A few months ago I had a unique opportunity - an entire weekday with Noah. Usually he's at school or I have work or I'm stuck with all three kids. On this day, this random holiday in January, it was just Noah and I, and there was only one hike on my mind. It was time to take my five year old son to Fremont Saddle.
I've been to the saddle now maybe four or five times, usually en route to some further destination. There is that nice loop that involves Robber's Roost to the west, and the one time it was my first milestone on a three-day loop of the Superstitions, and even once when Chris and I spent the night at Lone Pine within a stone's throw of the saddle. After seeing how well the boys did at Siphon Draw this winter I figured this was the next step, although its a hefty step. Siphon is 5 miles and 1300' and Fremont is 6 miles and 2000'. Noah could probably handle it, Thomas would be pushing it, and poor Charlotte would just be bored in the carrier the whole time.
We dropped off the two littles at the sitter and headed out to Peralta Trailhead, reaching it around 8:30. It was about half-full on this weekday; on weekends it'd be overflowing this time of year. We squared away our gear (including plenty of sugary snacks) and headed out. For awhile we walked side-by-side, the wide trail allowing for our dual passage, though when it got narrow or rough I pushed him forward to let him take the lead.
Our surroundings were predictably green with the wet weather, pleasant flowers poking up along the way, a nice breeze flowing down the canyon. As we walked and passed a few other groups I pointed out rock formations that looked familiar, especially the caves to the east. If things went well we'd be spending some time poking around on those rocks later in the afternoon.
We passed a trickling waterfall and explored a dark crawlspace. Things began to drag as Noah began to complain about the steep trail. I usually avoid repeating the same trails for hikes, preferring new scenery or interesting company, and as much as I like my eldest kid he can be exhausting. Thankfully the saddle showed up and we stopped for a lengthy break, both to munch on snacks and to climb around some hoodoos, generally taking a break from the monotonous.
There were a few characters to chat with at the saddle, some backpackers that spent the night at a nearby spring and some out-of-towners who looked a bit lost. Once Noah was fueled up and I passed along some dubious directions we headed out towards Cave Trail. This unofficial trail is a bit tricky, especially for a kid, yet the thought of descending back down Peralta seemed incredibly basic. We headed in the general direction and eventually picked up a footpath that started curving back south.
Cave Trail has a few interesting features (besides just the caves, that is). It basically follows the top of Peralta Canyon, so along the first mile or so you get to look back down on the path you climbed up. When it does drop it does so suddenly, usually without switchbacks or obvious routes, which makes for some interesting cairn hunts. It then dumps you along Bluff Spring Trail right above Cardiac Hill, which is much more palatable for downhill travel than up.
Noah loved the first mile of the trail, with the exposed vistas and frequent caves. He did ask a wonderful question about why someone would build so many cairns in one spot when there's no trail to look for. I've trained all my kids to look for and follow cairns with the rough areas we sometimes frequent, so to hear him wonder about useless piles of rock was music to my ears. We took a second break at a particularly cool cave for both more snacks and to take some photos for Katie to fret about later.
Things got hairy here, as the trail entered it's first drop. If I was with adults we'd probably just tumble down, scrambling along the rough rock, and with my kid I took things slower. We edged along a few cracks and, when things got hairy, I set him down in the 'bathtub' while I explored a few options. There was no easy way, so I ended up giving him a piggy-back ride for the last fifty feet. I enjoy giving him little challenges to work through… as long as the risk isn't too high.
After the caves and the drop is a tedious route-finding valley and a small, yet challenging, climb, followed by more route-finding. At some point I lost the trail and decided it was a good time to show Noah the joy of Arizona bushwhacking. We found a rocky wash, clogged with catclaw and mesquite, and hacked a way down. He utterly hated it so we took our time. When things got too hairy I carried him, though I tried to let him pick his own way forward as much as possible.
We reached Bluff Spring Trail around one and started the easy trot down to the parking lot. Noah was so relieved and proud when he saw the car, knowing just how far he had traveled, that I couldn't help but promise a special treat on the way home. The final stretch went by quick and soon we were driving back to Phoenix, big smiles and excited chatter, on our way to the nearest ice cream store.