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Western Superstition Loop, AZ
mini location map2015-11-27
42 by photographer avatarDallinW
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Western Superstition Loop, AZ 
Western Superstition Loop, AZ
Backpack avatar Nov 27 2015
Backpack39.00 Miles 6,385 AEG
Backpack39.00 Miles3 Days         
6,385 ft AEG
 no routes
1st trip
For about the last two months, me and my compadres were pretty set on picking up segment hiking the AZT again this Thanksgiving. In particular, we were planning on doing the Mazzies (Segments 23 and 24). I put a lot of planning into that trip, and excluding the thought of just how cold it might get up there, I was extremely excited to get a proper dose of the Mazatzals.

Fast forward to last weekend, I started having some problems with my IT band. My routine jaunt at South Mountain turned into a trudge on the way down. Every downhill step felt like a knife we being inserted into the outer side of my left knee. I decided it probably wouldn't be smart to hike deep into the Mazzies with the possibility of being slowed to a 0.5 mph pace. There are only a few places to bail along those segments, and where you can bail the trails may not be in the best of condition.

I spent all of last week on the prowl for a different route to hike which had more opportunities to get out if my IT band started acting up. I set my sights on hiking AZT Segments 7, 8, and 9. I spent a few days getting all the logistics worked out and once I was on the verge of sealing the deal, our pickup ride fell through. Since we were unsuccessful in bribing or begging family members to come pick us up, we were back at square one. ](*,)

I've wanted to give the Superstitions a proper exploring for a while now, so that's where I looked next. Using the HAZ Route Manager, Mapped Areas, and my Trails Illustrated map, I came up with 3 possible alternatives. A western, central, and eastern Superstition loops, all around 40 - 45 miles. (On a side note, this exercise made me realize just how well connected the Superstition Wilderness trails are.) We ruled out the central loop because of a lack of certainty about water. We ruled out the eastern loop because we were just recently in the area when we did Reavis Ranch in October, and we will be back to finish the Superstition Wilderness segment of the AZT soon. Western Superstition Loop it was. Here is the actual route for those interested: ... &M=6

Now for the actual trip...

Day 1
Route: First Water TH :next: Second Water :next: Boulder Canyon :next: Calvary :next: Dutchman :next: Red Tanks :next: Whiskey Springs

We started the day by building a calorie base to burn off at Filiberto's (don't judge). After stuffing our faces, we headed over to First Water TH.

Once at the busy trailhead, we quickly put on our trail runners, strapped the packs on, and entered the Superstition Wilderness. Second Water trail is pretty flat, but offered a couple of good views of the Goldfields and the back side of Superstition ridgeline. On the descent into Boulder Canyon, we came upon our first encounter with water. A good omen! Second Water Canyon had a light flow. We took a quick break in the cool oasis before connecting up with Boulder Canyon. This would be the general trend for the rest of Day 1. Hopping from canyon to canyon, oasis to oasis.

Upon connecting up with Boulder Canyon, we had to pay a little more attention to the trail. Cairns guided us along the creek bed, and the bush started to close in along the trail. Standard wilderness trail conditions, though. Before we knew it, we were at the junction with Cavalry. After a short but steep climb, you come around a corner and you're hit with a great view of Malapais Mountain and the adjacent canyons. This is when things really started to get exciting.

The walk along Marsh Valley into La Barge Canyon has lots of interesting rock formations to look at, and near every water source you hit a canopy of vegetation which can make you forget you're in the middle of a desert. After connecting with Dutchman, we hit up Charlebois which was running and had plenty of water. We took a break and ate some lunch.

After eating, we continued down La Barge Canyon and connected with Red Tanks. The trail became a little more difficult to follow, and more overgrown, but we were usually able to get back on track pretty quickly. I did have to use Route Scout a few times. We were stunned when we turned a corner and saw bright orange and yellow near Oak Spring. This kind of autumn foliage isn't something I ever expected to see in the desert.

Originally we had planned to setup camp at the Whiskey Springs/Red Tanks junction because it looked flat on the topo map. But when we got there we couldn't really find a nice place to camp, and we wanted water if we could find it. We decided to head up Whisky Springs Trail to see if the spring was running and if there was a good spot to camp. The spring was dripping just enough to fill up the small concrete trough on the hillside. Great water. We also scored a premium camping spot right near the spring with plenty of trees, grass, and flat ground.

Day 1 was a success. Overall it was very mild in terms of climbing, but it was just what I needed to know if my IT band was going to be able to handle this or not. We built a fire, enjoyed some dinner, and climb into our tents around 8 pm. There is one thing I don't like about backpacking in late Autumn and Winter, it gets dark too early, and the sun doesn't come up early enough. Less time of hiking, more time of being cold in your tent.

It was a cold night. I was on the verge of being uncomfortably cold in my bag a few times. I used the hot water bottle trick recommend to me by Sredfield and I was able heat back up fairly quickly.

Day 2
Route: Whisky Springs :next: Red Tanks (took up La Barge Canyon, turned around at Hoolie Bacon JCT) :next: Whiskey Springs :next: Dutchman :next: Bluff Springs :next: Peralta

It was hard to get out of my sleeping bag in the morning. Whiskey Springs sits in a spot where it doesn't get hit by the sun until later in the day. By the time we were packed up and back on the trailm it was already 10 am... Not good when you have a very limited number of day light hours. The plan for the day was to head up Upper La Barge Canyon to the Hoolie Bacon TJ to see some cedars.

After reconnecting with Red Tanks, we headed up Upper La Barge. The route near the very bottom of the canyon was a little confusing and extremely bushy, but we persevered and soon we were walk up along the side of the canyon. A nice little climb but nothing too tough, lots of cool rock formations to look at.

We took a break under a cedar near the junction and dreamed up doing a loop from Peralta or First Water to Reavis Ranch and back. A SUPER loop of sorts. Maybe some day.

After a quick snack, we headed back down La Barge Canyon and back up Whiskey Springs towards Dutchman. The climb up Whiskey Springs is a little bit of a drag, but you're rewarded with great views of Miners Needle, Weavers Needle, and small parts of the valley, after you top out.

After connecting with Dutchman, we headed towards Peralta TH via Bluff Springs. There were a few pools of water in Barks Canyon. I've done Weavers Needle Loop before and this was one of my favorite sections of that loop, although the downhill on Bluff Springs just before the trailhead had the knee hurting a bit.

We hit the trailhead and enjoyed a break in some shade before heading up to Fremont Saddle, the only strenuous climb of the entire trip. We were in a race to hit the top to set up camp before the sun went down. As usual, there were lots of people on the trail coming down from the saddle. This was the first time I've done this climb with day light, I've night hiked up the canyon a few times before.

We beat the sun up to the top and setup camp. Another cold night, but I didn't have to use a warm water bottle to feel comfortable.

Day 3
Route: Peralta :next: Lone Pine :next: Peralta :next: Dutchman :next: Bull Pass :next: Dutchman :next: First Water TH

It was a little easier to get up on the 3rd day. The sun hits the saddle pretty early and with the added motivation of beating the droves of people coming up the saddle we were on the trail by 9am. Not great, but better.

We made a quick visit to the Lone Pine. I got stung by a scorpion there for the first time back in Feburary. I immediately packed out because I was anxious about having an allergic reaction to the sting... Now I just look back and laugh at it. Someone left 3 or 4 cans of food up near the tree... :gun:

Back at the saddle, there were already a few groups of people sitting around. We left the crowds and headed down the other side of the saddle towards Dutchman. It looks like someone came through here recently and trimmed everything back with a machete, it was a much nicer trail than when I did it the first time. It was really nice not having to deal with stuff trying to poke you and it was a stark contrast to the kind of trails we were on the last couple of days. There were a few pools in East Boulder Canyon right before Pinon Camp, but it was complete dry at the junction with East Boulder Weaver's View.

We made our way up to Upper Black Top Mesa Pass, took a quick break, then passed Terrapin before connecting up with Bull Pass. After topping out and descending down from the pass to Dutchman, we took a break because my knee was hurting. At this point the past 2 days of hiking and the lack of proper nutrition started to catch up with us.

After physically recharging, we started the final stretch from Dutchman back to First Water TH. With the thought of a proper meal and a hot shower in mind, we hiked with haste and didn't stop til we got back to the trailhead. I feel as though this loop lost a lot of its scenic value after reaching the bottom of Peralta, the trudge back to first water was, in my opinion, pretty uninteresting. We knew were close to the TH when the crowds started to get thicker.


Overall this loop was way more scenic than I had anticipated for something I just threw together to make miles. It wasn't anything extreme, but it was still very enjoyable and just enough climbing in Day 2 to feel like a good workout. It was also great to get some more experience on trails which require a little more attention to the route, and I definitely gained a little more route finding confidence on this one. A proper dose of cat claw and other desert pokers is also always humbling. :D

Thankfully, my IT band held up pretty well. I used a brace that my cousin loaned me and the pain never progressed passed moderate on the steep downhills, and it quickly recovered after taking breaks. I hope that means it'll be completely healed soon.

This was the first big backpacking route that I've put together from scratch, and I really enjoyed doing it. Big thanks to the developers of this site! Route Manager, Mapped Areas, and Water Reports are extremely valuable tools and they saved my ass this weekend!
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Autumn Foliage Observation Light

water 1 out of 5water less than maxwater less than maxwater less than max Barks Canyon Pools to trickle Pools to trickle
A few good sized pools.

water 1 out of 5water 2 out of 5water less than maxwater less than max Charlebois Spring Quart per minute Quart per minute
Lots of great water.

water 1 out of 5water less than maxwater less than maxwater less than max East Boulder @ Pinon Camp Pools to trickle Pools to trickle
A few good sized pools right before Pinon Camp coming down from the saddle.

water 1 out of 5water less than maxwater less than maxwater less than max Peralta Canyon Pools to trickle Pools to trickle
Trickling at the trail crossing.

water 1 out of 5water 2 out of 5water less than maxwater less than max Second Water Canyon Light flow Light flow
Very light flow down the canyon with a few large pools.

water 1 out of 5water less than maxwater less than maxwater less than max Whiskey Spring Dripping Dripping
Great water, not a lot there though.

water 1 out of 5water less than maxwater less than maxwater less than max White Rock Spring Dripping Dripping
Didn't check the actual spring, but there was a lot of water in the canyon which was visible from the trail.
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