By John Stanley
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Hiking experts consider the trek along the ridge of Superstition Mountain the hardest hike in the Valley, comparable to a rim to rim hike of the Grand Canyon.Back to menu
The ridgeline is only for fit, experienced hikers willing (and able) to cope with extremely steep, often ill-defined routes across some of the most unforgiving territory in Arizona. Along the way you'll battle heat, thirst, fatigue, brush, cactus and nagging doubts as to whether you're on the right course.
It's a cruelly wonderful hike.
But those endowed with the natural mountaineer's combination of strong lungs, strong heart, strong legs and weak mind will be rewarded with some of the most magnificent landscapes to be found in the state. As you work your way along the mountains' crests, you have expansive views of the Valley on one side and spectacular vistas of the inner Superstitions on the other. From much of the route you actually look down on Weaver's Needle.
Because this is only a route, and not a designated trail, distance estimates vary from an optimistic 10 miles to a distressing 15. Split the difference and call it 12½.
Although you can hike the route from either direction, the recommended method is to go from Carney Springs to Siphon Draw.
The big question is whether it's better to go light and fast and do the whole hike in one very long, very tough day, or go slow and heavy, with backpacks and all the amenities you can carry.
It's a tough call. Day hikers are pressed for time, backpackers face the unpleasant chore of schlepping their packs 4,000 feet up and back.
This trip we opted for backpacks. Now that we know the route, we'll probably day hike it next time. If there is a next time.
From the unmarked Carney Springs trailhead, head north through a barbed-wire fence that marks the wilderness boundary. The first quarter-mile or so is a confusion of crisscrossing trails that meander around the abandoned Carney Springs campground.
Once you break free from the brush, large cairns and paint blazes mark the way up a steep, rocky trail. There's an excellent overlook a little more than a mile from the trailhead a good turnaround spot for casual hikers. Or you can continue up to another crest, to the unsigned junction with the old West Boulder Canyon Trail.
A route that is marked fairly well leads west toward a distinctive peak crowned by rocky spires. Beyond that point, the trail becomes much less distinct. Route-finding abilities become a must as you clamber up and around and over bouldery hills, crests and canyon heads. If not for the (very) occasional cairn, you wouldn't know you were on an established route.
But after a couple of rough, time-consuming miles, a reasonably well-established trail finally reappears, leading to the Flat Iron area. Here you face a steep strenuous decent down Siphon Draw on legs already jellied by the trip's exertions.
By any measure, this is an extraordinarily rigorous hike. Before even thinking about attempting it, try a day hike up and down Siphon Draw for a taste of what's in store and to familiarize yourself with the Flat Iron area. It's also a good idea to try a day hike up and down Carney Springs. And keep in mind that as tough as these hikes are, this is where the trail is well marked and relatively easy to follow. It gets much worse in the middle section of the route.
Allow 10 to 12 hours for this hike. Start early, take plenty of water, a flashlight and enough emergency gear to get you through an unplanned overnight camp.
You Might need it.