Lightning 60

by Dave Baker Saturday, May 25th 2013

Let’s cut to the chase: the Lightning 60 is a great pack. Need a pack that is very light, yet handles heavier loads with ease? Look no further than the Lightning 60. Though this pack is disarmingly simple looking, it is remarkably comfortable. I was recently won over by this pack on an eight day backpack in the Grand Canyon.

Hey, I’m on board with the notion of packing light for sure, but here’s the rub: I love backpacking in arid regions of the southwest like the Grand Canyon. On warm and dry backpacking trips, water is the one item that you cannot skimp on in order to save weight – life depends upon maintaining adequate hydration. When faced with the prospect of having to carry enough water for a dry camp in hot weather, it is not uncommon to load up with 8, 10 or even 12 liters of water before leaving a reliable water source. This means that pack weights can easily approach or exceed 40 pounds, even if you have taken care to keep the base weight under reasonable control. Maybe it is just me, but I have had problems carrying weights like this in packs with an inadequate suspension; an aching and sore back being the main problem. I want a pack that is both light and will comfortably support heavier loads.

Lightning 60, photo courtesy Jacek Macias

Photo courtesy Jacek Macias

Well, here is where the Lightning 60 really shines: the suspension does a magnificent job of handling heavier loads even though the pack checks in at a very reasonable 2 lb. 8 oz. Turns out you can have your cake and eat it too! The shoulder straps are quite comfortable, the hip belt is surprisingly well padded and luxurious, and the simple adjustment system makes it easy to get a perfect fit. My suspension hero is the single aluminum stay, which is very effective at moving heavy loads off the shoulders and onto the hips. At 2.5 pounds, this pack rivals the comfort of packs I’ve used that weigh more than twice as much.

Another bonus of the single stay design is that it allows tremendous freedom for the hips to rock up and down under a load even when the hip belt is snugged up tight -- great for bushwhacking and various other canyoneering maneuvers.

I must also mention a few other nice touches. The overall profile of the pack is nice; clean and not cluttered with unnecessary features. The pack fabric is quite tough and durable for the weight. The roll-top closure is just the ticket; saves weight and works great. The stretch side pockets mounted on the hip belt are almost perfect: not too big, not too small, smooth zipper action – very useful.

I do have a few quibbles: The hydration hose port feature is somewhat awkward. In order to thread my bite valve through one opening I first had to enlarge it with scissors, though I hasten to add that my modification did not seem to affect the integrity of the opening. Even then, removing the hose remains a bit of a struggle. I did like the way a hanging pocket zipper performed as an outside port for the hose – very quick and convenient to adjust the position of the hose when I wanted to.

As with many packs on the market, the side compression straps interfere with the use of the stretch pockets mounted on the side of the pack. The user has no choice but to compress the contents of the side pouches along with the rest of the load, which is not always desirable. Just an annoyance, but it would be nice if the side pouches were easier to access when the compression straps are securing the main load.

But I found these to be minor complaints indeed. This is now my go-to lightweight backpacking pack. Looking for a cleanly designed, light pack that handles heavier loads with surprising comfort? Take a look at the Exped Lightning 60.


A Long(ish) Walk in Southern Arizona

by Dave Baker Tuesday, March 20th 2012

Great long distance backpacking in southern Arizona? Have to admit I used to think not, but that was simply due to my weak imagination. It was the Arizona Trail that first opened my mind to the enormous possibilities Arizona holds for stitching together long distance backpacking trips.


Our route – about 95 miles of walking

The AZT changed another preconception of mine – that somehow it wasn’t really hiking if you were walking a 2-track jeep trail instead of a traditional hiking path or bushwhack. The AZT quickly drives home the lesson what a valuable resource the vast network of 2-track trails are to long distance walkers in Arizona. Further enlightenment about distance walks in southern Arizona came from the Sky Islands Traverse web page where the folks who brought us the Grand Enchantment Trail show off a beautiful long distance route in southeastern Arizona.

Turkey Creek alcove

Turkey Creek alcove

With all this in mind, friend Dave and I decided to cook up a long walk from the headwaters of Aravaipa Canyon down to our homes near Tucson. Wanting to learn more about the Galiuro Mountains we picked out a route that headed almost due south from the east end of Aravaipa Canyon, taking in three magnificent Galiuro drainages: Turkey Creek, Rattlesnake Canyon, and Redfield Canyon.

Wading pool bypass

Bypassing a wading pool

Our route then turned westwards across the San Pedro River to the base of the Rincon Mountains and the seldom visited upper reaches of Espiritu Canyon which drains the northeast side of that range. From the head of Espiritu we followed cowboy trails towards the Rincon high country and finally bushwhacked to the magnificent trail network that surrounds Manning Camp. Here we picked up the Arizona Trail and followed it down past Hope Camp and finally met a ride home near Old Spanish Trail.


Trail-side agave

About 95 miles long, the route was a fine mix of trail, 2 track roads, and many miles of off-trail walking as well. A few times we were happily surprised to stumble upon unexpected paths and fence line trails when the map showed nothing but bushwhacking ahead. I must add that in several locations the off-trail terrain was very rugged and at times hazardous as well.

Rincon bushwhack

Whackin’ manzanita

I for one love off-trail travel and found many of these sections some of the very best of the trip, especially wild and rugged parts of Turkey Creek and Redfield Canyon. However, the bit between the northeast boundary of Saguaro National Park and the Rincon Mt trail network was choked with manzanita and scrub oak, drawing blood and eliciting plenty of grunting and some cursing.

Rattlesnake Canyon mining equipment

Abandoned mining equipment in upper Rattlesnake Canyon

Nine and a half days were spent on the walk, many covering eight to ten miles, picking up more miles on days when there was plenty of trail or 2-track walking. We lingered a bit in the Powers Garden – Powers Mine area, devoting extra time to explore old cabins, mine sites, and work areas that tell a mute but very compelling story of the extraordinary human effort and toil that was expended extracting a living from these remote mountain hideaways so many years ago.

Redfield Canyon

Redfield Canyon

With a start at the beginning of March, 2012 we hoped that we would find plenty of water along the way and avoid late season winter storms. Indeed, we found collectable water each and every day of the walk. Major drainages all showed water, though intermittently, and many (though not all) spring sites indicated on the map were wet too. None-the-less, with a healthy respect for potential heat and thirst, we always packed plenty of water just in case - usually starting each day with 4 or more liters even though the map might show springs and big drainages ahead.


Matate in Pipestem Canyon

Fortunately, no winter storms occurred during the walk. Given our water concerns, we tried to lighten up other parts of the pack and decided to carry summer weight sleeping bags as one way to drop some weight out. While planning the trip we saw that most of our camps would be below 6,000’, so we figured our 35 degree bags would work fine. And mostly they did work well, though we had a few nights where temps fell into the mid 20’s, and one night the thermometer hit 16 degrees before climbing higher as the sun rose. By wearing everything we had to bed and wrapping chilly feet in empty stuff sacks, we managed to get some sleep.

Redfield Canyon

Redfield Canyon wall

A stand-out part of the trip? That’s a hard call, with each and every day of the walk presenting splendid backcountry surprises. But I have to say I was especially moved by a fantastic section of Redfield Canyon downstream from the Jackson Cabin trail. The canyon here narrows dramatically, pressed in by soaring and colorful rhyolite cliffs. Immense boulders have calved from the cliffs and piled into the narrow gorge below, seemingly ending hope for any forward progress, and it is tough going indeed. Flowing water and a riot of riparian vegetation, dominated by stately cottonwood and white barked sycamores, contribute to a profound feeling of wonder and remoteness. The leafy canopy makes it difficult to see the tops of the cliffs above, but deep, somber shadows cast on the jumble of titanic boulders give the impression of being in the bottom of something very deep indeed. No place to be during flood!

Well, back home and back to the drawing board – a perfect time to start sniffing out another long walk for next spring.

Rincon vista

Rincon high country

Trails | Trips

Upper Muley Twist Canyon

by Dave Baker Thursday, September 1st 2011

Talk to just about anyone who has walked the loop trail in Upper Muley Twist Canyon in Capitol Reef National Park, and they’ll be happy to rant and rave about just how great the hike is. Hard to argue; this is certainly one of the finest and most rewarding hikes I have ever been on.

Upper Muley Twist Canyon

In Upper Muley Twist Canyon

The route includes an elegant loop which alternately pokes along the canyon bottom and then traverses the soaring rim of the Waterpocket Fold high above. There is so much to take in: a beautiful and fascinating canyon, spectacular geology, a bunch of natural arches, scattered prehistoric Native American artifacts, eye-popping panoramic views, not to mention a unique and unforgettable name – “Muley Twist”, who came up with that?

Natural arch in Upper Muley Twist Canyon

One of several arches in Upper Muley Twist

Upper Muley Twist Canyon runs just under the rim of the magnificent 100 mile long Water Pocket Fold, a gigantic geologic feature that dominates most of Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah. The trailhead for the hike is near the crest of the Fold, just off the Burr Trail Road, a great back road which runs from the Notom-Bullfrog Road in Capitol Reef to the settlement of Boulder on Utah’s highway 12.

About a mile west of the exhilarating Burr Trail Road switchbacks, turn north onto the Strike Valley Overlook Road. Passenger cars can navigate this dirt track for about 0.4 miles before it drops steeply into the bed of Upper Muley Twist Canyon. Four wheeled vehicles are needed to drive the next 2.5 miles to a small parking area at the base of the Strike Valley Overlook Trail.

Wingate sandstone in Upper Muley Twist Canyon

Wildly eroded Wingate sandstone

From the 4WD parking area, wander up the bed of Upper Muley Twist for about 1.8 miles. On the west wall of the canyon you will see Saddle Arch, and you may notice a metal sign on the east side of the wash which marks one end of the rim trail and the closing point for the big loop.

Two more miles up the bed of the canyon be alert for a bypass route marked with rock cairns leaving the wash on its east side. With this bypass, hikers avoid a narrow slot a short distance further up the canyon bottom. The cairn marked path continues up canyon until the narrows below are passed, and then drops back into the wash briefly. Not too far past the top of the narrows, watch for cairns marking the climb out of the bottom, up the east side of the canyon to the rim trail on the very crest of the Waterpocket Fold.

On the rim of the Waterpocket Fold

Walking the crest of Waterpocket Fold

Rock cairns mark the faint rim trail; follow the rim and cairns south for about 3 miles to a metal sign which marks the beginning of the descent westward to the bottom of Upper Muley Twist and the end of the loop.

Season: Fall and spring offer the best chances for pleasant outings. This area is hot in the summer and catches snow in the winter.

Water: Usually scarce; bring plenty of your own.

Note: Overnight backpacking requires a backcountry permit.

Difficulty: Moderately difficult. Those in passenger cars will park about 0.4 miles after turning off the Burr Trail Road onto the Strike Valley Overlook Road. The round trip distance from here is about 14.5 miles. Four wheel drive vehicles (and sometimes high clearance two wheel drive depending upon current conditions) can reach a parking area at the base of the Strike Valley Overlook Trail, which reduces the round trip mileage to about 9.5 miles. Elevation gain on the hike is 800 feet or so. The trail is more of a social trail than a constructed one; it pays to be watchful for the many rock cairns marking the route, especially on the rim portion of the trail.



Click map for larger image

Trails | Trips

Samaniego Peak

by Dave Baker Tuesday, May 31st 2011

Residents of Oro Valley and the town of Catalina, north of Tucson, are very familiar with stately Samaniego Ridge, which drops off the top of Mt Lemmon and stretches north in a seemingly straight line for over 8 miles before dying out beyond Charouleau Gap. The highpoint on the ridge is a prominent craggy rock outcrop – Samaniego Peak.

Samaniego Peak

Samaniego Peak

The Samaniego Ridge Trail runs north down the ridge from Mt Lemmon past the peak and then down into Charouleau Gap. However, the trail was hammered by the 2003 Aspen Fire and in the fire’s aftermath the trail bed was littered with fallen timber, overgrown with nasty brush, and quickly fell into disuse.

Samaniego Ridge & Samaniego Peak

Heading towards Samaniego Ridge

In the past few years, things began looking up for the old trail. First, the Forest Service did some work on higher elevation portions, and then volunteer work groups of mountain bikers put considerable effort into cleaning up long sections of the trail on the main ridge. There are still many sketchy sections of trail to deal with, but trips out to Samaniego Peak from the top of Mt Lemmon are once again reasonably pleasant for fit and able hikers.

On our trip to Samaniego, we followed the trail to Walnut Spring, located 0.3 miles due east of Samaniego Peak. Although Walnut Spring goes dry most years, it is surprising how often it shows water given the small watershed that feeds it.

Walnut Spring

Walnut Spring shows water in April, 2011

Once in the general vicinity of Walnut Spring, it’s time to leave the trail and bushwhack! The final push to the top of Samaniego Peak involves moving through dense brush among white granite slabs and boulders. It’s worth the effort though; the top of Samaniego Peak is surprisingly dramatic, featuring a rather small granite summit block and steep cliffs dropping off towards Oro Valley. You’ll enjoy unusual and splendid views in all directions: Oro Valley, Canada del Oro, Reef of Rock, Pusch Ridge, and Mule Ears.


Samaniego Peak - summit bushwhack


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 trailhead parking lot near the top of Mt Lemmon.

Samaniego Peak

Samaniego’s diminutive summit block

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. Follow the Mt. Lemmon trail west for about 1.6 miles to a signed junction and turn north onto the Sutherland Trail which in turn leads to a junction with the Samaniego Ridge Trail. Leave the Samaniego Ridge Trail in the general vicinity of Walnut Spring for the bushwhack to the summit blocks.

Season: Spring and fall. The trailhead is closed to vehicular access for some of the winter, and snow can obscure higher elevation sections of the route. In spite of 7000’+ elevations, this hike gets very hot on the exposed Samaniego Ridge during summer days.

Water: Water is intermittently available at Walnut Spring and just off route at Shovel Spring, perhaps 6 to 9 months out of the year. Bring plenty of your own, and treat any water you might collect.

Difficulty: Moderately difficult. About 11.5 to 12.5 miles round trip with a 1,700’+ elevation drop and then gain on the return trip. The trail is sketchy in a few places, and the scramble off trail to the summit of Samaniego Peak involves some pretty thick bushwhacking. Take care among the summit blocks; there are many steep drop offs.

Notes: This is a Forest Service fee area. This 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


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!