Trying a Tri

by dana Thursday, November 18th 2010

The 2010 Tenfoilman Triathlon was a fantastic race for those of us that are triathletes and those of us that are tri-ing to become triathletes. The laid back attitude (and short distances) made it fun for everyone. This triathlon is a sprint distance, meaning that it starts with an 800 meter swim, then a 12 mile bike, and finishes with a 3 mile run. Everyone I mentioned this to has said, “Oh, I could do that!” but funny how none of them have! While I am sure many people can do it, it is a bit different to do all of these things separate verses one right after another!

Previously called the Tinfoilman, this year’s event was renamed Tenfoilman due to it’s 10th anniversary and it being held on 10/10/10. This was my second triathlon (I did the Firecracker this summer) and I could hardly wait. I hadn’t prepared for my first tri (let’s just say a couple weeks before the event a friend and I- who were not signed up for the race- were at a bar… need I say more?) This time around I actually trained and I was ready. My goal was to finish under 1:25, 8 minutes faster than my previous time. To stay motivated, and keep things fun, two of my friends from the Summit Hut, Alison and Stephanie – both doing their first triathlons - joined me.\

Tinfoil Tri 2010 015
The brave three - (Left to Right: Me, Alison and Stephanie)

Race day started with a 5 am wake up call; I dragged myself out of bed and got rolling. Bikes needed to be racked early and volunteers needed to mark us with our numbers. Due to constraints of swimming in a pool, there were 10 separate waves of swimmers. Alison and Stephanie were in the first wave and since I was in wave seven I had ample time to cheer them on and take photos. A couple hours later, gleaming with excitement from finishing their first triathlon, my friends grabbed some bagels and bananas and came over to cheer me on. Alison gave me some water, Stephanie gave me a pep talk and I headed off toward the pool. A small voice in my head said, “I want to be done too!” but even more so I was excited to get started!

My swim started well, with strong strokes and decent enough flip turns but like most “non-swimmer triathlon newbies” I was unable to keep my pace and had to occasionally give my lungs reprieve by resorting to the trusty breaststroke. On my 33rd (and final) length, I was approaching a significant challenge of the swim- getting out of the pool. This particular pool has a very high edge and with the water being too deep to push from the bottom, I had to flop out of the pool like a beached seal! No matter, I was out and off running towards my bike!

Trying my best to get out of the pool with grace!

Now, the bike is my thing- my old friend- the part of the event where I am most comfortable. Sadly, I was still huffing most of the first lap never having fully recovered from the swim, but I managed to pull it together enough to look good when passing my cheering section (my husband, son, mother-in-law, Alison, Stephanie and some others). By now, I was pacing (not drafting, as that would be against the rules!) with another cyclist and working hard. We took turns passing one another until the 3rd lap when she put the hurt on me and dropped me like a bad habit. No worries, I was then back in the transition area and in a flash I was off to a wicked slow jog. (Is that an oxymoron?)

My strategy to go as hard as I could on each section was turning out not to be such a great strategy after all… my legs were lead and my lungs were on fire. I thought I might actually have to… (gulp) …walk. Now there is no problem with walking but my goal was to finish the run in fewer than 30 minutes and I needed every one of those seconds to do so. I was still slogging along when my “bike pacer” passed me (I must have gotten ahead in the transition) and then my swim partner blew by me. (Did I mention I don’t like to run?) Somehow I managed to keep running and even picked up the pace a little. During the last mile of the run, my husband and son were there cheering me on – I started to smile. Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed my bar friend (you know, the one who thought triathlons would be a good idea) running behind me. I did not take offense to the fact that she had no trouble keeping up even though she was pushing her kid in a jogging stroller, and it didn't even bother me that she is also pregnant, but rather felt a burst of energy and suddenly the run became more bearable! So, I picked it up a bit (no one likes to look bad in front of others) and sprinted- relieved to cross the finish line.

Tinfoil Tri 2010 076 
Finding some joy in running.

I did it! I finished in 1:24 and I didn’t even throw up (or even feel nauseous!) Apparently training really does work! This triathlon has given me an opportunity to learn to new ways to have fun out of doors, although hiking and backpacking will always be my first love. In addition, training for a race keeps me in better shape when I do go on super “fun” 16 mile bushwacks in the Catalinas. (Look for that “adventure” in my next blog…) Next year my goal is to complete an Olympic distance triathlon… right after I figure out how to make running fun! Anyone else want  to give it a tri?


Open Climbing Season at Cochise Stronghold

by Emily Thursday, November 11th 2010

Chris tries to tell me what to expect on the fourth pitch: when my quads will start to burn in the layback, the point where I won't be able to see my gear placements, and when I'll be far enough above my last piece that I'll just have to gun it to better ground.

I ask him to please shut up. My palms are sweating and I just want to go before I think too much about it. I've lead gear routes harder than this, but not so far off the deck. We're a few hundred feet up on Mystery of the Desert, a 5.9, 5-pitch trad route that wanders up the side of the Muttonhead, one of the prominent domes in Cochise Stronghold.

Sheepshead summit, looking toward the Muttonhead
Looking toward the Muttonhead from Sheepshead Summit

It's the first climb of Cochise season, a stunning sunny Sunday that still promises to keep the temps in the low 80s: perfect conditions for spending a few hours on a sun-baked rock face. Catching the first glimpse of the Sheepshead, the largest dome on the west side of Cochise Stronghold, was like seeing a loved one get off a flight at the airport. I love it out here. It's my favorite place in the world. The hikes are long, the routes are longer, the granite is a solid rich orange with alien-green lichen. It's a place that always feels sacred and familiar at the same time. The Apache chief Cochise hid his people among these domes and they evaded the U.S. Cavalry for fifteen years. Running through the maze of domes, it's easy to see how. These days it's climbers that venture into the depths for adventure.

The climbing is so fantastic that the start of the season out here is cause for celebration, and the climbing community is more than happy to put on the party. At the start of climbing season each fall and the end of the season each spring, climbers come out for Beanfest, a potluck style dinner (traditionally seasoned with some raucous, ankle-twisting games later in the night) sandwiched between two awesome days of climbing. This year my friend Tanya is the "Bean Queen" hosting the party, and just to give you a preview of how great it's going to be: Tanya got married earlier this year to the wonderful Scott Ayers, and at the post-wedding party she cut off the bottom half of her wedding dress and jumped in the pool, pulling a few best-dressed guests with her. In short, it's going to rock. (No pun intended.)

Getting ready to belay at Zappa Dome, East Stronghold
Getting Ready to Belay at Zappa Dome, East Stronghold

But we're not there yet. We're still leashed onto a rock face with our palms sweating.

Mystery of the Desert is strange and beautiful, starting in a slick shallow  corner, then slanting left along a crack to a beautiful roof which it surmounts through the path of least resistance, up to a big slot: main face of the dome on the right, huge sloping boulder on the left, where you can opt to squeeze through or stem over (stemming is easier, in my opinion; a climber in a party ahead of us admitted he had to take all the gear off his harness and shove it in front of him to get through). After that it's a short piece of slab up to a garden ledge, and this is where we are, about to begin pitch four. Time to go.

It begins easily enough on slab, and I get a nice piece in the bottom of the layback. It's a perfect overlap and I get get my hands firmly under the lip, feet pressing just under my hands. Climbing a powerful layback is like trying to pick up a refrigerator; you have to push with your feet as much as you pull with your hands, and the action balanced between the two keeps you in there. I try to feel the size of the pieces I need, get them in the crack, then clipped, and then I hazard a peek around the lip to see if I did it right. The layback feels great, actually. I feel strong. I get to the top of the layback when I realize it's been about ten feet since I've put a piece of protection in, meaning I'm looking at a 20 foot fall. I start to look for a place to put a piece, but I'm too late: I should have put something a foot below where my feet are now, because the crack has vanished into slab. The fear seeps in a little bit, and my foot slips. An involuntary shriek slips out of my mouth before I catch a handhold and coax my quaking knees onto better footing. Close one.

There's a little climbing left still, but the belay at the top of the fourth pitch is a nice closer to the climb: you can watch your friends come powerfully up the layback with the backdrop of granite domes and Chihuahuan desert spreading out behind them. There's a lot of solitude out here, and there's something about climbing in this environment, something about trusting your life to a friend on the other end of the rope, so far out in the middle of the desert, that makes every climbing day an adventure and an accomplishment.

West Cochise Stronghold

What better than to celebrate with a party. This year, Beanfest is November 13th and 14th in the East Stronghold, and burrito fixin's are needed. Check out "Beanfest 2010" on Facebook for directions, t-shirts, and to see what you can contribute.

Events | Events

Seven Cataracts of Willow Canyon

by Dave Baker Monday, November 8th 2010

Canyoneering in southern Arizona? Well, maybe nothing like the deep, dark slots and long rappels of Zion and other areas on the Colorado Plateau but yes, there are many canyons scattered about that present challenging scrambling and sometimes require rope and rappels to successfully navigate.

The idea behind canyoneering is simple really; find an interesting canyon and explore the water course, most often heading downstream. Usually trail-less, these outings involve lots of boulder hopping and sometimes technical rope work. Given the arid climate in southern Arizona, canyons feel like very special places – rugged, cool, shady, big trees, quiet grottos, big drops, with the buzzing, busy, green backdrop of plant and animal life that inhabit these moist mountain corridors.

In Willow Canyon

Boulder hopping in Willow Canyon

Most local canyons do not require rappelling and rope work to descend, but many enthusiasts are drawn to those that do. Admittedly, on some southern Arizona technical canyoneering routes you will ignore the fact that many drops can be bypassed by simply traversing out onto the steep, but walk-able canyon sides on either side as you launch off on a rappel, but what-the-heck, there’s a lot of technical fun to be had out there!

First rappel

Descending the first cataract

The Seven Cataracts of Willow Canyon is one such technical canyoneering route, and it is surprisingly accessible -- located just off the Mt Lemmon Highway in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. This adventure typically begins at Windy Point Vista with a scramble down a steep slope which deposits canyoneers in a lovely section of Willow Canyon that often shows water and is graced with impressively large Arizona Cyprus trees. The first cataract and rappels are not far downstream.

Seven Cataracts

Above the 3rd rappel; Mt Lemmon Highway in the distance

On our trip down the Cataracts, we negotiated the next 4 drops using five rappels. (It usually makes sense to break the first drop into two rappels.) Our fifth rappel ended at a swimming hole that hikers access from the Seven Cataracts Vista (mile post 9.1) on the Mt Lemmon Highway.

Two more, but less impressive drops remain between the swimming hole and the confluence downstream with Bear Canyon, so we left Willow Canyon here using a faint hiker’s trail on the east side of the canyon. We followed the trail into Bear Canyon and then walked upstream to a second vehicle which had been left at the Green Slabs parking pullout (mile post 9.9) on the Mt Lemmon Highway. This section of Bear Canyon was delightfully beautiful. A few of the rappels in the Seven Cataracts are longer than 100 feet, so we brought two – 200 foot ropes and were glad we did. A more detailed description of the route and its variations can be found here.

5th Rappel

The 5th rappel

Difficulty: It’s a little over 1.5 miles from Windy Point to Seven Cataracts Vista, and 2.1 miles from Windy Point to the Green Slabs pullout. None the less, allow plenty of additional time for the rappels.

This route involves technical rope work and conditions can vary tremendously depending especially upon how much water is flowing in Willow Canyon. Sometimes just a trickle moves down the Cataracts, but rain and melting snow can and do produce much greater flows of water. The more flow, the more treacherous conditions become. Don’t hesitate to abandon plans to descend the canyon if water flows seem unmanageable.

Approach this and other canyoneering routes with caution and respect -- all the hazards of canyoneering can easily come into play, including the dangers associated with moving water, hypothermia, hyperthermia, wet slippery rock surfaces, unstable footing, and flash floods. A solid background in rappelling, anchor safety, rope handling, rescue technique, pack management, specific canyoneering skills, and hazard recognition is a must.

Maps: Green Trails Santa Catalina Mountains


Click map for larger image

Activities | Trails

The Joy Of Tarps

by Craig Monday, October 25th 2010

If you are like me you don’t mind a little rain when you are camping. What I do mind is sitting in a damp tent for hours with no view fretting about getting my stuff even more wet if I have to crawl out to go to the bathroom. I also don’t enjoy the sun trying to poach my brain in cranial fluid. The answer for me is an 8’x10’ nylon tarp and 100’ of parachute cord. I love tarps. My tarp comes with me on every trip. It doesn’t get set up every time but it is always there like an old friend, willing to help when I need it.

Many years ago when I first began attending backpacking’s school of hard knocks I bought a tarp. It was a blue poly tarp, either 7’x9’ or 8”x10’. I tried setting it up on several occasions. Every time there was a moderate breeze or more than a passing rain, the bell rang and school was in session. I was always adjusting the thing; too much flapping, pushing gallons of water out of the catchment that my shelter had become. Luckily on a trip through the Wet Beaver Creek Wilderness my friend KF, an Eagle Scout, set up the finest lean to shelter I have ever seen. It was a beauty; maroon nylon 8’x10’, 100’ of paracord(single strand), one tree, one stick, and several heavy rocks. It was clear to me that I had much to learn. Thankfully KF was a willing teacher

Sleeping Tarp 
Sleeping Tarp

Knowing how to tie some useful knots is the most important step in setting up a tarp. There are four knots I use frequently in the backcountry: the bowline, the midshipman’s hitch, the double fisherman’s, and the half hitch. Each of them is used on the tarp. One way to learn these knots is to obtain a piece of cord in the 5mm to 9mm range at least 6 feet long, a knowledgeable friend or clear simple diagrams, and practice. Confidence in your knots when conditions are unpleasant is a great feeling. Your knots must be able to withstand severe stress, if not it is more than likely that your tarp will fail at precisely the time you wish it would not.

Finding a place to set a tarp is a part of campsite management that is both an art and a science. Usually I am camping where there are some trees to anchor from, which is nice. I look for a spot that has ground that will be comfortable to sit or lay on and two trees 10 to 20 feet apart that can take a very strong tug and not bend much if at all. Those are my main anchor points. My tarp has cord pre-attached with a bowline to the grommets on the corners and in the middle of each of the long sides. The cords attached to the middle of the long sides will be attached to the main anchor points up high, the corners angled down towards the ground to form an A frame.

The height of the anchors depends on your situation. Do you and friend(s) need a place to hang out and cook or must you sleep there in a driving rain? I’ll leave it to you to determine how close to the ground it needs to be. The first thing I do is wrap the cord around the tree and tie a bowline. It is a non adjustable knot but is very secure and easy to untie when it is time to go. Since most of the time I need a hangout tarp this anchor is about head high. The opposite cord is then attached to the other main anchor point as close to level with the first anchor. For this I use a midshipman’s hitch with an extra locking loop. This knot allows me to create lots of tension and lock it in place, it is adjustable and releases easily. If your midshipman’s is a little shaky, simply wrapping the cord around the trunk or branch a couple of times and securing with whatever granny-spaghetti monstrosity you can come up with will do.

Anchoring the corners of the tarp is what separates the engineers from the uncomfortable. The corner cords have a limited effective angle. If you have a bad angle on any of your cords there will be a slack spot in the tarp that will be a source of continual annoyance. Rarely can I find a spot that provides perfect low anchors. If I can’t use things already in place I look for big rocks with flat sides. (*CYA Alert* Always pay attention for critters when moving rocks or digging your hands into bushes.) The bigger the rock the better the anchor; besides, huffing around camp like the World’s Strongest Man loser really impresses the ladies. I use a couple half hitches to connect to the rock; they are easy to tie and slip securely against the rock. For low branches a midshipman’s is usually the ticket. Voila, extreme picnic engaged!

Hangout Tarp
Hangout Tarp

Never do I have enough cord attached to the grommets when I start my project; there is inevitably an anchor that is a little too far away. To attach a piece of extra cord I use the double fisherman’s knot, its easy and strong. If you are planning on setting up a tarp with any regularity bring lots of paracord, its cheap, has many uses and expands the possibilities for your tarp and food hang. Trekking poles come in pretty handy too.

The tarp set up I have described is very basic. You may find yourself in conditions that pose challenges not covered here. Creativity and trial and error will usually allow something to work. Remember school is always in session out there and the grading is pass/fail with extra credit for bomber knots.


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!