Banff Mountain Film Festival Grant

by frank Tuesday, March 8th 2011

Each year, for the past 12 years, Summit Hut has brought the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour to Tucson. The tour is an evening filled with some of the world’s best films on mountain sports and mountain culture. It is equal parts adrenaline pumping and inspirational.

For the past three years, we have donated a portion of the proceeds to wonderfully deserving non-profit organizations. Last year, due in large part to the film festival being a sell-out crowd, we were able to donate $2,000 to Friends of Saguaro National Park and $2,000 to Friends of Sabino Canyon.

This year, we decided to let the community in on the fun of helping us give away some money! Back in December, we announced an open request for applications for our First Annual Banff Grant Program. For our first year, we got a wonderful response from some amazing organizations. We got back 18 applications from a huge range of groups from Tucson Clean and Beautiful, to the Arizona Trail Association. Each of the groups that applied does great things for our community and we are in awe of their work.

We then gave three of our staff members the incredibly challenging task of selecting our five finalists. They considered every angle, the impact the organizations have on our region, the work they have done in the past, the work they plan to do in the future and what they would specifically use the grant dollars for. After careful consideration, the team selected five incredibly deserving organizations:

Sonoran Desert Weedwackers: Our mission is to protect wildlands around Tucson from the encroachment of invasive plants that threaten to destroy the Sonoran Desert. The Weedwackers work in Tucson Mountain Park mapping and digging out buffelgrass and fountain grass three times a month.

Tucson Wildlife Center: The Tucson Wildlife Center is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of injured and orphaned wildlife throughout Southern Arizona. They are responsible for the rescue of 700 animals per year!

Inner City Outings: Sierra Club Inner City Outings is a community outreach program that provides opportunities for urban youth and adults to explore, enjoy and protect the natural world.

Southern Arizona Rescue Association: A non-profit, all-volunteer search and rescue organization serving southern Arizona and Pima County since 1958. SARA members are volunteers from all walks of life, donating their time, skills and enthusiasm to provide a vital service to the public.

Friends of Kartchner Caverns State Park: The Friends will partner with the community, and provide resources, to advocate for and ensure the continued preservation of Kartchner caverns through research, education and public awareness.

To select our two grant winners, we have put it up to a customer vote. That’s right, we’re letting you decide who gets a portion of this year’s Banff ticket sales. Through next Monday, we have voting tables set up at each of our Tucson locations. All you have to do is come in and drop a poker chip into the jar of the organization you think is most deserving.

Banff Voting Display

After two weeks, we have had over 600 people vote and here are the standings:

Tucson Wildlife Center: 230

Inner City Outings: 145

Southern Arizona Rescue Association: 121

Sonoran Desert Weedwackers: 91

Friends of Kartchner Caverns State Park: 74

There’s still plenty of time to mount a campaign for your favorite group! Get the word out to come in and vote and get the word out to buy tickets to the Banff Film Festival at the Fox Theatre on March 25th. We’ll be announcing the winners at intermission on the night of the festival so don’t miss it!


King Canyon Trail

by Dave Baker Monday, March 7th 2011

The King Canyon Trail is an excellent way to enjoy Saguaro National Park West, which protects a major portion of the Tucson Mountains west of Tucson, Arizona. The Sonoran Desert ecosystem is on full display along the trail, featuring Saguaro cactus groves, Ironwood trees and Jojoba shrubs, to name just a few plant species.

Wasson Peak

Wasson Peak, from Tucson’s west side

Hikers will also encounter plenty of evidence of the mining history of the Tucson Mountains in King Canyon, including a few mine shafts right beside the trail. Indeed, King Canyon Trail is named after the Copper King Mine, which was active in the area in the early 1900’s and briefly during World War II.

A section of King Canyon is also home to ancient Hohokam petroglyphs; down canyon a bit from the Mam-A-Gah Picnic area, which is about a mile up the trial.

King Canyon petroglyph

Ancient rock art in King Canyon

Located on the west side of the range, the King Canyon Trail provides the most direct route to the high point of the Tucson Mountains – Wasson Peak (4,687 ft). A final bit of history: Wasson Peak is named in honor of John Wasson, the first editor of the Tucson Citizen newspaper in the late 1800’s.

This is a beautiful and rewarding hike, but note that the Tucson Mountains are relatively low elevation and can be dangerously hot in the summer, early fall and late spring. Winter, late fall and early spring are the best times to take advantage of the Park’s trail network and enjoy the unique scenery and landscapes.

Along the King Canyon Trail

King Canyon Trail

The trailhead is on the opposite side of Kinney Road from the entrance to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Kinney Road is easy to reach by following Speedway Boulevard west past I-10. Speedway eventually becomes Gates Pass Road, which continues up and over Gates Pass before descending into Avra Valley. Gates Pass Road ends at the junction with Kinney Road where you turn right (north). Look for a dirt trailhead parking lot just past the entrance to the Museum, on the right (east) side of the road. The first mile or so of trail follows an old jeep road which begins at the back of the parking lot.

Avra Valley viewed from Wasson Peak

Avra Valley from Wasson Peak

Season: Fall, winter and spring. The Tucson Mountains are low elevation and very, very hot during summer months, late spring and in early fall. This hike is most enjoyable on cool winter days.

Water: None: bring plenty of your own.

Note: Dogs and pets are not permitted on this trail. Though fees are not collected at the trailhead, Saguaro National Park is a fee area.

Difficulty: Mt Wasson is 3.5 miles from the King Canyon trailhead with a 1,900 elevation gain. Moderately difficult.

Maps: Green Trails Maps Saguaro National Park


Click map for larger image


Out Along The Devil’s Highway

by Dan Davis Tuesday, February 22nd 2011

The weather's just about right for a trip out the El Camino del Diablo and into the Organ Pipe and Cabeza Prieta region west of Ajo. The stretch of the Devils Highway between Ajo and Yuma Arizona is the most spectacular portion of the 250 mile historic route from the Sonoran borderlands to the Pacific. This year’s lack of the gentle winter rains pretty much guarantees a sparse wildflower show out there this spring. This isn’t a real concern because flowers only tend to hide and diminish the real attraction of this place – a harsh stark beauty and endless raw dramatic landscapes.

Photo 1 
Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge

The Spanish soldier Diaz traversed the area in 1540. Father Eusibio Kino spent time exploring the road and mapping the few water sources as well as keeping an eye out for lost souls to save in the late 1600’s. Even though you know for certain they crossed this same area, gazing west you just know for a fact that they really could not have, especially with only a few horses, limited food and water and no knowledge of what lie ahead of them.

Not long after leaving the pavement south of Ajo, you reach historic Bates Well in the Northwest corner of Organ Pipe National Monument. It has somehow evolved into a Border Patrol compound over the years with new structures and antennas. You can and should still walk out to the structures, but it’s just not the same having to go through the complex of vehicles and a gate.

Farther along you come to a prominent grave next to the road on the right where tradition dictates you leave a tithing. It doesn’t matter exactly what you leave, just some token offering. I leave a quarter, then looking to the west and knowing there are more than 50 unmarked graves in the next 30 miles or so, dig out another one, walk back and toss it on the pile of rocks just to be sure. You never know.

Photo 2
Early Traveler’s Gravesite

You have to get out of your vehicle and walk a bit in order to immerse yourself in this country. Walking south toward the mysterious and shimmering Pinacate, somewhere along the massive flow apron a familiar feeling creeps up on you once more. You experience that strange emotional paradox of belonging to the landscape but knowing in fact that you are only a visitor, an alien here. That same emotion you always feel when in wild country anywhere. For some reason however, R. Carlos Nakai on a moon-lit midnight up in the Cipriano Pass seems like a purely natural and timeless thing.

Photo 3
El Camino Del Diablo Sunset

Sunsets along the Camino are pure Arizona desert - sad endings to amazing days but ushering in the clearest, cleanest nights between the Rockies and Sierras. There are not a lot of sounds out here after dark, but a few times before dawn you will hear the pure joy in the voices of coyotes celebrating a successful hunt. Then there are those strange unknown fleeting sounds out across the deserts and up there in the rocks above your camp that you just can’t identify – a pebble bouncing off the rocks, maybe a raven settling in, who knows.

Photo 4
Bullet Holes In Abandoned Vehicle

Although much less common now than a few years ago, you may stumble upon a stolen and abandoned vehicle, an artifact of the smuggling across the borderlands from Texas to California. It’s just a fact of life in this part of the world, and shouldn’t keep you from making this trip.

The most expansive and amazing ocotillo forest I have ever seen sprawls south of the road and up into the hills a few miles east of Tule Well. The lowering sun ignites the scarlet tips of the branches in the springtime and makes it impossible not to stop and wander out among these strange plants for awhile.

When you reach the Tinajas Altas junction, head north to Interstate 40 and come out at Wellton, near Yuma.

This two or three day trip requires a free permit from the Cabeza Prieta NWR and a little research on camping and equipment needed. Four wheel drive vehicles are required and two vehicles per party is highly recommended. The DeLorme Arizona Atlas Gazetteer and your favorite Arizona 4WD guide should be next to you on the front seat.

This section of the Devil’s Highway closes each March 15th to facilitate the Sonoran Pronghorn lambing season, so now’s the time to go.

Like taking out after a 3 week river trip you’ll feel a bit sad having to leave the area, but there’s always the next time.


Climbing Moby Dick

by Emily Tuesday, January 18th 2011

The day began with a long drive down a deeply rutted dirt road into the far reaches of the Cochise West Stronghold. I swear I have car-narcolepsy; sometimes no matter what the circumstances, I completely bonk out in the passenger seat, and this was happening to me as the truck bucked down the road: despite the beautiful views of open desert ranch land and bald, towering domes, and despite the truck bunny-hopping small boulders in the creek, I managed to fall asleep with my head resting on the back of the bench seat for at least a few seconds between bumps of my head against the window. Eventually Clare pulled my head to her shoulder so she wouldn't have to listen to it bang against the glass. She didn't even tease me, though the boys certainly did.

 Moby Dick, first pitch

Lift off: first pitch of Moby Dick

Pulling closer to the trailhead, the canyons unfolded like granite ribbons. We parked and got out and slung on our packs and dropped into the wash, laid out at the bottom of the canyon like a street cobbled with polished white boulders. I had been here before, so I was the acting guide, which would have made our party irrevocably lost if not for the paved river bed. I knew at least that on the approach to Moby Dick on the Whale Dome, it's not time to turn up the gully until you're directly under the dome. You can recognize the dome because it looks like a whale, kind of. There's a crack forming the smile of the humpback mouth. I also knew we wouldn't be directly under it until we had passed a large fallen tree whose branches curved up from where they cross the trail. The first time I picked through the branches I got the eerie feeling of crawling through whale ribs to get to Moby Dick.


There's something magical about the whole days I've spent out here. The approach is beautiful, with lush tree cover in the desert, and after the ribbed branches, after breaking away from the stream bed and a short jaunt straight uphill we found ourselves at the bottom of the climb, two open cracks that would be the wrinkles of whale underbelly if we were to believe the dome still looked like a whale, which it really didn't from there. In any case, we stepped into our harnesses.

I conceded the first pitch lead to Logan. I told him it was because I'd already climbed it and I thought the pitch would be fun for him; in actuality I was nervous about the first awkward and unnerving moves. I didn't think they would be a problem for him, but just like on my first time up the climb, he got into the first strange off-width crack the wrong way, and about eight feet up, right before putting a piece of gear in the rock to hold a fall, his foot slipped. I gasped sharply, imagining a split second where the slip turned into a fall and my boyfriend came tumbling to the rocky ground. In the next split second he had caught himself and placed his foot more firmly on the rock, clipping a cam as he moved over to the next crack system.

Moby Dick, second pitch

Crack system on Moby’s second pitch

Crack climbing is a somewhat rare treat in southern Arizona, and there's a fair bit of it on the first two pitches of Moby Dick, as the climb follows a couple of cracks up the side of the whale. Sometimes they're just used for protection pieces, but often you can wedge a fist in the gap and pull yourself up, or layback up more open cracks, pressing your feet against a wall while grappling the edge of the crack for counter pressure. I like climbing along cracks because it's more physical; you're using your body like you would hexes or cams, locking limbs in and moving up from there.

Pitch three reveals an amazing rock feature as you climb up this big gaping flake and at the top you can look down and see open air through the side; it's one big slice of rock just leaning on the side of the dome. At the top of the pitch you get to pitch a belay on chickenheads, big plates of rock poking up from the surface of the dome. Some people find this absolutely terrifying, but I think it's neat--it's so amazing to me that these features exist, and even better that they can be so useful.

The next two pitches go like a choose-your-own-adventure book. There's a given direction to go, and there are a few sections of slab, but much of it is climbing over big plated chickenheads, which is great because you have a thousand holds and a similar number of movements you can make. It's like a jungle gym.

Whale Dome Summit

On top of Whale Dome

We summited Whale Dome and drank in my favorite view anywhere while we munched dried mango and cinnamon almonds, compliments of Clare. The canyon continues cutting steep gorges, driving northeast toward the other side of the Stronghold. We prepared our ropes for the descent, which involves anchoring them in and then tossing them down a 170 foot abyss where they get tangled in trees at the bottom. One by one we take on the rappel, edging over the whale's lips and lowering ourselves into nothing: for 170 feet the rope dangles away from the rock wall as the whale recedes into the canyon bed.

(A logistical word to the wise: a windy day can whip ropes all over the wall, tangling them in chickenheads. I've heard of more than one person who's spent the night hanging from a harness while the ropes were hopelessly tangled on the wall. This descent--and the climb, for that matter--are not for beginners.)

And then, the climb done all in a day's work, we headed home. The fading light turned the rocks magenta as we hiked out, stopping in the middle for an acorn fight, girls against boys. We boulder-hopped back to the truck, and I stayed awake the whole way home.


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!