The Weaver's Needle is a classic Arizona landmark located in the Superstition Wilderness, east of Phoenix. A spire standing 4553 feet tall made from volcanic rock that juts out of the surrounding desert which can be seen from as far away as the Catalinas and the Mogollon Rim. I have admired it from many angles on many different trails, so when I found out a couple of years ago that it was a fairly low-level technical climb to reach the summit, I began researching the route. However, I would need to find someone to lead the climb. When I was on my Royal Arch Loop in the Grand Canyon last October, Kent mentioned that he'd climbed it and that he'd be willing to do it again. Well, I wasn't going to let an offer like that go to waste, so I suggested that we try to climb it around my birthday, which is in mid-February. We invited Steve, who had been on the Royal Arch Loop with us, and Johnr1 from HikeArizona.com. After months of anticipation, the day was finally here and four of us met at the Peralta Trailhead at 7am on February 26 to start our adventure.
Kent had previously climbed it from the east side, and he said that the off-trail approach was nasty and filled with catclaw. On the west side, the climb was a little more difficult but the approach to the base was all on the Peralta Trail. We got hiking at 7:15 am up the Peralta Trail toward Fremont Saddle. This is one of the most popular trails in the Phoenix area, but overcast skies and a forecast calling for a slight chance of rain in the afternoon were enough to keep the hordes away and as a result, we only saw a couple of groups of hikers all day! I was impressed from the start- I had never been on the Peralta Trail before and didn't realize that it was surrounded by hoodoos and other interesting rock formations. The trail wove through the surprisingly lush creek. There were some gigantic Sugar Sumac that were towering trees, rather than the smaller bushes I'm accustomed to seeing. As the trail climbed toward Fremont Saddle, there were great views south to Picketpost Mountain, near Superior. We reached the saddle at 8:30 and I got my first view of today's objective. Here's a video from Fremont Saddle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LA6wKGt8qzI
It was an impressive sight, the "classic view" of Weaver's Needle, looking like an improbable climb for anyone but a skilled climber from this angle. We took a short break and then continued down from the saddle, going in and out of green areas near the creek. As we neared Pinyon Camp, the two summits of the Needle came into view. The trip reports and route descriptions I'd read said the climber's route crosses the creek at a cairn after you pass the hoodoos on the side of Weaver's Needle. There is another trail, the Weaver's Needle Crosscut, that is cairned that takes off to the east just before you pass the hoodoos, don't take that one and continue to the next one located at N33 25.769' W111 22.568'. The two summits and the gully between them were clearly visible and the route up to the gully is a well beat-in path that quickly gains elevation. We could see two other climbers that had taken a wrong turn and ended up near the lone saguaro. The route goes to the left of the rock outcropping that the lone saguaro sits upon.
We reached the gully and the start of the scramble and stashed our hiking poles. The rock was good, grippy, and solid up to the base of the first pitch. The other climbers were making their way up the chockstone pitch and we waited as they climbed. The overcast skies had been a boon on our hike up, I can imagine that is a toasty climb most of the year. Now we were literally chillin' in the shade. The views were good but the waiting did nothing to calm my nerves. I knew the pitch wasn't terribly technical, but this being only my second outdoor climb (my first was Baboquivari, 2 years ago), it was a bit intimidating looking all the way up to the chockstone. Have I mentioned that I'm afraid of heights? I am, but I find that if I push through all the nervousness that I am always rewarded with an amazing adventure. Thankfully there were probably less people than usual trying to climb today because of the marginal rain in the forecast. Finally it was our turn and Kent got on his climbing shoes and began leading the climb up to the chockstone. It was all going well until one of Kent's pieces of protection came out of the wall and sliding down the rope. Thankfully, he was able to adjust and make it up the pitch and under the chockstone. Kent set up a toprope, and Steve went next, collecting the pieces that Kent had put in as he went up. Now it was my turn. I was a little flustered getting started and John was great and talked me through it. Once I got started, I was fine, and the climbing wasn't too hard at all- kind of like climbing a ladder. A ladder that is 180 feet tall. The climb to the chockstone is rated "easy 5th class". I had a mantra "Place my feet, place my hands" that helped me get a rhythm going and I concentrated on the task at hand and tried not to look down. There were several good places to take a rest and breathe for a second before continuing. I could see that I was nearing the chockstone and I saw Steve's smiling face through the hole, ready to help if I needed to take my pack off to wriggle under the chockstone. Fortunately, both me and my pack fit through and the crux of the climb was over with! The notch between the two summits above the chockstone was windy and surprisingly roomy and I sat down to wait for John to come up. I didn't have to wait long- John chose to go to the right of the chockstone, a move rated 5.2. Under the chockstone is a 5.0 and up to the left of the chockstone is rated a 5.4.
There was a vertical 15 foot wall and I chose to get a belay on it after feeling slightly uncomfortable on the first couple moves without one. I figure, we've got the rope, why not? Then we had an interesting scramble up a gully that was not exposed at all. Finally we reached the base of the final scramble, which I knew from reading had wonderful hand and foot holds, but was eerily exposed and I again asked for a belay. The view from that pitch was incredible for the second I allowed myself to look as I climbed up the "bomber jugs" while using colorful language to ease the tension. (I can often gauge how challenging a trip is by the amount of swear words I use- it's a coping mechanism I guess.) I reached the top of the final scramble and walked up the final short slope to the summit.
I can't believe I'm standing on top of the Weaver's Needle!!! The views were phenomenal- if a little bit hazy-here's a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vu47m-u_8gI
I could see so many different landmarks from the summit- Four Peaks, the Catalinas and Pusch Ridge, Battleship Mountain, Canyon Lake, the Superstition Ridgeline, Picketpost- too many to name them all. The one Arizona landmark that I couldn't see was the Weaver's Needle- because I was standing on top of it! We made great time and were on the summit shortly after 1 pm. As we were admiring the scenery, a plane closely circled us several times. There is the sweetest little campsite on top, complete with a windbreak. I aspire to sleep on this spire someday.
We had lunch and signed the register and all too soon it was time to head back down. We were pleased that the marginal chance of rain had not materialized and it looked like it was going to stay clear for our descent to the trail. That's all I cared about, once we were on the trail, it could rain, snow, hail, or all three- which it ended up doing later that evening but long after we'd left the trailhead. I was glad that we were able to avoid downclimbing the pitches that we'd scrambled up by rappelling down. We went to the first rappel station and Kent went first. I felt pretty good about the rappel, even though part of it was a free rappel and I was just hanging in the air, letting myself down. I'd never done that before and Kent got a great shot of me in action.
We did have to scramble down the gully to the top of the 15' step and I took my time, singing the "Get down, get down" part from the song Jungle Boogie to amuse myself while descending. The scariest moment of the whole day was when someone dislodged a rock above me and when I heard Steve yell "rock!" I froze into position and a softball-sized rock bounced inches from my hand. Now having a crushed hand is no fun for anyone, but I am a massage therapist and my livelihood depends on having non-crushed, non-mangled hands. It would have been a very bad thing. When we reached the top of the chockstone, I began to get nervous again. The trip reports I'd read said it was a little tough to start the rappel off the chockstone because you have to find a way to swing under it without hitting yourself on it on the way down. John went to the right of the chockstone and I wasn't crazy about how it looked, and Steve tried the left side, which looked better, but was kind of tricky to maneuver into position to start. When it was my turn, I opted for the left, but got a little panicky on my way over to start the rappel. I couldn't feel the tension on the rope, but once I moved as far over as I could I was able to feel the rope holding me and take my first couple of steps down the wall before swinging under the chockstone. As with the other times I'd been nervous today, once I got going, I was fine. The rappel took the entire length of a 60 meter (180') rope and I made it down to the base of the climb without incident and even had quite a bit of fun! Kent did the rappel in two stages and we were finally done with the technical part of the climb. I had chosen at the beginning of the day to not bring along climbing shoes and there was not one point in the day where I missed having them. A little more scrambling and we were back to our hiking poles and headed down the narrow climber's path toward the Peralta Superhighway.
We reached the Peralta Trail at 4:15 and stopped to refuel for the final leg of our journey, 4 miles back to the trailhead. We asked Kent now that he'd done both routes to the top, how they compared. He said that the climbing was appreciably easier on the east side, but that the Peralta approach with no brush to fight was the only way he'd do it again. An hour later, we were at Fremont Saddle, which we had to ourselves. John said that on a normal Saturday, there are crowds of people at the saddle- lucky us! We got back to the trailhead just as the light was fading, 11 hours after we'd started. What a perfect day- the scenery, climb, and the camaraderie were all top-notch. After saying good-bye to John and thanking Kent for doing such a fantastic job of leading the trip, Steve and I headed back toward Tucson. We stopped at the River Bottom Saloon "On the banks of the mighty Gila River" for some fish and chips. Quite tasty, plus we got to see a slice of Florence nightlife, which provided some entertainment in the form of a bachelorette party going on in the next room. I got back home 16 hours after I'd left the house- what a day! Now for the rest of my life, when I see the Weaver's Needle- while driving, hiking, flying, whenever- I will get that inimitable feeling knowing that I have stood on top.