Pontatoc Trails

by Dave Baker Friday, March 6th 2009

What’s not to like about the Finger Rock trailhead at the end of Alvernon Way? Quite literally at Tucson’s backdoor, this trailhead offers convenient access to one of the more spectacular portions of the “Front Range” of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Pontatoc Canyon and Pontatoc Ridge

Pontatoc Canyon left, Pontatoc Ridge right

In addition to the popular Finger Rock Trail, two other trails originate here: the Pontatoc Trail and the Pontatoc Ridge Trail. These two trails are not nearly as strenuous as the Finger Rock Trail, but both offer great hiking. Pontatoc Canyon and Pontatoc Ridge are named for the nearby Pontatoc Mine, which was first worked way back in 1907.

The Pontatoc Ridge Trail is appealing for its sweeping views of nearly the entire Tucson valley. It ascends a prominent rocky ridge, abruptly ending just below some abandoned mine shafts bored into a huge rock cliff. Take care up here; the area where the trail ends is ringed with big cliffs, and the scramble to the mine shafts above is steep and loose. The Ridge Trail does gain some altitude, but on my last trip here we barely noticed the steeper sections of the trail, there was so much to look at and enjoy.

 View from Pontatoc Ridge

Peering into Pontatoc Canyon from the Ridge Trail

The Pontatoc Trail has a distinctly different character, as it tends to remain within the confines of Pontatoc Canyon. Though this trail sometimes snakes along the canyon bottom, it spends much more time traversing hillsides above the canyon in order to avoid a rocky gorge below. It is more than a mile longer than the Ridge Trail, and the steep sections are distinctly more demanding. I really enjoy the terrain and scenery in the upper reaches; in spite of the relatively short distance from the road, this area feels pleasantly wild and remote.

High in Pontatoc Canyon

High up in Pontatoc Canyon

Alternatively, you may prefer an easy, yet scenic outing; the first 0.8 miles of the trail has little altitude gain, but you’ll enjoy spectacular views of craggy ridgelines high above as you wander through a lush Sonoran environment.

To reach the trailhead, drive to the very northern end of Alvernon Way. You can’t follow Alvernon all the way from Tucson as there is a big gap north of River Road. Pick up the final northern spur of Alvernon Way by turning north off Skyline Drive; the trailhead parking lot at the end of Alvernon is obvious and well marked.

The two Pontatoc Trails and the Finger Rock Trail all share the same trail head; the Pontatoc Trails split off right just a few hundred feet from the trail head. After about 0.8 miles you will reach another trail junction; the Pontatoc Trail stays left, while the Pontatoc Ridge Trail swings right and begins its climb to the spine of the big ridge above.

Season: Fall, winter and spring. This hike can be very hot, especially in the summer.

Water: Seasonal pools appear in Pontatoc Canyon; bring plenty of your own.

Note: Dogs are not permitted on these trails.

Difficulty: Moderately strenuous, though walking just the first mile makes for a much easier hike. The Pontatoc Canyon Trail is about 3.5 miles one way, with a 2,200 foot elevation gain. The Pontatoc Ridge Trail is easier; about 2.4 miles one way, with a 1,850 foot elevation gain. Walking just the first 0.8 miles of trail yields a pleasant and scenic outing, with only a 300 foot elevation gain.

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


Click map for larger image


Great Packs for Short Waists

by Dave Baker Tuesday, February 24th 2009

At the Summit Hut, we are always on the lookout for products that solve problems; a boot that fits a challenging foot, a piece of climbing gear that fills a particular need, or as discussed here, a large capacity day pack that fits people with short torsos.

Many of us need and use big day packs. Rock climbers, search and rescue personnel, and winter sports enthusiasts are all examples of users who may need a large capacity day pack.

With this class of pack, a correct fit is critical for optimum comfort and performance, because somewhat heavier loads are often carried in them.

And here’s the rub: it can be challenging to find a well made, big day pack that fits adults who are relatively short from the waist to the top of the shoulders.

Women ranging in height from 5’0” to 5’4” are often faced with this problem: large day packs with the carrying capacity and support they need are simply too long to fit correctly and hence virtually unusable.

To solve this problem, we often look at youth packs because they are designed to fit shorter torsos; but we are sometimes frustrated because many manufacturers of youth packs don’t offer the features or quality components that short-waisted, adult users are looking for.

Jib 35

Jib 35 by Osprey

We have been very impressed with the “Sprint Series” for youth from Osprey. Don’t be fooled by the playful graphics; these packs are well built, feature an adjustable suspension system, and have a light frame to support heavier loads. Osprey suggests that these packs are excellent for youngsters ready to start carrying their own gear on overnight trips (and they are), but we quickly learned they also make a fantastic big day pack for smaller women, or anyone with a short torso.

The Jib 35 is especially versatile as a large day pack because of its 2,100 cubic inch carrying capacity. Stop by one of our Summit Hut stores and check this pack out, especially the fit; I think you’ll be impressed.


Agua Caliente Hill

by Dave Baker Friday, February 13th 2009

Arizona peak baggers can be forgiven if they sometimes overlook Agua Caliente Hill. Bagging a “hill” doesn’t sound quite right, and Agua Caliente does look a little insignificant when viewed from many places in the Tucson valley. Located on the far east side of the Tucson valley, Agua Caliente Hill is the high point sandwiched between the much higher Santa Catalina and Rincon Mountains.

Agua Caliente Hill: Catalinas are left, Rincons to the right

Hill or peak? Agua Caliente Hill, east of Tucson

Forest Service Trail #46 provides a convenient and scenic route to the top of Agua Caliente Hill, though after reaching the summit, I guarantee you will question the use of the term “hill” in Agua Caliente’s name.

This is a good hike. It starts on the desert floor and ends on a summit covered with grasses and dotted with oak and juniper trees. The trail tends to favor ridge lines as it climbs towards the peak, treating walkers to pleasant and always changing vistas.

Sonoran landscapes down low

Once on top, there is a lot to stare at, including unusual views of the Rincon and Catalina Mountains, as well as a look east across the San Pedro Valley to the Galiuro Mountains and distant Mount Graham. However, many hikers will choose to forego the climb to the summit, and instead enjoy a shorter outing on the very scenic lower stretches of the trail.

Grasses, oak and juniper up high

To reach the trailhead, follow Tanque Verde Road to the Tucson valley’s far east side and turn left (north) onto Soldier Trail, and then about a mile later turn right (east) onto Fort Lowell Road. When Fort Lowell crosses Wentworth road, its name changes to Camino Ancho. Continue on Camino Ancho, and turn left on Camino Remuda, following it for about 0.3 mi before turning left (north) again. Watch for the Forest Service parking lot on the right (east) side of the road about 0.2 mile later. The trail leaves the north end of the parking lot and is marked with a sign: “AGUA CALIENTE HILL TR. #46”.

After about 2.6 miles, the trail reaches a high saddle, and a trail junction with Forest Road #4445 which drops north into Agua Caliente Canyon. At the junction take the east fork and continue the climb towards the Agua Caliente summit, some 1.8 miles away.

Season: Fall, winter and spring. This hike can be hot, especially in the summer.

Water: None; bring plenty of your own.

Difficulty: Somewhat strenuous. The trail is about 4.5 miles one way. It climbs from around 2,970 feet at the trailhead to 5,369 feet at the summit, for a 2,400 foot total elevation gain.

Maps: USGS Agua Caliente Hill AZ, or National Geographic Arizona digital map software.



Click Map for larger image

Trails | Trails

Chlorine Dioxide

by Dave Baker Tuesday, February 10th 2009

Water purification in the backcountry is a vexing problem without a completely satisfactory solution as far as I am concerned. Over the coming months I’ll be discussing several water purification products on this blog.

For the past few years I have been relying almost exclusively upon Katadyn Micropur MP1 purification tablets, which is a chlorine dioxide system.

Micropur MP1

Hundreds of municipalities around the world use chlorine dioxide technology to disinfect public water supplies. It can be effective against bacteria, virus, and protozoa including Giardia and Cryptosporidium.

I like using Micropur tablets because they are very lightweight and easy to use. Excuse the whining, but I have become annoyed with the weight of pump filters and the effort required to pump water.

Each Micropur tablet treats a liter of water, so getting the dose right is quick and easy. The tablets are individually packaged and sealed, and Katadyn claims a 5 year shelf life from time of manufacturing; an expiration date is stamped along the edge of the packaging strip. Unlike tablets packaged together in pill bottles, you don’t have to worry about the unused tablets losing their effectiveness because of exposure to air. Thus the individually packaged Micropur tablets are suitable for use in seldom used emergency kits or as a light and compact backup for pump filters and other mechanical purification devices.

Tablets are individually sealed

Scissors or a knife are needed to remove each tablet from its sealed pouch

The instructions on Micropur packaging states that once placed into contaminated water, tablets must “react for 4 hours” before the water is suitable for drinking. Four hours is a long time!

In a separately published information brochure, Katadyn addresses this issue. The EPA demands that the product packaging show only the wait time for cold and dirty water (“EPA Water #2"), very challenging water to treat. In such challenging conditions, Katadyn claims Micropur kills bacteria and virus in 15 minutes, but kills Giardia and Cryptosporidium in 4 hours.

However, in clear, warmer water (“EPA Water #1”), Katadyn claims Micropur kills bacteria and virus in 15 minutes; and kills Giardia and Cryptosporidium in 30 minutes. Take time to read the brochure for all the important details on this topic.

So, one downside of using Micropur tablets is the need for thinking ahead about your water needs. I take full advantage of night camps whenever possible to treat contaminated water for 8 or more hours for use the following day; and while hiking, attempt to have enough treated water on hand when I reach a contaminated water source I intend to take water from, in order to comfortably allow for an appropriate wait time.

Chlorine dioxide does impart a taste to the water, especially if the water is consumed immediately after the treatment time has expired, though the taste will diminish with more time. I do not find the taste particularly objectionable. For me it is far more pleasant than iodine treated water, and doesn’t taste much different than some municipal water I have run across.


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!