Blackett's Ridge: Because It Is So Good

by Dave Baker Monday, December 29th 2008

It is popular, sometimes even crowded, but that’s only because it is so good.

The Blackett’s Ridge Trail packs a great punch: it is imminently accessible, as scenic as they come, short enough that you don’t have to plan your entire day around it, and challenging enough to provide a very rewarding workout. Blackett’s Ridge is simply one of the best hikes in southern Arizona.

Blackett's Ridge

Blackett’s Ridge is framed by Bear Canyon on right and Sabino Canyon on left

It is about a 3 mile one-way walk, with a 1,700 foot elevation gain to the end of the trail, so we’ll call this a moderately strenuous hike. However, a section near the middle of the walk is steep, with many switchbacks needed to climb over a 1,000 feet in under a mile. Whew!

Walking the ridge top

Walking the ridge top

Traversing the ridge top is like walking the deck of a giant ocean liner. You’ll feel like you are floating high above Sabino and Bear Canyons, and the Tucson valley. The view north past Thimble Peak and Sabino Basin towards Mount Lemmon is outstanding.

Thimble Peak

Trail’s end with Thimble Peak in distance

Park your car at the entrance of the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, a short drive from midtown Tucson. This is a fee area. At the east end of the parking lot, follow a wide dirt path east until it joins a paved road. Continue east on the paved road as it swings into the bottom of Sabino Creek and a road junction where a sign will guide you right toward Bear Canyon. Just after crossing Sabino Creek, watch for the trailhead marked by a sign, “Phoneline Tr. #27”. After a few steps off the pavement, bear sharply north on the Phoneline Trail which climbs towards the toe of Blackett’s Ridge. A little more than a half mile later, watch for another trial marker “Blackett’s Ridge Tr. #48” where you turn east and leave the Phoneline Trail. Blackett’s Ridge Trail dead ends at the top of some cliffs about a mile and a half later.

Season: Fall, winter and spring. This hike faces south and can be very hot, especially in the summer. (The hike does receive quite a bit of traffic in the summer months; a very early start and plenty of water are recommended.)

Water: None. Bring plenty of your own.

Difficulty: Moderate; 3 miles one way with 1,700 feet of elevation gain.

Maps: USGS Sabino Canyon, AZ ; Green Trails Santa Catalina Mountains; or National Geographic Arizona digital map software.


Click map for larger image



by Dave Baker Monday, December 22nd 2008

I used the SPOT Satellite Messenger during my hike of the Arizona Trail last spring, and wanted to let you know what I experienced using the device. Weighing 7.3 oz (including two lithium batteries), the SPOT device is billed as “Handheld satellite communication and safety device” by SPOT Inc. (a subsidiary of Globalstar, the satellite telephone company).

Power SPOT on, and the onboard GPS chip goes to work determining your location. Press one of the three transmission buttons, and SPOT will attempt to transmit a signal to the Globalstar satellite network, with the unit’s unique id number and the coordinates of your location packed into the transmission. This information is directed to ground-based antennas and then forwarded to appropriate recipients on the ground via email or emergency service notification.

Transmission button choices include “OK”, “HELP” and “911”. After subscribing to the SPOT service and setting up your account, you are given an opportunity to provide email addresses for up to 10 contacts who receive email notices when the OK and HELP buttons are successfully activated. These email messages include a prewritten text note that you, the subscriber provides, as well a link to Google Maps indicating your position as determined by SPOT’s GPS chip. Should you press the 911 button, the subsequent satellite message is directed to local emergency and rescue services. The company claims a “99% or better probability of successfully sending a single message within 20 minutes” using SPOT within their designated coverage areas around the globe. Pretty slick.

My primary motive for using SPOT on the Arizona Trail was to have a simple way of letting family and friends know where I was on a daily basis. I transmitted twice a day; once during lunch and again at the end of the day when I arrived at camp. I took care whenever possible to put my SPOT into its “OK” transmission mode for at least 20 minutes each time I transmitted.

Unfortunately, SPOT cannot tell you whether a transmission has been successfully received by the satellite and ground system. This is because SPOT is a one-way device; it can only transmit messages skyward, it cannot receive messages from the satellite system above. On my trip I soon learned that my transmission success rate was somewhere around 80%. I speculate that the failed transmissions were due to an inadequate view of the sky because of trees and other overhanging vegetation, or being confined by canyon walls or nearby hillsides. (For additional information on maximising transmission success rates, check this 1/26/2009 post.) 

Knowing that about 20% of my transmissions failed, I took care to tell family and friends not to worry if they did not always receive messages from me when expected. In a situation where I might need to use the “911” or “HELP” button, I think I would go to the trouble of transmitting multiple times from different locations if there was any doubt about how good a view of the sky was available.

In spite of the missed transmissions, we were all delighted with messages that did get through; SPOT really can be a good way to keep in touch with people when you are out in the wild. When relying upon SPOT in an emergency however, I think it important to keep its limitations well in mind.

I worried about SPOT getting jostled or compressed in my pack as I hiked, possibly triggering an unneeded rescue effort. So, for peace of mind I removed one of the batteries from my SPOT before stowing it away in the pack, and I took care to carry extra batteries in case I lost the battery I had removed.

By the way, here is the text of the email message that my SPOT transmitted when I reached the end of the Arizona Trail:

SPOT "OK" check in for Dave Baker
Nearest Location:not known
Distance:not known
Time:05/15/2008 16:29:56 (GMT),-112.035&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1


A North Rim Classic

by Dave Baker Thursday, December 4th 2008

About 5 million people a year visit Grand Canyon National Park, the vast majority of whom go to the Visitor’s Center, which overlooks the South Rim.

If you want to leave the crowds behind, look no further than the North Rim. A mere 10 miles to the north across the Colorado River, the North Rim is a 220-mile drive from the South Rim visitors' complex. With far fewer people, hotels, restaurants, gift shops and interpretive displays, the North Rim offers a distinctly different experience than the South.

Things get even quieter in the Grand Canyon’s backcountry. A rich network of spectacular and rough trails penetrates the vast wilderness that lies beneath the rim. The more popular of these are in the “Bright Angel Corridor”, with historic Phantom Ranch as the focal point.

Grand Canyon hikers who really want to get away from it all, dream about the huge expanse of country that can only be reached by leaving the trails behind, and striking out on cross-country routes. These trips are challenging, beautiful, fun, and totally engaging; but they are very serious too. Heat, scarce water, skin-shredding bush whacks, cliff bands, and very steep, rugged terrain are the main headliners.

Lowering Packs

Lowering Packs

This past October, I hooked up with Bob Wade (owner of Ute Mountaineer), James Wilson ( Wilson’s Eastside Sports), my sister Brenda Baker (San Diego), and two renowned Grand Canyon veterans, Jacek Macias (Chicago) and Jim Ohlman (Kayenta, AZ). Inspired by the classic guidebook, Hiking Grand Canyon Loops, by the late George Steck, we planned to walk the Crystal Creek – Phantom Creek loop, which leaves the North Rim near Tiyo Point. We walked 50 miles over 8 days on the trip, which works out to just a little over 6 miles a day. Not a great distance at all, but it took most of the day to cover these short distances due to the rugged terrain and difficult route finding.

Dropping off the North Rim, we followed an ancient route that has been used by people for thousands of years. At our first camp in Shiva Saddle, we found pottery shards and discarded flint flakes scattered about. For the rest of the trip, we continued to find other signs of the Ancients, including a small cliff ruin and several agave roasting pits.

The following two days were spent in Crystal Creek making our way toward the Colorado River. On one of these days, Bob, Jacek and Jim took time to complete the 5th recorded ascent of the Tower of Ra, over 30 years after the first ascent back in the 1970’s. No mystery as to why this magnificent summit receives so few visitors, Ra is surprisingly remote and requires both technical climbing skills and keen route finding ability to gain its summit.

Colorado River at Ninety-Four Mile Rapid

Colorado River at Ninety-Four Mile Rapid

Day four found us on the banks of the Colorado River twice; once early in the morning at the famed Crystal Rapid, and again at sunset on a lovely beach overlooking Ninety-Four Mile Rapid, some four and half miles up-river from Crystal. There was no route along the riverbank from Crystal to Ninety-Four. We scrambled a thousand feet up an imposing, steep slope to gain access to the Tonto Platform, which offered a parallel route high above the River. Late in the afternoon, we reached a point atop a 250 foot cliff with a view of our desired campsite far below on the beach at Ninety-Four Mile Creek. Though the escarpment was seemingly vertical, we used an amazing route down the cliff that linked short chimneys and hidden ledges to reach the bottom.

Two more days were spent trekking to Phantom Creek, a deep side canyon that is graced with a beautiful permanent stream. On the way to Phantom though, we had a “dry camp” in the parched upper reaches of Trinity Creek, which meant we had packs heavy with water as we climbed the steep ravine above Ninety-Four to reach the Tonto Platform. On the second day of the trek to Phantom Creek, Bob and Jacek bagged Cheops Pyramid, another of the famed Inner Canyon summits.

Under Cheops Pyramid

Under Cheops Pyramid

Our seventh day was far and away the shortest in distance – we only covered 2 miles! The route from our camp in Phantom Canyon back up to Shiva Saddle was complicated by having to climb through the Redwall cliff, easily the most imposing and intimidating of the great Grand Canyon rock formations. Bob led the way up two fourth class pitches which ended on a ledge half way up the cliff. A long traverse on the ledge (with over 400 feet of exposure!), gave access to a gulley which broke through the remainder of the Redwall. We reached Shiva Saddle early in the afternoon, and settled in for the coldest night of the trip under a snug sandstone overhang.

An eight-day trip is a pretty long one, but this one seemed to end too quickly. A final climb back up to the North Rim led to a peaceful walk through a deep pine and aspen forest, to our cars, and the return home.

Thinking about a backcountry trip in the Grand Canyon? You’ll need a permit:


Welcome to Trail Talk

by Dave Baker Thursday, December 4th 2008

Welcome to the inaugural post in Summit Hut’s new blog, Trail Talk. I'm Dave Baker, owner and founder of Summit Hut, an independent outdoor gear company based in Tucson, Arizona since 1969. To a large extent, I have been inspired to start this blog by the response to an Arizona Trail blog at which was posted as I walked the Trail last spring. I will generally devote this space to discussion about the Summit Hut stores, the outdoor industry, gear information and tips, trip logs and trail guides. I’ll try to get a post up every week or so. I hope you find the posts interesting, and look forward to your feedback.


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!