A Hot Climb Up Miner's Needle
A dusty path wound north away from my tired feet. I strode along it, thankful for the flat route and the chance to stretch my legs in a normal walk. For the last few hours I had been bushwhacking up and down Bluff Spring Mountain, over rocks and through prickly brush, and this narrow footpath was a welcome change. Even if I wasn't totally sure about where this path was going to take me.
It was well after noon on a hot spring day in the Superstition Wilderness. The trail I was on was either Dutchman's or Bluff Spring… I wasn't completely sure. I had just come down the mountain and had run into this well traveled path and picked a direction. At some point there would be a eastern trail, a route that would take me to Miner's Needle and back to my car at Perulta, I just didn't know how to find that trail.
In the meantime I headed north. If I was in the area I might as well find the springs that everything is named after here. And I was guess it was somewhere to the north. My left knee was a little sore, and my arms were starting to sting with sunburn, but I had some water left and it wouldn't be far out of the way. Along the way I found a trail marker pointing the way to the needle. Perfect.
I passed two campsites before coming upon the obvious path in to Bluff Springs. It was obvious because there was a lot of green within a narrow cut to the left and it was the only path leading west. As I walked the wind blew above, shaking the trees in the cut and giving me a pleasant respite from the afternoon heat, and then the green began to shade my path. By the time I reached the trickle of water I already felt refreshed.
There was a pipe and small plastic bucket underneath. I quickly passed it by and followed the pipe further up, curious to where the trickle came from. The pipe led another fifty yards west before ending under a sandy puddle and another pipe. The sandy puddle must be acting as a loose filter. I didn't continue up, guessing that the pools and pipes probably just continue up the hill for some distance, and circled back to the lower bucket.
It was cool here, with the shade and trickle of water, so I sat down and rested. Then a few wasps were attracted by the water. And a bunch of flies. Annoyed by the stinging insects I gave up and headed back out to one of the open campsites to eat my Clif bar. There was no way I was going to fill up on water here anyways, not with the ugly brown coloration of the water and no filter on me, and I didn't feel like getting stung over my sugary bar snack.
After a twenty minute rest I forced myself to get back up and start heading back to the trail to Miner's Needle. I wasn't in a huge rush. There was only five or eight miles between me and my car, a mere few hours of hiking, and plenty of daylight to make it. Plus I had a good half liter of water or so.
The climb to Miner's Summit changed my mind. It wasn't much, a mere two hundred feet, but it was within a shallow valley that blocked all wind. The air was hot and stifling in there. I climbed and sweated and my skin burned. Brown grass and cholla trees surrounded me with hostile intent on the sandy path. When I finally broke the saddle and peered over to the needle my first thought was on how much of a pain it would be to circle around and below it to reach Perulta Trailhead.
As I descended down the trail a more insidious plan began to form. I was right here, a mere couple of hundred feet below the formation. And unlike Weaver's Needle there was an easy route up. From the north a gentle slope climbed up into the middle of Miner's Needle, between tall hoodoos that rose like ramperts in a half-circle, and it would be relatively painless to climb up and stand in the center.
So, like the sucker I am, I cut off the trail and headed up the slope. There were a few cairns to mark a way but they faded away. I wasn't worried. The vegetation wasn't thick, there wasn't a lot of obstacles, and the general route was obvious: head up.
It wasn't an easy climb. My legs were pretty tired out from the morning and rebelled against the slope. Also, the increased exposure made my skin feel like it was sizzling. All winter and spring here I had avoided wearing sunscreen, hoping to build a base farmer's tan that wouldn't burn. Today I was learning that even tanned skin burned. My next hike would have to involve an aggressive form of sunblock.
Once I reached the hoodoos of the needle the slope seemed to increase, forcing me on all fours to continue up. I didn't mind it, though. The spires of rock created shade and I was out of the sun. I scrambled up the last dozen yards and peered down between the gaps, down a thousand feet to the green basin below.
There didn't seem to be a lot to see from here. The elevation was cool, and the formation looking like the side of a warped castle tower was interesting, but the basin below was pretty plain. There were cacti and brush and plenty of spring-green trees, as well as the faint trail that would led around and back to the Perulta Trailhead, and that was about it.
I drained the last of my water in the shade of the hoodoos before heading back down to the trail. I had maybe three miles of downhill and flat walking ahead of me and plenty of water waiting for me in the car. In an hour I'd be guzzling warmed liquid and driving back to the city. All I had to do was last through the hottest hour of the day.
The trail descended quickly down the side of Miner's Canyon, a sudden little wash that drained the needle and surrounding hills, and wound around an annoying amount of switchbacks before dropping to the basin level. The needle towered above the entire time, jagged fingers reaching up to the sky, no hint of the hollow center that I had just come through. There is an odd arch on the one side, almost like the eye of the needle, though it had been out of reach from the top. Otherwise it just looked like another rather tall and sudden outcropping in the Superstitions.
I turned away and headed west into the afternoon sun, trying my best to ignore my burning arms. Stopping in some shade was an option, one that I had considered a few times, though I didn't like that option. Staying out of the sun would have been nice, and I wasn't worried about the coming the darkness. I just didn't want to deal with the heat. I would have to sit/nap in a hot shaded area for a few hours just to get up and walk in the late afternoon heat after. If I just kept going at least I'd be out of the hot air sooner.
The trail wound between prickly pear and saguaro, climbing in and out of dry desert washes, slowly approaching the hills around the trailhead. Oh, yeah, hills. I had forgotten about the hills ahead. Even the thought of another few hundred feet made my tired legs angry.
One thing the hills did give me was a good look back over the long valley. Miner's Needle was so far away already, and Coffee Flat would be even further. There are other trailheads out there, further to the east, though I've heard the roads are really nasty. If I ever wanted to venture that far out I'd probably have to walk a few long miles through this basin again.
Refusing to give my legs any break I pushed on, climbing up the gentle slope and cresting the low hills until I finally got a view of cars beyond. And then I sped up, cruising around the descending trail until I stepped up to the dusty Jeep. Four bottles of hotter-than-lukewarm water waited for me in there, though wouldn't last the full drive home.
And that was the end of the loop. Today I visited Weaver's Needle, Bluff Spring Mountain, and Miner's Needle in one fifteen mile loop. It hadn't been a ton of fun, and my arms were pretty badly burned, but I had finished it. All in nine hours, too. Maybe, just maybe, I would survive the Grand Canyon in a few weeks.