Little Rincon Mountains

by Dave Baker Monday, January 12th 2009

The Little Rincon Mountains lay just east the Rincon Mountains, separated from their much larger sibling by Ash Creek and Happy Valley. These “little” mountains offer a wonderfully scenic hike up a rugged, unnamed canyon, through a maze of spectacular granite rock formations, to a perched valley called Hidden Pasture. Hidden Pasture is tucked between North Star Peak and the range’s high point, Forest Hill.

Weathered rock formationis

This hike is considerably more challenging than the vital statistics would suggest, with a one way distance of about 3.5 miles and an elevation gain of 900 feet to Hidden Pasture. Though a trail has been constructed to Hidden Pasture, it has been a very, very long time since it has been regularly maintained, and it has fallen into a state of disrepair. For the first mile or so, the trial is relatively easy to follow, but higher up it is quite challenging to stay the course in the many sections where it has become obscured by washouts and brush.

Challenging as it is, the old trail offers a better route to Hidden Pasture than one finds bushwhacking through several sections of the canyon, which present a series of obstacles including waterfalls, pour-offs, huge boulders, cliff barriers, brush, cat-claw and the like.

Granite pools

This cannot be considered a trail hike. It is definitely a wilderness route and as such requires cross-country navigation skills and good judgment. Take care!

The wild granite canyon is quite beautiful, and the oak studded, grassy bottom of Hidden Pasture is a contrast to the rocky terrain leading up to it. Once at Hidden Pasture, you might decide to bushwhack the additional mile to the top of Forest Hill adding another 1,200 feet of elevation gain. Nice views of Rincon Peak, the San Pedro River valley, the Dragoons, and Paige Canyon are ample rewards for this effort.

Hidden Pasture and North Star Peak 

Hidden Pasture and North Star Peak

Park your car in a small circular pullout on the east side of Mescal Road (32.08924 N, 110.45779 W, WGS84), about 10 miles north of Exit 297 on I-10. Pick up the trail due east of the parking circle, about 20 or 30 yards uphill from the bottom of Ash Creek. Turn north on the trail, which soon swings to the northeast above a canyon heading towards Hidden Pasture. Early on, the trail passes through a gate (32.09125 N, 110.45779 W, WGS84), giving confirmation that you are on the route. At about 2.5 miles, the trail climbs high above the canyon on the right (southeast) side to avoid a few waterfalls and huge jumbled boulders in the canyon bottom. The trail passes through another gate near the beginning of this climb (32.11126 N, 110.43573 W, WGS84). After climbing steeply for a while above the gate, the trail turns and wends its way to Hidden Pasture past several large weathered rock formations.

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

Water: Seasonal and intermittent. Bring plenty of your own

Difficulty: Advanced. 3.5 miles one way with 900 feet of elevation gain to Hidden Pasture; 4.5 miles one way with 2,100 foot elevation gain to Forest Hill. Moderately strenuous. Route finding is challenging; map, compass and/or GPS are very useful. Brushy, so long pants are recommended. The trail described here is faint and difficult to follow in many places, so consider this a wilderness route rather than a trail walk. Negotiating boulder piles, cliffs and waterfalls along the route demands care and good judgment.

Maps: USGS Galleta Flats West, AZ (Route to Hidden Pasture) and USGS Happy Valley, AZ (Forest Hill); Green Trails Recreation Map - Saguaro National Park; or National Geographic Arizona digital map software.


Click map for larger image

Trails | Trails

Light Emitting Diodes

by Dave Baker Monday, January 5th 2009

Light Emitting Diode I sometimes muse, “What have been the best advances in outdoor gear?” There are plenty of candidates. Developments in material, fabrics and design have led to plenty of innovation in packs, outerwear, clothing, cooking systems, tents, and much more. And how about GPS units and digital mapping software, or the introduction of trekking poles?

But trip after trip, I find myself most appreciating the positive change that LED lights have brought to outdoor pursuits. Why do I like LED’s so much? Two words: battery life. You don’t have to go crazy worrying about how many extra batteries to bring along, even for multi-day trips. Nor do you have to obsess about rationing your use of light. No worries if you want to read books or study maps after dark for hours at a time. Others things to like about LED’s are that they are light weight and tough. A few downsides: LED’s aren’t as good at forming strong beams like the old incandescent flashlights did so well, and the light quality isn’t quite as good either.

There are a lot of great LED flashlights and headlamps out there. My current favorite is a headlamp from Black Diamond that’s been around a few years, the Spot Headlamp. I really like this headlamp because of its versatility. In proximity mode the 3 AAA batteries will run for up to 140 hours, but a super bright mode is available that I have successfully used on long night hikes. Even in super bright mode, Spot is rated to run 50 hours before exhausting the batteries.

What's your favorite LED light?


LED image from Wikipedia used under Creative Commons Attribution license.


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


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!