A brisk wind whipped around the Lost Goldmine parking lot, whistling through the saguaros and shaking the creosote bushes and snatching one of my gloves from the car seat. Grumbling, I reached down and picked it up, stuffing my hand into the stiff folds before the wind took it again. I was stiff myself, the silly predawn start to this hike keeping my limbs stubborn, and wasn't in the mood to go chasing wind-snatched things across an empty lot. A minute later I had everything on me and the Jeep locked up and I headed to trail, pumping my arms and legs in a sad attempt to get moving.
Robber's Roost Loop, or the Dacite Super Loop, heads up past Carney Springs, swings above Dacite Cliffs near Robber's Roost, descends to Fremont Saddle, and then returns to Peralta via the Cave Trail. Altogether it's about seven miles and offers a ton of good views. I chose this hike for my first 'real' hike of 2019 for a few reasons - it's close to Phoenix, would avoid the crowds, and I could knock it out in a few hours to return home before Katie had to leave for a party. This route is also a repeat of a 2015 post-Isle Royale adventure, so I could focus more on views and sorting out my thoughts instead of route-finding.
Following Lost Goldmine Trail was pure auto-pilot. The tread is wide and winding, easy to trot down by headlamp, even with the strong wind tossing nearby vegetation around and playing in my ears. As I walked I thought about the decision that Katie and I had made yesterday and what it meant. I felt elated just thinking about it, light in foot and mind, and I wondered if we should have made it earlier, if the extra commitment over the last few years had ever made sense.
It was a quick mile to the Wave Cave / Carney Springs turn-off, and too quick after that to the start of the climb. This is the nastiest part of the loop, 1200' gain over less than a mile, most of it loose and difficult to follow, and I gave myself into the haul, enjoying the breathlessness and sweaty exertion.
August 2017, end of the summer that started the Mazatzal project, was when Chris and I first checked out a search-and-rescue group that specialized in mountain rescue. I brought home a packet of information and a written todo list of how to join the next recruit class, which involved first aid training and joining the county posse and getting a HAM radio license, and immediately treated it like a new project, signing up and earning certifications and, eventually, passing both the fitness test and team interview. By the end of that year I was part of the next recruit class.
I grew to really enjoy the team and the class and the training, picking up new skills and building solid relationships. Not every month was fun - some were completely dreadful - yet each was rewarding and I began to feel like I was building towards something, on passing the final test and graduating and contributing to the team. The first decision to continue came early when Katie got a full-time job... Did it make sense for us to continue this training with the extra time pressure? We decided yes, mostly because we were already in it. Then, a few months before the final test, two of my classmates shared some grave hesitations on proceeding. The three of us decided to push through, again because we were already in it. In July 2019 we failed the test.
Barely beating the sunrise, I made it to West Boulder Saddle and collapsed against a rock, pulling out a snack more as an excuse to rest my legs than actual hunger. From here there was a faint path east, up the tributary of Boulder Creek, with small cairns marching up towards Dacite Mesa, where Robber's Roost waited for me. Last time I was up here I didn't enter it, frustrated by no obvious entries and time pressure. I checked the time and figured that if I cruised down Cave Trail and skipped the distractions, I had time to explore the Roost. Finishing my snack I headed east, thankful for the almost-flat trail and blocked wind.
The sun finally touched me above the tributary, warming rays stretching long to dance around the rocks. I felt it for a few minutes before dropping down the depression that led to Robber's Roost. It took a while to remember the layout, the cool dark shade feeling distant from the oven-baked landscape of my last visit, and then it snapped back into place, and I quickly spotted a side trail that looked promising. I swung up, scrambled a bit, then easily slid down into the bottom of the Roost. The huge bean-shaped rock roof provided some entertainment, both as an obstacle to work around and to climb under, and I tried unsuccessfully to drop to the next layer down. There was webbing tied around a spur - perhaps rope was needed to go on.
After enjoying the cool quiet of the chamber and another snack (well, if I carried it in, might as well eat it), I started heading north towards Fremont Saddle. I love this segment. The trail dances along the side of the ridge, some hundred feet above the Saddle, and provides excellent views of the Western Superstitions that hikers below can't quite obtain. There were a few tricky parts that forced me to stop and search for the next cairn, which is to be expected on this unofficial loop.
While the Saddle was empty this early in the morning I heard nearby voices, so I wasted no time jumping over to Cave Trail for my return. I've been on this trail three or four times now, most recently with my oldest son, and while I do enjoy the alcoves just off the route, I decided to let gravity push me down in a more direct manner. While I trotted on the empty path I could see small caravans of hikers heading up the Peralta Trail below, a regular pilgrimage to one of the more popular destinations in the Supes, and I wondered how many of them would get a taste of this wilderness and start extending out to more exotic locations like Cave Trail or Robber's Roost or other spots that I haven't even heard of. I wondered how many of them would lose themselves in the passion of exploring unknown lands like I have so many times.
Even after failing the test for the rescue group, I decided to stay on. My heart wasn't in it, and I could feel the squeeze of stress and time tightening, and yet... I stayed on. I started helping with some of the community service events and put together some training documentation and even tried to help plan team-wide trainings, all to get back some of the excitement that I felt at the beginning, and none of it worked.
For the last year I did not respond to missions because of kids and work schedules, barely kept up with the recruit training, and felt more like a liability than asset while in the field. That's when I realized that, no matter how hard I tried, this didn't feel like my path. Since starting I was doing it because... I could... and not because I wanted to. I was bushwhacking towards a destination for a reason that I couldn't remember. It was time to leave the group, time to come home.
One last look over Cave Trail and Peralta Canyon and I dropped down to the parking lot, which was swarming with hikers. On the way to my Jeep I was stopped by at least three different groups asking for help. Apparently my dusty attire and well-worn gear broadcast some level of knowledge of the area, and I pointed out nearby trails and shared advice on how much water to carry. When I stepped into the vehicle, pleasantly tired, I realized that I was more happy on the trail, talking to other hikers, then I had been with the rescue group. Maybe my path is a more humble one, teaching my kids how to enjoy the outdoors or helping fellow hikers or sharing stories on a blog, and I want to focus on things that I love doing.