West Fork Backpacking

by Ian Thursday, June 12th 2014

I sometimes wander back to the maps area at Summit Hut and stare at all the amazing trails around Tucson that I haven't yet explored. For months, I've had my eye on the West Fork trail between Sabino Canyon and Romero Pass. The trail traverses the massive and remote Sabino Basin, flanked by the Catalina foothills on the south and Mt. Lemmon on the north. This segment of the trail is too far into the backcountry for the kind of shorter day hike I like, so it remained inaccessible to me until I could find time for an overnight backpacking trip.


In early April, my girlfriend Murphy and I had two days off in a row together (an unfortunate rarity this past spring). I had been looking for an excuse to try camping with a tarp and Murphy had just gotten a new sleeping bag, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to explore the West Fork Trail with an overnight backpacking trek. We decided to start in Catalina State Park and hike Romero Canyon up to Romero Pass, where the Romero Canyon Trail intersects the West Fork Trail and drops down into Sabino Basin. I had heard rumors of a beautiful backcountry campsite in the Basin below the pass where the Cathedral Rock trail runs into the West Fork Trail. We'd stay the night there and then hike out to the Sabino Canyon Trailhead. The plan was to leave a car in the Sabino Canyon parking lot and have a friend drop us off at Catalina State Park (short backpacking trips in the Catalinas usually involve car shuttling of some sort). 


After coffee and bagels, our friend Elijah dropped us off at the Romero Canyon trailhead at 8:30am (thanks, Elijah!), and we set off. An unfortunate heat wave had struck: highs were predicted in the mid-90s, and it already felt very warm. The first hour or so to Romero pools was hot and the sun was merciless, but we persevered with the promise of a cold dip in the pools.



There was a bit of a crowd when we got to where the trail intersects the pools, but we hiked down the creek for five minutes and found a deep pool where we could skinny dip in solitude (sorry, no photos, this is a family blog!). In spite of the heat, the water was so cold it took our breath away and we could only stand a five minute soak. Feeling refreshed, we had a snack, refilled our water and continued on our hike.


About water: I don't like a heavy pack, so I try to plan trips with only short distances between water sources. We knew that the first day in Romero Canyon, we'd always be within a mile from water, so we never carried more than a liter each at a time through the canyon. The catch was that when we left the canyon bottom to climb up to Romero pass, the water would stop and we would be unlikely to find more until the next day at Hutch's pool. So before leaving the canyon, we would need to fill up enough water to get us through the end of our hike, dinner, breakfast (and coffee!), and the three mile hike from our camp to Hutch's Pool.


But I'm getting ahead of myself. We continued up the canyon, stopping occasionally to refill water and get our heads wet -- it was murderously hot for a couple of fair-skinned redheads. The heat slowed us down and it took us much longer than expected to finally get out of the low desert and into the shady oak and pine forest that I knew awaited at higher elevations in Romero Canyon. At long last, we reached a large scrub oak grove where a nice campsite was tempting. Another rest, some more head soaking, and some lunch brought us back to life.



Tempting as it was to linger in the shade, we needed to press on because I wanted to reach camp before dark, and we still had to climb to Romero Pass. As we hiked, the creek dried up without our noticing. When we realized that we hadn’t seen water for some time, we faced a difficult decision. We had not reached the planned fill-up point where the trail leaves the canyon and climbs up to the pass. Looking at the topo map, it seemed that the trail had momentarily left the main creek and wandered into a side creek that was dry. It looked as though we'd reconnect with the main creek again before beginning the climb to the pass -- but would we find water there? We could either press on and hope to find water again, or backtrack to the last point where the creek flowed. Continuing on was tempting as it's never fun to backtrack, but we risked a much bigger backtrack if the water didn't reappear. So we backtracked around 20 minutes until we reached water, and I filtered 10 liters of water to get us through the night. Our packs felt much heavier after this!


After the nearly hour-long detour, morale was low. But we psyched ourselves up to keep going with the promise of higher elevations and cooler weather. Another 40 minutes brought us to the point where the steep climb to Romero Pass begins. And lo and behold the creek reappeared, right where it was supposed to -- we could have filled up our water there after all. I think our conservative decision to backtrack and fill up was the right one, but sometimes the right decision is the wrong decision! We got a second wind and cruised up the climb to the pass and were treated to high cool winds and stunning views of Sabino basin. From this point on, we really began to enjoy ourselves.




We were excited to see the views, but we were also excited to see the sign marking the junction with the West Fork trail, which meant we were only 30 minutes from camp.



We descended into Sabino Basin in the shade with Cathedral Rock towering above us to the south. About 45 minutes before dark we reached the bottom of Sabino Basin and ran into the intersection with the Cathedral Rock trail, which climbs steeply out of the canyon to Cathedral Rock. As promised, a wonderful campsite awaited us, with a special treat in the fire pit.





I set to work setting up our tarp. After 20 minutes of fiddling, Murphy ordered me to stop so we could start to get dinner together. The tarp went up reasonably well, but it's a pain to plant stakes in our rocky soil. Still, a little extra work with stakes is well worth carrying a one pound tarp instead of a four pound tent (you can get tarps as light as 6 ounces, but I didn't want to spend serious money until I was sure I liked tarping).




Dinner was simple but extremely delicious: instant mashed potatoes with hot Italian sausage. We cooked the sausage the night before at home and brought the potatoes in quart-sized bags that we rehydrated them in and ate out of: no dishes to wash! We went to sleep early and fell asleep quickly to the sounds of the forest.


Murphy slept so well in her new Backcountry Bed sleeping bag from Sierra Designs that I practically had to drag her out the next morning! 



We ate a quick breakfast of oatmeal and coffee and set off. The day started with the segment of trail I had been dreaming about: through Sabino Basin between the pass and Hutch’s Pool. It was just as neat as I had imagined and felt very remote and wild. Rather than attempt to describe it, here are some pictures that I hope do it justice.







The water we had collected the previous afternoon lasted us well, but we were excited to reach Hutch's pool and fill the tanks again. By this time, it had begun to get hot again, so we punched it into overdrive and finished the hike to Sabino basin quickly and were back at our car by 1:30pm.


In spite of the heat and water uncertainties of the first day, the trip was amazing. The West Fork Trail was everything I had hoped. I would highly recommend this backpacking trip to anyone  looking for a quick overnight trip into some pretty remote Catalina backcountry -- just do it in cooler weather!


As always, if you need help planning or outfitting your trip, stop by Summit Hut! 

Activities | Hiking Report | Trips

Superfeet University

by Tayt Tobias Tuesday, May 27th 2014

Recently a few Summit Hut staffers were invited to visit the Superfeet Headquarters in Ferndale, Washington for a few days of what is called “Superfeet University.”  We were also to visit Northwestern Podiatric Laboratory, the sister company of Superfeet.  Thinking we were going to get an in-depth knowledge of insoles over the two days of training, I was in for a bit of a surprise.  

I love Superfeet.  I’ve been wearing green Superfeet insoles for the last 13 years now, and I really believe in the product.  They are great as a fit tool (often improving the fit of footwear) as well as offering support underneath the foot.  But wearing them, and learning the science behind the design of Superfeet, are two different things.  

Many insoles on the market have a shape similar to each other and fill up the arch area to varying degrees.  But I now realize that the design of Superfeet is biomechanically impressive.

The three Ts (Taylor, Tiffany, Tayt) with some lush greenery

But I am getting ahead of myself, putting the product before the people.  The fact that this company DOES NOT put the product before the employee is what make the company stand out MOST in my mind.  As a company, Superfeet truly values its people, and you can see it in their faces.  Superfeet is employee-owned, and you can see that each and every employee has a vested interest in working hard and being an effective member of the team.

As we began our training and tour, we learned a lot, both regarding the business model and practices of Superfeet, as well as the biomechanics behind Superfeet and why the product works as well as it does.  I will share some of the more interesting things I learned.  

Superfeet is focused on their Purpose: “Making a positive difference in all the lives we touch.”  The Superfeet company focuses not on selling insoles, but on helping people.  For this reason, when customers call Superfeet, they will NEVER reach a voice recording, unless everyone is already busy on the phone.  It is extremely important to Superfeet (especially in this age of technology) that they retain person-to-person contact with their customers.

I found it fascinating that Superfeet does not have a Human Resources Department.  Instead, they have a PVC Department, which stands for People, Values, and Culture.  Superfeet, as a company, maintains a focus on their Core Values on a daily basis, and the PVC Department helps with this.  The five Core Values held by Superfeet are:  INTEGRITY, RESPONSIBILITY, EXCELLENCE, RESPECT, and FAIRNESS.  (I thought the last of these to be interesting.  Most organizations today take a “Life isn’t fair” approach, and leave the employees to fend for themselves.)

Myself, Tiffany, and Taylor at Superfeet Headquarters

Those who work in Superfeet’s PVC Department ensure that the People within the company are looked out for, maintain the ongoing focus on Values, and help to preserve the unique Culture that has been created within the organization. (Interestingly, we were told that one reason Superfeet is so successful is because the employees lack greed, so there is no arguing.  Greed is not tolerated on any level from any employee.)

Locals can see how Superfeet values Responsibility.  Most people employed at Superfeet are local, and Superfeet uses local contractors and businesses for other work.  Aside from Disaster Relief, Superfeet donates predominantly to local charities. Superfeet buys fruits and healthy snacks every Monday so their employees have healthy items to snack on throughout the work day.  They have a game room, showers (commuting, lunch-time workouts), and a medical room (to lay down when sick, etc.).  Employees’ work schedules are designed around their vacation schedule. Superfeet invests into the company, and that investment pays off in high productivity from employees.  When people have ownership, they take pride in their work. Superfeet was listed as the 6th best company to work for in the US in 2013.

While visiting Northwestern Podiatric Laboratory, we were able to participate in one of their weekly “Kaizen” meeting.  (“Kaizen” refers to philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement of processes in manufacturing, engineering, business management or any process.)  This is a meeting in which employees can voice any idea(s) that might help improve the company in any way.  They focus on positivity and improvement.  When talking about eliminating WASTE, something they mentioned to specifically avoid was Unused Employee Genius.  Utilize the people you have, and utilize their specialties!  The reason this “Kaizen” works is because it is motivated by LOVE!

When talking with the founder of Superfeet, he mentioned that if you hold to your Core Values as you approach any situation, you will find success.  The strength of any organization lies in the people, and it is all about TRUST.

And now I’ll move onto the highlights of the biomechanical side of Superfeet.  There was so much information overload it’s hard to know where to start.  It is certainly much easier to go into in person (so come on in to Summit Hut!).  We learned how the feet move, why Superfeet work, and how Superfeet work.

Basically when you take a step, your foot is designed to flex and move so that as you step it can adapt to whatever surface you place the foot on.  As the foot is adapting to the surface, it is also absorbing shock.  The foot then stabilizes, and finally propels you forward. Depending on your foot structure and strength, these things happen in certain timeframes.  Measuring this will determine if a person’s foot is stable or unstable.  Eighty percent of feet are more unstable than we would like them to be.

Since feet were made to adapt to uneven terrain, and most of our world is flat, Superfeet help put the uneven ground back underneath out feet.  Orthotics should never eliminate foot movement, they will simply allow your foot to stabilize faster.  This improves body efficiency, and allows your body to function more effectively, because the foot is not overworking itself.

So what do Superfeet help with?  They can help with anything that you do on your feet—which is most of life!  And the great thing about them is if you think they might work, but you are not sure, you can try them with no strings attached for two months!  Each pair of Superfeet has a Sixty Day Comfort Guarantee, and you can figure out if they help you, and return them if they don’t.

Green F next to three kinds of SuperFeet not carried by but can be ordered by Summit Hut -  GreenWIDE F, Grey Merino, Red Outlast

What kind of shoes can you put Superfeet in?  Anything!  They make Superfeet for everything:  dress shoes, high heels, flats, casual shoes, athletic shoes, hiking shoes, sandals, minimalist shoes, hiking boots, mountaineering boots, ski boots, hockey skates, other ice skates, cowboy boots, motorcycle boots, cycling shoes, and military boots.  If I missed any, come in to Summit Hut and ask me, and we will figure it out!  If they don’t make one, we’ll talk to Superfeet about it.

Superfeet come in varieties that we don’t carry at the Summit Hut.  But we can order them!!  They have warm ones for ski boots and ice climbing boots, and soft merino wool lined Superfeet for comfortable, warm wear in cold climates.  We typically carry about 13 varieties of Superfeet at Summit Hut.

Superfeet is a great company.  Superfeet is a great product.  Come on in and have us fit you for a pair!  Your feet will thank you for it.


Race Wrap Up

by Richard Friday, April 18th 2014

8 events, two running packs, one running belt, 4 or 5 pairs of shoes and many lessons learned, it has been a great running season for me.  A few mantras carried me down the trail; relentless forward progress, pep talk!, just keep moving, it doesn't matter if you hurt you have to get back to the car, that's probably not a mountain lion…, and my latest favorite Run Hard, Eat Chili Dogs.   

 Here is a quick recap of the races and lessons learned:


1.       Cave Creek Thriller 31k- A great way to start the year. This race is challenging enough to let me know I need to train more but is still fun and motivating. Temps we're warm this year for October but time spent running in in the heat always pays off later.

2.       Pass Mountain 26k- I can run after I camp without too much trouble. I also need to be mindful of how fast I start.  I tried to "just relax and run" and I went out too fast. It was also a reminder to run with my head up and look for course markers. A couple of my                friends missed a turn and it cost them a couple of miles.

3.       McDowell Mountain Frenzy 25k - I learned I can run while I'm sick. Actually, I can run a lot better than I thought when I’m sick.  Also, Shoe changes are in interesting option for long events but I'm not sure if it's for me yet.

4.       San Tan Scramble 50k - I can do it!  This event was a great confidence booster for me. I learned the importance of starting to work on having a positive attitude when I started to taper. It was a 50k PR by and the confidence I got after that race carried me through OP50. It also allowed me to get over the mental challenge of running through the start/finish for another lap and was good drop bag practice.

5.       Cold Water Rumble 50k - This was a real mental challenge for me. It was my plan to start tired and I almost over did it. I learned that no matter how sloppy or heavy my legs feel, I can still hit a running stride, albeit a slow one. I also got to run with a couple of 100 mile racers.  It was interesting to hear what they were thinking about around mile 40ish.  I really worked on my mental expectation of fatigue and reminded myself that I could go farther.

6.       Elephant Mountain 22k - This event turned into a final shakedown run before OP50. I only did the 22k but it was just enough to leave me wanting more (perfect). My girlfriend also came out and ran which was awesome. It was the only race I did without a pack or belt, relying completely on the aid stations. At the last water station I grabbed a cup of water and realized how bad I had been feeling after I drank it.

7.       Old Pueblo 50 mile - my first 50 mile race. 2.5 inches of rain, howling winds up to around 45 mph, hypothermia all around me, it was an epic day.  But all said and done, it went better than I had hoped. I was ready mentally and physically and I'm actually thinking about doing another 50 mile race, maybe. 

8.       Mesquite Canyon 30k – The last event of the season.  The previous year I ran this as my first 50k so it was fun to only do the 30k this year.  The course is challenging but rewarding.  I had enough time to think about the miles ran over the past 5 months and really enjoy the day.  I was hurting a little but was still able to put down a good time and feel satisfied at the day’s effort.

All of my races and training runs can be found on my Movescount page, http://www.movescount.com/members/richardallen


Here are a few favorite pictures from my events and adventures:


Bear Canyon Arch

Bear Canyon Trail above Seven Falls

Elephant Mountain 22k

Green Mountain Trail in November

Mesquite Canyon 30k

Mesquite Canyon 30k

Mesquito Pass, half way through the Leadville Half Marathon

Sabino Canyon parking lot before a long run

Santa Rita Mountains training for the OP50 with Jeremy Davis

Sunrise over Phoenix

Tortolita Mountains

Activities | Events | Trails

An Easy Overnight Loop On Mount Lemmon

by Kirsten Tuesday, April 15th 2014

Last week I decided that I really wanted to do some backpacking on Mt. Lemmon. I wanted some water and shade to escape the heat of Tucson and my partner wanted some easy mileage as he had just done 15miles the day before we headed out.

As we approached the Catalina Highway we were still unsure of what trail we wanted to take… our indecision created a random loop of shorter trails that made for an amazing two day trip! We decided to park at the Sunset trail and take Sunset to Marshall Gulch and then from Marshall we could hike down the Wilderness of Rocks Trail to camp.

After just over a mile on the Sunset Trail we looked down the canyon to see a gorgeous series of small waterfalls! I was so excited that I made Jace hike down to the first one we saw. It had an awesome beach area and a little cave feature that made it a wonderful place to stop and relax.

We got to Marshall Gulch in no time and jumped onto the Marshall Gulch Trail – this was my first time actually taking the trail beyond just spending time in the water at the Gulch. It was incredible! I did not feel like I was in Arizona. The trail was narrow and winding, shaded and followed a stream nearly the entire way. Needless to say I was blissfully snapping way too many photos and playing in the forest like a little kid.

Next we hiked down into the Wilderness of Rocks area and ran into quite a few folks who were either rock climbing, bird watching or just out for a day hike. This area was also breathtaking, the rock formations reminded me of castles looming above the tree line in the distance or towering above us along the trail. I have definitely been inspired to try out the climbing routes there.

It was getting later in the day and we had made it as far as we had intended so we started to look for a good camp site. Jace found a pretty established area with a very large, well-built fire pit and we took our packs off there. I was excited to see that in the area there were quite a few trees that had been cut down or fell down (not excited about the death of a tree – excited about what the meant for my evening) they were perfect for shelter building! Shelter building is my favorite outdoor skill – and I had opted out of bringing my tent so I was pretty excited to have all the materials. I do not get to practice too often because I will not cut down or destroy any plants to build them – unless in a survival situation so I made it fancy.

The next day we had planned to hike up to the Lemmon rock lookout and spend another night out on the trail but we were tired and decided to head back. This time after hiking out of Wilderness of Rocks we took the Aspen Trail back to Marshalls. The Aspen Trail is now hands down my favorite trail in Southern Arizona. Sadly my camera died about halfway through but I did catch some of the amazing views.

The trail took us first to an amazing view of the Wilderness of Rocks area we had just hiked out of.

Then it wound along the side of the mountain before plunging down into the aspens that lead us back to Marshall Gulch. This was the perfect loop and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an easy overnight vacation trip!

Activities | Events | Trails | Trips

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!