| Weavers Needle: winter climbing at its best
Peak – Weavers Needle 4,553 feet
Location – Arizona
Hikers: Scott Kelley (AzScott), Brian Haney, Katrina Shum, Shawn Keil (sdkeil)
Round Trip Mileage: 9.5 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 3,600
Rated Difficulty: 5.0-5.4 (two pitches)
It was about this time last year that I learned when you start to feel those winter blues and you are tired of the snow, Arizona offers up some great calendar winter climbs that involve nothing more than mere shorts and t-shirts. After I started to feel those blues again this year I fired off an email to Brian and Scott and told them I wanted to come down to Phoenix for what would be my second annual winter pilgrimage to the Grand Canyon State. Early on in the email thread they threw out the idea of this peak they had both been captivated by ever since the first time they had laid eyes onto it, Weavers Needle. Scott sent me a few pictures and some links describing the peak and my heart instantly started to race. This mountain looked like it meant serious business; with its shear rock faces and its 1000+ foot rise from the desert floor. But after reading some route descriptions and looking at some additional route pictures my heart rate started to return back to normal, especially after I realized the difficulty of this multi-pitch climb could be kept below 5.4.
Now I have been hiking mountains since I was 11, but it was only last year that I finally finished the 14ers and it was also only last year that I started to dabble in rock climbing in the gym. Originally I thought going to the climbing gym would be a great way to polish my technique on rock, you know when you need to be perfect on that "no-fall" exposed class 3/4 route. However, it was late last summer that Kiefer, Steph (slynn4_13run) and myself made the summits of both Teakettle and "Coffeepot", my first two outdoor technical rock climbs. I quickly realized how technical climbing opened up a whole new door of summits that I could attain. So after thinking about Weavers Needle for awhile and feeling comfortable in my progression in the rock gym, I convinced myself to go for it. I contacted Scott and Brian told them I was in and I promptly bought my ticket to Phoenix.
As the trip drew closer, disaster almost struck when Brian, who was planning to lead the climb, sprained an ankle a week before the climb. Lucky for us it quickly started to heal and Brian felt confident we could still make this climb. I arrived in Phoenix on Thursday March 4th, with Scott picking me up at the airport and Brian meeting the two of us for dinner. My vacation had started, the beers began to flow and for that one night I must have thought I was back in college. Unfortunately, the next morning my body revolted with an awful hangover and it reminded me I was 34 and not 21. I was left feeling like crap all day and Scott ended up having to go into to work, thus our plan to head to the local crag and practice some rope skills quickly evaporated. It was not until late that night that I was able to keep down my first glass of water along with some solid food. I was really starting to worry that I would go into the climb the following day dehydrated and weakened by the lack of food, however the forecast for Sunday called for rain so we were left with one shot at the summit, Saturday. All I could do at that point was fall asleep and hope for better things the next day.
The alarm went off around 5:30 am, I was feeling better, but definitely not a 100%. Scott and I double checked our gear, grabbed our packs and drove off to pick up Brian and his girlfriend Katrina, who would be joining us for the climb. A quick stop at the local convenience store for some last minute snacks and we were off to the Superstition Wilderness Area, about an hour east of Phoenix. We arrived at the trail head (N33° 23.871' W111° 20.881') a little after 7 am and after rechecking our gear we headed off on the Peralta Trail around 7:30 towards Freemont Pass where I would get the first glimpse of the objective.
Katrina, Brian and Scott make there way up the Peralta trail
Some of the cool views along the lower part of the Peralta trail
The first half mile I think I was still sweating out the Guiness, Killians Red and whatever else I had decided to consume on Thursday night. The hike up to Freemont pass was a nice gentle 1,300 feet of elevation gain spread evenly over 2 miles of trail that traversed back and forth across a normally dry creek bed, however with all the rain Arizona has received this winter there was a decent sized stream flowing. We made the top of Freemont Pass in just over an hour and took about a 20 minute break to refuel and rehydrate. The first view of Weavers Needle from the top of the pass was everything I thought it might be, it is a giant spire that rises straight up off the desert floor. Nerves started to set in, but I just kept telling myself there is a relatively easy route up that thing and I know I can do it.
Our first view of Weavers Needle from Freemont Pass
From Freemont Pass the trail loses about 550 feet of elevation over 1.2 miles until you come upon a small cairn (N33° 25.686' W111° 22.469'). At this point you can clearly see that Weavers Needle is composed of two summits, the main summit being the north summit.
As we got closer to Weavers Needle, two summits started to appear
The north and south summits are clearly visible
The first part of the technical climb goes up a small gulley on the west side between the two summits. We assumed the cairn was marking the trail leading up to the base of the climb, however after following this trail for awhile it started to veer to the east and we realized it was taking us away from where we needed to be. We quickly decided we were on the wrong trail so we back tracked 0.2 miles and then bushwhacked our way towards the gulley splitting the two summits. After awhile we found a faint a climber's trail that finally led us to the base of the climb. On the descent we found the correct cairn leading up to the base of the climb, it was approximately an additional 0.1 miles beyond the first cairn on the Peralta trail at (N33° 25.769' W111° 22.568').
Brian and Scott make there way up to the base of the 1st pitch
Cool views from below the 1st pitch
The last portion of the trail that led to the base of the 1st pitch was mostly class 2 talus, with a couple class 3 and one class 4 move. It was after passing this class 4 move that we decided to take another break and don helmets, harnesses, rock climbing shoes etc. We also started to plan out how we would attack this 1st pitch.
Stopping to gear up for the technical ascent
We had brought both a 60m and 50m rope (knowing the final repel was 100+ feet and we would need two ropes to get it done in one shot), however we chose to break the 1st pitch down into two pitches not knowing if a single rope would be long enough. Brian started off by confidently leading his first trad climb and quickly made it to a nice ledge where he set up a belay for the rest of us. Katrina went next, followed by myself and then Scott.
Brian takes off up the 1st pitch, while Katrina lead belays
Scott makes it to the top of our 1st pitch
Brian then led the rest of the 1st pitch, choosing to go under the chockstone (crux of the climb). Again he belayed us all up until we all had regrouped at the saddle of the two summits. Here we all took a short break and talked about the remaining climb.
I near the crux of the climb, a chockstone at the top of the gully. We chose to squeeze underneath it through a small opening (photo by Scott).
From the saddle we were immediately presented with a class 4 wall (about 10 feet) and then a couple hundred vertical feet of class 2 trail, intermixed with some hard class 3 / low class 4 scrambles. The rock here has delightful holds and the climbing was not exposed in this section so we were able to move through the section fairly quickly. The last bit of climbing needed to reach the summit is an exposed class 4 scramble that hangs out over the west face of the summit.
Last class 4 scramble to the summit (photo by Scott)
It was not difficult climbing, and any other time we would probably have just scrambled up this section, but since we had the rope we decided to protect the climb. After completing the last of the hard climbing, the four of us let out a sign of relief and casually ascended a short slope to find ourselves on top of Weavers Needle a little after 2 pm. For the 45 minutes we spent on the summit we enjoyed perfect weather and amazing views.
The final slope that needed to be negotiated before the true summit could be obtained
The obligatory group summit shot. From L-R: Scott (AzScott), Shawn (sdkeil), Katrina, Brian
Some familiar Coloradoans in the summit register. The register goes all the way back to 1996, so it was pretty cool to read some of the entries.
There are two options for the down climb off the summit: 1) down climb the exposed class 4 section or 2) repel a 60 foot wall to a small landing off the standard route. With bolts already in place we chose to do the repel. The anticipation for this repel was something that definitely got the heart racing as you could not see the landing area until you were actually on repel. Instead all you could see was the valley floor some 1000+ feet below you. Once on repel though it went smoothly, with the last half of the repel being a free repel, my first.
Brian demonstrates Arizona style repelling. I guess when it gets hot, the best way to repel is in your briefs (photo by Scott).
Scott starts the 1st repel as seen from the landing area.
The looking back towards Freemont pass as seen from the landing area of the 1st repel.
We quickly made our way down to the second repel station, where bolts have been placed above the chockstone. This is also where you need two ropes if you are planning to do this section as one repel, which we had intended to do. Coming off the chockstone proved to be the hardest part of the two repels, as it undercuts itself and you are left trying to find a way to not face plant after you have ran out rock to push off of with your feet. However after clearing the chockstone the rest of the second repel was relatively straight forward.
Katrina negotiates coming off the chockstone on the second repel.
The view of Katrina near the top of the second repel, as seen from the bottom of the repel.
Scott about 1/4 of the way down the 2nd repel.
If you do bring two ropes for this repel, then two 50m ropes will be sufficient to get you to the bottom of the class 5 climbing. Two 60m ropes might additionally allow you to repel a tricky class 4 down climb (similar to the hour class on Little Bear).
From this point we removed all of our technical gear and headed back down towards the Peralta Trail, which we reached at about 5:45.
A cool view of Weavers Needle as the day quickly moves towards sunset
The zoomed in look at the upper route. The triangle-like shadow cast dead center is the 1st repel area. The final exposed class 4 summit climb is just to the left of the 1st repel area.
The last rays of day hit Weavers Needle.
Knowing daylight was fading fast we moved quickly up to Freemont Pass before having to don headlamps for the remaining 2 miles down to the car. As we got to within about a mile of the TH we came upon what looked like candle light and as we got closer we came to realize we found a young couple having a romantic desert dinner right off the trail. I have to give mad props to this guy as he had hiked in a table, chairs, candles, food, and a bottle of wine to impress this girl. We arrived back to the TH at 7:50 pm, a quick 12 hours and 20 minutes after we had started this epic day. All in all this was a great climb, with great friends on an awesome weather day and this is one winter summit that I will proudly add to my list!
Katrina, Brian and Scott gather for one more group photo before we head off back to Phoenix.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):