Since I needed to stay in Arizona for a few days after bringing my son back to ASU from his visit home for Passover, I set out to climb the last two peaks on the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge-Arizona Winter list; The Flatiron and Camelback. Unfortunately, an early heatwave had descended on the region, pushing the highs in Tempe into the upper 90s. This certainly threw a wrench into my planning. In doing my research on The Flatiron, I also learned that the day-use area where the trailhead is located is only open from 6 am to 8 pm. I had hoped for a pre-dawn start to avoid some of the heat. I called the ranger at the Lost Dutchman State Park to inquire about what my options might be. She informed me that there was a self-registration kiosk and I can park in the day-use overflow lot. Problem solved! So, Monday morning another very early alarm went off in my hotel. I gathered my gear and made the 40-minute drive to the park. I filled out the registration form, slipped in my $7, and proceeded to the parking lot. I followed a short connector trail to the primary parking lot and then on to the Siphon Draw Trail. A quarter moon shone through the thin clouds above the Superstition Mountains.
The first 1.25 miles or so are on a well-maintained trail that will take you to the mouth of the canyon. With my headlamp guiding me, I made my way along in the dark, gaining about 700 feet of elevation along the way. At the base of the canyon, the trail followed the left side and began to gain elevation a little more earnestly. Another hiker caught up with me, and we hiked along until we reached The Basin, a natural depression where millennia of wind and erosion has worn the red volcanic tuff into a Martian landscape. The sun had risen, so I stowed my headlamp. We stopped for a brief bit for me to take a few photos before continuing on. Many day hikers reach this point and turn back, as the next half of the hike is where the real challenge begins.
Climbing up and out of The Basin gave me a good look at the remaining climb. Over the next mile, I would gain about 1,500 feet of elevation. My temporary hiking buddy went on ahead, as I was keeping a measured but slower pace. I dropped down into Siphon Draw and began the steep climb. At this point, the trail had ended, and I was looking either for the white or blue blazes spray-painted on the rocks, or following my own route-finding skills. From all the trip reports, and also from the hiking buddy I had met, the key is to stay to the left side of the canyon. I kept climbing, stopping for a quick breather from time to time, turning back to enjoy the view, then turning back around to see The Flatiron slowly getting closer and closer. Finally, I came to probably the biggest challenge of the entire hike — “The Wall”. This is an 8-foot nearly vertical rock face that you need to scale. I opted to take the left side and use a sturdy tree as a handhold to help me scale it. My heart was racing as I pulled myself up and over. Once past this obstacle, it was just a short bit until I reached the plateau and the trail out to The Flatiron.
As I sat alone on top of the Flatiron, I soaked in the incredible vistas. A chipmunk tried to become friends to see if I would share my orange. I declined. After about 15 minutes, another hiker joined me. We chatted a bit and exchanged cameras for some photos. I was ready to begin my descent and let him enjoy the summit by himself. At the top of the draw, I looked down and truly understood the sheer steepness of what I had climbed. Once back at “The Wall”, I examined the other side and decided that it seemed like a safer route to descend. I had no trouble working my way down. With that challenge completed, it was now just the careful steep descent ahead of me.
Making my way down, I started to encounter hikers making their way up. As I drew nearer to The Basin, I would encounter more and more hikers. Dropping back into The Basin, I took a short break to enjoy this natural wonder. Off to one side, there was a small pool of water, and I could only imagine what this must look like during a rainstorm. The day was starting to warm up and the sun was above the mountain, so I continued on down the trail.
I would stop to take photos that I normally would have taken on the way up but mostly kept on trucking. I could see the state park off in the distance as I plodded along, knowing I had a cool drink in the car and A/C. This was clearly the hardest of the six peaks, but I had hiked the 5.8 miles, gained 2875 feet in 6:15. Not too shabby! The thermometer on the car read 92°, so I had certainly made the right choice with that 4:30 am start.