Sometime during the day, one hearty traveler ventured into the camp while I was attempting to summit Mica Mountain starting from the campground. I don’t recall the individual’s name, but he traveled alone and did not use any kind of shelter – he just slept in his bag. I thought this was unusual because it was quite cold and windy. He also told me that winds the preceding evening were strong enough to knock over one of the oldest and largest saguaros in the area. We spent some time talking and getting to know one other that night and discussed traveling out together the following morning.
I can’t remember exactly how the events unfolded, but I believe the following morning this individual decided to break camp earlier than we had planned. Unfortunately, I was still in the process of breaking down my camp and wasn’t able to accompany him. I think I left approximately an hour after he did. That’s really when the trouble started. In and around the campground, there are a number of use trails, and it is difficult to discern which is the main trail leading out of the camp. I am not exactly sure where I got lost, but I think it happened pretty quickly.
One of the interesting things about Saguaro NP East is housing developments abutt the park boundaries. So when traveling in and out of the mountains, many of the distant views are of residential areas. I think this gives the traveler a false sense of security because everything looks closer than it is, and it is impossible to tell the lay of the land. At times, it almost looks like you can reach out and touch the houses, but they are much further off than they appear. Another major mistake I made was using these homes as a guide point to determine which way I should be traveling. I’ll try to describe to you what happened next….
Instead of following the ridgeline down and off the mountain at approximately a 45 degree angle, I descended straight down a 90 degree angle. Needless to say, before I realized I was traveling in the wrong direction, I had already passed the point where it made sense for me to try to turn around and retrace my steps. I wasn’t even sure if I could find my way back if I tried. Part of the problem was there were a considerable amount of game trails in the wilderness and I was deceived into believing that I was traveling on an actual hiking trail. I saw an astonishing amount of deer during this adventure. At one point, I must have spooked a herd of nearly 50, right in the middle of day, just galloping through the groves of giant saguaros. It was really quite a site.
Once I realized that I was lost, my game plan was to follow the washes down and out of the wilderness. Often times, the washes represent the path of least resistance. Occasionally, they cliff out and you are forced to circumvent around. That happened a couple of times, and I basically resorted to bushwhacking through some nasty desert terrain. By this time, my water supply was quickly dwindling. I had a couple different plans for my water. One strategy that I’ll sometimes use is to hold the water in my mouth for as long as I can without swallowing, which keeps your breathing passages hydrated and moist. If had completely run out of water, I knew that I could probably find some stored in the park’s many barrel cacti and would not hesitate to cut one open if my life depended on it.
That ended up not being the case, but I was a complete mess by the time I wandered off the mountain. I never saw a single soul during the entire length of my descent, which took about twice as long was what it should have taken. My thighs to my ankles were completely covered in scratches ranging from one to five inches in length. It literally looked like I had been attacked by a wild animal. By the time I reached the base of the mountains, I ended up in a remote section that had just a single trail. That trail eventually led out and I ended up soliciting a neighbor for some water and the use of their phone. As it turned out, I was a good 15 mile drive from my car when I should have been able to walk right off the trail and throw my gear into my trunk. I called the park for assistance, and they sent a ranger out to drive me back. After searching all my stuff for “petroglyphs,” he returned me to my car. It was the only time I had to be “rescued” and I was thankful I made it out in one piece. It was quite the adventure!