Hard pellets of water smacked into my windshield and tumbled down onto the dry dirt tracks on Peralta Road. My foot quickly alternated between the gas and brake pedal, pushing the van forward as far as my headlights could see around the many bends and little rises and then slowing when the unknown risks outweighed my impatience. It was early, hours before sunrise, and a tight schedule combined with scattered showers had me on edge. All I wanted to do was reach Carney Trailhead and get this show on the road.
The parking lot was empty, a blessing compared to the usual crowds of hikers who crowd around Wave Cave this time of year. It's a bit ridiculous. This trailhead isn't even the start of anything official, with only unmaintained routes leading over to the cave and up to West Boulder Saddle, one of the southern exits of the Superstition Ridgeline, and it can only support parking for six to eight vehicles. During the winter weekends you can often see over fifty vehicles lined back on the roads. I selfishly picked the best parking spot next to the trail and quickly pulled on my gear, the silhouette of Three Sisters glaring down at me in the darkness.
Today's hike was a simple loop. I'd start off this morning on Lost Goldmine Trail, which dances along the border of Superstition Wilderness and follows the base of Three Sisters and Superstition Peak. That leads to Hieroglyphics Trail, which passes by some springs and climbs all the way to a saddle on the ridgeline, just below Superstition Peak. Then I would follow unmaintained paths over to the peak, down to the top of Three Sisters, and then down to West Boulder Saddle. A simple loop some sixteen miles long that would ascend to the tallest peak in the Western Supes. Oh, and there was a hefty chance of thunderstorms in the early afternoon, giving me no time to spare.
With my pack on tight and a warm cotton sweater to block the brisk wind and sprinkles I followed an old two-track past the parking lot and soon found the start of Lost Goldmine Trail. Well, the crossing of it, anyways. Lost Goldmine Trail runs from Don's Camp by Peralta Trailhead to Hieroglyphics Trail and I was jumping on about halfway in between. Fun fact: this was my second time on this trail, the first time taking it from Don's Camp to here. Today's hike would effectively 'complete' my journey on it.
That brisk wind made a shrill sound as it blew through cacti needles and palo verde branches. I always found that interesting. In the Midwest the breeze rustles like rushing water, but in the Southwest it shrieks like a snake's slither. That, combined with the overhead clouds blocking tonight's full moon and random branches leaping out at me from beyond the cone of my headlamp, created a frightful ambiance. A few times the moon poked out from beyond the clouds and I tried turning off the headlamp for a time, which was my intent for this morning's hike, and then clouds and my own apprehension would turn it back on minutes later.
Two miles of hiking lay between me and Turk's Head, the first milestone of the day. Two miles of dark, spooky, and relatively boring hiking. The trail did spice things up a bit with plenty of little curves, quick hops into washes, and bypassing old foundations. It just didn't feel as exciting as traveling in the wilderness proper, which wasn't helped by the ever-present barbed wire fence running a few yards to the right for much of the route. The desert looked the same on both sides of the fence, yet on the far side was the Superstition Wilderness and on this side was… Shoot, I don't even know. State land? Pasture? Private property? Whatever it was, I anxiously watched Turk's Head grow in the distance, a low hill accentuated by the ugly orange reflection of the Phoenix metro.
An hour after leaving the car and I reached the turn off on the far side of Turk's. This trail actually circles around the south side, and since the formation has a steep eastern bluff and gentle slope up the west (like a tear drop), it only makes sense to follow the trail around to take advantage of the gentle slope. I was surprised to see a two-track here leading up along a wash. The wash flows down from the side of Superstition Peak through a canyon with the awesome name of Ermahgerd, a location that I really want to explore later this year. Anyways, I followed the two-track off of Lost Goldmine, then picked a spot that looked promising, and veered right to start the climb up that slope. I was immediately faced with steep rock formations, thick brush, and loose gravel.
Still dark enough to warrant a headlamp, the climb up Turk's Head was no easy task. There were few cairns placed sporadically around with no rhyme or reason and so many possible routes whose dangerous signs faded away in the dim light. Hoping to make it up the 600' climb before sunrise I pushed up quickly, always choosing the uppermost route, and only ran into a sticky situation once. There was a crumbling chute that I tossed my trekking poles up first, started to climb, realized that the crumbling rock would not support my weight, desperately grabbed for my poles and pulled them back down, and then slid down on my belly into a prickly bush. After that misfortune I tried to choose my climbs more carefully.
Brush gave way to hard bedrock near the top, just as the dim night sky gave way to gray morning. Flipping off the headlamp I jogged and hopped up the last of the climb. There was an interesting choice at the peak - either head to the left and attempt a boulder ridgeline or continue straight under a chockstone next to the top. Curious, I chose the chockstone, and found a narrow ledge on the other side that led up and around to the top. A narrow ledge that had a straight many-hundred-foot drop on one side. After that final gut-churning step I plopped down on peak and treated myself to a breakfast snack.
I had made excellent time this morning, beating the sunrise by a full twenty minutes. The sky was just starting to turn sherbet over Superior (the town, not the lake). Ever impatient, I re-arranged my pack and eyed up my next destination behind me. Superstition Peak reared up thousands of feet above this little hill, making my morning achievement utterly insignificant in comparison. At least the wind and sprinkles seemed to be done for now. It was cool and not cold, maybe high fifties, and I couldn't ask for nicer temps to climb that monster.
My route called to me so I headed down, not waiting for the sunrise proper to head down the slope and return to Lost Goldmine. The way down was so much easier now that I could actually see things. Sure, there were conflicting cairns on the way, though the path was well worn and easy to make out in the daylight. Easily returning to the two-track and trail beyond I set out westward, poles clanking against rock and gravel, hoping to keep up a strong pace for a while longer.