Pack Rats and Mice and Ringtails, Oh My!

by Dave Baker Thursday, April 23rd 2009

Even when bears are not a threat to the outdoor traveler’s food, mice, rats, ringtail cats, and other small mammals can be relentless in their effort to dine on back country food stores. Garbage and empty food wrappers also attract the attention of hungry critters. This is especially true at often-used campsites. And perhaps just as bad, these animals can cause significant damage to packs, tents and other gear as they energetically chew and gnaw their way to the food.

What to do? Metal or hard nylon cans are heavy, bulky and difficult to pack. Fiber reinforced bags can succumb to sharp teeth given enough time. In arid areas like the Grand Canyon there are often no trees large enough to successfully hang food bags out of reach.

Check out the chew resistant Outsak™. Made of stainless steel mesh, the Outsak™ is flexible, reasonably light, and very packable. The webbing backed loop closure is animal resistant yet easy to open. It is outfitted with a sturdy grommet to facilitate hanging from trees or overhangs.

Outsak™, size small

Outsak™ bags are offered in three sizes, with weights ranging from 8 to 10.5 ounces. The small size, at 18 x 14 inches is pictured here. Prices range from $32.99 to $44.99.

These bags are extremely useful, but should not be considered fail proof. Though the steel mesh offers a lot of protection at a reasonable weight, the bags are none-the-less vulnerable to many animals, even small ones given plenty of time. Bears certainly have the strength to tear them apart, and so may coyotes and other large mammals. Ravens can defeat the mesh by virtue of their strong beaks and persistent intelligence. (The manufacturer recommends hiding the sack or stacking heavy rocks around it when ravens are a threat.)  And don’t forget tiny animals like ants, which can simply crawl through the protective mesh.

I’m not sure there is a totally foolproof and lightweight answer to the problem of protecting food from animals in the outdoors, but the Outsak™  is one of the most practical solutions for keeping small animals away from food that I know of.


A Mount Wrightson Loop Hike

by Dave Baker Monday, April 13th 2009

Loop hikes are wonderful. It can be exhilarating to take in a big sweep of country without retracing steps. You usually see more and get to enjoy a feeling of fresh discovery the entire way.

A few years ago I stumbled upon a great loop hike which starts in the bottom of Madera Canyon and passes through Baldy Saddle, just below the top of Mt Wrightson.

Rising to an elevation of 9,453 feet, Mt Wrightson is the high point of the Santa Rita Mountains and also the highest of the peaks surrounding the Tucson valley. The vast majority of visits to Wrightson’s summit are made hiking the very popular Old Baldy and Super Trails which start at the end of Madera Canyon Road.

Arizona Gray Squirrel

Arizona Gray Squirrel near Bog Spring

The loop hike described here is a more demanding way to reach the top of Mt Wrightson, but is very scenic and visits some less travelled areas of the Santa Ritas.

Find the trailhead (31.72681 N, 110.8803 W, WGS84) on the east side of Madera Canyon Road just past the turnoff to Bog Spring Campground. Marking the turn into the parking lot, a sign declares “Madera Trailhead, PICNIC AREA”. In the parking lot, the trailhead is conveniently marked with another sign: “BOG SPRING TRAILHEAD”.

Mt Wrightson

Mt Wrightson from the Four Springs Trail

Early on, the route passes the lovely sycamore grove at Bog Spring, then climbs and traverses to Kent Spring and the beginning of the Four Springs Trail. Above Kent Spring the Four Springs Trail enters some of the vast area that was ravaged by the 2005 Florida Fire. The trail traverses the head of Florida Canyon past the seasonal water seep at Armour Spring, in an area where the devastation was particularly intense.

Head of Florida Canyon

Burn near Armour Spring

The Four Springs Trail is followed all the way to the Crest Trail, which runs 3.2 miles south along a high crest ridge to Baldy Saddle and the base of Mt Wrightson’s summit pyramid. From Baldy Saddle, you might as well scamper up to Mt Wrightson and back before following the Old Baldy Trail down to Josephine Saddle and on to the trailhead at the end of Madera Canyon Road. To close the loop, walk about 1.3 miles along side Madera Canyon Road to the original trailhead.

Season: Though this hike can be done year round, there are seasonal considerations. Winter snow and dangerously slippery ice can impede or halt progress altogether at the high elevations, especially on the summit dome of Mt Wrightson. During summer months this hike can be very hot in the lower elevations, so early starts and an ample supply of water are recommended.

Water: There may be seasonal water at or near Bog Spring, Kent Spring, Armour Spring, Baldy Spring, and Bellows Spring; but as always, bring plenty of your own.

Difficulty: Strenuous. This hike is long and hard. There is a 4,600 elevation gain. According to my GPS odometer, the loop is 17.5 miles long, but a Forest Service map at the trailhead suggests a mileage closer to 16.3 miles. No matter, this is a hike for those in good physical condition, and one should allow a full day to complete it. I recommend bringing along a map of the route.

Note: The trailheads are in a Forest Service fee area.

Maps: Green Trails Maps – Santa Rita Mountains.


Click Map for larger image


You've Been Warned!

by Dave Baker Monday, April 6th 2009

Check out this pair of warning signs, displayed back to back on a sturdy wood post near a popular southern Arizona trail head. Many thanks to "The Curmudgeon" for a hearty laugh, and thought provoking warnings.

Leaving the road head, this sign with its dire warnings is prominently displayed as you head into the back country:



Leaving the back country, as you approach the road head, this sign with its somewhat different set of dire warnings is prominently displayed on the back of the same sign post:



Banff Film Festival and Pima Trails Association

by Dave Baker Thursday, April 2nd 2009

This past Friday evening, March 27, the Summit Hut hosted the Banff Mountain Film Festival for the 11th consecutive year in Tucson. Nearly 1,000 people filled the historic Fox Theatre to watch 7 films which ranged in length from 3 to 55 minutes.

My favorite film of the night was Patagonian Winter, the story of a failed attempt by two British mountaineers to make the first winter ascent of Torre Egger. The scenery was spectacular and the conditions truly daunting, but what set the film apart for me was the delightful humor expressed throughout by the two climbers, Andy Kirkpatrick and Ian Parnell.

I was also surprised at my own reaction to Journey to the Center, a film documenting the first BASE jump into an incredibly deep limestone cavity in the middle of China known as the Heavenly Pit. As each jumper committed to releasing himself into the misty void, I couldn’t help but get anxious.


Without a doubt however, the most lasting impact of the evening came courtesy of all the attendees through their ticket purchases. The Summit Hut was pleased and proud to donate $1,000 of the proceeds to Pima Trails Association, a volunteer advocacy group that has worked hard for the past twenty years to protect trails and to insure public access to public wild lands all through Pima County.

Thousands of us enjoy the fruits of their effort every year. For example, Pima Trails Association was involved in preserving access to Ventana Canyon, Finger Rock Canyon, Agua Caliente Hill, and Fantasy Island to name just a very few.

This organization merits your support; their work is an immeasurably valuable gift for all outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy the wild lands of southern Arizona. Pima Trails Association has a number of projects in progress. Learn about these projects and how you help on their website.


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!