Mt Humphrey's Sunrise Summit

by Richard Monday, July 2nd 2012

We left Tucson around 3pm headed for Flagstaff.  We had two options for our hike.  We could either find a campsite, get a good night's sleep and start early in the morning OR we were considering having dinner, getting a few hours of sleep and starting around midnight, putting us at the summit around sunrise.  We had dinner at the Lumberyard Brewery in Flagstaff which was delicious.  After a beer we decided to head to the trail head and go for the midnight start. 

A note on camping at the trail head: According to a staff member at the Snow Bowl lodge, you are allowed to leave your vehicle in the parking lot overnight but you are not allowed to be there after dark.  He did say that we could camp or park on the road anywhere that was not marked as "No Parking".  We found a spot about a quarter mile away from the parking lot, laid out our sleeping bags and tried to get a couple of hours of rest before we started. 

The alarm went off at 11:45pm and we popped up and tried to eat a quick breakfast.  If you haven't tried it yet, PocketFuel makes a delicious and nutritious breakfast, especially on a banana or bagel.  It is a nut butter (usually almond) that has other flavors and crunchy bits.  We quickly packed up and were hiking by 12:11 AM.  We crossed the ski slope and entered the forest as the trail starts a series of long switchbacks that lead up the slope to the saddle.  We weren't hiking more than 20 minutes before we heard something crashing through the brush.  We stopped and listened and started to guess at what was making the noise.  After about 2 minutes the animal seemed to get spooked and started moving quickly making quite a racket breaking branches and dislodging large rocks.  You can't be sure without seeing it but we assumed it was a bear and starting moving slowly up the trail, tripping on rocks and roots as we scanned the forest for eyes instead of looking at where our feet were going.  A few minutes later as I came around a turn I illuminated a pair of eyes about 30 yards away and quickly came to a stop.  My friend caught up and as his headlamp hit the area, we could make out 3 separate pairs of eyes!  We both prepared for a bear encounter and started making noise and doing our best to be as big as possible.  We finally got enough light on the creatures to realize that they were deer.  After a few deep breaths we were off again up the trial.  We were moving slowly and reached the main saddle after about 3 hours of hiking.  There are several steep sections before you get there but the trail is pretty easy to follow, even at night. 

At the saddle the wind picked up considerably and we started adding layers to stay warm.  From the saddle the trail gets harder to follow at night but is marked by small cairns and large white branches.  There are several false summits along the way but we reached the final summit just before 5am.  My GPS watch didn't seem to be recording very well but it recorded 5.24 miles to the summit.  It was a tough hike after a week of work and a day of driving but for me, it was worth the reward of seeing the sunrise at the highest point in Arizona.  It felt like temps were in the high 30's, give or take 5 degrees.  The wind was already building for the day and our best guess was a sustained 25mph.  Both of us were feeling the day's elevation gain of around 10,000 feet (from Tucson) and were eager to get down as quickly as possible.  We found our way over to one of the higher ski slopes and worked our way down the mountain that way. 

This hike at night was a challenge but an achievable one.  It definitely makes me want to do more night hikes, especially if they have a fantastic view at the top. 

Here is a list of noteworthy gear I was using and would recommend:

Pack – Repack 15 from Boreas.  What a great pack! The volume was a little bigger than I needed for this trip but it easily compressed down.  Enough pockets to keep things organized but still simple in design. 

Trekking Poles – Ultra Distance Z from Black Diamond.  The carbon Z poles from BD are fantastic.  They are so light you forget they are there when they are on your pack but still give all the stability you need when you are using them. 

Footwear – NewBalance MT10.  These were the first minimal shoe I tried over a year ago and I keep going back to them.  They are light and give enough cushion for the very rocky sections if you slow down.  For me, the fit is fantastic and I love the heel cup. 

Jacket – TNF Verto Micro Hoodie.  This jacket combines down insulation with waterproof and breathable arms and hood.  It’s very light, compact and surprisingly warm.  Look for it on the rack in early spring 2013.

Trails | Trips

Pusch Peak

by Charles Tuesday, May 15th 2012

The trail to Pusch Peak from the west (the Northwest Side Route) is nicely documented in this blog post by Dave Baker - but, like most destinations, there is more than one route to the top! One other option is the 'Southeast Ridge Route' described in "The Santa Catalina Mountains: A Guide to the Trails and Routes" by Pete Cowgill and Eber Glendening (this guide has been out of print for years, but it is a great resource and we try to keep a copy on our map table!). I believe this route sees less use than the Northwest Side Route - perhaps with good reason since there is no shortage of Cholla and Shin Daggers and no trail to speak of - but for most of the route you hike along lovely ridges with great views, perhaps worth the challenges...

This hike is in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness area – two restrictions to be aware of: travel more than 400 feet off trail is forbidden January thru April (this hike is almost entirely off-trail - Pusch Peak is 'closed' during that time period) and dogs are not permitted on the trail (except seeing-eye dogs or handi-dogs).

This is an off-trail adventure - while there is no difficult scrambling there are plenty of unfriendly plants, no trail, steep cliffs and loose terrain - if you are considering this hike please carefully consider the challenges.

Parking for this hike is the Iris O. Dewhirst Pima Canyon Trailhead located at the end of Magee Road. While in the parking lot take note of a large outcropping of rock on the skyline - this outcropping is a valuable landmark. Start hiking along the Pima Canyon trail.

Note the large outcropping of rock.

Near mile .5 begin to look for a chance to head north, off the Pima Canyon trail, up the hillside and onto a ridge leading up to the large outcropping. While there are some unremarkable sections on (and up to) this ridge there are also some very beautiful sections!

Heading up the ridge with the large outcropping in the distance.

A great, but short, section of the ridge up to the large outcropping.

At mile 1 you will still be below the large outcropping. As you get closer to the outcropping the ridge will become less distinct (you may find a faint trail...) and you should look for the easiest path towards the right side of the outcropping. As you come around the outcropping you will see a beautiful - but Shin Dagger filled - hillside, this is a great spot to take a break before heading up to the ridge.

Looking back on the large outcropping from the hillside above.

Once you have climbed the hill and are up on the ridge you will have a great view of Pusch Peak. Take the path of least resistance along the ridge towards point 4920 (you can contour around or head to the top of 4920).

The view from the top of 4920 - Table Mountain, The Cleaver, The Tombstone, Rosewood Point - I think the view here may be even better than the view from Pusch Peak!

From 4920 continue following the ridge as it turns to the northwest towards Pusch Peak. The higher you go the more spectacular the ridge becomes. At 2.4 miles you will be at the top!

USGS marker at the top of Pusch Peak.

Looking back down the ridge.

A glimpse of Table Mountain from Pusch Peak.

From the top you can reverse the route up and head back to the trailhead with a total mileage of approximately 4.7 miles and just over 2300 feet of elevation gain/loss.

Pusch Peak Map


Don’t Forget Your Sun Protection!

by Lisa Quale Thursday, April 26th 2012

Editor's Note: This is a special guest post from Lisa Quale, Senior Health Educator at the Arizona Cancer Center Skin Cancer Institute. This post is part of our Sun Protection Weeks now happening. Through May 9th save 20% on select sun protection accessories from Buff, Tilley and Outdoor Research. Also, join us on May 3rd, 2012 for our Sun Protection Festival from 7pm to 9pm at our Speedway Location. 

It’s almost May in Arizona and you know what that means…summer is here! With warmer days and more intense sunlight, it’s time to start thinking about protecting your skin from the sun. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun is the number one cause of skin cancer. Plus, these damaging rays can leave you with a painful sunburn! Luckily, too much sun exposure can be easily avoided. Now is a great time to start smart sun protection habits. Remember some simple sun safety tips while you’re outside this summer.

The best way to protect your skin from the sun is to cover up. Having a barrier between your skin and the sun’s damaging rays works better than most sunscreens. Wear long sleeves and pants. Choose dark colored fabrics and tight weaves. If you hold the fabric up to the light and can’t see through it, you’ve made a good choice! For the hot summer months, clothing with an ultraviolet protective factor (UPF) is ideal. These fabrics protect your skin from up to 99% of the sun’s damaging rays while staying cool. You can find clothing with the UPF rating at most sporting good stores. Remember to also wear a wide brimmed hat that covers your face, ears and neck, and sunglasses that filter out 99-100% of UV rays.

For any body parts not covered up with clothing, be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen. Here in the desert, it’s best to wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. This will protect your skin from around 97% of the sun’s burning ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Always choose a product with “broad-spectrum” protection. This will protect your skin from the damaging ultraviolet A (UVA) rays too. Most sunscreens need time to absorb into your skin, so put it on 20 minutes before you go outside. Also, sunscreens break down when exposed to sunlight, so if you’re going to be outside a lot in a day, remember to reapply every 2 hours. If you’re going to be swimming or sweating, choose a sunscreen that claims to be “very water-resistant”. These products protect your skin for up to 80 minutes. No product is water-proof, so remember to reapply when you get out of the water or when you’ve been sweating a lot.

Some other ways to protect your skin include staying out of the sun as much as possible between 10am and 4pm and seeking shade when you are outside. Try using an umbrella to shade yourself from some of the sun’s intense heat. Also, avoid reflective surfaces. Water, glass, concrete and sand can bounce damaging sun rays around and make your exposure even more intense. Reflective surfaces can also bounce rays into shady areas and cause damage to your skin, even when you’re trying to be sun safe!

While starting sun protective habits now is very important, many of us already have a lot of sun damage that we may not be aware of. A few bad burns in childhood increases your odds of getting skin cancer later in life, and those tans we get are just as damaging! The good news is, when caught early, skin cancer is very treatable and usually curable. That’s why it’s so important to check your skin often for new or changing spots. If you ever find something suspicious, be sure to see your healthcare provider. If you have questions or need a list of local dermatologists, feel free to contact the Skin Cancer Institute at 1-888-724-2749 or visit our website at

Events | News

Milagrosa Canyon

by Emily Monday, April 9th 2012

Milagrosa Canyon was the first place I ever experienced the magic of monsoons: my brother and I hiked out there under a sky going indigo and saguaros shining electric on the ridge. The first wash crossing drenched us to our knees with warm summer rainwater. Looking at the first sunbathed red cliffs is a view that always comes to mind with the first summer storm: the crazy hypercolor desert, that static tension before the wind picks up. I don't recommend standing out in the open desert like a lightning rod before a storm; but it's a vivid memory that comes up every time I visit this canyon. Which I did recently, to show some friends the awesome pools at the top.

This time of year when I hike, all I want to see is water. We began walking down the road to the trailhead with temps in the mid-70s, which is plenty warm in the sun. The trail over the first hill was lined with wild purple dalea bushes in bloom, as if some suburban gardener had been out transplanting.  We turned off the main trail (which I've actually never been on) to head into the wash, which at this spot marks the confluence of Milagrosa and Agua Caliente canyons. A monolith of red rock juts up from the Sonoran desert to separate the two. From here we head up Milagrosa, taking a climber's spur up the right side of the canyon. Like most climber trails, it's narrow, rocky, and a bit steep, and after a little while lands you right at the base of an enormous cliff band looking over the rocky canyon bed below. This cliff band is a climbing boon: cool, sometimes even chilly in the shade, and home to a collection of fun, challenging sport climbs on its bright orange rock. The easiest of these is Valentine Arete, nicknamed the Hardest Eight in the State, and gathered around it are 5.10s, .11s, and a handful of .12s. Just up the stream the creek bed rises to meet the bench we've been hiking along, and soon we're at the first of three pools, like a king's daughters, each more beautiful than the last.

The first pool is shallow at its edge and very deep where the water flows in, so deep that its clear-green hue goes dark and black. The first time my brother and I took our parents to this spot, he stripped naked without warning and ran shrieking into the freezing cold water. Even in the dead heat of summer, when the hike up here is a test of true desert residency, the water temperature is on a scale from uncomfortably-to-deliciously cold. This pool seems prize enough, until a scramble up the rock reveals a second pool above, shallower but equally amenable to hanging out, and a full-on hands and feet scramble above that, a third pool, my personal favorite. This last sits in a grotto, with high smooth granite walls. The water is crazy cold from being in the shade. And while I love being in the west for the sweeping scenery, the big rugged mountains, the views that stretch for miles, it's small nooks like this that make me feel at home in this landscape.

Our party scrambled up above this pool and found a fourth, the smallest, which was in the sun. It didn't make the water any warmer, but after splashing quickly in the cold, the rocks helped warm us all back up. We sat next to the water and snacked, and looked for canyon tree frogs in their perfect camouflage on the granite. And then we headed back down.

You can make this jaunt into a loop adventure by scrambling up and over into Agua Caliente canyon. From the bottom pool in Milagrosa, you can look across the canyon and see the steep bench and a faint path that will lead you over the ridge. My brother and I followed this idea one time out here, and were surprised upon dropping into Agua Caliente that the canyon walls were steep and rocky at the bottom, making it nearly impossible to parallel the wash on dry land. We ended up slogging through knee-high water and reeds as the sun went down breaking back out into the shallower confluence and back on the trail roughly half a mile later. A little more non-technical canyoneering than hiking, it's a fun way to get wet. There's an actual trail that loops around both canyons on high sunny ground, but this version, which includes a little bushwhacking, a lot of scrambling, and some careful stepping over slippery wet rocks, keeps you tight in the canyon bottoms (and a warning here: monsoons could mean nasty flooding) and is a more intimate trek with some beautiful water, worthy of exploration.


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!