It was weird to see sunlight on the hills around Peralta Trailhead. Chris and I had been to here several times before, using the trailhead as an access to the southern lands of the Superstition Wilderness, and each time had been hours before sunrise. Today I stood alone and gazed up the steep, partially lit hills and pondered the tough adventure that lay in front of me.
Somewhere to the north was Bluff Spring Mountain. It's an odd-shaped mountain that isn't terribly tall, peaking out around 4100', but it sits in the middle of the Superstitions and offers views of Weaver's Needle and the Ridgeline beyond. Oh, and it offers a glimpse of the lands to the east, mountains and mesas that I haven't even touched yet.
Getting to Bluff Spring Mountain isn't tough. A trail cuts a fairly direct line north from Peralta Trailhead to the southern side of the mountain. Then things get a little hairy. I've heard that there is a trail up the southeast flank, close to Dutchman's Trail, but it isn't one of the official ones. And I didn't want to take that up. My plan was to come up the southwest flank, over near Weaver's Needle, in order to make a nice lasso of the mountain. A good 1000' climb of bushwhacking would lay between me and the peak.
Before starting down the trail, though, I stalled at the trailhead. A few cars were here, and a few hikers were milling about getting their gear ready, so there wasn't much to disturb me from gawking about. Dacite Cliffs in the west were amazing in the morning light. One day I really need to get on top of those, if only for an excuse to loop back around the bottom and gaze up. A solid 900' of yellow-white rock cliffs really show off in the sunrise.
I finally tore myself away and started up the trail. While there were a few hikers already out before me they were all heading up to Fremont Saddle. I was taking the other way up, Bluff Springs Trail, and being the first one on this route I got to deal with last night's spider webs. At least the trail was easy to walk, complete with wide stairs up the steep hill.
After a quick ten minute climb that had me out of breath I broke the crest of the first set of hills and was greeted with views east to the bright sun. There was plenty to admire from up here. In the far east was hints of Coffee Flat, with an odd outcropping sticking up to the left. Miner's Needle, maybe? To the south was the gnarly peak that sits by Quarter Circle U Ranch, with little outcroppings and cliffs swooping away from all sides. Perulta Trailhead was also down there, already small with distance.
I turned away from the view and headed north into the Superstitions. I had miles to go before the mountain peak, and the trail was annoyingly familiar. There was more to see in the daylight, sure, but Chris and I had been this way before. I walked quickly along the climbing hill, making my way through Barks Canyon and around the steep rock walls on either side.
An hour into the hike and I was already at Bluff Saddle. I paused and took a few short sips of water. I was perched high on the side of Barks Canyon, level with the top of Dacite Cliffs, though I couldn't make it out with a taller ridge separating us. Ahead lay the humbling cliffs of Bluff Spring Mountain. From here it looked like a ridiculous climb.
Taking my time I dropped down from the saddle and started down the top of Needle Canyon. I had made good time, and the temperatures were already climbing, and I didn't have a ton of water with me today. There was no need to start sweating yet, not when I had a tough climb sitting right ahead of me. The trail got hard to trace here anyways. It split a few times, forking and rejoining around the narrow wash, and I putzed on my way down.
Eventually I made it around the low hill and got a good view up the side of Weaver's Needle. On my last visit here Chris and I had cut up before this spot along the cutoff trail in hopes of reaching the base of the Needle. From this vantage I could see how difficult that would have been. The south end of the needle was one hoodoo rise after another. A better approach would be a bushwhack from here, up the hill of eroded rock. It was tempted but I passed it by. I really wanted to conquer my original mountain today.
My route quickly descended into madness. One minute I was walking along an open wash with views up at the needle, the next I was hacking through thick brush that clawed and ripped at me. Apparently everything in the desert hates unbloodied skin. I forced my way through the tunnel of pain and tried to look around.
At some point I wanted to start heading right, up the side of the mountain, but that didn't look so possible now. I was deep in… whatever this hellish growth was. Catclaw? Mistletoe? Does mistletoe even grow in the desert? Whatever it was, the thorny green stretched away from me in all directions.
I dallied for a while, venturing down the trail, then circling back up. I didn't expect to find a clear path up the side of the mountain, though I hoped to find something. Finally, after wasting a half hour poking around, I just gritted my teeth and pushed through. A dozen oozing scratches and plenty of ripped threads later and I stood atop a short outcropping above the crucible. Bushwhacking was so much more fun in the midwest where the plants didn't actively try to kill you.
One surprising view from this outcropping was Battleship Mountain, far to the north. It kinda made sense, as this Needle Canyon was the same one that eventually feeds into Boulder Canyon next to that formation, but it was a unlikely alignment to get. Between us lay Red Hills, Black Top Mesa, and the highlands around Terrapin Pass. It was an odd alignment to get.
Now for the climb. I turned and headed up the steep hill, picking out spots for short breaks every twenty or thirty yards. Exhausting myself and misplaced steps wasn't something I wanted to do this early on in the hike. I weaved around boulders, avoided the larger groups of cacti, and slowly gained elevation. As I climbed the sun beat down from ahead, almost as if it was trying to push me back down the slope.
More interesting things crept into view as I climbed. First, I noticed Black Mesa and Yellow Peak to the northwest. Well, maybe Yellow Peak. Black Top Mesa may have been blocking that peak, I wasn't sure. Then, as I got above even higher, the South Peak of Superstition Ridgeline showed far to the west. It was easy enough to spot with layers of hoodoos atop an otherwise flat mesa.
Once I crested the top of the climb I stopped and sat down for a rest. There was a few hundred feet of climb left stretched over hundreds of yards, nothing compared to the last leg. The vegetation was sparse, dead grass scattered between patches of green, though the rocks looks loose and nasty. After a snack and some water I started on the final climb to the peak.
I moved slow, though. My legs were still tired from the quick climb, and the sun was hot, and there was a lot to look out. Four Peaks had finally popped into hazy view, and more and more of Black Meas was visible far below. Also, the wash and Barks Canyon looked so tiny from up here. I was probably on top of the cliffs I had seen before, the ones that looked so insurmountable earlier in the day.
The shape of this mountain was also becoming more visible. It kinda reminds me of a sinking canoe, with the northwest end dipping down to La Barge Canyon. The sides are fairly tall, often above 3800', and the middle is shallow valley around 3500'. I've seen it called Hidden Valley before, not to be confused with the Hidden Valley of South Mountain over by Tempe. The southeast end of the canoe features all the tall cliffs, with one side forming the peak and the other a semi-sudden drop to Bluff Springs. This end also has a large mesa that was surprisingly grassy.
Stacked rocks formed the last hundred feet or so of the climb and quickly pushed me up to the peak. It was steep enough to give me a little bit of bouldering over parts. When I finally reached the peak I gazed around, excited. There was plenty more to see up here, views to the east that had been blocked before, and I curiously looked over. Though I mostly guessed at what was over there.
Tortilla Mountain was the tallest group of hoodoos, I think, as it is the only thing over there that approaches 5000'. Black Mountain, Peter's Mesa, and Music Mountain were all supposed to be over there too. I couldn't make out one from the other, not from this distance. I had held out some hope that I could look down on the mesa and see a trail leading up to Malapais Mountain, but that wasn't going to happen.
Pausing briefly to sign the log book that was nestled in between two rocks I made one more look around. Both South Peak and Weaver's Needle were very prominent from here, as well as most of the ridgeline. From here the ridgeline looked like a ridiculous adventure, with so many valleys and rises along the length.
When I decided to drop down I had to carefully pick a path. I had hoped to find a trail, knowing that there had to be some cairns marking a route from the more traveled southeast side, but there was nothing to over here. Instead I was stuck making my way over the loose rocks and spidery ocotillo. I didn't mind it too much. It was nice to walk on flat ground again, even if it meant slowly weaving around for a way forward.
Eventually I would have to find a way off the mountain. First, though, there was a little detour to take. I wanted a better look up Hidden Valley, the heart of Bluff Spring Mountain. I meandered over to a little hill on the northern side of the grassy mesa and looked out over the valley. It was shallow, long, and had wide swaths of green. And I didn't see a trail down there either. That was probably a lot of bushwhacking through thorny nasty stuff down there.
I turned and headed southeast over to where I hoped an easy descent was. It was slow going at first through the sparse vegetation and bouldery rocks, with the sporadic stop to pull pickers or thorns from my pants, and then I bumped into a cairned trail. It was completely masked by the low growth until you were actually on it. I looked up and down the trail, trying to see where it climbed up to the peak or where it descended down, and couldn't trace it. I shrugged and simply followed it further east.
Aside from losing the trail above a steep, overgrown wash, I made it to the edge of the mesa with little difficulty. The yellow rock curved sharply down to the desert floor some five hundred feet below. A thin trail wound around down there, probably Dutchmans or Bluff Springs, and it looked so far away. I kept a close eye on it, hoping to see any sort of movement, but there was nothing.
So far there had been no one else out here today. There were a few people at Perulta Trailhead, sure, yet that was the last of them. No hikers were on Bluff Springs Trail, or the mountain, or near Weaver's Needle. Part of me appreciated the solitude, something I would diligently search for the Huron Mountains of Michigan. But this was desert and I still didn't feel that comfortable in this terrain. Another hiker would be a welcome sight.
As I started down the steep yellow rock I did catch a glimpse of something interesting. A few sharp rises in the distance marked what I guessed was Miner's Needle. I didn't know much about that formation, though it was interesting that Weaver's Needle and Miner's Needle were so close to each other. Otherwise I had nothing besides a mark on a map, some coordinates, and no idea of what it actually looked like.
Getting down the mountain was tough. My left knee, which had been sending me warning signs for a few hours now, was not happy with the sudden descent. While the way was cairned, and it seemed to take the best way down the gravel and steep rock, it was still very steep. When the ground began to level and sandy desert took over the rocky landscape I pulled out my map to take a look. I was still miles from my car, and it was barely noon, and I had a few options for my return route.