The Superstition Mountains of the East Valley are my favorite place to head to in this desert I call home. They are rugged, brutal, tough, remote, and imminently beautiful. I have only just begun exploring them, and I have loved every step.
The Superstitions are an icon of the East Valley. Everyone recognizes their distinctive shape as they swoop up to tower over the town of Apache Junction. For the entire twelve years I’ve lived in the Valley of the Sun, I have seen them, lived within a forty minute drive of them, and yet barely touched them. I hope to remedy that this winter!
Today, I stepped out for the third time onto what is currently my absolute favorite trail, possibly ever; Siphon Draw. This trail begins at the parking lot at the main entrance of Lost Dutchman State Park, and proceeds to climb approximately 2300 feet in the next three miles. To say it’s a difficult trail is not giving it the credit it deserves, so I will describe it.
The first mile or so of the trail is wide and rocky as it meanders gently up the slope to the base of the mountain. Don’t be deceived, as I was the first time I went here. The rest of the trail is NOTHING like this. Soon you begin to climb. At this point, the trail becomes narrow with a few areas where you might miss the trail by a bit, but not much. There are boulders scattered all over and in places it’s just a bit of bare rock from the heart of the mountain that serves as the trail. The trail opens into a kind of smooth U made up of this mountain-heart-rock. If it has rained recently, there will be either running or pooled water along the bottom here. There is a then a very steep climb, as in hands and feet will likely be required, to climb up to what seems like it should be the top, but it’s not. It’s only about two miles in. There is still one more mile to go, and that last mile is an awesome doozy. However, this two mile-ish point is a good spot to scoot off to the side of the trail, sit for a bit on some boulders, and eat something. It will be burned up in the next mile.
The Third Mile
The remainder of the way to the top of Siphon Draw is all route finding and bouldering through a deep crack in the side of the mountain. By bouldering I mean there isn’t a trail exactly- it’s more of a path of least resistance as you scramble over giant rocks scattered all over. This entire portion generally requires me to use my hands for balance and to help heft me up. It’s a great leg work out, consisting of mostly deep one-legged squats. As far as the route-finding, there are spray-painted spots interspersed here and there on the boulders showing a suggestion for how to get to the top. I’ve found it is usually easiest to follow them, but in the end, as long as climbing is occurring, I am heading in the right direction.
That last mile feels like it will never end. I always find myself breathing extremely hard, my heart trying to pound a hole through my chest, and sweat dripping from my chin and nose. This is where my legs start burning and my forward momentum slows to what feels like a crawl. And then, suddenly, I’m out! Today I actually set a personal best for time and absolutely shocked myself. The two other times I’d done this trail it took me about one hour and forty-five minutes. Today I was out in one hour and twenty minutes!
After popping out of the Draw, there is the option to go right and take in the view from Flat Iron, or go left and climb a little bit more to get as high as possible. Also, left and then straight is Ridgeline Trail, but I have yet to do this, so I will save that for when I do. Usually out of the Draw I go to the right first and scare the snot out of Matt by standing on the edge of the cliff. It is a sheer drop down to the bottom with a gorgeous, unimpeded view of the entire valley spread out below. Even when the top is coated with people, this is an imposing and serene vista. It calms me and reminds me of how cool our God is. The effort put forth in the Draw is absolutely worth it. Every burning muscle fiber, every salty drop of sweat, every wrong turn, and every stubbed toe bring me to this point where I can look out over a bit of creation and realize how small I am. It’s a good feeling. I usually find another boulder up here and eat again (I like to eat), before heading back to the Draw to then go left and climb to the tippy top. The entire time on the top of the Superstitions I am surrounded by commanding views, plus at the very top, there are fun boulder formations to climb around on.
Once I have finished playing around on the top of the mountain, it’s time to head down. Down is fun. As you might remember, I love flying down hills. This one is no different, it’s just way more dangerous and makes my heart sing. On the way down I get to hop from boulder to boulder down the mountain. It’s not quite runnable for me, at least not yet, but I get moving at a pretty good rate. Today I was wearing my Vibram Five Fingers (as usual) and had many questions from people on their way up about my shoes and what I thought about them, especially out there on that rocky trail. I love them, obviously, or I wouldn’t be flying over boulders in them! I have excellent ground contact in them, so I can feel what is going on underneath me. This means that I am generally really good at catching a slip before it becomes a fall.
The trail this morning was the busiest that I’ve ever seen it. Everyone was out and wanted to get in the nice Arizona weather (I think it got into the 80’s today?). I prefer solitude on my hikes/runs, but I actually enjoyed the other people on the trail today. Most of them seemed to be the avid outdoorsy type- my kind of people! It was fun discussing the trail, shoes, other trails in the area, even helping people out by taking pictures of friends together at the summit. There was a sense of community- we were all in the climb together!
Getting back to the parking lot felt wonderful! I’d been looking forward to my post-run/hike Coke for the full three miles back down and couldn’t wait to crack it open. The delicious burn of the soda down my throat was epic and a perfect end to a perfect morning.
To see some cool pictures of other people’s awesome climbs at high locations go to: https://www.facebook.com/runsteepgethigh
For more information on this park visit: http://azstateparks.com/Parks/loDU/index.html
PS- After publishing this, I realized some people might not realize there is a fee associated with entry. Currently that fee is $7.