Hiking the Superstition Wilderness

Last time I attempted to hike Superstition I discovered that it makes a huge difference if the hike is going up and up, or more around and up. I was back in AZ and although it was a very short trip, I still had a day that could be spent hiking. I’m in much better shape than I was when I attempted Fremont Saddle via the Peralta Trail. All those mornings back home walking 2.75 miles, not to mention the TWO hills and the gradual incline, have definitely given me more stamina. Yes, I’m well aware that gasping my way up a suburban street is NOT akin to hiking up a mountainside, but it is some exercise. I did some internet surfing and discovered Treasure Loop to Praying Hands. I read the description MUCH more carefully based on my hard-won knowledge. It looked do-able.

Treasure Loop is the big loop – Praying Hands is the skinny line.

We decided to give it a try on Saturday, a day when we had absolutely nothing else planned. We could spend all day hiking if that’s what it took me – zillions of rests. The elevation gain did not look that difficult – only 834 feet compared to 1430 feet. The distance was also much less round-trip: 3 miles compared to 4.7 miles. And we were hiking in February, NOT early September. We checked with my son’s friend and although he made some faces, he thought I was probably able to do it. 🙂

We parked in the P by Maintenance. 🙂

It is only about 40 minutes from Chandler to the trailhead in Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction. We got there a little after 11 am. *laughing* I probably should NOT put this here but oh, well, you know that for a supposedly smart woman I can do some pretty dumb things. 🙂 First, we ended up parking in the overflow parking because of a sign in the road talking about the parking being closed. Upon later closer inspection the sign was only intended to convey the information that you could NOT park overnight. But it WAS in the road and there was another car leaving that area coming at us, so we took it to mean the lot was full. 🙂 As it happens, I think that ended up being a good thing for us.

Keep your eye on that middle group of rocks.

We parked in the overflow and then tried to find the trailhead. Go ahead, laugh. I was getting a little worried about us that we could not even find the trailhead for Treasure Loop and what – I wanted to hike up to Praying Hands? 🙂 We wandered around the Cholla day-use area and decided it was NOT what we wanted. We made our way up the not-closed road to the Saguaro day-use area. Again, we saw lots of parked cars but no obvious trail-head. I was beginning to feel cranky. Just as I spied a sign that looked to be a trailhead sign, a gentleman called to us to say the trailhead began behind the restrooms. We went that direction but it was NOT the trailhead for Treasure Loop. Those of you who know me can imagine just how cranky I was at this point. I snarled my way over to where *I* thought the trailhead sign was and YES! I was correct!!! So we started out on Treasure Loop #56. If you click any of my links, or read anything online, you’ll see that all of the guides say start at the Cholla day-use area.

Very close.

I’m going to tell you that my son and I disagree with all of those trail guides. We started from Saguaro and ended at Cholla. Starting at Saguaro means you do the steepest, rockiest part FIRST, when you are still fresh and eager. The mountains are ahead of you, in all their beauty, and you start climbing immediately. The Cholla side of the loop is nearly flat, in comparison. Which makes it boring and a bit ho-hum. There were a handful of other groups of hikers – I’d guess fewer than 15 – both going our way and coming back towards us. All of these hikers were friendly and calling hello and smiling. My recollection of hiking Devil’s Bridge was that although the vast majority of the hikers WERE friendly and warm, there were definitely the groups who belonged walking in the city, where avoiding eye contact and smiles is considered the norm.

To know him is to love him.

For the most part the hike up was easy enough, but hard enough that we did need to pause a few times to catch our breath. We had a good cadence. You reach what seems to be the top of Treasure Loop where there is an aluminum bench. 🙂 We paused there to take some photos. We didn’t realize we were at the top until we met some other folk coming the other way (from Cholla) and they told us that we were. We could still see the Praying Hands a bit away, so we knew there had to be more to the trail. I remembered from when I found this trail originally that it was a loop with a line leading away from it – like a hanging pendant.

Wow Getting smaller.

We kept walking the way we’d been going and did indeed come to a sign pointing to Praying Hands. This path was definitely narrower and we could see it was much steeper than what we’d been doing. All of that fit my recollection of the first description I’d found. I keep talking about my “first” description because we downloaded an app: Route Scout which is an app from Hike Arizona . It wasn’t working for us. *grin* Oh be quiet. We were doing just fine without it.

And now you can barely see the details at all.

We headed up this trail towards Praying Hands. Definitely steeper. Definitely more loose gravel. Only 2 other groups doing this path -a group of 4 young women, and a young couple. We took some photos of the women all on one of the rocks, with the world spread out below them. 🙂 In return they taught me how to use Airdrop on my iPhone so that they could have the photos. 🙂 My son and I ALSO got up on the rocks for them to take pictures of US, but I chickened out and we stood on the CLOSER part of the rock ledge, not on the place where they stood. Honestly it is simply so gorgeous up there. I wish I could post every single photo. I took far fewer photos than I usually do. I wanted to experience the climb while it was happening, and many of the photos would look the same. What IS interesting was how the perspective changes. Rocks that looked so far away as we started got very close and LARGE. Then as we kept hiking up to Praying Hands they got smaller and smaller. We thought we’d come a long way at one point, but when we got up to Praying Hands and looked back at the huge rock at the top of Treasure Loop – wow. That huge rock was not a long trip at all.

See that rock in the foreground? That’s where the young women were standing.

We made it all the way to the top. The 4 young women had gotten there before us and we could see them off to our right, on a rocky ledge along the mountain face. The young couple reached us at the top flat ledge, where there was a pyramid of rocks. We could see Praying Hands across the way. I thought we were done. The young couple hiked down off the ledge and onto a very gravelly, OPEN SIDED path heading towards Praying Hands. Again, those of you who know me will recognize my reaction: heck, if THEY can do it so can I. Sigh. My son looked at me because he could see this next bit of path was not going to be fun. I said yes, we’re going. And we did.

I probably should have cropped this more but I liked the rock and the grass.

Reader, I hated it. 🙂 But we baby-stepped our way along that gravelly, long-way down on the left, irregular path all the way to the base of Praying Hands. We took a photo and pasted it to Facebook so you know that it really happened. 🙂 I also posted that I had no idea how I was going to get back down. Because that last little piece was really scary. Not for that young couple obviously but it was for me. Up is SO MUCH EASIER than down. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life up there, and I’m told calling for helicopter rescue is very expensive and frowned upon, so I knew I’d have to get down that steep loose gravel.

Pyramid of rocks at what I thought was the top.

Of course within my first 5 steps I slid and landed on my tush. My son’s friend asked me later “were you wearing proper hiking boots?” Of course not, don’t be silly. I don’t OWN proper hiking boots – I was wearing my sneakers. Hey – at least I wasn’t wearing sandals. 🙂 One of these days I really will invest in hiking boots and a walking stick. Once I was down there on my butt, and my heart rate returned to normal, I decided that was indeed the best way to continue. That’s what I did for that scary part. I reached a part where I could stand without too much fear, and for that part I proceeded on all 4s – 4s being my hands and feet, not knees. I’m probably mistaken about that being more balanced and secure but it felt better to me to have more contact with the ground and to be closer to the ground. It really is a VERY steep drop from that point. Trust me – I looked.

Praying Hands seen from the pyramid of rocks ledge

We made it back to the flat area with the rock pyramid. There were some steep parts from there back down to Treasure Loop, but they were fine after what had come before. There may have been one other place I trusted to my tush over my feet. We reached Treasure Loop and walked to the Cholla Day Use area. As I said to start, by then that part of the trail felt like walking on level ground. 🙂 All in all we were hiking for 3 hours. It was lovely – not too hot, sunny, not too crowded with other hikers. There was just enough challenge and risk (for me) to make it exciting. It was still early in the day so we decided to head toward Canyon Lake. But that’s a story for another day. 🙂