Sutherland Thrash

by Dave Baker Monday, June 8th 2009

A trip up the Sutherland Trail from Catalina State Park to the top of Mt. Lemmon is a challenging hike!

For starters, the word “trail” may not be an appropriate descriptor for the route. The first five miles are pretty easy to follow; a beautifully maintained trail leaves the parking spot at Catalina State Park, but after following a jeep road and power line for a while, the trail quickly deteriorates as it begins a steep climb up the flanks of Sutherland Ridge. The next 3.5 miles of trail are very challenging to stay on; often a bush whack route decorated with small rock cairns that are all too easy to miss in the heavy brush and among numerous rock outcrops.

Coral Bean blossoms

Coral Bean blossoms

And then there’s the elevation gain: about 6,300 feet vertical from the trailhead at Catalina State Park to the parking spot on top of Mt. Lemmon. That’s a big climb! (Hike from the Colorado River to the North Rim and you knock off 5,800 feet, while the famed hike up Mt Whitney comes in at 6,100 feet.)

Cargodera Canyon

Exposed rock low in Cargodera Canyon

There are logistics to deal with too. This trip can be set up as a one-way, 11.5 mile hike, if a vehicle is available on top of Mount Lemmon when you finally stagger into the parking lot. Alternatively, you can make a big loop by hiking from the top of the Sutherland Trail to Romero Pass and then down Romero Canyon to the original trailhead. This reduces the elevation gain to a piddly 5,700 feet, but increases the distance to about 20.5 miles.

Jeep road & power line

Jeep road and power line

The combination of big elevation gain and hard bushwhacking make this route challenging indeed, but the hike is also spectacular and satisfying. The low elevation Sonoran landscapes are lavish, and Cargodera Canyon may surprise you with a few quiet trickles of seasonal water. Once atop Sutherland Ridge, the hiker is presented with spectacular views of the big peaks of the Pusch Ridge and the headwaters of Romero Canyon. The “window” in Window Rock is clearly visible from many spots along the brushy and rocky spine. This area is seldom visited and feels extraordinarily wild and primitive, with lots of bear scat scattered along the way.

Atop Sutherland Ridge

High on the Sutherland Ridge

Reach the trailhead (32.42553 N, 110.90828 W, WGS84) by following North Oracle Road (State Highway 77) north from Tucson towards Oro Valley. Turn right (east) into Catalina State Park about 6.3 miles past Ina Road. Signs guide the way to the trailhead parking lot near the end of the road.

The Sutherland trail heads north from the parking lot. After 0.8 mile, turn left (north) at a junction with the Canyon Loop Trail; 1.8 miles later turn right (east) at the intersection with a jeep road and power line. About 2.7 miles later, a metal sign marks the spot where the Sutherland Trail leaves the power line road and soon begins climbing up the side of Sutherland Ridge. The next 4 miles are a thrash, first gaining the ridge top, and then working up the ridge until reaching the Cañada del Oro Trail where you turn right (east) and climb uphill to the junction with the Mt Lemmon Trail. Follow the Mt Lemmon Trail east for about 1.5 miles to the Mt Lemmon trailhead parking lot; or to complete the 20.5 mile loop down Romero Canyon, follow the Mt Lemmon trail west a few steps before turning south towards Romero Pass.

Collared Lizard

A Collared Lizard shows color in Romero Canyon

Season: Spring and fall. The high elevation section of this hike is subject to winter snow, which can limit vehicular access to the Mount Lemmon trailhead. The route has plenty of western and southern exposure, so it can be dangerously hot in the summer.

Water: Seasonal water can sometimes be found along the Sutherland Trail in Cargodera Canyon, and in Romero Canyon. Bring plenty of your own.

Difficulty: Very difficult. The one way trip from Catalina State Park to the Mount Lemmon trailhead parking is about 11 miles long with a whopping 6,300 foot elevation gain.

The alternate loop hike up the Sutherland Trail and down Romero Canyon is over 20 miles long and climbs 5,700 feet; a very long day of hard hiking.

The upper 4.5 miles of the Sutherland Trail is overgrown and difficult to follow. I suggest wearing long pants; shorts are not a good idea on the Sutherland Ridge. The likelihood of losing the trail is very high, so competency in cross country navigation is a must. A good map, with compass or GPS is recommended.

Notes: Catalina State Park requires entrance fees, and the trailhead at the top of Mount Lemmon is a Forest Service fee area.

Maps: Rainbow Expeditions Santa Catalina Mountains or Green Trails Maps Santa Catalina Mountains.


Click Map for larger image


100 Days of Service

by Dave Baker Monday, May 25th 2009

We are so fortunate to be able to live and play in the magnificent Southwest! Our love and passion for our precious wild lands runs deep, so early this year the Summit Hut launched its “100 Days of Service” program to benefit non-profit outdoor, conservation, and environmental advocacy organizations in southern Arizona.

It’s a simple idea: each year the Summit Hut pays up to 100 days worth of regular wages to our 60 employees when they volunteer to provide services to a non-profit group partner. We are thrilled to help with any number of tasks: trail building, restoration projects, native species protection, invasive species control, office and clerical chores, and so on. 100 Days of Service has been enthusiastically embraced by our staff and the Summit Hut is genuinely gratified to be giving back to some great organizations that have worked so hard for years to preserve and protect our precious environmental heritage.

Trail work

Moving boulders off the Arizona Trail

The Summit Hut currently has 100 Days of Service partnerships with Sky Island Alliance, Arizona Trail Association, Tucson Audubon Society, Rincon Group of the Sierra Club; and we are in the process of finalizing partnerships with several other groups.

We kicked this program off this past March, and Summit Hut volunteers have already given nearly twenty days of service; building trail and helping with a bullfrog control and inventory project. Eighty more days to give, we can hardly wait!


Keeping Cool in the Wilderness of Rocks

by Dave Baker Tuesday, May 12th 2009

When it’s time to cool off, the Wilderness of Rocks is a popular destination for Tucson area hikers. At an elevation of over 7,000 feet, the Wilderness of Rocks stretches across a broad, rocky bench perched beneath the high summit ridge of Mt. Lemmon. The headwaters of Lemmon Creek gather here, and the small stream almost always shows water. Shaded in most places by trees and cliffs, this riparian zone can be a delightful reprieve from the hot deserts far below.

The loop hike described here begins almost from the very top of Mt. Lemmon. Heading west from the trailhead, the route works down Mt Lemmon’s broad summit ridge, and then turns south onto a prominent spur ridge which shows great views of Oro Valley, the headwaters of Romero Canyon, and the high peaks scattered along Pusch Ridge.


Weathered formations in the Wilderness of Rocks

Once in the Wilderness of Rocks, hikers wander among stately stands of Ponderosa pines, fern gardens and untold numbers of gleaming white rock formations and gargoyles. It’s great hanging out beneath the tall pines that line Lemmon Creek’s shallow pools.


Lemmon Creek

Finish the loop by hiking up the Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail. This steep section climbs 1,800 feet in under 2.5 miles, a tough climb! Watch for rock climbers on the long 400 foot south ridge of Rappel Rock, easily seen from several sections of the trail. No surprise, the Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail ends near Lemmon Rock Lookout, a small building listed in the US National Register of Historic Places and which is still staffed from May through September. The short side trip to the lookout with its fantastic views of the Catalina Mountains and much of southern Arizona is very worthwhile.


Lemmon Rock Lookout

Reach the trailhead (32.44036 N, 110.7858 W, WGS84) by following the Catalina Highway from the Tucson valley towards the small settlement of Summerhaven. Just short of Summerhaven, turn right (west) onto “Ski Run Rd”. Continue on Ski Run Road past the ski facility through a gate (often closed during winter months), and on up the narrow winding road to the trailhead parking lot near the top of Mt Lemmon.

The Mt. Lemmon Trail #5 leaves the west side of the parking lot right next to a fenced electrical facility, crosses a dirt road and then joins an old jeep trail heading west along the broad summit ridge. A few tenths of a mile later, the junction with the Lemmon Rock Lookout Trail is reached, which marks the beginning and end of the loop route. Clockwise or counter-clockwise? The route is described in a counter-clockwise direction above, but take your pick.

Season: Spring, summer and fall. The trailhead is closed to vehicular access for much of the winter, and snow often obscures many sections of the route. This hike can be quite warm on the exposed ridges during summer months.

Water: Water is usually present in Lemmon Creek, though the flow can slow or cease in the driest months of the summer. If you do collect water, purification is recommended before using. Make sure you have plenty of water for the more exposed hiking getting into and out of the Wilderness of Rocks.

Difficulty: Somewhat difficult. About 8.5 miles long with a 2,000 elevation drop and then gain. Some sections of trail can be hard to follow, so map and compass/GPS are recommended.

Notes: The trailhead is in a Forest Service fee area. The area was impacted by the 2003 Aspen Fire.

Maps: Rainbow Expeditions Santa Catalina Mountains, Green Trails Maps Santa Catalina Mountains, or National Geographic Arizona digital map software.


Click Map for larger image

Trails | Trails | Trails | Trails

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.


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!