Coiling Barbed Wire in Douglas

by frank Monday, October 11th 2010

For a little over a year now, Summit Hut has had a program running called “100 Days of Service”. This program allows staff members to take time out of their work-week to volunteer in the community. Staff members are then compensated, by Summit Hut, for their hours. Over the last year, we have been out in the community counting bullfrogs, leading youth birding trips and doing a saguaro census! We’ve had staff members build trails, pull invasive grass and teach Girl Scouts outdoor skills at the Summit Hut Outdoor Adventure Camp. Most recently a group of six staff members, including myself, joined an effort put forth by the Sky Island Alliance (SIA) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to remove barbed wire fence from the border just east of Douglas.

Me Pulling Fence - Photo by Sarah Williams

This event was interesting on many fronts: social, political, environmental and personal. When one heads down to the border, one cannot avoid thinking about the political issues going on, but interestingly enough the politics of immigration played a very small role in this adventure. Politically, this was a great partnership between a government organization, BLM, and an advocacy and service organization, SIA, which worked towards a greater good for all of us. The mission was simple, or so it seemed. Head to the border, a few miles east of Douglas, and remove a seven-strand, barbed-wire ranching fence that was acting as a second barrier for wildlife using this corridor in their migration (the iron vehicle fence being the primary blockade).

Barbed Wire Fence and the Border – Photo by Meaghan Callahan

As soon as we got to our border marker, we could sense there was something amiss. Just the other side of the vehicle fence there was a bright and shiny, brand-new barbed-wire fence. Apparently the rancher had changed his mind about the agreement to remove the fence and he replaced it instead. This new fence was only a three-strand fence which does alleviate some of the issue, but still poses more of an issue than no fence at all. Without permission to remove the new fence, our task would shift. Our new goal was to clean up as much scrap fence as we could (and tires, trash, clothing…and a car bumper) that all acts as a tangling threat to wildlife.

The entire day spent down there was a tremendous reminder of just how amazing the southern Arizona desert is. The cliffs and rolling hills were amazing, the vegetation was spectacular, even the giant grasshoppers and their slightly annoying clicking were impressive. It was also a reminder of how human actions (and inactions) contribute to harming this spectacular environment. We spent just about five hours cleaning around 2 miles of border. We collected a trailer full of barbed-wire fence, eight tires, and a pretty good collection of trash, in just two miles! As we returned to Tucson, the crew was in agreement that more work needed to be done, and we wanted to help. Hopefully you want to help too! Keep an eye on the Summit Hut website and Facebook page for future volunteer events you can join us on and check out the Sky Island Alliance for a great organization that is out there all the time doing their part.

The Summit Hut Crew
Front: (left to right) Meaghan Callahan, Kathy Simko, Costas Sofianos;
Back: Frank Camp, Dave Weeks, Traci Henne


Aliso Spring

by Dave Baker Monday, October 4th 2010

Established in 1984, the Rincon Mountain Wilderness provides a protective buffer on three sides of Saguaro National Park East in southern Arizona. With few trails and often remote access points, this wilderness area is rugged, steep and blissfully neglected. One of the few trails in the wilderness area climbs the broad southern flanks of Rincon Peak to Aliso Spring , perched in a remote canyon bottom among pinion and juniper trees. This is a nice area to tramp about, with interesting countryside and fine vistas.

Rincon Mt Wilderness & Rincon Peak

Rincon Mountain Wilderness along the southwestern slopes of Rincon Peak

The Aliso Spring Trail was most certainly established by cattlemen who installed steel and concrete tanks near the spring to provide water for their bovine charges. (During a visit to Aliso in March 2010, the water system was in disrepair and all tanks were dry even though the spring showed plenty of water.)

Steel water tank

Steel tank near Aliso Spring

References to the Aliso Spring Trail are hard to come by, appearing on very few recreation maps of the area. I learned of the trail thanks to the Rainbow Expeditions “Rincon Mountains” map, last published in 1994. It has been decades since the trail may have received maintenance; it is overgrown with brush and is especially tough to follow in the upper reaches. Helpfully, much of the route parallels a fence line, but we failed to find any sign of the final section of trail and bushwhacked the last half mile or so to the spring. This often feels like a cross country hike, so bring a map and compass or GPS, and be prepared for off-trail navigation.

A little over half a mile south of Aliso Spring and far from any trail maintained or otherwise, the wreckage of a World War II bomber is scattered several hundred yards along the flanks of a lonely, remote ridge (at approximately 32.08216 N, 110.55523 W, WGS84). The ill-fated A-20 Havoc careened into the mountainside on a stormy summer day in 1945. Reaching this crash site involves full-on rugged, brushy cross-country travel.

A-20H crash site

A-20 Havoc bomber plane wreckage

Find the trailhead by driving to the junction of Old Spanish Trail and Pistol Hill Road southeast of Tucson. Turn north on Pistol Hill Road (unpaved), drive 1.4 miles and turn right (east) onto an unmarked dirt road. Now drive east for about 1 mile to a fork in the road; bear left (east) onto the less traveled of the two forks, and drive about 0.7 miles and park near corrals. A high clearance vehicle is desirable for this final 0.7 mile segment.

Step through a gate on the far side of the corrals and walk east on a jeep road for about 1.4 miles to the windmill and steel tank at Papago Spring. From Papago Spring, first a jeep road and then a sketchy trail climbs hillsides to the southeast for 0.4 miles to a prominent saddle on a long ridge. At the saddle step through a gate to the east side of a fence line. For the next 1.7 miles the trail closely parallels this fence as it follows a long ridge northeast towards the Rincon high country. It is easy to lose the trail in this section, but by staying near the fence, it can usually be picked up again in short order. Unable to find an obvious trail heading towards Aliso, we left the fence at some rock cairns piled up near the 5,480’ elevation contour (approximately 32.09081 N, 110.55762 W, WGS84), and struck out cross country in an easterly direction to Aliso Spring and the cattle tanks.

Fence line trail

The faint fence-line trail climbs a long ridge.

Season: Fall, winter and spring. These south-facing slopes of Rincon Peak can get hot.

Water: Water might be found at Papago Spring with its windmill, and Aliso Spring shows seasonal water as well. However, as always, bring plenty of your own water in case these and other sources are dry.

Difficulty: Difficult. The one way trip to Aliso Spring from the corrals is about 5 miles and involves roughly 2,100’ of elevation gain. The trail described here is often faint and hard to follow, and near the end pretty much disappears altogether. So, this is more a wilderness route than a trail walk. Map, compass or GPS, and cross-country route finding skills are needed.

Note: The hike as described is all on Forest Service property. Reaching the trailhead however, requires passage across State Trust Land. At the turn off of Pistol Hill Road, a sign states: "State Trust Land ... Enter only with valid lease or permit ... No Trespassing". Information about obtaining State Trust Land permits can be found here.

Maps: Rainbow Expeditions “Rincon Mountains”


Click map for larger image


Backcountry Baking

by Craig Monday, September 27th 2010

A few years ago I read a tip in Backpacker Magazine about how to turn your cookset in to an oven using a technique called the twiggy fire. The long and short of the method is to build a fire on top of your cookset using twigs the length of you palm, no larger in diameter than your pinkie. I like to do this when it is appropriate to have a fire so I can use the coals to help start the twiggy fire; also a light coal bed warms the bottom of the pan without burning. I just searched the Backpacker website and found the twiggy fire directions. They describe building the twiggy fire on top of the cookset while using a stove on the bottom. I’m sure that works great but I will continue to build my twiggy fires in my fire ring.

I can bake nearly anything using the twiggy fire and my cookset. My cookset, by the way, is the MSR Alpine 2; hyperbole aside, the finest, most versatile cookset known to man. I have had it since the early nineties and am sure it will serve me well for decades to come. I have baked lasagna, pita pizzas, cornbread, and dumplings in soup. Cake, however, is by far the crowd favorite. Serving a freshly baked cake to your friends in a beautifully remote locale is a sure fire way to garner a rep as a backcountry badass. So let’s walk through the process so you can amaze your friends on your next adventure.

Things you will need:

1. Cooking oil of choice. I use Canola oil. I have a 4oz nalgene bottle which is always more than enough.
2. Cake mix. I prefer the brands that are on sale.
3. Powdered egg. Backpacker’s Pantry scrambled eggs are simply powdered eggs and we have them at Summit Hut
4. Clean water
5. Mixing utensil. I use a long handled spoon, and you guessed it, we have them at Summit Hut.
6. Cookset with a 2 liter pot w/lid. I use a MSR Alpine 2 and we already know how I feel about that.
7. Bowl or separate pan to mix in.

At Home:

***Disclaimer*** I don’t measure, I eyeball. If you have concerns please do the math.

1. Divide the cake mix in half. Place half in zip top plastic bag quart size.
2. Place a little less than half of the egg package in with the mix.
3. Write with a marker on the zip top bag how much water and oil you will need.

On the trail:

Oh boy
Backcountry Bakery

1. Get your fire going. While a small coal bed develops gather lots of twigs ranging from pinkie size to very thin.
2. Mix the cake mix with the oil and water until there are no powder lumps visible. Cake batter is pretty thick. You can always add more water, you can’t take it out.
3. Once you have enough coals, move some aside for your baking and save some to keep the main fire going.
4. Dump some leftover oil in the 2 liter pan. Swirl the pan to coat the entire bottom and as much of the sides as possible. Heating as you swirl makes it easier and faster.
5. Scrape the batter into the pan and cover with the lid.
6. Place the pan onto the coals. If you use too many coals the bottom will burn.
7. Place a few coals on the lid to help get the twiggy fire going. Lay on some tiny twigs, dry grass, pine needles or whatever you have that will catch easy and spark.
8. Once the flames catch, build the fire up with the twigs you have gathered. If you pile too high the fire will just fall over off the pan.
9. Repeat the process of building the fire up and burning down a few to several times before you even think about checking the cake.
10. Don’t try and rush the process. If you build the twiggy fire too high especially towards the end you will burn the top. Also if your main fire is close by and hot rotate the pan a few times.
11. Once you can smell the cake it is probably done. Be careful when checking the cake you don’t want to get any ash on it. Stick a knife in the center or wherever happens to be the thickest part, if it comes out clean its done.
12. Remove from fire and let sit for a few minutes
13. With the lid secure flip upside down and smack on flat surface. (I prefer the top of my lid) Lift the pan and hope it didn’t stick, if it didn’t you are a twiggy fire Jedi.
14. Enjoy!

cake in lid
Finished Cake in the Lid

I have burned a couple but have mostly had great results and they never fail to please. Get creative and you can bake anything. A quick tip on cleanup: boil water in the pan put the mixing bowl in the boiled water and wash it off then use the water to make chunky hot chocolate to share with the cake.

I will be baking a chocolate cake using a twiggy fire on Sunday, October 3 at 11 AM in the parking lot of our Wetmore location for our Food Tips & Tasting event. Please drop by, say hi and taste some samples from our food manufacturers; and if the force is with me a twiggy fired cake.


Pushing My Limit on Steel Crazy

by Emily Monday, September 20th 2010

We racked up to Steel Crazy, a four pitch 5.9 route on the spine of the Fortress, at just about two in the afternoon; not an entirely appropriate start for a party of four on long route none of us had done before.  Clare and I would start the route, and the boys would come up behind us.  I'm willing to sacrifice some dignity and admit that I was all psyched for the route, decided that being the most experienced climber in the group meant I should be the first to lead off the pitch, and got up a measly twenty-five feet before facing the crux of the climb, where I was shut down.  Some people will probably disagree with me, but I think the hardest part of a climb is when you're hanging on at your physical limit, you can still see what your next move should be but don't know what will happen in the move after that.  This isn't just a climbing thing; this is a test of how we deal with all the hard stuff in our lives.  The hardest part is trusting that you'll figure it out when you get there.  I did not trust this at all.  My next move involved grappling a little bulge above my head and attempting to thrust all my weight over it, and this part I could do, but I couldn't see what to hold on to after the leap.  Instead, I hung from my arms looking for the next hold until my arms turned to jelly.  And then I came down.

The other hard part of climbing: getting your ego smashed in front of boys.  One of the guys lead the pitch and popped right over the spot where I struggled; maybe some of it was that he's six foot four and I'm five foot three, but most of it was that he's fearless.  On the drive up the mountain, we were talking about fun routes we'd done before, and he related some stories about getting in over his head leading on harder climbs; I asked why he didn't just back off of those situations, and he said it just hadn't occurred to him.  In some ways I was envious; climbing for me includes the task of constantly sorting out the real dangers from the stomach flips.  For him the guidelines were clear, and the stomach flips were no big deal.  On my second attempt I got over the crux just fine.

View from the first belay
View from the first belay

The best part of climbing (again at least in my opinion) is the exposure and the view, and by these criteria the belay station on top of the first pitch of Steel Crazy is superb.  Clare and I sat on top of a little pinnacle, looking out at the jagged front range and on toward Tucson.  On the horizon we could see the outlines of Mount Wrightson and Baboquivari Peak.  Behind us was an alcove where the boys were starting the second pitch.  Clare really wanted to lead this part; she had climbed harder but had little leading experience.  The second pitch is a steep headwall that requires balance on little crystals everywhere, and as we watched the leader dance up the face, he whistled and occasionally sang the chorus of a song stuck in his head, and Clare got nervous.  She said he always whistles when the climbing is hard.

Clare got to the second bolt of the second pitch, and then told me she wanted to come down.  I said okay, but instead of asking me to take up the slack, she took another step, and then another.  She was silent the rest of the way up, until she was at the anchors eighty-five feet later.  She told me not to tell the boys about her momentarily lost confidence, but I thought she deserved a shout out anyway; hopefully they don't read many blogs.  I think I know just how she felt.  After you push past that point of fear there's a delicious sense of focus; it's like the part of your brain that's dwelling on falling gets drowned out by the part that wants to hang on.  The second and third pitches of Steel Crazy are like that:  you're balancing on almost vertical rock on small holds, and after nearly every move it seems like there's nothing left to move to, until you find something that seems impossibly small and you realize you can make it work.  It's an accumulation of tiny steps, and every step is an accomplishment and a celebration that you're still hanging on.

Clare at the summit
Clare at the summit

We ended the climb exactly at sunset.  So exact, in fact, that as I was pulling up from the shade of the rock to the summit I planted my hands in a bright swath of pink light.  We sat at the top coiling our ropes, eating dried mango and candied ginger and watching the colors change, sinking down over the Tucson Mountains.  We hiked out in the dark, headlamps like fireflies among the trees.

sunaet steel crazy
Sunset on the descent


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!