Secret Canyon

by Emily Thursday, July 7th 2011

Bryon wears soft cotton pants and no shoes, so when he walks behind you--even right behind you--you can't hear him at all. He knows how to build a fire by rubbing two sticks together. He knows the best wood for making a bow, and the way to prepare cactus to eat so that it doesn't act as a diuretic. Bryon knows that if you go ahead and chomp into a piece of cactus without preparing it this way, it will act as a diuretic and dehydrate your already desert-worn body.

There's a map in his head of secret canyons he's found where water flows in the summer, and he offered to take Logan and me--sworn to secrecy, of course--to one he calls "cat canyon" because he's often seen the wash full of mountain lion tracks.

A disclaimer for the kind of story this will be: I cannot tell you where this canyon is, though I do hope, dear reader, that you discover an amazing canyon for yourself. In Bryon's case, he was driving along one of our local mountain roads looking for something inspiring, and in the distance he saw a large bright green patch of cottonwoods. So he hiked to them, because cottonwoods mean water. Some days I forget that there are so many places to be explored.

We hiked in the dry bed of the wash until rock walls started to rise on either side. Then from the sand we came upon small pools of murky water and slimy gardens of algae. One hundred yards later, the water was running down to the algae in trickles. Then the pools got bigger, and some of the water was clear. It was weird to follow the water backward, from the mucky places where the desert is thirsty to a more hopeful place where the oasis might last all summer. We waded through deep troughs, and the tall boys were in water up to their thighs; I soaked my shorts entirely.

Crawling up amazing rock formation
Crawling up an amazing rock formation.

In the swimming hole the water was so cool it had this weird relaxing effect. Not so cold that we were shivering, but cold enough that it felt strange to sit still. The rock rising out of the water was black granite with beautiful white veins, and reflections of the water, brighter than its stripes, danced over it.

Reflections playing on the rocks
Reflections playing on the rocks.

In the belly of the secret canyon
In the belly of the Secret Canyon.

Way up in the canyon, the trees closed in. Bryon showed us the place where a mountain lion was slaughtered. He came up the canyon one day to find blood all over the rocks. The now dried carcass was laying near the stream, missing head, feet, tail and hide. The smell stayed in my nose even as we hiked back down to the field of thistles and sweet honeysuckle. I'm told that hunting mountain lions is legal in Arizona. It didn't help me feel any better about it being done.

Angry gila monster
Angry Gila Monster

Hiking back out, we doused ourselves in the water, fending off the afternoon heat. Someday, Bryon says, he'll hike up to the source. We watched the water trickle back into the sand as we neared the car, knowing that somewhere up there a spring was pumping a lot more out.

Trails

Samaniego Peak

by Dave Baker Tuesday, May 31st 2011

Residents of Oro Valley and the town of Catalina, north of Tucson, are very familiar with stately Samaniego Ridge, which drops off the top of Mt Lemmon and stretches north in a seemingly straight line for over 8 miles before dying out beyond Charouleau Gap. The highpoint on the ridge is a prominent craggy rock outcrop – Samaniego Peak.

Samaniego Peak

Samaniego Peak

The Samaniego Ridge Trail runs north down the ridge from Mt Lemmon past the peak and then down into Charouleau Gap. However, the trail was hammered by the 2003 Aspen Fire and in the fire’s aftermath the trail bed was littered with fallen timber, overgrown with nasty brush, and quickly fell into disuse.

Samaniego Ridge & Samaniego Peak

Heading towards Samaniego Ridge

In the past few years, things began looking up for the old trail. First, the Forest Service did some work on higher elevation portions, and then volunteer work groups of mountain bikers put considerable effort into cleaning up long sections of the trail on the main ridge. There are still many sketchy sections of trail to deal with, but trips out to Samaniego Peak from the top of Mt Lemmon are once again reasonably pleasant for fit and able hikers.

On our trip to Samaniego, we followed the trail to Walnut Spring, located 0.3 miles due east of Samaniego Peak. Although Walnut Spring goes dry most years, it is surprising how often it shows water given the small watershed that feeds it.

Walnut Spring

Walnut Spring shows water in April, 2011

Once in the general vicinity of Walnut Spring, it’s time to leave the trail and bushwhack! The final push to the top of Samaniego Peak involves moving through dense brush among white granite slabs and boulders. It’s worth the effort though; the top of Samaniego Peak is surprisingly dramatic, featuring a rather small granite summit block and steep cliffs dropping off towards Oro Valley. You’ll enjoy unusual and splendid views in all directions: Oro Valley, Canada del Oro, Reef of Rock, Pusch Ridge, and Mule Ears.

 

Samaniego Peak - summit bushwhack

Bushwhack!

Reach the trailhead (32.44036 N, 110.7858 W, WGS84) by following the Catalina Highway from the Tucson valley towards the small settlement of Summerhaven. Just short of Summerhaven, turn right (west) onto “Ski Run Rd”. Continue on Ski Run Road past the ski facility through a gate (often closed during winter months), and on up the narrow winding road to trailhead parking lot near the top of Mt Lemmon.

Samaniego Peak

Samaniego’s diminutive summit block

The Mt. Lemmon Trail #5 leaves the west side of the parking lot right next to a fenced electrical facility, crosses a dirt road and then joins an old jeep trail heading west along the broad summit ridge. Follow the Mt. Lemmon trail west for about 1.6 miles to a signed junction and turn north onto the Sutherland Trail which in turn leads to a junction with the Samaniego Ridge Trail. Leave the Samaniego Ridge Trail in the general vicinity of Walnut Spring for the bushwhack to the summit blocks.

Season: Spring and fall. The trailhead is closed to vehicular access for some of the winter, and snow can obscure higher elevation sections of the route. In spite of 7000’+ elevations, this hike gets very hot on the exposed Samaniego Ridge during summer days.

Water: Water is intermittently available at Walnut Spring and just off route at Shovel Spring, perhaps 6 to 9 months out of the year. Bring plenty of your own, and treat any water you might collect.

Difficulty: Moderately difficult. About 11.5 to 12.5 miles round trip with a 1,700’+ elevation drop and then gain on the return trip. The trail is sketchy in a few places, and the scramble off trail to the summit of Samaniego Peak involves some pretty thick bushwhacking. Take care among the summit blocks; there are many steep drop offs.

Notes: This is a Forest Service fee area. This area was impacted by the 2003 Aspen Fire.

Maps: Rainbow Expeditions Santa Catalina Mountains, Green Trails Maps Santa Catalina Mountains, or National Geographic Arizona digital map software.

Map

Click map for larger image

Trails

Repairing a Zipper

by Emily Tuesday, May 24th 2011

It happens to everyone: you've had your favorite backpack for years. It's held textbooks, a week's worth of clothes, and camera equipment. You've dragged it on and off of trains, planes and automobiles; you took it caving and scraped it against rock walls. Its limits were tested and it always stood up to the test, until one tragic day when the zipper split.

Working at the Summit Hut, I've seen the stricken faces of people bringing in beloved jackets, sleeping bags and purses, hoping someone can repair the defunct zipper that keeps separating after the item has been zipped up. Turns out this is usually an easy repair you can perform in seconds with a simple set of pliers. Here's how to diagnose your zipper problem and get you favorite backpack up and running again.

Take a careful look at the teeth of the zipper. If any of the individual teeth are missing, or if the taping fabric next to the teeth is torn, you'll have to send the item in to the vendor or find a seamstress to replace the zipper itself.

If the zipper's teeth are intact, that means the problem is with the zipper's slider, and there are do-it-yourself solutions to that. Start by tightening the slider.

The slider is essentially two channels that come together, pulling the zipper teeth in and pressing them together. Well loved and well worn zippers sometimes loosen up from top to bottom, so they don't put enough pressure on the teeth to lock them together. To tighten the slider, first unzip it all the way to the bottom, making sure that the slider is sitting squarely on the bottom of both sides of the zipper. Take a pair of pliers and clamp them, top to bottom, around the slider on one side of the zipper pull. Squeeze with a medium-firm pressure, enough to feel a little bit of give in the slider but not so much that you press it closed. Repeat on the other side of the zipper pull. Then try zipping it up.

If the zipper works a little better now but still separates somewhere, it just needs to be tightened a little more. Repeat instructions above. It's possible to clamp the slider down too much and the zipper will be a little stiff; just keep working the zipper back and forth and it will loosen up a bit.

There are a few rare instances where the slider is completely worn out and needs to be replaced. In that case you can get a handy-dandy Zipper Rescue Kit that contains every common zipper slider size known to the outdoor industry. Now you need to get the slider off, which on jackets and sleeping bags is pretty easy and on other gear will likely involve a little sewing. On jacket zippers (or any piece where the sides being zipped up totally separate at the bottom) the only thing keeping the slider in is a little metal stopper pinched into the bottom. Use your handy pliers (or possibly a combination of implements found on a multi-tool) to open up this stopper and pry it off the zipper. Then slide the old slider off, slide a new slider on, and get a new stopper from the Rescue Kit to fasten on to the bottom with your pliers.

If the zipper is sewn into the recesses of seams in your backpack or tent, you'll need to pull out some of the stitching around the bottom of the zipper to get at the stoppers, which you can then remove and replace with the same instructions above. If you're not handy with a needle and thread, you might want to get a seamstress to take care of the sewing back together. If the item is waterproof, beware that water can seep through the new stitch holes and you might want to get some waterproofing tape to stick over it when you're done.

Gear

Florida Canyon Trail

by Jonathan Wednesday, May 11th 2011

My favorite Sky Island trails are those that take you from prickly pear to pines. There are quite a few in the Santa Catalinas, Rincons, and Santa Ritas, but my dog likes Florida (flor-EE-dah) Canyon in the northern Santa Ritas.

Actually, she has done very little hiking in mountains other than the Santa Ritas. Much of the western Santa Catalina Mountains, and virtually all of the Rincon Mountains, are closed to dogs. To the best of my knowledge, the Santa Ritas are Fido friendly. The other factor favoring Florida Canyon is its proximity to Madera Canyon and the ever popular Old Baldy and Super Trail trails, which tend to draw people away from Florida.

P1000180

Now, when Gita the Wonder Dog and I go afield, we are either leashed or unleashed depending on the activity. When hiking on established trails, we are leashed. I can offer a couple of good reasons.

The first is courtesy. Though it may seem strange to some, not all hikers are enamored by strange dogs charging down the trail at them, or bursting out of the underbrush, barking or not. On one trip, I encountered a mounted ranger who made a point of stopping and thanking me profusely for having the dog on a leash and stepping off the trail on the downhill side.

The second is bears. All the Sky Islands are home to bears. I recall telling my friend Donald that I was glad I had my Rottweiler on a leash when he smelled, then saw a bear about eighty yards up the hillside on the Baldy Trail. I told him that I try to foresee the worst possible outcome, and knew that had the dog charged the bear, the bear could have ended him with one swat of his paw. Donald said, “That’s not the the worst outcome.” “No?”, said I. Donald continued, “No, your dog could have engaged the bear, and realizing that he made a big mistake, come running back to you for safety with the bear in hot pursuit - and don’t forget, both the dog and the bear can run a lot faster than you can.” I contemplated this.

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We saw no bears on a Thursday in mid-April when we made our first visit of the year to Florida Canyon. It was a beautiful day indeed, sunny, with temperatures in the 80’s and a light breeze. The dirt road ends at the Santa Rita Experimental Station. Parking and trailhead are on the left just before one enters the facility. A sign at the trailhead says the distance to the saddle is 4.7 miles. The trail skirts the facility on the left, then continues up the bottom of the canyon.

The beginning elevation is around 4200 feet, well above saguaros but you’ll still see prickly pear among the grasses. Soon the trail leads through scrub oaks and leaves the canyon bottom. The trail is well planned and constructed. Though steep, the long switchbacks make it far less so than the canyon sides. All the expansive views are back toward the desert floor, until the top of a ridge offers a great view of McCleary Peak.

P1000184

The trail moves up into the pine trees. Our favorite part is a series of very long switchbacks under a tall canopy of pines. Alas, since the fire of 2005, it is not the same. While it is still a pine forest, there is no longer a canopy. The dark, cool quiet has been replaced by breezy patches of light and shadow. The trail that was once compacted dark earth surrounded by beds of pine needles is now lightly colored gravel surrounded by tall dead grass.

P1000196

The dog and I reach Florida Saddle which is quite the trail hub. From it, the Crest Trail leads to Baldy Saddle and the Baldy and Super Trail trails. Down the other side, a trail goes to Cave Creek. There is even a trail that heads north to Sawmill Creek. The slope down the other side suffered much more fire damage than the one we just traveled. The charred, bare tree trunks looked like black bristles on a big brush. At about 7800 feet elevation, the air was cool and fresh, and we breathed deeply.

P1000204

The descent back to the desert floor was abnormally pleasant. It was down hill all the way, but never so steep that I felt that jarring feeling. Back at the truck, the little dog had one last drink, then rested her head in my lap as we drove back to town.

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Trails

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!