Buster Mountain, Buster Spring, Montrose Canyon

by Charles Monday, November 28th 2011

I don't think I would have picked Buster Mountain out of the Santa Catalina skyline as a hiking destination without the help of "The Santa Catalina Mountains: A Guide to the Trails and Routes" by Pete Cowgill and Eber Glendening (this guide has been out of print for years, but it is a great resource and we try to keep a copy on our map table!). The summit of Buster Mountain has great views of Alamo Canyon, Table Mountain and other formations including Leviathan Dome. There are no maintained trails to the Buster Mountain summit, but the Cowgill and Glendening guide (in the description for Buster Spring) gives a brief description of an old horse trail that can be used to get to the Buster Mountain/Buster Spring area. For this trip I used the Cowgill and Glendening description - but I decided to loop back to the parking area via Montrose Canyon (rather than the Alamo Canyon route described in the guide).

Getting Started

The parking area for this hike is the last parking area on the main road in Catalina State Park (this is the parking for several trails including the Romero Canyon Trail) - entry into Catalina State Park currently costs $7 per vehicle with 1-4 adults (check the website for the current cost). From the parking lot cross the road to a well signed trail head and take the trail across the Sutherland Wash. Just after crossing the wash there is a signed junction - take a right onto the Birding Trail. After a few minutes bear left at the Birding Trail loop and cross Montrose Canyon. Just after passing Montrose canyon a faint trail starts on the left - take this trail.

The Trail Up

pic 1
The route to Buster Mountain with the summit in the background.

The trail just beyond Montrose Canyon is - I believe - the horse trail mentioned in the Cowgill and Glendening guide. From here I lost and found the trail MANY times. But losing the trail is not too much of a concern - Buster Mountain is easy to locate on the skyline, navigation is reasonably easy and the terrain is somewhat forgiving - getting off trail might slow you down, but it should not be a major obstacle to getting to the summit!

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An old National Forest Boundary sign - I think it means I was on the trail at this point...

At just under 3 miles I reached the summit - from the summit there are great views of Leviathan Dome and the upper reaches of Alamo Canyon. This is a nice spot to relax - and perhaps to find a camp site for a night...

pic 3
Leviathan Dome and Alamo Canyon from the summit of Buster Mountain

After leaving Buster Mountain I headed downhill and contoured over to Buster Spring. The tank was still holding water, but it was low and the canyon near the spring was quite dry.

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Buster Spring Tank

The Canyon Down

After visiting the spring I headed down canyon towards Montrose Canyon. Travel in the canyon alternates between working thru thick brush, easy walking on exposed rock and scrambling down cliffs and falls. The canyon bottom was fairly dry on this trip and that made the scrambling easier - with some water flow I can imagine having to bypass the canyon bottom (or rappel) in a couple of spots. Just a bit before mile 5 I entered Montrose canyon. Montrose is a beautiful and rugged canyon - this section is sometimes accessed by hiking up the Romero Canyon Trail and then going off-trail and dropping into Montrose Canyon when the trail/terrain allow. It is possible to travel down this section of Montrose by scrambling and finding paths up, out and around the obstacles - but for this trip I brought 100' of rope so I could stay in the canyon bottom.

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Obstacle 1 - At just past mile 5 a large boulder blocks the canyon.

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Obstacle 2: A rappel or scramble above several pools. The last pool is pictured above - even with the canyon fairly dry these pools were quite deep!

The last obstacle in this section of canyon is a small cliff band overlooking a pool. There are a number of ways to continue past the obstacle - on this trip I chose a short rappel. Below this point Montrose Canyon has many more visitors and you will begin to see fire rings and small side trails.

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The pool below the last obstacle.

From here continue down canyon - my favorite exit is to hike up to a park bench on the right side of the canyon (the bench is both an easy marker of where to exit and a welcome excuse to sit for a minute). This bench is on the on the Montrose Pools trail and from here it is an easy walk back to the parking area. Your mileage at the end of this hike will be approximately 7.6 miles!

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Shoes after a few miles of canyon hiking.

This hike is a great journey up to a great summit, over to an interesting spring and down a beautiful canyon! As always, be very careful when hiking off-trail in the Santa Catalina mountains.

Buster Mountain - Buster Spring - Montrose Canyon Loop Map


Fall 2011 - Jackets with Synthetic Insulation!

by Charles Friday, November 18th 2011

This season we have the best selection of jackets with synthetic insulation that we have had in years! To help you understand why we are excited this blog post will give you some information about synthetic insulation and some insight into why we picked these jackets.

The most important advantage that synthetic insulation offers is better performance in wet conditions: synthetic insulation will provide some warmth even when wet! This is a great feature and a nice advantage over down insulation (which quickly loses its ability to insulate as it gets wet). Synthetic insulation also tends to dry faster (often much faster!) than down. Better insulation and drying more quickly can be important advantages in sustained wet weather and damp/humid conditions.

Some other minor advantages that synthetic insulation has when compared with down: holes/rips in the outer shell will generally not leak insulation, washing and drying synthetic insulation is often simple and synthetic insulation is usually hypoallergenic.

It is useful to also consider the advantages that down offers: higher warmth to weight ratio, better compressibility and - properly cared for - longer useful life. These differences are important to consider, but today's synthetic insulations are quite good and at this point these are minor details.

Our selection for Fall 2011:

Arc'teryx Atom LT - Men's Jacket, Men's Hoody, Women's Jacket, Women's Hoody Luminara™ nylon weave fabric with wind and water repellant coating and Coreloft™ insulation, Polartec® Power Stretch® with Hardface® Technology on the sides and, in the hoody version, a close fitting hood.


Why we picked it:

-Full zip: Easiest/best way to vent a jacket and control your temperature - practical for both outside adventures and everyday use.
-Outer shell: Enough weather protection to easily shed mild wind/rain/snow.
-'Sweater' weight: Practical as your only piece of insulation in mild weather - but also useful as a layer (perhaps under a shell) in colder conditions.
-Great Colors!

Montane Fireball Smock - Men's PERTEX® Quantum Core and Ripstop outer with PRIMALOFT® ECO insulation and a deep 2 way chest zipper.


Why we picked it:

-Lightweight! This jacket is worthy of an ultra-light backpacker's consideration.
-Great details: Reflective hits/trim, chin guard and double chest zipper (for venting and pocket access). To keep this piece as light as possible pockets and a full zip have been eliminated, but all the features you really need are included.

Marmot Variant Jacket - Men's, Women's Thermal R™ Eco insulation in the front, Polartec® Power Stretch® in the sides, back, and sleeves and thumbholes.


Why we picked it:

-Smart! The synthetic insulation is in the front of the jacket where you need the warmth the most and where it won't be compressed by your pack.
-Great for active use: The Polartec® Power Stretch® is stretchy and breathes quite well - a great choice when you are on the move.
-Unique Look!

The North Face Super Zephyrus Jacket - Men's, Women's Water resistant nylon ripstop shell, Polartec® Power Stretch® panels, PrimaLoft® One insulation, thumb holes and hood.


Why we picked it:

-Hood: Sometimes the warmth and protection that a hood offers is just what you need.
-Smart Combination: Like the Variant this jacket combines different materials to get a great combination of insulation, protection, movement and breathability.


Palisade Trailhead to the Sabino Canyon Tram

by Charles Tuesday, November 15th 2011

There are quite a few reasons to like the Palisade Trail - easy access to a great section of Pine Canyon, great views of an outstanding Santa Catalina waterfall, great views of Thimble peak and Tucson... But the best thing about the Palisade Trail is that you can use it to take a journey from the pines to the cactus!

8:20 AM - Sabino Canyon parking lot - this is where we will end our hike so we leave one car here and take another car up the Catalina Highway. We head about 19 miles up the highway and make a left turn onto Organization Ridge Road – the turn is just after a set of restrooms (on the right) and before the Palisade ranger station (on the left). The Palisade trailhead is less than a half mile down Organization Ridge Road on the west side - just after the turn off for Shower's Point Campground. A dirt parking area and trail sign mark the start of the trail.

Palisade 1 

9:24 AM - After getting our gear together we head down the trail! The trail starts at about 7800 feet - we enjoy the cool air, tall pines and sounds of a small trickle of water in Palisade Canyon.

Palisade 2 

9:33 AM - After hiking for a few minutes there is a trail that comes in from the east - clearly signed 'no public access' – and a trail to the west. The trail to the west takes you to the bottom of Palisade Canyon (where there is usually some water to make this a nice diversion). Look west for good views of the Druid - a popular Tucson climbing area.

Palisade 3 

9:45 AM – The wilderness boundary sign - this marks the start of the descent into Pine canyon as trail moves to the east side of Organization Ridge. As you head down to Pine Canyon you start to move thru areas impacted by fire - dead tree trunks mix with new green growth.

10:15 AM - The trail levels out and passes within yards of Pine Canyon - a few different social trails will take you into a beautiful rocky area. A small set of falls is just a few minutes down canyon. This is a fantastic spot to spend a few minutes - or a few hours (or days!) - or use this as a turnaround point if you want a shorter hike.

Palisade 4 

10:35 AM - Mud Springs! The tank for Mud Springs is just off the trail to the west and there is an explosion of green as you approach. Watch your step - there is sometimes a slippery section of muddy trail (a rare treat in Tucson!) created by run off from the spring. A few minutes down trail you will cross a drainage that can be used as a rugged off-trail route down into Pine Canyon (it will arrive in Pine Canyon a few minutes below the falls marked on the USGS topo).

Palisade 5

10:55 AM - The trail has been of the west slope of Pine Canyon for the past 40 minutes - very spectacular - and now it moves back to the other side of the ridge. For the first time in about an hour we can see Palisade Canyon, now much deeper and more rugged than the simple stream near the beginning of the trail. As you move across the ridge the trail become harder to follow - but if you are attentive there are more than enough cairns to keep you on the trail.

Palisade 6

11:14 AM - Break time! We find a fantastic overlook and take a break. From here the trail takes a long and winding path down into Sabino Canyon.

Palisade 7

12:38 PM - Just a moment after crossing Sabino Canyon we come to the signed junction with the East Fork Trail. Take a left here and you will head up switchbacks, eventually arriving at another trail junction - at this junction you can head down the Bear Canyon Trail or take the trail past Sycamore Reservoir to the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area (both interesting alternatives to ending in Sabino Canyon). Take a right and you will be heading west towards the Sabino Canyon Trail and Tram stop #9!

1:06 PM - Just after the junction with the Box Camp Trail duck under a tree and you will be at the junction of the West Fork, East Fork and Sabino Canyon Trails! This is a great spot to take a break and catch your breath before heading uphill on the Sabino Canyon Trail. If you have time and are comfortable rock hopping off trail you might head down canyon - in less than 20 minutes you should find some great areas to get in the water and cool down!

Palisade 8

1:48 PM - Finally the junction with the Phoneline Trail - I am tired and it seems like forever to get to this junction! For a longer hike you could continue south on the Phoneline Trail - but we are (very!) tired and (very!) happy to head down to Tram Stop #9.

1:59 PM - Tram Stop #9 and the end of our hike!!!! There is almost no shade at the Tram stop but it doesn’t matter - we all sprawl out and wait for the tram. The current fee to take the tram down is $8 - you can walk the road, but at this point I was happy to hand over the $8... If you plan on taking the tram be sure to check the last time it will pick up at stop #9 and double check that it is currently running to stop #9.

My GPS reports that this hike is 10.88 miles - starting at 7,800 feet - in the Pines - and ending at just under 3,400 feet - with the cactus!


Review: F-Lite 195 & F-Lite 230

by Charles Wednesday, October 19th 2011

I really enjoyed doing some trail running and hiking in the TrekSport, Bikila and Trail Glove during the first part of this year - even trails that I have been on for a decade were a new experience in 'barefoot' footwear. But lately I have been looking for a different compromise - something with a bit more protection, even if it means that it is slightly heavier. Two of the models that I have been trying are the Inov-8 f-lite 195 and f-lite 230.

NOTE: The pictures with this review shoe the f-lite 230 in Blue – but we decided to carry the f-lite 230 in black at the Summit Hut.


Fit: These shoes are slightly narrow in the front of the shoe - but a very soft/forgiving upper means that - depending on the shape of your foot - they should accommodate a D width foot like mine (wider and you may have problems). The TPU overlays that connect with the laces do a decent job of holding your foot in place during technical and downhill trail sections, especially considering how lightweight the shoes are.


Mesh Upper: The mesh upper is quite breathable and dries quickly. The openness of the material does mean that it is quite easy for thorns, cactus needles and other plants to come thru the material, on a recent run on miles of overgrown trail I found myself stopping several times to clear off/out my shoes – but overall the breathability of the upper may be worth it. I have not tested these long enough to report about the durability - but so far (about 2 months) I have not had any problems.

Outsole: The outsole design has fairly flat lugs of sticky rubber. The rubber seems sticker than many other trail running shoes I have tried - but it does not feel as sticky as the rubber on approach shoes such as the Five.Ten Guide Tennie. There are situations where a deeper, more aggressive, lug pattern can help with grip - but I found that for both on and off trail in the Santa Catalina Mountains the lug pattern/depth worked well.

The fit, upper and outsole are very similar between the 195 and 230. The most important differences between these two shoes are the amount of cushion and forefoot to heel differential. Inov-8 uses a 0 to 4 'arrow' system to describe the cushioning and protection in their footwear - a higher number means more cushioning and protection.


f-lite 195: The 195 is a 1 arrow shoe - minimal cushioning/protection and a 3mm differential between the heel and forefoot. These shoes have a feel that is just one step above 'barefoot' footwear like the Vibram FiveFingers. Footwear as minimal as the 195 is certainly not for everyone, especially on rugged trails! But if you are looking for something one step 'more' than Vibram FiveFingers or Merrell Trail Glove this may be a great option.


f-lite 230: Blindfolded there is a good chance that you would have trouble telling the weight difference between the 230 and 195 (Inov-8's names refer to the weight, in grams, of the shoe) - but the 230 is a 2 arrow shoe (6mm differential and slightly more cushioning) and the difference is immediately evident on the trail. The 230 feels noticeably firmer and more protective than the 195s and, while still very light, provides a different class of protection and support on the trail.

I like both of these shoes - the 195s for their minimalism, the 230s for the combination of weight and protection. I think I am likely to use the 230s more this fall, for long day hikes I am in love with the compromise between weight, support and protection that they offer!


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!