We have been wanting to try out a backpacking trip with REI Adventures, and with the Superstition Mountains being local we thought this would be a good opportunity. Since the Phoenix area is already starting to warm up, this was the last scheduled trip till after summer. Being less that two weeks after the Alaska trip, we were prepared for a bit of temperature shock – it turned out to be a record setting week with highs in the 90’s, which is only 120ºF warmer than our coldest outings up north. Fortunately, we had time for a couple of day hikes to get re-acclimated to the desert prior to starting out.
The first evening of the trip began with a meeting where the the guides discussed the itinerary, checked out our gear and answered questions. We had two people in the group who had hiking experience but were new to backpacking, and the gear check included packing and fitting tips. REI provided tents, cooking gear and food which were also divided up between the hikers.
The next morning we met near the Paradise Valley REI store and loaded up for the hour long drive to the Peralta Trailhead. We actually started on trail shortly after 9:00am with an elevation gain of about 800 ft in the first two miles. This is a tough indoctrination to someone who is not used to carrying a 35 pound pack, and several stops were made to adjust packs and redistribute gear. As a result we averaged a very slow pace for that first couple of miles, but by lunch most of the problems were sorted out. The rest of the day the terrain was for the most part descending and we made our campsite by around five in the afternoon, not bad for six miles on rocky terrain.
Once at our first camp site we set up our tents for the evening, got and filtered water and gathered dead wood for a camp fire. I’m not normally big on camp fires, but a fire ring was already constructed for the site, and a smokey fire helps keep the mosquitoes away. Cooking was mainly on a camp stove, but some bread wrapped in aluminum foil was heated on the fire coals. This time of year there is a surprising amount of water in the lower elevations of the Superstitions, which meant our camping sites both had easy access to water, and much of the hike was along a stream bed. We could have just followed the stream, but the rockiness and sometimes poor footing made it advisable to follow close to the stream frequently crossing back and forth for the best footing.
It cools off quite a bit at night in the desert, but the weather was nice enough that unlike most of the group I just set up the tent shell without the rainfly, which made for a comfortable mosquito net without restricting the view or the breeze. The Missus and I both were using 3 season down sleeping bags and slept comfortably.
After a breakfast of pancakes and bacon we broke camp for our second day’s hike. Again covering six miles, day two was mostly downhill with a loss of maybe 600 feet of elevation over the day. The trail parted ways with the stream bed at one point and treated us to some easy footing on a shaded trail – very much an exception to the norm! By lunch we had worked our way back to the stream where we enjoyed a shaded pool to refill on water, soak our feet and eat lunch. During the afternoon we encountered a large rattlesnake near the trail requiring us to circle around him. It was the only snake sighting of the hike. We made camp a bit earlier than the day before and after setting up most of the group hiked out to a location to view the sunset. The Missus and I decided to go down to the stream and soak our feet for a while, mostly because we had already exchanged our hiking boots for flip flops and our feet didn’t like the idea of getting back in the boots that quickly.
I think everyone underestimated the last days hike out in spite of the warnings of our guides. While the distance was only four miles, the first two again had an aggressive elevation increase, while the final two were on exposed, rocky and loose path making for difficult footing. It was less of a workout than day one but it was still a surprisingly tough day.
After completing the hike at Canyon Lake, we off loaded our packs and enjoyed the air conditioned van ride to Tortilla Flats for lunch and a beverage (or two) to fortify ourselves for the trip back to Phoenix.
REI Adventures does a nice job running this trip, and our guides Beth, Staci and Dan did a great job of making sure we got the most of it. While this is a guided trip, it was still a challenging and enjoyable three days of backpacking. I wouldn’t hesitate to take another REI trip.