Oracle State Park Reopens

by Michelle Thursday, October 31st 2013

Oracle State Park entrance

It feels really good to help a state park, especially considering all of the funding cuts and closures they’ve had to work around in the past years. Oracle State Park was closed for two years after the state legislature cut the park system's operating budget. There has been much effort being put into reopening parks like this though. Thanks to the help of Friends of Oracle State Park and private funding, the park is now open to the public on weekends for day use. It continues to function as an environmental education center, hosting schoolchildren for fieldtrips during the weekdays.

Oracle State Park tends to be about 10 degrees cooler than Tucson. It was a beautiful day to be working outside!

As a part of our 100 Days of Service that we are dedicated to each year, Summit Hut staff helped Park Ranger Jennifer Rinio prepare Oracle State Park for reopening. The park had been unmaintained for several months over the summer, so there was a lot of work to be done. Trash had blown in, trails had overgrown and picnic areas were becoming almost indistinguishable. We spent several hours trimming back bear grass and cat claw, lopping branches, weed whacking, rebuilding trails, and mowing parking and picnic areas. I didn’t realize how much effort was needed to maintain a park until I was out there with rocks pinging my face shield. The bruises and cuts were worth it when we saw the impact we had made. Volunteer work is an integral part of keeping this park open.

Clearing picnic areas was a major part of the job. Summit Hut Assistant Buyer, Nicole, works the weed whacker

On one of the days, we took a lunch break on the upper patio of the Kannally ranch home, which is a four-level Mediterranean style villa listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This building serves as a welcoming center as well as environmental learning center for the park. They give free 45-minute tours of the home with park entrance on weekends at 10am and 2pm.

Digging out and weed whacking was necessary on the overgrown trails

Summit Hut owner, Dana, clears a sidewalk of tree branches

Oracle State Park is well worth the 45-minute drive up north from Tucson to spend the day. There are more than 15 miles of trails for hikers, bicyclists and equestrians on the 4,000-acre property, including a 4-mile section of the Arizona Trail.

Summit Hut owner, Jeremy, trims back some bear grass while staff member, Dave, shows his enthusiasm

To get to the park from Tucson, drive north on Oracle Road, which becomes AZ-77. Follow AZ-77 past Oracle Junction to turn right into the small town of Oracle. In Oracle, follow the main road, American Avenue, to a right turnoff for Mount Lemmon and the state park. Then, continue just over a mile to the park entrance on the left.

The park will be open from October 5, 2013 through April 27, 2014 on Saturdays and Sundays from 8am to 5pm.

You can also check the website for upcoming events.


If you have questions, you can contact the park office at (520) 896-2425.

Activities | Trails

Cracked Code

by Emily Tuesday, October 29th 2013

In the jagged basalt-lined valley of Paradise Forks, there's an orange tower that has split off the wall, leaning at just an angle to create the ultimate training climb. At the bottom, the space between the wall and the block is only a sliver to squeeze fingers into, but over 70 feet it gradually widens to a gaping maw that fits a whole body. Learning to fit hands, elbows, shoes, and knees into the crack is just the beginning; figuring out how to shimmy up the thing requires a whole vocabulary of techniques. So here, for your educational delight: a crack-climbing dictionary of how to fit your pieces into the puzzle. (And here, a programming note: I've come to the conclusion that it's impossible to write about crack climbing in a way that's not rife with double entendre. Feel free to giggle at your own pace.)


Just the Tips:


A crack that's the width of a Sharpie marker is called a tips crack because you can only get the first pad or maybe knuckle (if you're lucky) of your fingers in. The placement is very basic: stack your fingertips in a line and squeeze them as far into the crack as you can. It's not going to be a good hold, but you can make it a little better by twisting your hand to "cam" your fingers in the crack. Try it with your thumb pointing up and again with your hand turned around, thumb pointing down - the downward placement is generally more secure but harder on your wrist.

Tips with thumb



Finger cracks work on the same mechanics as tips cracks, but you'll get the whole length of the fingers and second knuckles in the crack. Keep in mind that your middle finger has the biggest knuckle, and if you can find a little constriction to wedge that knuckle in, like placing a wall nut, it'll be even more secure. 

Ring lock

Slightly wider than that, you're in the realm of ring locks. Start by turning your hand to point thumb down, and place the pad of your thumb against one side of the crack. Then stack your index finger on top of the thumbnail and wedge as many fingers as possible on top of that. Your fingers putting downward pressure on your thumb is what holds this one in place.


So much of the success of these thinner cracks is about looking carefully for the variations in the crack to take advantage of. Working the feet on these sizes can be miserable, because not much (if any) of the tip of your shoe will fit in. But work your feet the same way you work your hands: start with your foot angled more vertically to toe the nib of your shoe in the crack, and once in twist your foot back toward a horizontal step. Sometimes one side of the crack sticks out more than another, and you can toe against it like a layback; look for any little inconsistencies that you can turn into footholds.



Hand jam

"Thin hands" is a crack that fits the whole length of fingers and all the knuckles, but not the meat of the thumb. I don't have a lot of great advice for these except to move fast and try to overlap your fingers to expand your hand in the space. Hand jams, however - where the whole thumb and palm are included - those tend to be awesome. Cup your hand slightly, placing your finger pads on one wall of the crack and your knuckles against the other. Drop your thumb down to the middle of your palm to puff up the joint. More of your shoe will fit in cracks this wide, so try slipping your toe in with the sole of the shoe almost parallel to one side of the crack, then twist to tighten the rubber in the crack.

Double hands

When a single hand is too loose, try stacking your hands, back to back, with finger pads pressing against the wall. To make this jam successful, the hand that's on top needs downward pressure, so pull that elbow down and in to your side. The biggest trick: now your hands are tied up, and you'll have to find good feet to move upward.



Slide your hand horizontally in the crack, then curl your fingers into a fist. The curling action will widen your hand, hopefully enough to stick. Try with your palm facing down (into the crack) and up (out from the crack). Here again, if you can find a slight constriction to hold your knuckles, this jam will be bombproof. At this size you'll likely get the whole front of your shoe solid in the crack. Angle your pinkie edge down first and step down with your big toe.

Fist jam

As the crack widens, you can try some two-handed variations, like crossing your wrists and keeping one palm flat against the crack while curling the other into a fist; or for even bigger placements you might be able to stack two fists, wrists crossed (and remember that the hand crossed on top is the one that needs the downward pull). On these bigger sizes, the footwork gets stranger. You may be able to get your toe far in the back of the crack and edge your heel in, kicking your toe against the wall like Charlie Chaplain. 


Elbow Grease:

The only silver lining to dancing the Chicken Dance at weddings is that it gives a little primer on a crack technique: flap a chicken wing and stick it in the crack, with your shoulder and hand pressing at the outside edge. Stick a knee into the crack and shuffle up by wedging your knee up and flapping the wing. If your whole arm fits, press your palm against one side and your shoulder against the opposite wall - this is called an arm bar. 


At this size and wider, this is where the groveling begins. Different bodies have different strengths, so get creative. Keep your focus on putting outward and downward pressure against the walls of the crack; that's the only way you'll shuffle up. If you're only focused on fitting in the crack, you'll easily get stuck there. 


Do you love crack climbing? Have you come up with inventive techniques of your own? Share them in the comments!

Activities | Skills | Trips

Paradise Found

by Emily Tuesday, July 30th 2013

This is how much I love Paradise Forks, a climbing area at the upper reaches of Sycamore Canyon about an hour outside Flagstaff: when friends and I were driving the four hours from Tucson to get there, we didn't even turn on the radio; we just bounced up and down on the car seats yelling, “Forks! Forks! Forks! Forks!” It's a hysterically magical place. 


The view from the Prow at Paradise Forks shows the vast canyon network below

And it's not just for climbers. Sycamore Canyon cuts the northern tip of the Mogollon Rim into a deep V with basalt cliffs plunging 150 feet to a riparian creek bed below. It's stunning, with seasonal falls filling the Gold and Silver Ponds in each upper reach, draining around the fortress of the Prow, where the rock shifts in color from orange to black. Though the falls don't run in summer, the temperature is lovely, especially in the shade of high ponderosas. Climber trails lace the cliff edges to access climbs, but they also provide amazing views to hikers. Tagging this vista, the Sycamore Rim Trail continues in an 11-mile loop at the upper reaches of the canyon, flat until a 1,000 foot climb up KA Hill and back down. Other trails like Kelsey Springs and Little Lo explore the canyon bottom, which is 21 miles end to end and 7 miles at its widest point, hiding polished white box canyons, springs and meadows. 

Friend and climber Clare Stielstra checks out lines on the Sine Wall across the way

But Paradise Forks is, well, paradise. The basalt cliffs that line the top of the canyon are split with vertical cracks, ruled like notebook paper, and the style of climbing done here is unique. Rather than holding on to the rock, most of the time you're fitting into it, squeezing hands, knees, elbows, sometimes whole shoulders into the crevices. Equally unique, every climb can be top-roped, freeing scaredy-cat climbers like myself from the pressure of leading and letting us just play. 

A climber gets swallowed by Supercrack above the Gold Pond in Paradise Forks

Every climb is its own physical poem, a vocabulary of moves that I search for in the same way I scan my brain for the right word. A climb like Supercrack (5.9) starts with a finger-width slit at the bottom, gradually widening to a chimney you can fit your whole body inside, so that every few moves you're adding something to the space: fingers, then flat palms, then closed fists, then you're shuffling up with a knee and an elbow in a move delightfully called the “chicken wing.” Or there are climbs like Tangent (5.10) that work like stanzas: an orange corner like an open book with a thin crack in the binding, then you hoist yourself to the top of a pedestal; another, entirely different thin crack on a grey face and another pedestal; then a swooping curve next to a swallow's nest. Or Raindance (5.10), a solitary climb on a buttress between broken columns, where the rappel to the canyon bottom feels like dropping into a rainforest, lush and quiet. You pull out from under a roof onto a thin crack, a movement that seems to take a small miracle, and then you just breathe, listen, and fit your hands into the network of cracks that comes next. There's a clear-headedness that comes with crack climbing for me. Because the route is obvious, drawn on the face itself, I stop thinking about where I'm supposed to go next and just take one move at a time. And suddenly the grade doesn't matter, and the fact that I'm top-roping and not leading doesn't matter, and what other climbers are gabbing about across the canyon doesn't matter. It's just the joy of movement and the beauty of the canyon, and suspended in the middle of a rock face these are the only things that exist.


How to get there:

Take Route 66 west out of Flagstaff and continue on when it turns into I-40 heading towards Williams. Take exit 178 south onto Garland Prairie Road, which quickly turns to gravel but is passable with low-clearance vehicles. This road takes a sharp right curve heading into a huge meadow where cattle and sheep are grazed, and in the woods beyond watch out for elk and deer. Turn left on F.S. 527, which leads to trailhead parking for Paradise Forks / Sycamore Falls and one of the five access points for the Rim Trail (for others, visit the Forest Service website here: White Horse Lake, stocked with fish, is just another minute down the road.



While the Falcon guide Rock Climbing Arizona covers most of the Forks, it excludes the Sine Wall, in my opinion the most beautiful section where the rulebook-straight cracks meld and curve into one another. For a more comprehensive guide, check out A Cheap Way to Fly: Rock Climbing Guide to Northern Arizona by Tim Toula.

Activities | Trails | Trips

Incinerator Ridge Trail, Kellogg Trail, Mount Bigelow

by Charles Friday, July 26th 2013

In 2012 an extension to the Incinerator Ridge Trail was completed that connects the existing trail to the San Pedro Vista.

This extension is a short - but important - addition to the trail system in the Santa Catalina Mountains. It provides a useful link between trails outside of the Pusch Ridge Wilderness lower on the mountain (Bellota, Bug Spring, Green Mountain) and higher on the mountain (Butterfly, Crystal Spring, Oracle Ridge). The extension helps form an alternate route for the Arizona Trail - especially useful for mountain bikers who are prohibited from riding in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness.

This extension also creates the opportunity for a lovely day hike taking you from the San Pedro Vista up to Mount Bigelow with outstanding views of the San Pedro Valley, Galiuro Mountains and views thru the Santa Catalina mountains down into Tucson - all in just over 5 miles with 1800 feet of climbing/descent (round-trip)!

The hike starts at the San Pedro Vista (approximately 17 miles up the highway) - a trail marker on the north side of the parking area marks the start of the trail. The trail climbs from the parking area  - takes you along a ridge - and then up and thru the rocky cliffs in the Barnum Rock area. The steepness of the trail eases for a bit as you turn north and start to get views of Leopold Point and the popular Ridgeline Climbing Area.

Leopold Point (named for naturalist Aldo Leopold) and the Ridgeline Climbing Area

As you continue north the trail passes unofficial trails to the left (down to a parking area on the highway used frequently by climbers accessing the area), to the right (over to the Ridgeline Climbing Area) and then to the right again (from a small saddle up to Leopold Point).

Mount Bigelow from near Leopold Point - the trails up to Mount Bigelow follow the hills and ridges visible in the picture.

After more climbing the trail reaches another section of beautiful ridgeline.

Clouds and Sun behind Mount Bigelow from the Incinerator Ridge Trail

Tucson City lights from the Incinerator Ridge Trail

The trail passes a signed junction with the Knagge Trail (at a well-used campsite) and then arrives at the end of the Incinerator Ridge Road. This is the end of the Incinerator Ridge Trail - to continue up towards Mount Bigelow cross the road and go thru a parking spot to continue along the Kellogg Trail. Take the Kellogg Trail to a signed junction with the Butterfly and Mount Bigelow Trails. At this junction you are just below Kellogg Mountain - if you are comfortable traveling off-trail (be cautious and careful!) you might take a detour and make your way to the top...

Sunrise from Kellogg Mountain

Looking back along the ridge from Kellogg Mountain

From the junction continue on the Butterfly trail to the Northwest. The trail climbs towards Mount Bigelow eventually meeting a dirt road with buildings and towers just across the road - a right on the dirt road will take you towards the Butterfly Trail Parking area. The facilities on Mount Bigelow keep it from being one of my favorite peaks - but there are great views and it is certainly worth visiting!!!

Sunset over Mount Lemmon

Map with comments - High Resolution PDF (4.73 mb) or High Resolution JPEG (5.55 mb)


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!