Miners Needle is a 3,648-foot (1,112-meter) peak located in the Superstition Mountains of central Arizona. A visually arresting edifice of peach-colored volcanic tuff, it towers high above the saguaro forests of Dutchman Flat.
The Miners Needle massif, located 4 miles east of Peralta trailhead along the Dutchman Trail, is actually composed of three separate needles. None of them can be surmounted by non-technical routes. The west needle (not featured in this article) can be gained by a number of less-than-desirable trad routes. The aesthetic Window Needle features a unique route called Threading the Needle: the first pitch (5.7 chimney) climbs the west face up to the namesake natural rock window, while the second pitch (5.5) runs through the window and ascends the east face to the top. The middle needle hosts a number of junky moderate trad routes, the most basic being the poorly protected 2-pitch 5.6 route called Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am.
SUMMARY: I climbed Miners Needle with Giselle in mid December of the year 2015, during our 5-day backcountry adventure through the Superstition Mountains. We made a successful ascent of Window Needle on the first day, setting up camp in Coffee Flat. We spent the entirety of the second day making a brutal yet rewarding 12-mile pilgrimage around Coffee Mountain. Waking up at dawn on the third day, we climbed the middle needle by the Wham Bam Thank you Ma’am route and then returned to the trailhead to replenish our supplies before heading back for a two-day climb-and-pilgrimage of Weavers Needle.
16 December, 2015 – WINDOW NEEDLE
The hour is nearly noon when we arrive to the Peralta trailhead. It’s our first time seeing the Superstition Mountains, and we’re totally in awe of the massive cliffs and precarious towers. Having stocked up on Trader Joe’s goodies, Giselle and I hoist our rucksacks and start hiking east along the Dutchman Flat trail through a veritable forest of saguaro cactus.
After two miles, the unmistakable form of Miners Needle begins to dominate our vision. It stands high above other marvelous formations like Twilight Pinnacle and Sisyphus Pinnacle.
Another two miles of hiking bring us to the foot of Miners Needle itself. Here we turn north and begin wrapping around to the opposite (north) side of the formation, where the highest quality climbs are located.
We leave our backpacking gear at Miners Saddle (north of the Needle), taking a moment to savour our surroundings before putting on our harnesses and scrambling up to the base of Window Needle. It’s easily identified by its characteristic natural rock window about halfway up, which turns out to be much larger than it appears.
The two of us have difficulty finding the start of the route, going to the base of a wide chimney instead of the shallow gully mentioned on our internet resource. I lead the pitch, growing increasingly skeptical of our choice of route. The info mentions that the gully should be class-4 difficulty, but I soon find myself pulling maneuvers that feel more like 5.7 grade. This pitch is interesting, however (and I would indeed recommend it), because it involves two separate sequences of tunneling between big wobbly chockstones.
A moment of uncertainty comes at the second of these chockstones, when at last I come to the conclusion that this could not possibly be class-4 and therefore I am most certainly off route. Facing outwards from the inside of the chimney, several meters above my last piece of protection, I scan the rock for a handhold and nearly tumble down the chimney in surprise. What first appeared to be a small knob of brown rock turns out to be a sleeping bat! Despite my exclamation of “BAT!” the innocent creature does not stir from his slumber.
Since the chimney that I just climbed is about twice as long as the gully I was meant to follow, I barely make it to the first anchor station before running out of rope. And what a spectacular place from which to belay! I’m literally inside the natural window, which has the dimensions of a large ballroom doorway.
Giselle follows me up the ghastly chimney (failing to notice the sleeping bat) and joins me inside the window. She then proceeds to belay me as I lead the second pitch.
The second pitch (5.5) is technically easy but very exciting, starting with a horizontal traverse across loose rock. Several moves out from the window, I realize that I’m suddenly 500 feet above the ground! When the traverse fizzles out, I climb an easy 5.5 gully to the summit.
The two of us make the summit at precisely sunset, in perfect time to sit and watch the alpenglow show.
Under fading daylight, Giselle and I locate a fixed anchor sling and use it to rappel the west side of the formation.
When we get back to the location of our rucksacks, the two of us decide to hike two miles in the dark to find a nice campsite in Coffee Flat.
17 December, 2015 – COFFEE MOUNTAIN PILGRIMAGE (Photographic sequence)
We spend the whole day completing a brutal 12-mile pilgrimage around Coffee Mountain. We ascend Red Tanks Canyon, descend La Barge Canyon, and finally ascend Whiskey Spring Canyon. This full-day tour deposits us back at Miners Summit, where we relax by campfire.
Our great pilgrimage around Coffee Mountain concludes at Miners Summit, a minor peak located just north of Miners Needle itself. We stomp across to the saddle between Summit and Needle, making camp on a lovely clearing.
18 December, 2015 – MIDDLE NEEDLE
We rise from our tent at the crack of dawn and gear up to launch an ascent on the middle needle.
The east side of the middle needle contains a number of moderate trad routes. We elect to try the 5.6 line called Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am. I gain major experience points in leading this pitch because the protection is sparse and unreliable. For almost the entire pitch I’m aware of the consequences of a fall; the rock is of such poor quality that it is hard to trust any gear placements. Wild, exposed face climbing on rotten rock leads to a low-angle chimney.
The first pitch terminates at a ledge about 50 feet below the actual summit of the formation. Giselle leads the second pitch to the top, which is probably no harder than 5.0 difficulty.
The view from the top is glorious, although not much different from Window Needle which stands only 40 feet below us. Weavers Needle captivates the eye, but the most interesting perspective is looking down past Window Needle summit to the saguaro-forested flatland below. The dirt pathway of the Dutchman Trail (from which we came) seems impossibly far below us.
We carefully downclimb the top pitch, then utilize the fixed two-bolt anchor to rappel the first pitch. When we get back to our tent on Miners Saddle we are delighted to find a stick bug poking around on the mesh roof!
After we’ve had our fun observing the stick bug, we carry the critter down to safety so that we can pack up camp. Under the glorious midday desert sun, we start the 4-mile hike down the Dutchman Trail to the trailhead.
Thirsty, hungry, and exhausted… the two of us drive the short distance into the Phoenix suburb of Apache Junction and replenish ourselves, preparing for our upcoming ascent of Weavers Needle.