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. 


Bike Tour from Sonoita to Bisbee

by Emily Wednesday, September 26th 2012

As a "dry run" for our cycle tour through Italian wine country, we decided to take a tour through Arizona wine country, and on our two day trip we found more beauty and challenge than we had bargained for.

We started in Sonoita, with Logan's parents graciously playing the role of our shuttle drivers. They dropped us off in front of the Sonoita Mercantile Country Store, snapped a picture, and waved goodbye as we saddled up and started down highway 83. It was beautiful; the clouds made a thick veil, keeping the sun off and the breeze cool, a godsend in September. Fields of wild grass stretched out, scattered with lone low mesquite trees and the occasional ranch house and fence. Sunflowers closed in on the road. The purple outlines of mountains traced the horizon. It was quiet, no cars, just one smooth pedal stroke after another. Until the wind came.

Turning onto Lower Elgin Road, we encountered the first of what were to be several, then dozens, then millions of hills. On the first few, I buckled down and tried to learn the technique: keep your back straight and your grip light; stand up on the pedals sometimes to use different muscles; on really steep sections, switchback up the road to lessen the grade. I tried to keep an academic interest in how to make this difficult process more tenable. But when the breeze turned on to full wind pushing us back toward the bottom of every hill, I tried a different tactic: swearing like a filthy sailor. I thought it would be funny and that I could get both of us to laugh a little, but since my outburst also contained no small amount of real aggression, Logan was just scared for me. We had a long, long way to go.

It did get better sometimes. We came up to a ranch with beautiful horses in a white fence, four dark chestnuts with brushed black manes. We propped our bikes against the fence and I walked up to the railing, immediately greeted by the most curious of the bunch who nosed my hands and then my nose and my forehead. I've never had a horse smell my face before, but this one was very interested and I couldn't help but laugh like a schoolgirl as he smudged my sunglasses with his soft muzzle.

Elgin was a sprinkling of houses presided by a big old cottonwood tree, and we stopped under it to listen to the sound of the wind in its leaves. This is the beauty of bike packing, that we would never notice that sound, never see the same level of detail from a car. On a bike, everything is so quiet. And when the road is good and the wind is halfway favorable, you can lock into a rhythm in your legs and feel the air and space all around, be part of the landscape, track the distant peaks as they come near.

But then there was the wind and the steep. As we neared Canelo we passed into the foothills, catching the eastern edge of the Canelo Hills and passing right on into the northern fringe of the Huachucas. It was so, so beautiful and so, so hard. I had a list of complaints: my back hurt, I needed more water, I needed more fuel, my breathing was so ragged, my legs were burning, I couldn't physically pedal any harder to push myself uphill. Each one of them seemed like legitimate concerns until they kept piling up, and I realized it was my brain trying to get me out of work but I couldn't separate how much I wanted to do this from how hard it was, it was this big emotionally tangled mess in my gut and meanwhile Logan was at my side, quiet, not even breathing hard while I hurled complaint after complaint at him like I was hoping he would crack and we'd sit down on the side of the road and give up together. This is what we do to our partners, unfortunately; sometimes they're the punching bag. But this is also what our partners do for us: they keep us going anyway. Sometimes they're the trainer. If it had been me alone, I would have stuck my thumb out ten miles back, waiting for one of the three cars that would pass by all day. I would have missed the whole show.

We turned down Cimarron Road, and the hills got steadily bigger and more beautiful. We crawled to the west gate of Fort Huachuca, where one of the best jobs is held by the guy who mans the security checkpoint, sitting out in the cool breeze looking at that view all day. Inside the fort the uphills got steeper and the downhills got shorter; we finally started walking good portions of the hills. The whole section within the fort was gorgeous; the Huachucas are so pretty; but there wasn't much to say about it except that it sucked. The wind was relentless and we were done. When we finally limped into Sierra Vista for a late lunch at the Landmark Cafe, I declared my fries and pastrami Reuben and Lipton iced tea the best meal I'd ever eaten. On this first half of the day we had averaged six miles per hour. I wanted to kill the wind, if only I could figure out how to get my hands around its wispy little neck.

From Sierra Vista down to the San Pedro River on Highway 90 it's supposed to be a steady downhill. At the bike shop one of the roadies told us that he got up to fifty miles an hour on that stretch of road. When we got on it, we had to pedal hard. The wind was pushing so much that we couldn't even coast. At least it was flatter, and the scenery was still beautiful even if the highway and the detritus that comes with it was a little less appealing. Twenty more miles of keeping our heads down and pedaling and we made it to the Highway 80 Junction, where the road into Bisbee makes a five mile, endlessly steep climb up to Mule Pass. We made it a little ways in before pulling over to the shoulder and sticking our thumbs out. The second truck we saw stopped for us, we tossed the bikes in the bed and then we were flying so fast up the pass that we could hear nothing but wind. I gave the title of Second Best Meal I've Ever Eaten to a Mountain Lime Lager, a brat and a bag of Lay's potato chips at the Old Bisbee Brewing Company. After 55 hard won miles, we went to sleep wondering if we would be able to walk in the morning.

The next day we felt pretty good, and over coffee and pastries we picked out a route back to Sierra Vista. Logan had found this slim little book at Bookman's, Bike Tours of Southern Arizona by Ed Stiles and Mort Solot. It was printed by a local publisher in 1980, and you can tell by the photos, from the facial hair and the bikes being loaded from Volkswagon vans. In the "Tour of the 19th Century," a route that takes riders through big sections of Old West ghost towns on the way to Bisbee, they noted their favorite route, taking 92 out of Bisbee and turning up Hereford Road, which leads north to the tiny town of the same name. They called it "one of the most enchanting rides through southern Arizona."

They were totally right. The route is really pretty, but more exciting than that was a slight tailwind and a road that actually headed downhill. We were cruising, averaging 18 miles an hour, and we decided we loved bikes. Every couple of miles in the first stretch I sat up and howled, so elated to be moving fast in the desert, watching navy clouds gather over the peaks. Hereford Road was narrow but rarely traveled, and we could ride side by side past the ranches, watching the San Pedro veer closer and closer. The old Hereford is nothing now; in the book they describe it as "nothing more than a collection of three or four buildings, most of which are abandoned and in various stages of returning to the earth." They have returned by now. We saw only a couple of concrete slabs laid on the ground, the old foundations. The authors also warn of vicious dogs at a farm after this, but it's safe to say the dogs are long dead. The trees are older. In the photo of the Hereford bridge in the book, the bridge is sunny and the trees are sparse. Now, the San Pedro has closed in around it, shading the path with wide leaves.

From there, a turn up Monson Road began taking us incrementally uphill toward Sierra Vista. We were still going fast, and there's no other way to describe the feeling than freedom. The wind from the day before was like a vice grip, and now that pressure was gone. Arriving back in Sierra Vista after riding 90 miles over the weekend, I realized that throughout our upcoming Italy tour my mood is going to fluctuate with so many things: the terrain, my hunger, the weather. But when the fix is in on a good day, my love is deep; deep enough to save me through really hard work. Or at least keep me limping along until the next Best Meal of my Life.

Trips | Trips

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!