The RidgeLine Trail

Length: 13.7 miles
Difficulty: Hard/Strenuous (not for a beginner)
Location: Carney Springs Trailhead & Flat Iron Trailhead – fee required (2 cars needed), Superstition Mountains

The dictionary defines endurance as: the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.

Endurance.

This word kept coming up again and again as I was reading the hiking reviews for the Ridgeline Trail on Superstition Mountain, located about 30 minutes east of Phoenix. The Ridgeline Trail is a 13 mile or so hike, beginning at the Carney Springs Trailhead (Wave Cave parking area) and ending at the trailhead for Flat Iron. (So, unless you want to do over a 20 mile strenuous hike in one day, two cars at each trailhead will be needed.)

As I wiped the sweat from my forehead while hiking up the third summit, looking ahead as the trail once again dipped down only to shoot right back up…I finally completely and fully understood that endurance is the perfect word… the only word…to truly describe this hiking trail.

No one has to tell you. Just upon first glance of the Superstition Mountains from the nearby highway, this mountain is jagged, sharp, and boldly emerging up to the sky. With her sheer cliffs dropping away…you realize this mountain and it’s ridgeline is not going to be a walk in the park.

We began this trail along the Western edge, at the Carney Springs trailhead (Wave Cave area) because we didn’t want the sun in our face for the entire hiking time. For this reason, I would highly advise starting the trail here.

As you follow the beginning portion of the Wave Cave trail and go through the fence, you’ll see within a minute or two a side trail (not labeled) that branches out towards the right. When you begin following this, you technically are on the Ridgeline Trail.

At this moment, during the hike, I was naïve. Thinking as we approached closer to the base of the mountain that this trail likely will just go right up….and then for the majority of the trail, I would be just simply walking along the long length of the ridgeline with a few ups and downs, nothing too hard. How wrong I was.

As this trail begins sweeping you higher and higher the popular Wave Cave falls out of sight and out of mind, as you look back and realize just how high you reached in elevation in such a short amount of time along this inner canyon portion of the mountain.

“Let the people flock to the Wave Cave.” I thought. “It’s nicer here on this quiet side trail with no other hikers even seeing or knowing that we are right here.” And it’s true. As we made it up to the top of the first summit, victoriously looking out at the open wide view of the amber sunrise softly glowing upon the bright green saguaros, catching my breath in the crisp morning air, I wanted to stay in this spot all day to enjoy this amazing view.

Or maybe, I wanted to stay a bit longer because ahead on the Ridgeline Trail I was surprised to see a second summit waiting up ahead. A bigger summit. A summit, that I still don’t understand why we weren’t even able to see it from the ground. But, its there.

“There’s 3 summits all together!” a nearby hiker who was resting upon a rock exclaimed to us as we voiced our surprise at this new summit.

No time to break the endurance rush with too long of a break, so after catching our breaths, we were once again….continuously hiking up to the 2nd summit.

It was up here that become one of my favorite parts of the hike. This area, has tall spires emerging from the ground, that look the remnants of a washed away sand castle. It looks as if they are still wet and would easily be washed away with a heavy rain. Of course, heavy rains have come and gone and these stone figures are still here and will continue to be here long after I am physically gone.

We find a shady spot among the rocks to sit and took our lunch break. Beef jerky, pretzels, fruit gummies, and chocolate covered coffee beans were all shared as we calculated that at this point we were almost half way through the trail. Whether or not, we were technically at the half way point or not…it comforted me to know that I was able to make it this far and still have energy to continue.

As we packed up our belongings and continued, “onwards and forward!” I hoped that the hard part of this trail was over with. There is something about knowing you have the hardest part under your belt, that just makes the rest of the hike, way more enjoyable. But again, what’s the saying…”you can wish in one hand and shit in other and see which one fills up faster”. Yea, the hard part of this trail, wasn’t over with yet.

But we were close.

In loose terms, we had to scramble our way down the second summit, only to curve around…and head right back up. This portion was likely about 2 miles or so until we would once again be upon the ridgeline.

As a shorter person, standing at 5’4 the scramble down, was a bit intimating….yet also a lot of fun. I love scrambling because I feel a sense of focus and freedom from any other thoughts, as I prioritize the best path for me to get down and love the challenge of moving my body in different shapes to safely get myself down.

The best way to describe this scrambling section was that it’s like a rocky chute. It’s steep, but almost as if you are in a tube, because a rock wall will be on both your sides. In other words, you don’t feel as if you are going to freefall off, if you happen to make a wrong step.

As we once again curved around and headed back up to the third summit, my energy was beginning to slow. And that is when the word, endurance entered my thoughts.

With any longer trail, endurance is not optional. It’s required.

You have no other option other than to keep going.

Up to this point, once we passed the first summit, portions of this trail show the extant of fire damage that the Sawtooth Fire did last year.  It’s heartbreaking to see the charred remains of what was once a thriving area for so much life. I kept reminding myself that nature is resilience and new growth will be coming, as with all things in life.

With those thoughts in my head and with a few rest breaks, I found myself upon the final section, along the actual “ridgeline” portion of the Superstition Mountains. It’s quite impressive.

Being so high up along the ridgeline, the winds strong current blew past our bodies, making me stiffen a bit to embrace my stance upon the top. The loose hair from my ponytail whipped my face with every change of wind direction, while I looked out upon the smooth long oblong rocks standing tall upon the top, looking like soldiers in line protecting the mountain.

The Superstition Mountain range is vast. It’s unbelievable how far it spreads out and almost as if looking up at the stars, the eye never quite sees the end of the gorgeous mountains, rippling through the air with the endless blue sky as it’s comrade.

It’s along this portion, the Eastern side of the trail, where the land has been untouched by the wildfire. At moments, it felt as if we were in a forest of agave, with the tall stalks reaching high into the air. Without the fire damage, it felt lighter, more energizing, and happier. A perfect mood to complete the final stretch of this hike.

Eventually, that beautiful and unmistakable landmark known as Flat Iron appeared on our left. It is called Flat Iron, because like an actual iron, this tall cliff jets out of the mountain forming a triangular tip, that can easily be spotted from the road below.

Flat Iron summit

As we passed by, watching the hikers from the Flat Iron trail excitedly take their last few steps to the top, they were all too distracted by the landmark, to even notice us coming in from the left of the popular landmark and meeting up with their trail.

From this spot, we began our decent down. We took our time as we now found ourselves scrambling down the steep trail for a good mile before reaching the saddle. Our legs were tired and scrambling down just made them feel more like Jell-o.

We took our time to safely come down and found ourselves happy and relieved while we cheered and snapped the tops off some canned beer in the parking lot.

This trail took us about 8 hours to complete. We began at 7 am and was cheersing each other at 3:20 in the parking lot.

We only came across one other party who was meeting halfway along this trail, and by the time we got off, we assumed they were still hiking. So, depending on your average speed you may find yourself hiking longer or shorter. In either case, be sure to bring extra water and extra food, just in case you need it.

**While I mention that this is a difficult trail – it’s not like hiking out of the Grand Canyon hard. It’s more like, having to expect a longer distance that requires 3 summits and a lot of scrambling down at the end.*** If you’re a strong local Phoenix hiker, you should be able to do this route with no problem.

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