Banff Film Festival and Pima Trails Association

by Dave Baker Thursday, April 2nd 2009

This past Friday evening, March 27, the Summit Hut hosted the Banff Mountain Film Festival for the 11th consecutive year in Tucson. Nearly 1,000 people filled the historic Fox Theatre to watch 7 films which ranged in length from 3 to 55 minutes.

My favorite film of the night was Patagonian Winter, the story of a failed attempt by two British mountaineers to make the first winter ascent of Torre Egger. The scenery was spectacular and the conditions truly daunting, but what set the film apart for me was the delightful humor expressed throughout by the two climbers, Andy Kirkpatrick and Ian Parnell.

I was also surprised at my own reaction to Journey to the Center, a film documenting the first BASE jump into an incredibly deep limestone cavity in the middle of China known as the Heavenly Pit. As each jumper committed to releasing himself into the misty void, I couldn’t help but get anxious.


Without a doubt however, the most lasting impact of the evening came courtesy of all the attendees through their ticket purchases. The Summit Hut was pleased and proud to donate $1,000 of the proceeds to Pima Trails Association, a volunteer advocacy group that has worked hard for the past twenty years to protect trails and to insure public access to public wild lands all through Pima County.

Thousands of us enjoy the fruits of their effort every year. For example, Pima Trails Association was involved in preserving access to Ventana Canyon, Finger Rock Canyon, Agua Caliente Hill, and Fantasy Island to name just a very few.

This organization merits your support; their work is an immeasurably valuable gift for all outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy the wild lands of southern Arizona. Pima Trails Association has a number of projects in progress. Learn about these projects and how you help on their website.


The Miracle

by Dave Baker Monday, March 30th 2009

Milagrosa means “miraculous” in Spanish and indeed, it is a little miraculous to find such a pleasant loop hike tucked away in the far northeast corner of the Tucson valley. The hike dips in and out of both Agua Caliente Canyon and La Milagrosa and cruises ridge tops on both sides of the canyons as it traces its loop. On the ridges the trail sports views of canyons, towering cliffs, and the city of Tucson. Both drainages can show seasonal water and pools, and many hikers forego the loop trail and linger near the water in the canyon bottoms. This is a low elevation hike, one to avoid in summer heat.

Agua Caliente Canyon

Seasonal water in Agua Caliente Canyon

To reach the trailhead, turn east off the Catalina Highway onto Snyder Road and drive for about 1.4 miles before turning left (north) onto Avenida de Suzenu. Park where Avenida de Suzenu dead ends into Horsehead Road near signs warning that night time parking is prohibited. (Public parking is prohibited at all times east along Horsehead Road; please respect this private property.)

Loop Trail 

Agua Caliente – La Milagrosa loop trail

From the parking area, walk east along Horsehead Road through a residential area for about 0.6 mile till it ends at Wentworth Road. Just past Wentworth step east across a fence near a metal gate, cross Molino Wash and then hike east up a jeep road that contours around a hillside. The jeep trail soon passes a small abandoned rock house and then reaches an intersection with another jeep trail taking off left (north) up a ridge. This intersection marks the beginning and end of the Agua Caliente Canyon – La Milagrosa loop trail. We are describing the loop in a counter-clockwise direction, so bear right at the intersection and continue to the wash below. After crossing the wash, the trail turns left (east) just before a gate marked with a “Private Property” sign. Four or five hundred yards later the trail abruptly turns right (south) and switchbacks very steeply to a ridge top above before continuing east about 1.4 miles to a trail junction. Turn left (north) at the junction and begin the descent into the bed of Agua Caliente Canyon. Once in the creek bed, the trail heads upstream a few hundred yards before leaving the bottom again and switchbacks up the north side of the canyon to the ridge top between Agua Caliente and La Milagrosa. The trail passes another junction (stay left) as it works west back towards the beginning of the hike. Before closing the loop, the trail crosses La Milagrosa, finally descending a broad ridge to the jeep trail junction.

Above La Milagrosa

Saguaro sentinels above La Milagrosa

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

Water: There can be seasonal flows in Agua Caliente Canyon and La Milagrosa but bring plenty of your own.

Difficulty: Moderate. The full loop is about 6.1 miles long with an elevation gain of about 1,200 feet including all the ups and downs in and out of Agua Caliente and La Milagrosa.

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


Click map for larger image


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.


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!