Miners Needle (3,648′) – Multi-pitch Trad Climbing

Looking south at the three summits of the Miners Needle massif. From left to right: Window Needle, middle needle, and west needle.

Looking south at the three summits of the Miners Needle massif. From left to right: Window Needle, middle needle, and west needle.

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.

Panorama looking northwest at Dacite Cliffs from the Peralta trailhead.

Panorama looking northwest at Dacite Cliffs from the Peralta trailhead.

Panorama looking northwest at Dacite Cliffs (left) and Peralta Canyon (right) from the start of the Dutchman Trail.

Panorama looking northwest at Dacite Cliffs (left) and Peralta Canyon (right) from the start of the Dutchman Trail.

Giselle trekking eastward along the Dutchman Trail. The prominent peak directly above her head is Miners Needle.

Giselle trekking eastward along the Dutchman Trail. The prominent peak directly above her head is Miners Needle.

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.

Panorama looking east at Miners Needle (upper left) and Sisyphus Pinnacles (lower right).

Panorama looking east at Miners Needle (upper left) and Sisyphus Pinnacles (lower right).

Looking east at Giselle posing in front of Miners Needle at a small outcrop along the Dutchman Trail.

Looking east at Giselle posing in front of Miners Needle at a small outcrop along the Dutchman Trail.

Panorama looking east at Sisyphus Pinnacles (left) from the Dutchman Trail.

Panorama looking east at Sisyphus Pinnacles (left) from the Dutchman Trail.

Giselle trekking eastward towards Sisyphus Pinnacles (left) along the Dutchman Trail.

Giselle trekking eastward towards Sisyphus Pinnacles (left) along the Dutchman Trail.

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.

The author looking north up at Miners Needle (upper right) towering above Twilight Needle (lower left).

The author looking north up at Miners Needle (upper right) towering above Twilight Needle (lower left).

Looking up at the east face of Miners Needle. The middle needle (center; appears tallest) and Window Needle (right) can be clearly identified.

Looking up at the east face of Miners Needle. The middle needle (center; appears tallest) and Window Needle (right) can be clearly identified.

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.

Looking east at the basin of Coffee Flat guarded by rock formations like Sisyphus Pinnacles (near left) and Buzzard Roost (far left).

Looking east at the basin of Coffee Flat guarded by rock formations like Sisyphus Pinnacles (near left) and Buzzard Roost (far left).

Looking up at Giselle approaching the north side of Window Needle.

Looking up at Giselle approaching the north side of Window Needle.

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.

Young Gis at the base of the first chimney pitch on Window Needle.

Young Gis at the base of the first chimney pitch on Window Needle.

The author leading the first pitch (5.7 chimney) of Window Needle.

The author leading the first pitch (5.7 chimney) of Window Needle.

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.

A slumbering bat in the chimney on the first pitch of Window Needle!

A slumbering bat in the chimney on the first pitch of Window Needle!

Close-up of a slumbering bat in the chimney on the first pitch of Window Needle! See previous photo for scale.

Close-up of a slumbering bat in the chimney on the first pitch of Window Needle! See previous photo for scale.

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.

Panorama looking north from the natural window on Window Needle.

Panorama looking north from the natural window on Window Needle.

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.

Looking northwest at Giselle reaching the top of the first pitch on Window Needle.

Looking northwest at Giselle reaching the top of the first pitch on Window Needle.

Looking down at Giselle belaying from the natural window on Window Needle.

Looking down at Giselle belaying from the natural window on Window Needle.

Looking down at Giselle belaying from the natural window on Window Needle.

Looking down at Giselle belaying from the natural window on Window Needle.

Panorama looking east at Giselle belaying from the natural window on Window Needle.

Panorama looking east at Giselle belaying from the natural window on Window Needle.

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 author leading the second pitch (5.5 traverse to face) on Window Needle.

The author leading the second pitch (5.5 traverse to face) on Window Needle.

Looking down at Giselle nearing the top of the second and final pitch (5.5) on Window Needle.

Looking down at Giselle nearing the top of the second and final pitch (5.5) on Window Needle.

The two of us make the summit at precisely sunset, in perfect time to sit and watch the alpenglow show.

Panorama looking north at Giselle on the summit of Window Needle at sunset. Notice the silhouette of the needle carved into the orange alpenglow! The peak on far left is Weavers Needle.

Panorama looking north at Giselle on the summit of Window Needle at sunset. Notice the silhouette of the needle carved into the orange alpenglow! The peak on far left is Weavers Needle.

Looking northwest at Weavers Needle from the summit of Window Needle at sunset.

Looking northwest at Weavers Needle from the summit of Window Needle at sunset.

Looking southeast at the fantastic rock formations around Coffee Flat from the summit of Window Needle at sunset. The formation on the lower left is Sisyphus Pinnacles.

Looking southeast at the fantastic rock formations around Coffee Flat from the summit of Window Needle at sunset. The formation on the lower left is Sisyphus Pinnacles.

Looking southeast at the two other towers of Miners Needle during a colourful sunset. This photo was taken on the summit of Window Needle (note pile of rope at bottom).

Looking southeast at the two other towers of Miners Needle during a colourful sunset. This photo was taken on the summit of Window Needle (note pile of rope at bottom).

The author and Giselle on the summit of Window Needle at sunset.

The author and Giselle on the summit of Window Needle at sunset.

Under fading daylight, Giselle and I locate a fixed anchor sling and use it to rappel the west side of the formation.

Looking down at the author rappelling the west face of Window Needle.

Looking down at the author rappelling the west face of Window Needle.

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.

Looking south at Miners Needle (right) during sunset.

Looking south at Miners Needle (right) during sunset.

Giselle trekking southward below Miners Needle (right).

Giselle trekking southward below Miners Needle (right).

The author staying calm in the face of fiery danger.

The author staying calm in the face of fiery danger.


 

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.

Looking north at our camp on Miners Saddle.

Looking north at our camp on Miners Saddle.

Giselle trekking up to the north side of Miners Needle. From left to right: Window Needle, middle needle, and west needle.

Giselle trekking up to the north side of Miners Needle. From left to right: Window Needle, middle needle, and west 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.

Giselle looking up the east face of the middle needle. The route Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am (5.6) ascends the shallow crack system on the right.

Giselle looking up the east face of the middle needle. The route Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am (5.6) ascends the shallow crack system on the right.

Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am

Looking down at Giselle following the first pitch (5.6) of Wham Bam Thank you Ma’am.

Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am

Looking down at Giselle climbing the upper chimney on Wham Bam Thank you Ma’am.

Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am

Looking down at Giselle nearing the top of the first pitch of Wham Bam Thank you Ma’am.

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.

Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am

Looking up at Giselle leading the second pitch (5.0) of Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am.

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.

Miners Needle - middle needle summit

Looking northeast at the author and Giselle on the summit of the middle needle. The distant peak between us is Weavers Needle.

Miners Needle - middle needle summit

Looking northeast at the author on the summit of the middle needle. The summit of Window Needle is the furthest spire on the formation, while the Dutchman Trail can be seen 1,200 vertical feet below.

Miners Needle - middle needle summit

Looking northeast at Giselle on the summit of the middle needle. The summit of Window Needle is the furthest spire on the formation, while the Dutchman Trail can be seen 1,200 vertical feet below.

Miners Needle - middle needle summit panorama

Panorama looking northeast at Giselle on the summit of the middle needle. The summit of Window Needle is the furthest spire on the formation, while the Dutchman Trail can be seen 1,200 vertical feet below. The peak on far left is Weavers Needle.

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!

A charming stick bug on the roof of our tent!

A charming stick bug on the roof of our tent!

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.

Giselle trekking southward below Miners Needle. The prominent central spire from this angle is Window Needle.

Giselle trekking southward below Miners Needle. The prominent central spire from this angle is Window Needle.

The author trekking westward back to Peralta trailhead, which sits below Dacite Cliffs.

The author trekking westward back to Peralta trailhead, which sits below Dacite Cliffs.

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.

 

THE END

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