The Hand is a 150-foot-tall freestanding tower located in the Superstition Mountains of central Arizona, just east of Phoenix. A solitary fin of crumbly volcanic breccia that resembles its name from certain angles, it is perhaps the most prominent of the Northwest Pinnacles.
There is a classic 5.6 climb running up the steep eastern arête, or the index finger of the praying hand, or the Razor’s Edge, as it’s called. A safe, low-angle 5.5 chimney pitch leads up to the main knife-edge, setting up for two sparsely-bolted pitches of spicy 5.6 arête hugging separated by a unique straddle-belay on the narrow Chicken Ledge.
SUMMARY: I climbed The Hand with Giselle in late January of the year 2016 during a day of spire-climbing in the Superstition Mountains. In the morning we hiked ~1.5 miles east from Cholla trailhead out to the formation, climbed the Razors Edge and descended by a double-rope rappel down the south face. In the afternoon we hiked another quarter mile out to The Iceberg and climbed the 2-pitch 5.7 route Tinkerbell, returning to the trailhead just past sunset.
31 January, 2015
After sleeping the night behind a random barn east of Phoenix, we drive to the Cholla trailhead and start hiking 1.5 miles along the Treasure Trail. The sun has yet to crest the massive western escarpment of the Superstition Mountains, so we march comfortably in the shade.
When the Treasure Trail hits the 1.5 mile mark and takes a sharp turn south, Giselle and I pick up a braided network of secondary trails that continue eastward in the general direction of The Hand. It’s impossible to misidentify the formation because it stands completely isolated from the other Northwest Pinnacles, its 150-foot south face catching the early rays of sunlight.
Soon we find ourselves at the base of the formation, dwarfed by its imposing cliffs that look ready to crumble down upon our fragile heads. We scramble down to the far southeast side of the formation and rope up at the base of the low-angle chimney that marks the first pitch.
Getting off the ground on the first pitch is a tricky 10-foot boulder problem. Beyond that obstacle, a bit of class-3/4 scrambling leads to the base of a shallow 5.5 chimney, which is easily protected via a deep interior crack. The mantle maneuver coming out of the chimney gives me a quick rush of adrenaline, as suddenly I find myself balancing on a thin arête with vertical drops all around my feet. But this isn’t the true Razor’s Edge; there’s still a couple moves of exposed face climbing until reaching the anchor station on the narrow crest.
Now that we’re on the main arête proper, opportunities for natural protection vanish completely. Widely-spaced bolts offer a small sense of security as I make my way up the chossy 5.5 arête, and I’m relieved to reach the anchors on Chicken Ledge after balancing carefully the last couple of steps.
The belay from Chicken Ledge is wild because it requires actually straddling the Razor’s Edge itself, which is at this point less than two feet wide. Almost a dozen day-hikers gather at the base of the climb, gaping upward and snapping endless photos of our seemingly insane mission. A hearty cheer erupts from our impromptu spectators as Giselle pulls herself up onto Chicken Ledge and joins me on the thin blade of rock.
Starting with a steep 5.6 headwall directly above Chicken Ledge, the third pitch looks to be a daunting proposition. Not to mention that the arête gets even narrower, and now many of the maneuvers involve grabbing handholds on either side of the blade. The runout style of bolting would be totally fine if the rock were of good quality… but as crumbly as the volcanic breccia is, it’s hard to stifle the fear of breaking off a hold and sailing 20+ feet off one side of the arête or the other.
The summit itself is guarded by a 15-foot hand-crack that is surprisingly trustworthy. I place a medium-sized cam and proceed to jam my way up to the vertiginous peak.
The summit is hardly any wider than the arête itself, meaning that we have unobstructed views in all directions. The iconic Four Peaks massif stands on the northern horizon, while the sheer escarpment of the Superstition mountains looms directly above us on the south side.
A small gaggle of day-hikers is still hanging out below the south face of The Hand, and we can literally look 150 feet straight down to their miniature figures. It is by this side of the tower that we execute a double-rope rappel back to solid ground.
We spend the afternoon climbing The Iceberg via a hairy 2-pitch 5.7 route called Tinkerbell, hiking back over The Hand saddle at sunset and skipping back down to the Cholla trailhead as the fiery orange sun ignites the western horizon above Phoenix.