to the Supes than Tempe). Pumpkin. I could hear him and his wife snoozing a couple rooms over and I was envious. I looked at my phone again, sighed, and walked down the stairs. I tried calling Aaron and Eric and of course their phones were off because, well, they were at the Perlta Trailhead on time. I accepted that everyone in the group would soon hate me. Fortunately, Aaron got a hold of me while I was speeding down the 60, and there was no hint of irritation in his voice. It was about 6:30 and they had just finished getting their stuff together at the TH when they realized I wasn't there yet. We agreed they could start hiking and I'd catch up with them eventually.
I arrived at the TH at 7:00AM and didn't start hiking unil 7:30. Strapping all the climbing stuff onto a full overnight backpack proved a bit more tricky than I had anticipated. Still, after booking it up the Peralta trail I met them just shy of Fremont saddle, around 8:15. We snapped some group photos and were on our way down to Pinon Camp, where we would drop off the two non-climbers.
After pumping water and bidding fairwell to the two camping at Pinon Camp, we were off to tackle the real stuff. The turnoff to the needle was surprisingly easy to find and the path was surprisingly clear of vagetation and easy to follow. Soon we hit the first pitch, where Aaron climbed up, dropped a rope, and pulled our heavy packs up. Sweet! We all happily scrambled up with no packs to weight us down. Then we saw the chockstone pitch... So much for pulling up the packs (that is, if you want your pack to still be fully in tact once it reaches the top). Aaron led like a pro (with a 68 pound pack as he would later discover after returning home) and I was first to follow. It was all super fun until the chockstone. I had 50-something pounds on my back and a camera sling-bag with all sorts of gear hanging on the front of me (really stupid decision). I considered taking off the camera bag and hucking it up to the top, but like an idiot I had put it on first- would have had to take off my backpack and climbing slings just to get it off. Not easy while balancing on a ledge. So I cursed myself and tackled the last climb with all my crap flopping all over the place.
After I reached the top a couple dayhikers reached the bottom of the chockstone pitch. Knowing the remainder of our group would take much longer than there's, we let them climb ahead. Then, a couple dayhikers arrived at the top of the chockstone pitch, so we let them rappel down. Those who have climbed Weaver's know the top of the chockstone pitch is a cold, windy place to be. Needless to say I was really annoyed. Anyhow, after at least an hour of sitting there, my face and all my extremeties were blue, and the rest of our group finally made it up. We climbed the next short pitch with protection, but that was it until the last pitch.
By the time we hit the last pitch it was sunset, and by the time Aaron finished leading it, it was pretty much dark. I followed him, and had to use my headlamp. The next hour of climbing was in pitch black and it was super fun. Aaron put together a pulley system to haul everyones pack up while I top-belayed the rest of the climbers. I had never top belayed before and boy did my arm and shoulder get a work out. Nobody could see or hear each other, so communication was done by radio. It was an excersize in trust and teamwork.
Finally we were all at the top of the last pitch and life was great! We scrambled up the last few boulders and found the camping area, which was absolutely perfect. There was plenty of room for the 6 of us, and 3 more could have comfortably put there sleeping bags up there (though they wouldn't have fit in the walled-in areas. The best part--- While waiting at the bottom of the last pitch, they had gathered a big pile of firewood, tied it up with some sling, and hauled it up with the packs. So we had a nice campfire that lasted a couple hours
We had three types of tequila to enjoy and a variety of freeze-dried dinners that we shared. The only problem was the lingering itch in the back of my throat that had progressively gotten worse throughout the day. I managed not to think about it all evening until I crawled into my sleeping bag. Ugh. All night long all I did was blow my nose.
The next morning we were all up for sunrise. It was a pretty epic sight. After enjoying watching the rocks slowly light up, we returned to camp to get ready to leave. Packing to go was slow, which wasn't ideal for me because I felt like trash and wanted to be off that mountain and back to my truck ASAP, but I also didn't mind the extra couple hours of relaxing (I've got enough of a routine down for backpacking that i can be unpacked and packed in only a few minutes). Finally we hit that first rappel. As it turns out, Aaron and I were the only that had ever rappelled
I went down first so I could photograph the rest during their rappells.
The rest of the descent is slightly blurry, as my headcold kind of took over. I just remember a lot of snot rockets (sorry, tmi) and other members of the group wanting to set up rappells where I would have just been fine just tumbling down so long as it meant me getting to my truck quicker. We must have set up 6 rappells
. For the record, though, lugging around giant packs does change a lot, especially with downclimbing. Looking back I appreciate the extra safety.
It was dark by the time we hit Fremont Saddle, and we were all back to the trailhead by 7:30. By then I was in slightly higher spirits, not just because we were back, but also because I decided I'd be calling in to work the next day