This was my first time in the southern part of the Superstitions. What was particularly amazing about this hike was the snow.
Yes, you heard right... snow in the Superstition mountains. Just three days ago, the end to our hundred-something-rather-day drought came to an end and elevations around 3000 feet received a nice thick blanket of snow. With it being spring break for us student-folk and nowhere to go but the daily 9-to-5, I decided this would be my attempt at a vacation (even if it were just for a few hours). By this third day, I was worried the snow was already melted as the last remains on the southern side of the cliffs were quickly dwindling away; most of the cliffs had returned to their dark shade of desert rock and our only hope was that there was still snow left on the shaded, north face of the mountains.
I rescheduled my work and got the go-ahead to take the day off. My brother, my friend and I made the off-road trip out to Peralta Trailhead in my tiny Nissan Sentra. Surprisingly it held up well the whole way despite the muddy dips in the road and random rough spots. We arrived at the trailhead at 9 am and set out through Peralta Canyon via the popular Peralta Trail.
Upon entering the canyon, there was an abundance of snow on the east side wall of spires. I was surprised at how thick and green the vegetation was along the basin. The trail was quite enjoyable as we ducked through thickets of brush and trees, trying to avoid soaking our shoes in the onslaught of rushing water. It was amazing how the snow and rain had transformed this otherwise dry, desert region into sort of jungle habitat with an abundance of moisture. Along the trail we encountered only 4 small groups of people, so the sounds of our steps through the snow and puddles of water was accompanied only by the echoing trickle of water down the cliffs.
After less than an hour of easy hiking we arrived at Freemont. As a newcomer to Peralta Trail, I can attest to the overwhelming feeling that occurred as Weavers Needle rose into view. That saddle point was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen, even further accented with the backdrop of white scattered over top of the rocks. At Freemont, there was at least 6-8 inches of soft-packed snow along the ground. We also noticed the shift in climate as the temperature felt to be in the low 50's; when we began at the trailhead at 9am, it had already seemed to be high 60's, maybe 70's. For a daylong-getaway, this was the perfect vacation spot. We spent the next half an hour woofing down trail mix and enjoying the views of Four-Peaks to the north and the Catalina's to the south. With the recent rain, the accumulation of low-level smog was finally dispersed and visibility was crystal clear.
Having researched the trails around Peralta trailhead prior to coming, I new that our trip would be far more exciting if we took the Cave Trail back. Personally, I am a fan of trail loops as opposed to there-and-backs. After looking over our topographical map, we all decided to attempt the Cave Trail. After gathering up our belongings, we set out at an easterly heading from Freemont, trudging up the hills over the snow. After a few minutes we arrived at a flat region that was covered in about a foot of snow. Some previous hikers had utilized the fresh snow to build a snowman. I still chuckle to myself when I recall the sight of a snowman in those desert mountains. The creators had even taken the time to assign the snowman a gender, as he was equipped with male snowman reproductive parts. (I will try to post my pictures later). After a few laughs we pressed onward east in search of the trail, supposedly marked with cairns. This proved to be the most difficult task in our hike. We gave up following the footprints left by previous hikers after becoming more lost along the ridge.
With the mild use of a topographical map, we made our way down many cliffs. I'm not sure if our approach to the Cave Trail was correct at the beginning. Unfortunately, we didn't find any cairns until we arrived at the lower west side of the Fortress of stone, where the caves were supposedly located. Our method was composed of running into dead-ends where the rock would suddenly drop off and then back-tracking until we could find an â€˜easier' way down. Many times, our â€˜easier' approach meant a 10-ft freefall drop as opposed to the 30-ft alternative. Most of our landings were butchered with the slippery iced-over rock surfaces below, but thankfully no one sprained an ankle. Another problem encountered through the snow was unknowingly stepping on the tops of cacti. At times the snow would end up near the top of my calves, so stepping lightly before moving forward was a quick lesson learned.
The most interesting part of the Cave Trail was in fact trying to â€˜locate' the Cave Trail in the snow. Many times we simply followed the flow of the melted snow, which turned out to be helpful in finding our descent down. Once we found the cairn-marked way, it was quite easy to follow. We rested in the alcove known as Geronimo's Cave and snacked on more trail mix. From the cave, we made our way down to a level ridge where we once again followed the running streams of water as our guide. Devil's slide was particularly interesting with a strong flow of snow runoff rushing down it. Since there was no way to overcome the slippery surface of the rock, we each took turns sliding down on our feet with our arms trying to keep up and balance our weight accordingly (much like a sliding crab-walk). From there we made our way through the thickening brush which was now almost free of snow. The heat began to bear down strong as we made our way towards the Cathedral rock. After wandering around this area for a few minutes we lost sight of the cairns and determined we might be able to descend easier down one of the streams. Looking back at the topo-map at home, we actually descended down a marked waterway as we made our way east towards the Dutchman Trail. This was somewhat of a difficult task as there was a great extent of overgrown brush and cacti guarding the way down. We trekked as best we could, jumping rock to rock along the stream and countless waterfalls. After a third of the way down our uneasiness rested as we spotted the well-traveled Dutchman Trail.
Upon reaching Dutchman Trail, the rest of the hike was cake. The difficult part was the heat. Honestly, with just a 5-mile looped-hike, we experienced both climate extremes. At this point, with 3/4 of a mile to go, I began to feel fairly fatigued. My water supply ran out back at the caves and early signs of dehydration were creeping up on me. My brother, on the other hand, decided the snow was â€˜pure enough' to drink and had packed his empty water bottles up at Freemont. I opted not to. Regrets? Maybe.
At around 12:30 we finally found ourselves at the trailhead where we chatted with one of the Search and Rescue leaders. For my first time in Peralta Canyon, I can say that I was extremely satisfied with the hike. The canyon is a beautiful environment and the backdrop of snow and running water restored a dynamic element to the otherwise tranquil setting. I will definitely be returning soon.