I’ve gone on many trips over the past five years; I’ve traveled to almost every state, I’ve hiked in deserts, climbed mountains, canoed across lakes and so much more. I’ve led all sorts of people on these journeys, ranging from more experienced than me all the way to people who have never backpacked. Every trip has left me feeling differently afterwards and after my trip to the Superstition Wilderness in Arizona, I’m left with a feeling I can’t quite describe...
We left Cincinnati early on a Saturday morning and began our adventure across the country. We all quickly became friends during the car ride, singing, playing games and getting to know each other. It was a long ride, as usual, but seemed to fly by. Twenty-six hours after beginning our journey we arrived in the Superstition Wilderness at the Peralta Trailhead ready to hit the trail. We had heavy bags with water for 3 days, not quite sure what the desert would bring. About halfway up the first canyon, a local told us there was water everywhere and this was one of the wettest springs ever. The woman said she was 65 and had lived there for her entire life so, we happily poured out our water on the desert floor and quickly made our way up the to of Fremont Saddle. From there, we enjoyed the beautiful views and a much-needed snack.
After lunch, we quickly covered the rest of the day’s ground into camp, setup, swam in the flowing creek to wash off the day’s work and relaxed at camp after a long car ride. As the night set in, we enjoyed the beautiful views and a warm fire.
The next day we woke up, got breakfast and hit the trail early. We knew we had a long day with a lot of uphill coming (little did we know how much uphill). Shortly after leaving camp, we went over Bull Pass behind Black Top Mesa and went down into the next canyon where we found another flowing creek. The water was cold and felt great under the hot sun. After that stop, we moved down the trail, passing giant cacti, beautiful riverside campsites and lush green desert cliff-sides. It was an awesome morning, but the up was about to put a damper on that...
We turned off of the Dutchman’s Trail onto Peter’s Trail and began a big uphill climb above Charlebois Spring. When we first mapped out the route, we got this as ~1,400’ of gain, not too bad, but we were way off. About an hour into the climb up the canyon and over the ridge, we realize it’s gonna be a long day. We make it most of the way to the top before stopping for lunch and enjoy a bit of shade hidden behind some rocks.
As we pass over the final bit of the ridge, we dropped down into a dense canyon with a river flowing through it. The thorns tore at our clothes and packs and you had to keep your eyes out for pricker bushes hiding in with the regular branches. It was slow going and morale was definitely at a low point as we pushed onward. I will say, for as rough of a day as it was, these guys killed it and I couldn’t have wished for a better group of people to have been out there with. We neared the last ridge after almost 8 hours on the trail. There was a small campsite with not much water at the top. We voted and the group chose to continue down into Peter’s Canyon and look for a better spot.
The cliff down was steep, but the views of the canyon in front of us were amazing as the sun went down. We quickly found our way to water, and after a little searching, found a campsite perfect for our group. After the day we had just had, I was exhausted. I was out of energy, out of water and hurting hard. Luckily, I got taken care of and eventually recovered. We sat under the stars, sang songs around the campfire and enjoyed setting still after a long day of moving.
In the morning we awoke to yet another beautiful clear blue day with a few wispy clouds in the sky. We were lucky this morning because most of our hike was downhill for the first bit. We were down in Peter’s Canyon and the brush along the trail was thick. The trail also crossed several different flowing rivers which complicated the hike as well, normally these would probably be dried out, but they were gushing. Every once in a while, we would cross a river and loose the trail, only to find it a few minutes later. It was a good morning, and moral was high after the day before we had had. After a few hours of hiking, we began our uphill slug over the last big hill of the trip. It was a long push, and everyone was tired but once we reached the top of the hill for lunch, everyone was happy. We sat, ate, drank, took pictures and looked down into the valley below towards where our camp that night would be.
A few hours later we were on our way down the Red Tanks Trail through LaBarge Canyon and it was one of the most beautiful sections of the hike…. The canyon walls were covered in flowers and cacti, you could listen to the river gushing below and the trail was rocky, technical and fun. We quickly descended to the junction with Whisky Spring Trail only to find the campsite we had been told about was taken and the couple there wasn’t too keen on sharing... Luckily, we bushwhacked and scouted around for a bit and found a decent place by the river to call home. We enjoyed the rest of the sun for the day, swam in the river, and sat by a campfire late into the night, enjoying each other’s company.
On the final day, we woke up early, cleaned up camp and hiked the final 6 miles back to the car. It was slightly uphill, but we quickly covered it knowing cushy seats, fresh clothes and town were close to us. We all covered the distance at our own pace, and I think each of us spent the time thinking about the journey we had just finished, at least I know I did. We covered 32 difficult miles with 7,000’+ of elevation gain. We spent long, hard days in the desert with each other and we all came out as friends. There wasn’t one point where any of us were against each other, there wasn’t one point in the trip where a member of the group wasn’t willing to help another and there wasn’t one evening of the trip where we weren’t all happy sitting around a campfire.
After we left Superstition we journeyed on to Colorado, opting to spend 24 hours in Great Sand Dunes National Park instead of climbing a 14er as we had originally planned and of course we had some fun getting there. In retrospect I’m happy with the decision we made in the moment and I think everyone on the trip enjoyed that last night just as much as they would have enjoyed climbing the 14er. That last morning we woke up, raced to Pizza Ranch, stuffed our faces and worked our way back across the country to Cincinnati.
This trip was my last trip as a student and my last spring break. It was the culmination of everything I have learned over the past several years, from managing a group to planning trips to expecting the unexpected and even with all this, the group taught me even more lessons. It was awesome to be able to take people on their first trip west, and for a few of them, take them on their first backpacking trip. I hope I planted a seed in them that will lead them to where I am now, happy and full of excitement for the next journey.
The Hopeless Wanderer