National Geographic BioBlitz – Saguaro National Park

by frank Thursday, October 27th 2011

On October 21st, Saguaro National Park hosted visitors, scientists, researchers, volunteers and students from across the country in an effort to inventory as many species as possible inside the park. I was able to participate in the event as a “Photo Ambassador” – which was fancy BioBlitz-speak for “guy with a camera”. As I made my way to BioBlitz on Friday morning, I was incredibly excited and inspired by the number of children participating in the event. There was bus-load after bus-load of kids enjoying displays of gila monsters, bugs and other desert creatures!

Basecamp, which is known as the Saguaro National Park Visitor Center the other 51-weeks of the year, was an amazing arena of science, discovery, festivities and camaraderie. At 11:30am they had an opening ceremony featuring Billy B – the “Natural Science Song and Dance Man” – singing and dancing with the kids. The ceremony also had speeches from the director of Saguaro National Park, a VP from National Geographic, and other dignitaries.

After the ceremony I made my way to the Science Tent to check in with the photo team. I skimmed the schedule for the next inventory and saw an insect team was heading out at 12:30pm. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I was not all that excited about going on a quest for tiny insects – it wasn’t as glamorous-sounding as tracking large mammals. However, I ended up having an amazing time – thanks, almost entirely, to the scientists on our team. Our crew consisted of 13 people. Four children, three volunteer adults, a writer from National Parks Magazine, two professional photographers, myself and two scientists from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago – Doug Taron and Celeste Troon.

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As we set out through a wash behind Basecamp, Doug and Celeste’s passion was quite apparent – as was the exuberance of the children! The kids had a great time running up and down the wash pointing out every little creature they could find. We came across some spiders, grasshoppers, ants, butterflies and more – all of which Doug was spouting off fancy-sounding names for as Celeste jotted them down on the list.

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Throughout the day the scientists used several techniques to identify each specimen. Some were kept in jars for further research, some were photographed, and some were sufficiently identified in the field. When they were placed into containers, they were passed around the group so everyone could get a better look. Doug and Celeste were incredibly patient with those of us who know nothing about bugs and were more than happy to answer questions about everything from bugs to what they do in their jobs back in Chicago.

After about 3 hours of wandering the desert in search of bugs, we made our way back to Basecamp. There, we indulged in an incredibly tasty Prickly Pear Eegee (for those of you not from Tucson, it’s a delicious frozen fruit drink that doesn’t usually come in Prickly Pear flavor). I checked back in at the Photo Ambassadors table and uploaded my photos and made my way back to town.

The results of the inventory are still being finalized but at this point there were over 800 species inventoried, over 400 of which were new to the Saguaro National Park species list, and a few of those were potentially never-before documented. It was incredibly special to be a part of this great event. It was put on by an exceptionally passionate and dedicated team of hundreds from National Geographic, the National Parks Service, Friends of Saguaro National Park, and other supporters. Then there was the huge number of scientists and an impressive number of volunteers. Thanks to everyone who was part of this effort and I hope those of you that participated had as great of an experience as I did!

Events

Salome Canyon

by frank Monday, September 12th 2011

A few weeks ago, a group of us took a little canyoneering journey up to Salome Canyon. For those of you who may not know, canyoneering is an adventure activity that essentially entails making your way down the bottom of a canyon - by any means necessary. Sometimes that means hiking, sometimes it's sliding and sometimes there are technical rappels involved. Canyoneering is picking up steam as a mainstream activity but has long been an incredibly popular activity in the "adventure travel" realm, with canyoneering (or canyoning) being wildly popular in adventure destinations like Switzerland, Argentina, Costa Rica, and closer-to-home Zion. My first canyoneering experience came in Interlaken, Switzerland in 2007. This was definitely a tourist-centric trip but got me hooked on the sport! 

Salome is in the Salome Creek Wilderness north of Roosevelt Lake. There is only one necessary rappel – at the very end of the canyon – but there are plenty of scrambles, slides and swims! Although this was my first time down the canyon, it wasn’t Dave’s first and he was very quick to point out the water was incredibly low. Water levels here, as well as in most desert canyons, can vary drastically! If water levels are high, or if there is a chance of storms, it is probably best not to attempt the canyon.

The following video was put together using video shot by all members of our party – we had a blast and will definitely be back!


Necessary Gear: You WILL get wet! All of your stuff WILL get wet! If there is anything that needs to stay dry (electronics, wallet, etc) leave it in the car or put it in a dry bag -- or better yet, a canyon keg! There are tons of products out there made specifically for canyoneering, by brands like Imlay Canyon Gear, and all of them will make your day more enjoyable in some way. In our crew packs ranged from a pack made for canyoneering, to a simple CamelBak pack. All will get the job done! Footwear is also a matter of personal preference. I opted for my Chacos, Dave was wearing boots. About 150 feet of rope will get you through the one rappel. Also bring some webbing and be comfortable setting up an anchor at the rappel bolts. 

The Hike: The approach to the canyon is just about two miles (downhill on the way in - grueling uphill when you're on your way back, tired and hot!). The canyon itself is relatively short, about one mile, but can take some time, especially if you enjoy sliding down granite slides! We did the entire trip from car to car in just about 5 hours.

Directions: From Tucson, head north on Oracle Road (Hwy. 77) to Globe. Take Hwy. 60 west toward Superior, drive north on Hwy. 88. After 15 miles, turn right on Hwy. 288 toward Young. After 13 miles, turn left on Forest Road 60, also known as A Cross Road.  Watch for a brown forest service sign on the right side of the road. There is a small parking area next to the sign. Jug Trail #61 begins just beyond the sign.

Activities | Trails | Trips

Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile

by frank Wednesday, April 6th 2011

On Monday morning, December 27th (in celebration of one month of marriage), my new bride (Rachael) and I set out on a backpacking trip to the highlights of Torres del Paine National Park in southern Chile called “The W”. The first couple miles are all uphill and we hadn’t been hiking much with all the wedding and honeymoon planning. After a couple hours we were left feeling a bit dejected at the first trail sign. However, we had apparently reached the crest of the trail and the next several miles were downhill and went by rather quickly. We hit our first refugio at around 2pm. Refugios are much like Mountain Huts in the US, but are quite fancy (and expensive) but they also have less expensive campgrounds next to them. We paid to camp here so we could leave our gear and head further up to the Mirador Las Torres (Lookout). The last half mile or so to the lookout was really steep but once we made it over the ridge to the lookout, all the exhaustion went away! The view was absolutely amazing. Three huge towers sticking out nearly 2000 meters above an almost teal glacial lake. After a long break and tons of pictures, we made our way back down to our camp. We made dinner and were in bed by 9:45pm…and it was still light as day!

Torres Del Paine
Rachael and I at the Towers

The next morning we set out on what would turn into our longest day of the trip. A brief uphill was followed by a LONG, sunny day of downhill hiking. We reached a refugio at around 6:30pm and as we’ve been known to do, we said “we can keep going”! We continued on to Camp Italiano. We made it to camp at around 8:30pm. This campground is a free campground with no amenities. It had a bathroom and a small cooking “shed” but not much else…oh, and lots of tents! There were probably 30 or 40 other tents the nights we were there, and this was apparently a slow night.

After a great night of sleep, we hit the trail a bit after noon and made our way up the French Valley. The French Valley is a canyon lined from top to bottom with hanging glaciers. There are two lookouts that are the main highlights of the canyon. The first lookout was at the base of a large glacier and we were lucky enough to see it calve a few times. It was amazing to be able to hear the ice crashing down the cliffs. As we hit the second lookout we had just pulled out the stove to start to make lunch when we realized we didn’t have any of our utensils with us, which makes it quite difficult to stir and eat a freeze dried meal! So, armed with a pocket knife and a pringles can, we made our own spoon. We probably couldn’t patent the idea but we enjoyed our lunch! After lunch we quickly made our way back down the valley to the first lookout. At this point we were the only ones there and the weather had taken a slight turn for the worse. We got a little bit of rain but it didn’t seem threatening and the views were just as amazing. We got back to the tent, cooked our dinner and went to bed.

French Valley Panoramic
French Valley Panoramic (Click on the image to see full size)
Our Make-Shift Spoon
Our Make-Shift Spoon

The next day was rather uneventful and we made it in to camp by 3pm. This lodge was also one of the options for getting off the trail once we were done. They have a catamaran that runs across the lake to the main park road. We were trying to figure out what our best option was since there was also a boat from the next refugio but we knew it would be a little more expensive. As we started doing the math…it added up to more than we had (and everyone only took cash unless you spent over $60)! It was the strangest feeling to realize that we were in the middle of all these people, tons of food, great lodging, and we couldn’t buy any of it! We convinced the lodge to let us pay with a credit card but we had to also buy dinner, which was another $40! But it gave us a little extra cash and we also found out we could probably pay for the more expensive boat ($70 per person) with a credit card. We were once again feeling pretty good about our chances of getting out of the park!

Campsite
Campsite near Lodge Paine Grande

That night we finally got to experience some of the infamous Patagonian Winds! Neither of us slept too well as we were constantly woken up by 50+ MPH winds shaking our tent! I was quite impressed with how well our Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 stood up to the challenge! For a two pound tent it did pretty well! The next morning the winds were still howling and we had a little bit of rain but by the time we hit the trail, the rain was gone and all that remained was a horrific headwind! We spent the next several hours walking directly into 50 MPH winds! We covered up the best we could to avoid wind burn with our Beanies over our heads, sunglasses over our eyes, and our rain jackets zipped up to our nose.  We also threw on some gloves for good measure and began our trek up the trail.  Every so often the trail would duck into the forest and would shelter us from the wind which was bitter-sweet as we would instantaneously begin to cook from the sun and lack of breeze.  So we found ourselves shedding our gloves and hats only to turn the corner back into the wind where we would re-layer ourselves.

Rachael Walking Into The Wind
Rachael Walking Into The Wind

We finally made it to the first outlook which was a huge rock outcropping sheltered by nothing that looked over Lago Grey, the lake created by Glacier Grey.  This brought on the 70+MPH winds as we struggled to stay standing there long enough to take in the icebergs and sneak-peak of the Glacier.  We made it to the refugio and decided we’d better check with the boat that left from this campground to make sure they would still run the following day, New Years Day. Upon confirmation they ran on the 1st and that they accepted Credit Card we felt much better and decided to enjoy our last* full day in the park by sitting at the Mirador (lookout) of the Glacier while eating lunch before heading to the free Camp Site, Campo Los Guardos.  We arrived to the campsite and to our surprise were greeted with another amazing Mirador (lookout) looking directly at the Glacier from only a few hundred yards away.  We sat and relaxed until just before sunset when we got back to camp, cooked our last freeze-dried dinner and set our alarm for midnight, as we knew we were destined to fall asleep from being so tired.  Finally at 1:45am we heard the alarm, woke up, said our happy new years and Rachael went back to sleep while I decided to try to get a few pictures of the stars outside. 

Rachael at Glacier Grey
Rachael at Glacier Grey

The next morning, New Years Day, brought the return of beautiful weather and much less wind. We got up a little later than planned but still plenty early to tear down camp and make our way back down to the refugio. The hike that took 2 hours a day earlier took us almost exactly an hour and we got to the refugio at around 11am. We made the last of our freeze dried food, a blueberry cheesecake, for lunch (amazing!) and waited for the boat. As the boat pulled up to shore people seemed to appear out of nowhere to line up and we quickly realized we were the only ones without reservations. As one of the crew stepped out of the boat to hand out lifejackets, he started taking names. When we told him we didn’t have reservations, he told us the boat was full. I’m pretty sure he could see the devastation in our eyes as we both dropped our bags to the ground. He told us to wait a minute and as soon as everyone else had gotten on the boat he told us that we could get on but not to tell anyone we didn’t have reservations and he warned us there wouldn’t be seats for us. We said that was fine we didn’t mind standing! So aboard the cruise we went, not really knowing what was going to happen, but then again, it didn’t really matter, we were getting back to civilization!

The cruise was amazing! The captain brought the boat right up to the glacier within about 100 yards as the crew used a fishing net to scoop up small icebergs. Later, another crew member passed out pisco sours and whiskeys using the glacier ice!

Toasting with Glacier Ice
Toasting with Glacier Ice

As we enjoyed our drink we started chatting with the crew member who let us on the boat and found out his name was Lucas. We chatted a bit about the park and our trip. Then we asked him what we needed to do when we got to the other side. He told us that if he took us in to the reception area to pay that he would get in trouble for taking too many people on the boat…so our trip would be free (saving $140)! After a short chat he realized we “sure hadn’t planned all that well”…but he also said “sometimes you can plan, plan, plan but it’s when you don’t plan that things work out perfect”. Thus the motto of our trip became “it’s just like Lucas says”. We made it to administration (after hitchhiking) and found out we’d have to wait another hour and a half for the last shuttle of the day. At this point we started to worry that we wouldn’t make it out of the park if we had to go get a bag we had left at the start of the trail and our concerns of no cash and no food quickly returned! We came to terms with the idea of camping one more night by telling ourselves we were saving money on another night of lodging! We ended up lucking into a free shuttle ride to the hotel which brought the day’s savings up to nearly $200 and gave us a few extra dollars in cash to spend on food for the night and the next morning, so we bought some pasta and chips for dinner and set up camp for one more “last time”.

The next morning we organized our packs, wandered around the gift shop, worked on our travel journal and waited for the 2pm shuttle. Everything worked out and we made it to the 2:30pm bus back to Puerto Natales…where we didn’t have a hostel reservation for the night! We got into town and walked to the B&B we had stayed at a week earlier…no luck. We turned the corner and saw a nice sign that read “Casa Lucy Bed & Breakfast” and decided to check it out. As soon as we walked in we were greeted by two very excited women (mother & daughter) and quickly found out they did have a room for us. They both seemed really excited to have us and we soon found out they are new to the business and have only been open a month. The room was gorgeous, and huge! Breakfast was amazing, and huge!

I guess it really is just like Lucas says…

Trips

Banff Film Festival & Summit Hut Grant Recipients

by frank Thursday, March 31st 2011

First off, I want to offer a big thank you to everyone who came out to this year’s Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour at the historic Fox Theatre. I hope you all enjoyed the evening and left feeling inspired to get out there and enjoy your own adventure.

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Sold out crowd of 1150 at the beautiful Fox Theatre

The evening of films was filled with some incredible characters, Ueli Steck is just an incredible climber and his speed ascent of the Eiger made for possibly the most amazing moment of the night. And we can probably all agree that we now know more about paragliding than we ever thought we would - but what an incredible ordeal!

As the result of a sold-out crowd we were able to donate $5,500 to local non-profit groups as part of a grant program. We here at Summit Hut are incredibly grateful for all the amazing work our five finalists do in our community, and incredibly thankful for your support of this year’s grant. Each and every one of the five finalists, and the other 15 applicants, do wonderful things for the Tucson area. Everything from trail maintenance to getting our area’s youth outside. I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight, in a little more detail, our three runners-up and our two winners.

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Our finalists on stage with Summit Hut owner Dana Davis.

Each of our three runners-up were awarded $250 in partnership with Patagonia as well as a $250 Summit Hut gift card.

Inner City Outings: The folks at ICO do an amazing job getting kids outside, most of whom would otherwise have no chance to do so. As a subsidiary of the Sierra Club, they partner with local schools and youth agencies to lead hiking, camping, kayaking, caving, mountain biking and many other adventures.

Friends of Kartchner Caverns State Park: Kartchner Caverns State Park is definitely a gem of our region. Friends of Kartchner is dedicated to advocating preservation of the caverns through research, education and public awareness. They are also responsible for docent training and scientific research at the caverns.

Sonoran Desert Weedwackers: The Weedwackers started in 2000 as a small group committed to remove non-native grasses in Tucson Mountain Park. Now, they are the hosts of the incredibly well known Beat Back Bufflegrass Day and have been incredibly productive in removing tons of invasive grasses.

The two winners of this year’s grant were each awarded checks for $2,000.

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Our winners, Southern Arizona Rescue Association and Tucson Wildlife Center.

 

Southern Arizona Rescue Association: SARA is an incredible group of men and women who all volunteer their time to provide a vital service to our outdoor community. Members go through extensive training to be able to perform rescues under just about any conditions Southern Arizona could throw at them. This team of dedicated volunteers responds to over 100 search and rescue missions each year which results in over 4,400 hours of their time at absolutely no expense to taxpayers. Just about every one of us who has been enjoying the outdoors around Tucson for any amount of time has had some sort of interaction with this team. I know I’ve run into members of the SARA team out on the trail and here in the store and every single one of them is excited about the opportunity to do what they do, and on top of that, they are all genuinely nice people. They are all great people and obviously dedicated to providing a great service to those in need. They also have some wonderful outreach programs including the nationally acclaimed Hug-A-Tree system for educating children about outdoor safety. If you are interested in learning more about SARA, they host a monthly meeting at 7:30 pm the first Friday of each month at their SARA House near Sabino Canyon.

Tucson Wildlife Center: The team over at Tucson Wildlife Center was established in 1998 and is dedicated to rescue, rehabilitation and release of injured and orphaned wild animals. Specializing in birds of prey and javelina, this team of specially trained and passionate people is able to handle large and potentially dangerous animals. Since the first year, the center has rehabilitated between 250 and 300 animals per year. TWC also has a 24/7 emergency help line and a 24-hour emergency room. All services are provided free to the public. They also conduct wonderful educational programs out in the community which include live animals and provide wonderful information to children and adults alike. In working with Lisa and her team for a couple events, it has become incredibly evident that they are as dedicated as it comes. They are committed to the care, rescue and rehabilitation of the majestic wildlife of the Tucson area and love to share their passion with the community. And as an aside, they also have some of the cutest animal pictures in the world!

Events

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!

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