2012 Cave Creek Thriller and McDowell Mountain Frenzy

by Charles Wednesday, December 12th 2012

30k Start at the 2012 Cave Creek Thriller

October 2012: 3:12:57 and 12.4 miles into the Cave Creek Thriller I reached the Start/Finish line aid station - my first 30k race was not going exactly as I imagined. My stomach rebelled during the first lap, I was tired and hot and I thought about dropping out - but after taking a break 'just one more lap' started to seem possible - so I headed back out onto the trail for more heat and punishment. I don't have a glorious story about how I 'bounced back' with a 'second wind' - it was hot, I felt miserable and I was moving slowly (more walking than running for sure). At the last - gloriously well stocked - aid station (ice!) I sat on the ground and rested before eventually making my way to the finish in 5:27:14 - not exactly the time/run I had hoped for, but I finished!!! While I was wiped out it must not have been that bad since the next day I signed up for the McDowell Mountain Frenzy 25k in December...

Hurting but still smiling during the 2012 Cave Creek Thriller

If you like trail running you should certainly check out Aravaipa Running's events. The Cave Creek Thriller and McDowell Mountain Frenzy are part of the Desert Runner Trail Series. The DRT Series races are held in regional parks in the Phoenix area. For the 2012/2013 season there are 7 events: Cave Creek Thriller, Pass Mountain, McDowell Mountain Frenzy, Coldwater Rumble, San Tan Scramble, Elephant Mountain and Mesquite Canyon. Every run has (near) 30k and 50k distances and they all have other distance options as well (both shorter and longer). All of the races are very well organized - nicely stocked and positioned aid stations, great course markings and friendly people!

2012 McDowell Mountain Frenzy

December 2012: The morning of the McDowell Mountain Frenzy the temperature was nice and cool. There were a few runners in jackets at the start and I wondered if I would be cold, but it only took a few minutes after the start to warm up. I relaxed for the first few miles and enjoyed rambling thru the desert with the other runners. Eventually a small climb gave me a welcome burst of energy - I sped up for a gentle downhill section before yet another stretch of rolling hills slowed me down. At 1:52:37 I finished the first 10.1 mile loop! I struggled to keep my pace up during the second loop as the course continued to roll thru the desert towards the final steep climb. It would have been a triumphant moment to run up the last hill - but I walked it, managing to arrive at the top with just enough energy to enjoy the downhill to finish line - 3:08:34!

Mugs and Gear from the 2012 Cave Creek Thriller and McDowell Mountain Frenzy

A few gear notes:

Garmin fÄ“nix™: Altimeter, Barometer, Compass and GPS all on your wrist - with remarkably good battery life! This is a great navigation tool and way to track your outdoor adventures!

Inov-8 TrailRoc 245: More room in the toe box than the X-Talon and f-Lite series shoes, great traction/grip on the trail, lots of breathable mesh and a lacing system that does a good job of holding your foot in place - there is a lot to like about this shoe!

Balega Soft Tread Quarter Socks: Great feel and these still feel great after a lot of miles on the trail and trips thru the washing machine.

Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 Pack: In a run like the McDowell Mountain Frenzy there are plenty of great aid stations with food and drink - you certainly don't need a pack! But, for me, these runs are partly a way to get in-shape for unsupported runs in the mountains where I prefer to bring a bit more gear and this pack works incredibly well when moving fast! The Summit Hut will be carrying this pack in 2013.

Events | Gear

Hiking Report: December

by frank Saturday, December 1st 2012

Editor's Note: The Summit Hut Hiking Report is a new feature to the Summit Hut blog. Along with our typical great content (gear reviews, trail descriptions, travel stories, etc.) we will be publishing a monthly Hiking Report with a quick look at some of the key tips, gear and destinations for the season.

Let's face it, one of the things many of us love about the desert southwest is not having to deal with much of that white stuff on the ground in winter! If you love the outdoors, you undoubtedly love being able to participate in your favorite activities year-round. Whether it's cycling, hiking, climbing, trail running, or any other outdoor pursuit, you can do it just about any day of the year. As it finally starts to cool off, there are a lot of things to consider when you hit the trails during a desert winter.

Tip: Layer! Layer! Layer! Layering is key to staying comfortable during a desert winter. It isn't uncommon for a day to start out in the 20's or 30's and quickly warm up into the mid-60's or 70's. A standard layering system consists of three pieces: A baselayer, an insulating piece and a shell. Baselayers are typically form-fitting, and one of their main jobs is managing moisture. A good baselayer will transfer sweat away from your body, keeping you comfortable during high-aerobic activity and baselayers are usualy either made from wool or a synthetic fabric - examples include the Patagonia Capilene line or products from Icebreaker. An insulating piece is typically a down or fleece jacket - something like the Marmot Ares Jacket or Mountain Hardwear MicroChill Jacket. The main role here is warmth. Finally, a shell is vital, especially in situations where you might encounter rain or snow, or high winds. A shell is typically wind and rain-proof and shields you from the elements - an example here is the Marmot Minimalist Jacket

Gear: Beyond a great layering system, there is tons of gear that makes winter hiking more enjoyable. Remember, staying protected from the sun is a year-round concern, especially here in Tucson. Summit Hut is very aware of the unique local climate and is sure to keep sun protective gear, and products like shorts and short-sleeve shirts, in stock all year long. We can't talk about shopping during the month of December and not mention how great of a selection of gifts Summit Hut carries! We have one of the most unique selections of toys, goodies, gadgets and gizmos you can find in Tucson and we're sure to have something for anyone on your list. Check out our Holiday Gift Guide for some of our favorite suggestions!

Destinations: Winter Hiking in Tucson offers just about everything you can imagine. Stick to the lowlands if you're looking to keep a little warmer. Destinations like Wasson Peak in the Tucson Mountains offer a premier desert hiking experience. Since we haven't had a winter storm just yet, and daytime highs are still creeping into the high-70's and low-80's, pretty much all of southern Arizona is primed for great hiking. If you're looking to get a little use out of your jackets while it still feels a little like summer in the valley, heading up to the Aspen Loop or Butterfly trail will offer much cooler weather and great hiking!  No matter what kind of winter adventure you're looking for, be sure to swing by Summit Hut for the gear, and advice, you're looking for!

Activities | Hiking Report | News

My Heart Meets the Heart of Tuscany

by Emily Wednesday, November 14th 2012

When you're trying to recount the newest most amazing trip you've taken in your life, it can be hard to start at the beginning. Details of things loved and mishaps overcome come rushing in all at once. So instead, I'm starting in the middle of Italy, with the day Logan and I saddled up in Florence and started riding our bicycles into the heart of Tuscany.


It felt so wonderful to be back on the bikes. We had spent months riding and planning and packing, all to arrive in Rome - crazy, beautiful, hectic, ancient, nutso Rome - and realize that Italy is quite a big place. We had imagined we would ride our bikes across this whole country and see everything; but it became quite clear that it would take all day just to get outside Rome, and in the process we very well might die in a compound collision with a scooter, a car and a bus all at the same time. So we took the train. And it was so accessible, so fast, that we ended up taking trains a lot, and lugging our bicycles in and out of bike cars all across Italy. But the landscape of Tuscany was far too legendary and beautiful to pass up.

Cycling out of Florence we got lost right away, thanks to a mysterious cue sheet in our terrible Cycling Italy guidebook. (Sorry Lonely Planet; I love you, but you led us astray on this one.) We had already encountered the interesting way that Italians give directions, having gotten lost at the train station when we were looking for our hotel. I walked into a newspaper stand to ask for help, and the man behind the counter was smoking a cigarette indoors, because you can still do that in Italy if you own the place. I was looking for a street called Via Fregene, and the man walked outside with me, pointed to a side street leading out between two buildings, and said in broken English, "turn here, 500 meters, Via Fregene." I thanked him in my severely broken Italian, bought a map, and we headed up the street. Via Fregene was not there. We finally found it on the map. In a similar fashion, just as we were nearing the edge of Florence our mysterious cue sheet told us to veer right "to Scanducci," so we veered right, climbed a steep hill and were rewarded with a beautiful sweeping downhill across green vineyards heavy with grapes. Several happy kilometers later, we arrived in Scanducci where the vineyards promptly faded away into out-of-place mega malls and industrial-looking buildings. We had missed a turn somehow, though we hadn't seen a turn to miss, and we were several uphill kilometers off route.

I threw the Cycling Italy book back in my pannier and we asked for directions at a gas station/pannini shop. I explained to the woman behind the counter that we were trying to get back toward a little town called Impruneta, and at the name she nodded and said, "Impruneta, yes! Take this street in front, go left, it takes you to Impruneta." I was surprised; the street in front of us ran north-south and we were trying to head east. I asked if we would need to turn off anywhere, and she said "no, take the street in front, go left, Impruneta." So we went left. We never got to Impruneta.

Luckily, Logan is a masterful navigator and through the poorly or completely unmarked snaky roads he forged a path that slithered sidewinder fashion into Chianti, bountiful land of wine and hills. It was a clear day with just enough cloud cover to keep us from getting hot. The hills were so steep that I felt compelled to strip them of their designation as "hills"; they may not be the jagged peaks of the Alps, but I would no sooner call them hills than I would give the same name to the Appalachians. They were tough and tall, but fully balanced by my love for the beautiful views that kept changing with each turn, each dip into a valley, each pull to the top.

The landscape of Tuscany is the kind that will never capture well in a photograph. A photograph can describe the perfect, neat and tangled rows of grapevines, and the silvery sage leaves of low olive groves, set in large blocks like a patchwork quilt draped over the hills all the way out to the horizon. It can show you how the small houses, either made of stone or touched with bright colors, dot the hillsides, some of them centuries old. But a photograph can never capture how familiar it feels here, how comforting, to see a landscape like this that has been so manicured, so well worked by generations, and yet it's a landscape that still retains a sense of freedom and space. Maybe it's from growing up in the Midwest, where my backyard expeditions involved tramping through the woods and the cow fields, constantly ducking under barbed wire fences. How do I describe why I felt at home here in Tuscany? Even though there was nothing wild about this landscape, I still felt the thrill of adventure. It wasn't out there, where you could see it in a photograph; it was inside my bones.

A few kilometers outside Greve, our destination, we climbed a big hill to go screaming down a bigger one, grapevines flying past and my mouth opening to a happy scream of its own accord. This kind of cycling, up and down all day, is positively delicious. The climbs would be snail-slow, but then on the sweet blessed descents, anything I'd felt up to that point - any exhaustion or titchyness, any doubts about traveling halfway around the world to climb another damn vineyard-covered hill just like the last for god's sake - all of that was immediately blown away by the speed and the view. To ride a bicycle down a Tuscan hill is to commune with God.

At the bottom of the hill we were met by a winery and stopped for a tasting, where I had the first rosé I have ever enjoyed. It was a bright crisp red, made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, as if you could distill a Cabernet to a crystalline tincture. It was incredibly refreshing after 40 kilometers of up and down cycling. This was followed by two Chianti reserves, the last one smelling like my father's garden in April. I loved that wine. Logan's last glass had a finish that was light and woody, like the way soft maple wood could taste if you tried it.

Greve was cute, but it didn't sing to either of us; it's the curse of traveling in Italy that you get to become a snob about how some little town doesn't have enough history or architecture or charm, even if said town has all three in spades compared to any cute little American town. In any case, we went onward to Radda, a medieval walled city that was 7 kilometers directly up a hill. It was a steady incline only tempered by a shot of espresso I'd had in Greve and more beautiful vineyards, farther and farther below with each turn. Then a joyful riotous downhill for a few kilometers, then bliss. We stopped in a small stretch of woods and ate pecorino cheese and sausage we'd bought at a market, plus crackers and two little jam pies we'd saved from breakfast, and a packaged pastry similar to a glorified Italian twinkie.

Soon enough we came to a small sign: Radda was up a hill, just 0.2km. So close. And yet, it was the steepest piece of hill we'd ever seen, too steep to crank through. We dismounted and walked, our heads hung, all the way up to Radda. It was charming and old and full of pretty stone buildings; just the way we liked it. Wild boar stew for dinner, with wine from a vineyard just down the hill.


Wirepass to Lee's Ferry: A Trip that Almost Happened

by Richard Friday, October 19th 2012

Our trip started on a Tuesday when we left Tucson headed for the Paria/Vermillion Cliff's Wilderness area.  After a long drive north to the southern edge of Utah we arrived at the White House trail head and campground around 10pm.  We dropped an impromptu camp in front of our cars and got to sleep.  Our original plan was to start hiking Wednesday at the Wire Pass trail head and make our way through Buckskin Gulch, the Paria river canyon and down to Lee's Ferry in 3-4 days.  Several days before we left Tucson we heard that there was a large blockage in Buckskin around 10 feet high and 25 feet long.  Rangers said there were several spots with waist deep water upstream of the blockage and that they had not heard of anybody being able to get through.  That information plus the threat of thunder storms Thursday night forced our hand and we decided to alter our plan.  We would day hike Wire Pass through Buckskin to the blockage and then back out on Wednesday.  Thursday we planned to start at the White House trail head and hike down to the confluence of Buckskin and the Paria River and make camp there.  From there we could either hike through to Lee's Ferry or day hike up and down stream to try to see the best parts of the slot canyons the area had to offer. 

Wednesday morning we checked in at the ranger station at White House.  They informed us that the threat of storms had risen considerably and they were expecting the area to get several inches of rain, not the best forecast for hikers in a tight canyon.  They were even expecting to see snow a little farther north as the front came through.  We decided that we should head to Wire Pass and get into Buckskin to see how much water was there ourselves and enjoy the canyon before we decided what would be best the rest of the week. 


Wednesday Morning


Hiking Wire Pass into Buckskin Gulch is a very well known hike.  Quick search online shows amazing pictures of sculpted walls, fantastic colors, and classic picturesque images of desert canyon landscapes.  Our day definitely met our expectations.  Wire Pass above Buckskin Gulch was great.  The trail drops into the wash immediately and stays there for the entire hike.  The canyon walls slowly get tighter easing you into Buckskin where things really narrow.  My pictures really don't do my memories justice.  The scale of the walls, sharp colors, and feeling of constriction were amazing.  We had around 5 spots where we waded through thigh deep muddy water.  We saw a few other groups in the canyon but I was amazed at how few people were there and how remote it really felt.  We decided to take our time and never made it down to the blockage.  Once we turned around, we saw two snakes in Buckskin, which was a treat.  We made our way back to our cars and drove back to the White House camp ground to decide what we should do the next few days. 


Wire Pass


Buckskin Gulch


We discussed our options, how we were feeling and what we thought the weather was going to do.  Being in a slot canyon with a real threat of rain turned out to be more than we wanted to tackle.  We decided to camp at White House again that night and head out the next morning.  The next morning we packed up and headed for Prescott via Sedona.  On our way to Sedona we stopped at Horse Shoe Bend, a beautiful overlook of the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam.  The view was well worth the five minute hike.  I would recommend getting there early though, we arrived around 9 am and the parking lot was quickly filling up. 


Horse Shoe Bend


We drove to Sedona through a few small storms for another quick day hike and decided on Bell Rock.  There are quite a few options for great day hikes around Sedona but we chose Bell Rock because of the limited exposure if/when the weather arrived.  The trail was busy but not crowded and the view to the north was almost as good as that of Cathedral Rock but without most of the effort.  We made our way maybe half way up the rock while other “braver” hikers were pushing up much higher. 


Bell Rock


Back in the car we headed for Prescott.  We took Beaverhead Flat Rd to Cornville Rd making our way toward Cottonwood.  The road was amazing!  That route takes you away from most of the traffic heading into and out of the Sedona area.  Views are fantastic and the road seemed brand new.  We crossed the Verde Valley and went through Jerome, always fun.  On the other side of the pass we were treated to a large heard of Antelope that were running around and seemed to be enjoying cooler weather between the small storms in the area.  We found a hotel, took much needed showers and had dinner at the Prescott Brewing Co. which is always good.   That night several large angry thunder storms came through the area, making us feel pretty good about where we were. 

Friday morning we got up and headed to the Watson Lake area.  This is another great/short day hike.  There are several trails that lead in and over large granite boulders at the lake's edge.  The weather was pretty chilly and although we couldn't see any of the higher peaks in the area because of clouds, it didn't seem to be a stretch to imagine snow on the top of them.   We had considered finding a spot to camp that night but we decided to cut our losses and head back to Tucson.  

On our way back we had lunch in Phoenix at Bobby Q.  If you are a bar-b-que fan you really need to try this place.  Everything on the table was amazing.  We had brisket, ribs, pulled pork, pulled chicken, corn bread and mac and cheese but the best part may have been the free homemade donuts at the end.  It will be hard for me to go to Phoenix and not have a meal there from now on. 

There were a few pieces of gear that I used on this trip that really stood out.  First, I was able to try out one of Therm-a-Rest's new sleeping bags coming out next year.  I used the Antares, a 20 degree 750 fill down bag.  What makes this bag special is how it attaches to a pad.  There are two wide and stretchy bands that keep the bag down on your pad.  It also doesn't have any fill on the bottom of the bag through most of the torso and leg area.  I'm a side sleeper and I toss and turn quite a bit.  I never found any issue rolling around in the bag; no cold spots, drafts, uncomfortable positions, nothing.  It was great!  The lowest temp I saw was around 32 and I never had the bag completely zipped.  I was sleeping on an Exped Synmat 7.   This bag is in a series that includes 2 down options, a 20 and a 0 degree, and two synthetic options of the same temperatures.  The Summit Hut will be carrying all 4 in the spring.

I also got a chance to spend more time playing with my Garmin fenix GPS/ABC watch.  I've been running with it a fair amount but this was the first time I used the "Ultratrac" GPS settings that extend the battery life significantly.  It performed exactly as expected but it is worth noting that the canyon walls in Buckskin Gulch were too narrow for most of our hike to be able to find a signal.  This is where the Suunto Ambit would really come in handy with its accelerometer filling in for the GPS. 

Although I never got a chance to do any miles with it, I brought a new pack from Exped, the Lightning 60.  This pack offers a great combination of simplicity and durable materials that give a great carrying, light weight option.  The bag is a single main pocket, roll top, and an effective set of compression straps.  It has a single stay and comfortable suspension that worked well with my load, around 50 lbs. 


The Authors

Dave BakerDave Baker

I'm Dave Baker, founder of Summit Hut, an independent outdoor retailer based in Tucson, Arizona since 1969. As an experienced and passionate hiker, climber and backpacker, my blog is intended to be an informative and interesting look into the outdoors and the outdoor industry.

Dana Davis

Dana Davis

I’m Dana Davis, co-owner of the Summit Hut. I mostly enjoy hiking and road biking though I often do other things to keep it interesting (mountaineering, motorcycling, backpacking, climbing, you name it!) My biggest challenge is sometimes finding the balance between career, family, and fun but it’s working out so far!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

I'm Dan Davis, after retiring from the National Park Service as a Ranger and manager, I worked for the Summit Hut until 2009, then retired for good (maybe). I'm now spending my time traveling around the southwest writing and working on my nature and fine art photography business.

Emily Gindlesparger

Emily Gindlesparger

I’m Emily Gindlesparger, a member of the Summit Hut floor staff. Since moving here from the Midwest, I’ve been taking advantage of all possible adventures in Arizona: rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, caving and trail running; I’m always excited to see what’s next!