By the month of September, when temperatures here in the Arizona desert begin to start cooling down, those of us who live here in this region of the state know that fall is finally on its way and with it also, arguably, the best outdoors hiking season of all. The rugged Superstition Mountains, also known as “Arizona’s best known wilderness area” is an excellent and very popular destination for hiking, rock climbing and backpacking due to its gorgeous scenery and large network of some of the best and most challenging hikes located only a short distance from the Phoenix area. If you are more of an advanced hiker who has at least some basic climbing skills, for an excellent fall hike and an extraordinary rock climbing, canyon trekking and extreme fitness training challenge equivalent to doing two Camelbacks in a row, I highly recommend checking out the Siphon Draw to Flat Iron Hike, in the Superstition Wilderness, Mesa, Arizona.
This “very strenuous” rated fitness training and canyon hiking adventure began very early with meeting Eric Kinneman and the TLC Hiking group at 5:30am at a designated meet up location at Route 60 and Sossaman Road in Mesa. After gathering all of the group members together we set out at about 5:45am for our trailhead at the Lost Dutchman State Park, about 5 miles from Apache Junction on Hwy 88 or also known as the Apache Trail. After arriving at the park and paying the $7 park entrance and day use fee, we parked our cars at the Siphon Draw trailhead and after a quick rest room break, we set out on our hike shortly after day break by about 6:15am.
Immediately, Eric Kinneman started the hike off at a pretty good pace and we were quickly on our way up to the Flat Iron! The Siphon Draw trail, elevation 2080, actually begins via the Discovery Interpretive Trail, hangs a left past the park’s Amphitheater then becomes the Siphon Draw #53 Trail. It’s a moderate level hike from there, crossing over the park’s boundary and into the Superstition Wilderness, about a two mile journey until you reach the Siphon Draw basin and canyon. The view from this all rock basin looking up into the rugged, steep canyon ahead with Flat Iron at the very top, absolutely incredible! And that’s where we were heading too! From the basin, the adventure actually begins because it’s a steep, very strenuous and challenging, almost 3000 foot vertical ascent, averaging they say some 70 feet of elevation per every 100 feet of trail, about a 45 degree angle straight up to the top of Flat Iron!
But we continued on our journey through the basin and further into the Siphon Draw canyon. By this time, Eric as well as most of the TLC group members were completely out of site. It was only a small group of us that were still traversing but at a slower pace. We pressed on though, scrambling over boulders, climbing hand-over-foot in many places as it continued to get more and more steeper the further we made our way up into the canyon. The trail by now was not an official trail, just a “use trail” and is not clearly marked. I would advise being really careful to pay close attention to where you are heading and watch for the painted dots and markings on the rocks to help keep you on the right course. There is really no need to route find or trail blaze as the painted markings are there as a helpful guide for you to follow and will direct you to the right and on the correct and easiest canyon route to the top.
As we continued to venture on, all along the way, the views off to the distance as well as looking down into the below you continued to become more and more breathtaking and stunning. It was roughly at about Aï¿½ way up that we suddenly heard a few members of our group shouting something down to us. They had encountered a rattlesnake! One of the real hazards of this type of canyon hiking, they had come upon a pretty decent sized Mojave rattlesnake, one of the most venomous rattlesnakes in all of North America, which was sunning himself on the rocks a few feet off to their side and was ready to strike. Luckily though, no one got bit and by the time we had reached the same area a few minutes later, much to my disappointment, it was gone.
Finally, after climbing the more than 2000 feet in elevation, and after getting a few much needed tugs and pulls from my good friend and fellow hiker Dan, I grabbed onto a tree to the left and with my right arm grabbed Dan’s hand and went straight up and over the last 10-12 foot vertical rock wall which was the last and highest of the approximately three vertical rock walls, and an estimated class 3-4 rated climb in summation. I had made it, he said. Wow, now that was fun! I looked up and the views here from at the saddle, incredible! What an exciting journey and workout it had been so far too.
Immediately from the saddle we followed the defined trail that takes off to the right and quickly takes you to the top of Flat Iron. On our way we met up with Eric and the rest of the TLC members but only briefly as they had made it to the top, rested and were already on their way to see the other side, North Peak, as it is commonly known. We continued on the trail to the top of Flat Iron and met up with a group of other TLC group members and enjoyed hanging out for a time there, resting, picture taking and enjoying the breath taking and stunning views of all the surrounding Phoenix and Apache Junction area. It was the “fruits of our journey” I guess you could say. The elevation at the top of Flat Iron is estimated to be about 4700 feet so the temperatures on this mid-September day were absolutely perfect, very cool and refreshing, just what we needed too.
After a short break, myself, along with a small group of other fellow TLC hikers started to make our way over to North Peak. Meanwhile Eric and the rest of the TLC group started to make their way back down again and arrived back within a reasonable time, around 12 noon and before the afternoon heat set in. The trek over to the strange looking rock formations and hoodoos at North Peak, estimated elevation 5027, and an approximate 150 foot climb, starts out as a short trail but then you find yourself, route finding, boulder hopping, and scrambling the rest of the way till you reach North Peak. However, it is really not very difficult and well worth doing if you have the time because the panoramic views of the eastern side of the Superstition Wilderness with the Four Peaks Wilderness off to the distance, wow, absolutely gorgeous! It was even more beautiful and breathtaking from North Peak than it was from Flat Iron! After arriving at North Peak and before heading back again, we decided to take a well deserved short break first, and relaxed, took some more pictures and really enjoyed the beautiful and tranquil scenery there.
It was roughly about close to noon that we decided it was time to start making our way back again. So up and over the rocks, boulders, we slowly made our way back down from North Peak and within minutes arrived back at the saddle and the beginning of the “use trail”, the place we had originally come up. From the saddle, the return journey was again a vertical drop and scramble straight down, continuing all the way back through the canyon the same way you had come up until you reached the basin. I actually did not find the journey down half as difficult as the journey up had been earlier. Again, you just need to be careful to continue to look up and make sure you are following the painted dots and markings to keep yourself on course because the trail is not easily recognizable. After a short side trip about a Aï¿½ of the way down to visit the wreckage from a small military jet crash from the early 1970’s, we finally reached the basin where from there was a two mile hike again on the Siphon Draw Trail #53. We arrived back at the Lost Dutchman State Park by about 2:30pm. Our total hiking time was about 8 hours including the break at North Peak and the side trip to the crash site (the average hiking time is only about 5-6 hours) and a total hiking distance of about 5 miles round trip.
The Siphon Draw to Flat Iron hike, absolutely an extraordinary hike. It was a very challenging and strenuous rock climbing, canyon trekking workout & training session, yet also a very beautiful and exciting journey into the vast and rugged Superstition Wilderness with gorgeous, stunning views you won’t soon forget. In all, an excellent fall hike and extreme fitness training session, well planned and organized by Eric Kinneman himself of the TLC Hiking Group. Definitely a very thrilling and exciting adventure hike that I highly recommend and look forward to doing again too in the near future.