My Hike of Picketpost Mountain in Superior, AZ; Trail Photos, Directions and Summit Video
A mountain worthy of respect and admiration ...
Picketpost Mountain is a former volcano that stands
as a landmark for the town of Superior and
U.S. Highway 60. I first noticed this spectacular mountain during my first tour of the Southwest,
when I wandered throughout New Mexico and Arizona in 1994.
Years later, I would ride past it on my
bike across America rides in 2008 and
each time admiring its beauty and snapping a picture of it.
Finally, on a winter vacation in March 2012, I took on Picketpost
Mountain by foot. I did a lot of hiking and outdoor activities in one week in Arizona, and
Picketpost Mountain was undoubtedly the crown jewel of my visit.
This mountain is a tough climb that should not be taken lightly.
A social trail begins from
the Arizona Trail and travels steeply between a break in vertical cliffs. The trail is difficult to track.
Watch vigilantly for rock piles. Do not go alone, especially if you've never been there.
A topographical map would be helpful. However, I'll tell you now that I couldn't obtain an adequate map of the mountain.
Stores like REI merely had a map with far-from-detailed topography of the Superior / Queen Creek region.
Directions: From Phoenix, travel east on U.S. Highway 60 beyond Apache Junction and Florence Junction.
About a half mile past milemarker 221, turn right at the large sign reading "Arizona Trail".
Travel 0.3 miles on that dirt road to a "T" intersection.
Make a left and go 0.6 miles to the end where there is a parking lot and bathrooms at the Picketpost Trailhead.
Begin on the Arizona Trail for a short distance (my guess is 0.4 miles?)
and make a left onto the well-marked spur trail toward Picketpost Mountain.
NOTE ABOUT BEGINNING OF THE TRAIL: There are other online hike reports that say you should begin
on the old 4WD road at the trailhead. This is unnecessary!
The road meanders along the creek bed at the bottom of the gulch,
and its difficult to see markings for where the old trail began. Other hikers have gone this way,
only to wander aimlessly in frustration.
Keep it simple: Hike on the Arizona Trail and turn
left and the clearly marked spur trail.
Above: The view of Picketpost Mountain from the trailhead. So beautiful!
Above: North of the mountain from U.S. Highway 60. (Near Superior, AZ.)
March 4, 2012 - We began early on Sunday morning. This desert region is lush with saguaros and other cactus.
I made everyone stop and stay out of the way so I could photograph these towering saguaros beside the trail.
Eventually we turned on the spur trail toward Picketpost Mountain.
Let me introduce you to my two hiking partners: Jeff and Tricia. Both are Tempe residents
and I'm thankful I talked them into coming with me. :)
We had hiked for approximately one mile on a well-marked trail,
and our GPS indicated we were approximately halfway to the summit ... in distance. Then the intense climbing began.
In this photo, I was ahead of Jeff and Tricia and had climbed up a rocky part of the trail.
(Jeff and Tricia were approaching as seen in the top right.)
It was at this point where the vertical climbing begins in earnest and Jeff had trouble.
He has struggled with vertigo recently and he deemed there was no way he could continue.
Instead, he walked back to the car, while Tricia and I would continue.
We felt sad about this in the moment,
but we felt even more upset after it took us approximately four hours round trip. With about an hour under our belt,
we wouldn't be back to see him in three more hours!
By the way, Jeff had nothing to be ashamed of.
This is THE Jeff Ryan, the
ultra runner, endurance athlete and mountain biker. He competes regularly in ironman triatholons.
Never mind entering via the lottery - Jeff is working toward qualifying for the Leadville 100 this year.
The climb intensified. A better view of the steep gully we'd scramble up.
Looking back at much of the trail. The parking lot can be seen faintly right of center.
By the way, for much of the morning, we had hiked in the shade.
The sun hung behind the other side of the mountain. If you hike very early in the morning, especially in the winter,
you'll want to wear at least a second layer.
Let me be clear again: This is a tough hike.
Yes, everyone has different standards of what "tough" is, and I'd like to think my standards are
reasonably high with all the
mountaineering I've done in Colorado.
Anyway, the trail winds
and turns over rocks and boulders in the gully. Cliffs loom on the edge of
the trail sometimes. Also, a multitude of thorny cactus are throughout.
Watch out! A slip, slide or trip and you could go arm or leg first into a
cactus. Or you could slam into a rock. Or fall down a cliff.
Take your time and diligently look for the next cairn. The adjacent photo is a good illustration why.
There were three young guys ahead of us, and I'm pretty sure at this point that this guy was off the trail.
He had wandered too far down and needed to come back up toward us.
The trail, if I remember correctly, went above this cliff.
And then for what seemed like a long time, I was busy hiking,
scrambling up rocks and wiggling between bushes in the steep gully.
I think this next photo was about two thirds up the gully.
Notice yucca, cholla and prickly pear cactus. They're everywhere. Sometimes their arms hung out on the trail.
Along with all the obvious essentials for desert hiking, I recommend the following "extras" for Picketpost Mountain:
Gloves - Very helpful because you will do some moderate Class 2+ and 3 manuevers.
Shoes With Good Traction - There are many steep sections on slick dirt paths or steep rocks,
and the risk of slipping or sliding is worse when going down.
Long Sleeve Shirt or Long Sleeve Pants - Very helpful considering the contact
you'll be doing with rocks and the potential for slipping ... especially into a cactus.
A layer of clothing with at least reduce the carnage.
We continued up the gully. Around the time I snapped this photo looking back,
the worst of the insane climbing was over.
Then the hike became a regular walk-up. So much beautiful cactus and desert plants all around!
Higher up, a better view of where we had come from.
Picketpost Mountain is mainly flat on top. It took a few tenths of
a mile before we approached this last hill. And then I saw it ... the mailbox on the summit! :)
At the summit is a mailbox with a guestbook. Also, we heard from other hikers
that the metal chair was brought up by people the day before (3/3/12).
Three more photos ...
TOP: Tricia and I at the summit.
SECOND: Behind me, much of metropolitan Phoenix, including downtown Phoenix, could be seen with the naked eye.
THIRD: On my way up, I did slip once and grazed my elbow on a large boulder. I have psoriasis on my elbow and it bled down by arm, but no worries, I was fine. :)
Four photos of the views on the summit.
TOP: The town of Superior to the left.
SECOND: U.S. Highway 60 on the far left. The Superstition Mountains and Weaver's Needle in the center.
THIRD: Facing directly down near the summit. This is facing toward the south or southeast.
FOURTH: So much beautiful greenery dotting the desert.
Toward the south, I zoomed-in as much as possible toward the rocky thumbs on the right.
In the distance, those have got to be mountains near Tucson and perhaps even as far as Mexico.
We signed the guestbook. :)
Hiking down the steep gully had its challenges. One mistake we made
is I got too far ahead of Tricia. As we came down (click the photo to view it at a larger size),
I had come down near Point A, but Tricia was still way up and
near the top of the cliffs at "X". She had failed to make the turn down.
However, at that time, I was somewhere below Point A by a number of feet and steep cliffs were seemed to be my only options. Somehow I had
lost track of the poorly-marked trail. And that's when I panicked.
I thought maybe I was off-route and Tricia was on-route ... and so I climbed
up some rocky walls directly to her. I was so upset to be climbing again, to be exerting this energy. Plus, I was nervous about being lost.
When I finally reached her, it became clear that I had been much closer to the real route than she was,
and we scrambled back down together. I show this picture to give you a visual, because
I wish I would have had this visual during our climb! When you're near the far right side of the gully at Point A,
remember you want to go across ... at the base of Cliff 1 but staying above Cliff 2.
Tricia and I did go across, but for awhile we were clearly not on any kind of trail.
We scrambled up and down a number of harrowing rocks, and we aimed for a spot with a
hiker coming up. It was tricky.
Back on the comparatively flat portion of the hike, another photo with my red line roughly marking the route.
It had been about three hours since Jeff turned back. We didn't have cell reception throughout,
and so we couldn't contact him to see how he was doing. We hoped he wasn't too bored. Near the bottom,
Tricia jogged ahead for the rest of the way. When she arrived,
Jeff had taken a long nap. He was fine.
As I continued down, I briefly rested and turned back one last time to snap this picture of Picketpost Mountain.
What a glorious mountain. What a crazy climb. I have always admired this beast,
but from now on, whenever I drive past it, my soul will smile even more with the memories of this day.