The flight from the ever-rainy winter of the Northwest to the unseasonably hot desert sands of Phoenix, Arizona were received with open arms. It was my first time in the state. And though the giddiness of travel excitement may have been at the core of my good mood, I was stoked to have the chance to climb the great Weaver’s Needle in the Superstition Mountain Wilderness.
Weaver’s Needle is a ‘Tuff’ mountain, meaning that it is comprised of fused volcanic ash that was eroded away to create the 1,000 ft (300 m) spire that is seen today. The trail starts at the Peralta Trailhead, east of Phoenix, and traverses north over a rock and cactus-lined trail a little over 2 miles to the Fremont Saddle, where you get your first view of the Needle.
My group of 4 had decided early on to camp at the top of the Needle, but on the night before our departure, we had unanimously decided against it. This turned out to be one of the better decisions of the trip simply because of the lack of water at the top. So we camped just off of the trail and near the base of Weaver’s, which actually had a trickle of a water source nearby due to a recent rain. The following morning, we stashed all the gear that we didn’t need, and began to climb. The camp was at an elevation of around 3100 feet above sea level, and the peak of Weaver’s Needle reaches an impressive 4,553 ft, making the scree field approach a very steep warm-up for what was to come.
Once we reached the base of the Needle’s volcanic walls, we got to work.
Now, by no means am I a professional rock climber, nor do I claim to be, but I’ve spent some time bouldering, and I have some experience with mountaineering, so I felt that I was clear to attempt the Needle based on the Wiki description. Also, I was with a group who had done most of the climb before, and were avid rock climbers. All things considered, I felt safe. The first few pitches were class 4-ish, and not very vertical, so the climbing went by fairly quickly as we went deeper and higher into the chimney between the two spires. When we got to the first of the class 5 pitches, we had to stop to let a group of 4 guys, who had camped at the top, repel down. After the group had passed, we sent our most experienced climber up as a lead rope toward the choke-stone at the saddle. The 30-40 ft climb was a little unnerving for an inexperienced climber, like me, but the rock provided some nice hand-and-foot holds and I was feeling strong in form and energy. So, suppressing my anxiety, we continued climbing.
Getting to the saddle was the psychological halfway point for me. Standing up high on a fairly level platform, overlooking the land where you once stood a few hours before, and having the feeling of both accomplishment and sickly foreshadowing of what is yet to come. The next pitch was fairly exposed, without much room for error, but again, the hand holds were there. A moderate scramble up the south side of the North Spire with a few short pitches proved to be more psychologically straining than physically draining. Eventually you stumble up to an open platform with an un-climbable wall used for repelling down from the top that stands about 40 or 50 feet tall, and the only way up is a very, very exposed west-to-east pitch to the top. The climbing itself on this last wall would be a joke if not for the 800 foot drop behind and to your left. The holds seemed like they were made for my hands (and arms) to fit nicely and securely into their crevices, which took a little, but not much, of the stress off. I slowly and methodically made my way to the top of Weaver’s Needle while double and triple-checking every point of contact with the mountain. And then, I was up.
The view was amazing. The sun felt great on my adrenaline-soaked body. We all began to relax and talk about how awesome everything was. As we finally began to share how we felt during each section, we concluded that we were all stressed to the max at one point or another, and were actively exercising some method of self stress relief (mostly talking to ourselves, jokes, etc). We knew that once we were done, this trip was going to be categorized as Type 2 Fun. So we took some pictures (I left my camera at the saddle with my pack to give me better balance), signed the log book, and started our descent back to the trail.
I am forever proud of my teammates’ courage and ability to work together while out of our comfort zones. The experience was exactly what I was shooting for, though I may not have known that when I signed up. The only thing that I can recommend is to either go with someone who has climbed it before, or have plenty of outdoor experience in rock climbing. Make sure that you do your homework on the routes, red tape, conditions and what gear you need before attempting the Needle. The last thing anyone wants during a beautiful adventure is an emergency.
As always, be safe on the road less traveled. Never forget why you do it, and make sure to have fun.