Weavers Needle is a 4,553-foot (1,388-meter) peak located in the Superstition Mountains of central Arizona. It is actually composed of two adjacent towers, but their alignment when viewed from the north and south (the most common viewpoints) gives the appearance of a solitary dagger of dark brown rock piercing skyward from the sagebrush canyons. The fact that it stands 1,000 vertical feet clear above its surroundings is remarkable when one considers that it is simply the erosional remnant of a once-larger volcanic formation. Interestingly, its slender shadow was once rumoured to indicate the location of the famed Lost Dutchman gold mine.
Although it may seem difficult to believe at first sight, it is indeed possible to reach the summit of the tallest tower by a moderate, yet adventurous, rock climb. Four miles of hiking up and over Fremont Saddle (the classic viewpoint), lead one to the base of the west face. A prominent chimney separating the two needles holds two pitches of insecure climbing mounted by a 5.5 chockstone crux. Trad placements are scarce but present when needed. From the top of the chimney, the route turns left and rambles up the south face of the main needle. The third pitch (short class-4 face) and fourth pitch (solid 5.5 crack) are separated by a couple hundred feet of class-3 scrambling, which can be navigated unroped.
SUMMARY: I climbed Weavers Needle with Giselle in mid December of the year 2015 during our 5-day backcountry adventure through the Superstition Mountains. We returned to the trailhead at the end of the third day in order to restock our supplies of food and water. On the morning of the fourth day we hiked four miles up and over Fremont Saddle to the base of the needle, reaching the summit by the adventurous 4-pitch West Chimney route and rappelling in the afternoon. To make the journey a complete pilgrimage, the following day we circumnavigated the entire needle, detouring to climb Palomino Mountain before returning to the trailhead over Bluff Saddle.
FIRST VIEW: Our first view of Weavers Needle comes on the first day of the trip when we climb to the summit of Miners Needle. Even from several miles away, the needle is easy to identify because it towers so high above its surroundings.
19 December, 2015
The beaming Arizona sunrise stirs me from my thin sleeping bag. Giselle and I prepare instant coffee and oatmeal while standing in awe of the kaleidoscopic sky overhead. The huge escarpment of the southern Superstition range gleams in honey-dipped hues, gathering fresh sunlight and also beckoning us to the wilderness.
It’s just past 8:30am when we set off from the Peralta trailhead, skipping briskly up the popular trail through Peralta Canyon with loaded rucksacks.
Two miles of ascent bring us to the family-favorite Fremont Saddle, which presents the onlooker with the “classic” Weavers Needle view.
Leaving the gaggle of wide-eyed day-hikers behind at the saddle, Giselle and I continue straight north down Boulder Canyon under the imposing figure of Weavers Needle.
After four miles of hiking since the trailhead, the two of us decide to stash our rucksacks below a boulder and start bushwhacking up to the base of the great western wall.
Soon, our chimney comes into view and we find ourselves among the colourful volcanic strata of the formation, still more than 500 vertical feet below the summit.
The two of us start scrambling up the shallow gully below the west chimney. It’s littered with loose rock, and the angle of the slope is enough to give concern for a nasty fall.
There is a group of six (!) climbers at the base of the route; I don’t hesitate to request that we climb past them even though half of them are already up the first pitch. With a token amount of brashness, I link the first two pitches of steady 5.6 climbing, placing only three pieces of gear in addition to the two fixed iron pipes already present. Near the end of my rope, I squeeze through the chockstone chimney and belay from inside the alcove. Giselle swiftly follows my lead, and before we know it, we’ve left the big bumbling group in our proverbial and literal dust.
The chockstone at the top of pitch two marks the upper terminus of the west chimney, which is actually the deep notch between the two separate towers of Weavers Needle. We turn left to ascend the south face of the main tower on loose, junky class-4 terrain.
The third pitch ends at a broad vegetated ledge, at which point we coil the rope begin simul-climbing the scrambly class-3/4 section up to the base of the fourth and final pitch.
Near the bottom of the fourth pitch there is a striking pedestal that makes for a phenomenal “King of the Superstition Mountains” photo opportunity.
Though steep, the fourth and final pitch looks rather easy. This turns out to be true, as I find myself hauling up a juggy face to a offwidth crack adorned with a lifetime worth of handholds. The sequence feels like 5.5 difficulty, at most.
I belay Giselle from a large natural horn just below the top of the needle. When she arrives to my station, the two of us scramble the remaining distance to the 4,553-foot summit and soak in the unrivaled panoramic views of the mystical Superstition Mountains.
Howling winds on the exposed mountaintop encourage us to begin our descent, starting with a rappel from a fixed anchor station on the southeast cusp of the summit plateau.
The rest of the south face down to the notch contains no fixed anchors, therefore we are forced to downclimb the easy class-3/4 terrain, including the third pitch of steep class-4 face climbing.
A fixed anchor station at the notch gives us the opportunity to rappel the remainder of the route. We do so in three separate rappels, stopping to rig the rope at both of the fixed iron pipes.
By the time we get back to the location of our stashed rucksacks, the late-afternoon sun is beaming directly on the gargantuan 500-foot walls on the west face of the needle. We continue heading north (away from the trailhead still) in order to perform a pilgrimage around the mountain that we just finished climbing. The formation looks absolutely majestic from every single angle, with no exceptions. It is the undisputed king of the Superstition needles, and I’m rapt in full gaping awe.
The two of us decide to make camp in the lower reaches of Boulder Canyon, immediately below a 100-foot rock formation that I name Boulder Peak because it is simply a peak composed of large boulders. We can’t resist trying to climb the thing before the setting of the sun. It turns out to be quite the adventure, as we negotiate a lengthy slot canyon to the base of a class-5 chimney, soloing up to the summit and basking in the divine view of dusk-kissed Weavers Needle.
We observe the sunset from atop Boulder Peak before returning to rig the tent and construct a campfire.
20 December, 2015
We use the morning to complete our pilgrimage of Weavers Needle, following Boulder Canyon a couple miles north until the junction with Upper Black Top Mesa trail, which whisks us up and over Black Top Mesa Pass.
We drop our rucksacks at Black Top Mesa Pass, eyes set on a quick ascent of Palomino Mountain. It’s a cubic fortress of orange volcanic tuff with sheer hundred-foot cliffs flanking all sides. We don’t know if there is a way to the top, but it seems like a worthwhile challenge for us to undertake.
We wrap 180-degrees around the mountain, searching desperately for a safe passage to the summit plateau. Running out of patience, I solo a spicy class-5 face measuring 40 feet tall, which leaves me stranded on a ledge with no way to go but upwards. Giselle balks at the thought of following me, so we arrange to meet on the summit, hoping that we can find a way for her to get up that might also double as a way for me to get down.
Just before reaching the summit, I discover a deep notch in the cliffs that looks to be a straightforward gully climb. I holler this down to Giselle, unbeknownst to her location, but she hollers back that she is already halfway up the gully. The two of us unite on the flat summit, which happens to have the coolest register I’ve ever seen: a mailbox. What’s more, the mailbox contains two old sketches dated 1927 that show the location of a supposed gold mine. Pure magic in the Superstition Mountains!
The two of us are overjoyed at the opportunity to descend the easy class-3 gully from the summit, but it means that we must follow the gully all the way down to the main canyon and then backtrack nearly half a mile to the location of our rucksacks. The gully develops into a deep canyon decorated with fantastic purple towers and bulbous golden boulders.
Back at the rucksacks, we savor our very last piece of tortilla before starting the 6-mile return to the trailhead with growling stomachs. We follow the Terrapin Trail all the way back, coming up and over three separate 3,200-foot passes: Black Top Mesa Pass, Terrapin Pass, and Bluff Saddle. The gargantuan east face of Weavers Needle dominates over this particular drainage to such an extent that it’s called Needle Canyon.
The highpoint of the day is 3,400-foot Bluff Saddle, the dividing point between Needle Canyon (north) and Barks Canyon (south). The Barks Canyon drainage is decorated with some of the tallest cliff faces and some of the most inexplicable rock formations in the Superstition backcountry.
During the last mile of the trail, the southern Superstition landscape spreads out before us in full glory. We savour the now-familiar views of our five-day adventure in simultaneous anticipation of the hot burritos that await us down in Phoenix.