My brother lives near the base of Superstition Mountain, with a great view of it from his patio. Many times he looked at the mountain, thought about climbing it, only to dismiss the thought for lack of a hiking partner. His visitors from out of state always asked if he'd been up it, and it bothered him to say no. I was one of those visitors. Except when I asked, he answered "not yet, wanna climb it together?" I had climbed in Arizona many times on previous visits, and in Washington, California, Texas, Vermont, and Alaska during my paragliding years. The urge to climb Superstition Mountain had hit me many times in years past, so I agreed. We scheduled a day for the climb, and went up a couple days prior, to a spot just below the slick rock and stashed a gallon of water. We figured it would lighten our load a little when we went up. (I'm big on hydration.)
We started up the trail about 5:45 am. Even at the bottom you can tell you're on a linear curve....slowly the steepness increases, and you notice it more from the throb in your leg muscles than from visual cues on the trail. The slick rock area was enchanting and very cool in the morning shadows. We watched as the sun came up, and the shadow of the mountain stretched out for miles. It was relaxing, and almost surreal to be up there as the sun kissed the land.
My euphoric bubble was soon burst as we got to the top of the slick rock. You are immediately on the upper half of the linear curve at this point. Jagged little rocks gave way to jagged medium sized ones. The trail is so steep a person just about wants to use their hands to climb in a lot of places. The other places hands just have to be used.
Along the way we encountered a man who told us about a big rock at the very top of the trail. He said once you're over that rock, you're on top. And he said you could trust the tree to pull yourself up. I logged the info in my mind and continued to climb.
There are two or three other places on the way up where rock climbing skills are needed, especially if you're short, like me. It's particularly thrilling to climb over huge boulders in a mindbendingly steep chute of other big boulders. One slip can be your demise, or someone else's below if you happen to loosen a rock and it rolls down the trail (remember to yell "ROCK" loud to warn others if you do).
The whole time I was climbing I felt completely challenged to manage my energy, stay on the trail, and to succeed in conquering this mountain. Several strings of profanity had been uttered by the time we made it to the big rock the man had told us about earler. If that rock had been anywhere else on the trail, I'm sure I would not have made the climb. Someone needs to talk to mother nature about that one. I was 20' from the top, and totally dead in the water. I looked, searched, felt, and tried many options to get over it. My brother even offered to help, but I declined, because I was afraid we'd both get hurt if something happened. He made it up after a little exploration. I cussed for a while, spit some, kicked the dirt, and finally got bowed up enough to grow a couple more inches, reached for the top, and never looked back. By the time I stood upright, I could see it. The top of Flat Iron.
The view is the view. Then there's the climb down. It took me just as long to get back down that first big rock as it did to get up it. And even more cussing. Just as beads of sweat were forming pools under me, a young man whizzed by me like a mountain goat down over that rock. I cussed him too. Then I made my move, and got past the "gatekeeper".
The climb down is even harder than going up. Much harder. I never sweated so much going downhill in my life. I am afraid of heights, so the anxiety really worked on me. Sometimes I'd stop to catch my breath and look out at the view. It's the kind of place where you have to get the view out of your mind when it's time to move your feet. And make sure your eyes have a chance to readjust before you start to move.
More people climbed the mountain that day than I could count. It was almost like a parade. Some folks bounded up and down it so quick it was amazing. Others looked like they shouldn't be there at all. I was proud of myself for making it. From the slick rock on up it was definitely the most difficult climb of my life. My legs were like noodles for several days afterwards, but the satisfaction lingers to this day.