First test of the Suunto Ambit…

Suunto Ambit GPS watchI just received the Suunto Ambit I ordered and needed to take it out for a test drive.  I had hoped to be restarting my 30-Days-of-Running challenge by now and the Ambit would be assisting me with that, but my knee hasn’t allowed that yet.  For the past week or so my knee has been a swollen mangled mess and I’m not sure exactly what I did to it.  So while it’s recovering, I am impatiently waiting to get some training in.

Well, the knee is feeling a little better and mobility is returning but it is still extremely stiff.  I have an important hike this morning (which is why I’m typing this at 3AM) and I really needed to try to get the knee stretched out and test how much strength I really have. I decided to go for a quick bike ride yesterday.  It would allow me to test and stretch the knee, take the Ambit for a dry run AND check out a little of the new neighborhood.

lake near the bike path at Hayden Park Scottsdale

I took off from the new place in Scottsdale and took a leisurely ride around the Green Belt that runs along Hayden Road.  The biking / running trails along Hayden go for miles and see a fair amount of use.  It really nice to see so many people out biking, jogging or walking the paths.  I think we’re really going to enjoy this area.

another lake and sitting area along the bike path on Hayden Road Scottsdale

I didn’t go too far since my knee was really tender on the bike.  I was definitely stretching the limits of what I should be doing but it felt good to push it a little and let it open up.

I tracked the ride with three different devices: The new Suunto Ambit, the on-bike computer and my GPS fitness tracker app on my phone.  Each device gave me different data at the end of the ride (which is expected) and I was surprised by the gap in the final distance calculation.  The Ambit showed me traveling 7.49 miles, the on-bike tracker had me at 7.68 miles and the phone app showed 7.73 miles.  That may not seem like a lot but in only seven miles I had managed to accumulate a quarter mile discrepancy.  In a race, or tracking a specified route, this could be dangerous.

My hope is that the gap doesn’t grow with longer distances being tracked.  I will continue testing it against the other devices.  I also had some trouble getting the Heart Rate Monitor to track consistently while I was biking.  I managed to get it to recognize the device before I started but it quickly lost connection and so my HR data is very spotty.  This will be important to figure out as HR monitoring is a big part of why I wanted the Ambit in the first place.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the Ambit so far.  It’s a comfortable piece to wear, light, easy to read the display.  I like that it can cycle through a variety of custom screen options during exercise.  I really like the method by which it connects and transfers data to the computer.  Instead of having a small port which could get clogged with dirt, broken, etc. it has a clamp that lines up with 4 little contact points on the back.  Once attached, it sends the data to the computer via USB.  Easy, clean and it charges while it transfers data.  It also has an auto shut-off when it’s not being worn to save battery life.

More shots of the bike path:

The stats on each exercise are downloaded to Movescount.com where you can see all the charts and figures from your workout.  Here is my data from the bike ride:

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Tom’s Thumb and the quest for the Ogre’s Den…

My most recent quest to the McDowell’s led me to the steep trail up the boulder-clad, granite mountainside, toward the fork that would take me either east to Goat Hill, Hog Heaven and the East End or west to Windgate Pass.  My destination lied just north of the well-traveled ridge-line path to Windgate Pass.  I would journey in the shadow of the Glass Dome, along the Gardner’s wall, skirting the massive granite promontory known as Tom’s Thumb on my way to The Rist…where I would seek out the Ogre’s Den.

I love creative landmark names and some of the best names on the planet come from river runners and rock climbers.  It just so happens that the granite-strewn north end of the McDowell Mountain Range in North Scottsdale is a climbers heaven.  The north slope of the range, where my trail would take me, is littered with massive chunks of granite rock.  Some are huge exposed monoliths like Tom’s Thumb, a 150ft geological feature that is easily recognizable from almost anywhere in the valley.  Others are piles of jumbled boulders that have collapsed on each other creating a virtual playground for rock climbers.

As I had agreed to drop off some friends to an afternoon of drinking in Scottsdale, I decided I would take advantage of the opportunity and hike the trail to Tom’s Thumb.  I have visited Tom’s Thumb before, many, many years ago when I was new to the valley and had no idea what this massive feature was.  I simple knew I had seen it many times when driving in north Scottsdale and was curious as to what it looked like up close.  Not knowing, or being aware, of any trail I simply parked my truck and climbed the mountainside to reach the huge granite feature.  That was nearly 15 years ago. Now, I know the valley and I know many of the trails and landmarks and I wanted to revisit this iconic destination again…on the official trail.

horses grazing along the access roadSo I drove down the unimproved, dirt road past private property, commercial sub-divisions and open grazing land to the base of the mountain.  The area is now part of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, and there are designated trails and official rules regarding the use of the area.  Due to some construction near-by, there is a temporary access parking area for Tom’s Thumb located at the end of 128th street (signs are posted to guide you).  The parking area would potentially hold about 10-12 vehicles but there is a smaller overflow parking area just before you get to the main one which I would guess holds about 4-6 vehicles.  Luckily, this trail is not very crowded and not often accessed from the north side.  Especially when you get to visit the trail mid-week, as I did.

The trail starts at the northwest corner of the main parking area.  There is a sign to mark the way and also warns to clean up after your pets (thank you very much).  It’s a relatively easy walk at first until the trail turns sharply south and begins the switchback up the mountain.  It’s not a long trail, but it does climb aggressively up.  There are some great little side trails to small lookouts that offer great vantage points to the north.  If you’re willing to wander off trail a little, the route offers some very unique and interesting boulders and rock formations.

The main trail to the ridge-line splits and heads east to larger rock formations and climbing areas while the western trail heads further into the preserve toward Tom’s Thumb, Windgate Pass and the Gateway Trails.  There is a sign along the main trail that tells you where to turn off to visit Tom’s Thumb and the Gardner’s Wall.  Tom’s Thumb is impressive, but unless you have your climbing gear with you and the experience to use it there’s not much to do there.  I stopped at a nice boulder pile just south of Tom’s Thumb and climbed around for a while practicing some basic bouldering skills.  As I played among the boulders, I had a visitor.  Considering I had only seen one other person, an older man walking his dog, on the trail that day I was surprised to have someone appear on the trail with me.  We crisscrossed each other’s paths a couple of times before the young woman asked if I’d been here before then asked,  “Do you know where the cave is?”

I did not know where the cave was…but I had heard about it.  The Ogre’s Den is a small cave located “just off the trail past Tom’s Thumb“, according to the hiking books.  The challenge had been offered and I accepted, we WOULD find the Ogre’s Den.  Armed with an impressively vague description and no real idea where to look or what to look for, we set out “past Tom’s Thumb” to look for the cave.  I admit that I wandered cluelessly across the ridge to nearly every pile of boulders that could possibly house a small cave.  The only other clue we had was that there was supposedly wall paintings and artwork in the Ogre’s Den and as we both searched we hoped it would be obvious once it revealed itself.

We decided quickly that we had searched too far from Tom’s Thumb and headed back, hiking around the south side of The Rist where, on a hunch, I followed a small game-trail up the south side of The Rist and stumbled upon a shallow hollow in the rock, with a well-worn floor and artwork painted on the rock walls.  I called my discovery down to my new companion who quickly scrambled up the path to join me in the Ogre’s Den.  We spent a few minutes exploring the small cave, finding a small shelf in the rock where past visitors have left offerings, presumably to the resident Ogre.  There is also a small decorative box next to a pile of spent ballpoint pens, with paper on which to scrawl your appeals to fickle Ogre.

Tom's Thumb monument

Tom’s Thumb…

I climbed out of the cave through a small crag above the offering shelf and found myself at the shoulder of the main trail through The Rist.  I had passed within feet of the Ogre’s Den and had never suspected it’s location was so close.  Laughing at my own inability to discover the feature we were after, we headed back the way we had come.  My new friend had parked at the same trailhead and I now had a trail companion on the return to my truck.  As much as I am a fan of solo-hiking, there is something fun about meeting a fellow hiker, sharing conversation and swapping stories.  Especially when you’ve just successfully completed a quest together!

Tom’s Thumb – McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Scottsdale, Arizona

Some trailhead parking. From Phoenix head east on 101 to Pima, north on Pima Road to Dynamite and east on Dynamite to 128th Street.  Head south on the unimproved dirt road following the signs to the parking lot trailhead.

Trail Length: 3 mile round-trip (without the extra wandering around)
Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
Difficulty: Easy at the top, moderate to strenuous up the mountain
Open: Year-round.

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Camelback Mountain Summit via Cholla Trail…

East view from the Saddle near the Heli-Pad...

Camelback Mountain sits firmly in the middle of the Phoenix Metro area and is bordered by Phoenix, Scottsdale and Paradise Valley.  It’s central location and prominent shape make it incredibly enticing, attracting over 300,000 recreational visitors each year.  Located on the north side of Camelback Mountain is a shallow cave, or grotto, where the ancient Hohokams practiced religious rituals.  This fact, coupled with the mountain’s mystique have led some to refer to Camelback as the Sacred Mountain.  During the late 1800s, the federal government reserved Camelback Mountain for an Indian reservation.  By the 1940’s most of the land had fallen to private ownership. Gary Driggs, a local resident with a close association with the mountain, has fought to protect the mountain, successfully, since the early 1950’s.  The area has been off-limits to developers since the mid 1968, thanks to Driggs and the  Preservation of Camelback Mountain Foundation led by Barry Goldwater.  A ceremony was held in 1968 in honor of the mountain’s preservation and was attended by President Johnson (the First Lady was said to have hiked Cholla Trail in high heals).  The Phoenician, a world-famous resort built-in 1988, sits right at the south-eastern base of the mountain and it’s golf course wraps around to the north-east side near the trailhead.

Camelback’s accessibility is what makes it so dangerous.  Novice hikers, weekend warriors and clueless urbanites have all flocked, at one time or another, to the mountain in the middle of the city for an easy afternoon workout in the sun.  Many of them come unprepared.  Camelback is no walk in the park and for those who arrive with insufficient water, improper footwear and a lack of respect may find themselves on the evening news.  Every year, rescue crews respond to dozens of calls of stranded, injured or missing hikers at Camelback Mountain.  People think that because the trails are in the city that there is somehow less danger here.  In the summer of 2009, rescue crews were called out to Camelback over a dozen times in a single day, most related to dehydration.

climbing the "spine"...

Access to the Cholla Trail requires parking roadside on 64th Street just north of Camelback Road.  This area fills up quick throughout the year so plan to add an extra couple of miles to your overall hike.  The trailhead is located about a half-mile down Cholla Lane on the south side of the road.  The beginning of the trail actually wraps around part of the Phoenician’s golf course.  Then you start your climb, gradual at first, up rock steps and a narrow trail.  At peak season much of this trail can be crowded forcing people to stop along the narrow path to let oncoming traffic by.

yes, those are people on the summit...

Once the rocky trail crawls around to the first lookout, you are at the eastern-most point on the trail and it cuts back to the west towards the summit.  Watch your footing through this area because even though the trail is well-worn and not technical, there is plenty of loose rock and uneven ground to twist an unsuspecting ankle.  On much of this trail, a bad step could send you reeling down the mountain, other times it may just mean a bad fall into an angry cactus.  The climb is consistently uphill, though not steep at this point.  Not until you’ve reached the saddle, about halfway up, does the trail become technical.  From the saddle, route finding is accomplished by following old painted blue dots on the occasional rock.  Following the dots, you climb up the spine of the mountain.  “Spine” is a good description of this ridge-line since it’s mostly jagged, broken granite jutting into the sky like vertebrae.  This portion of the hike is especially dangerous and I’ve known many hikers who have turned back.  If you suffer from even a marginal fear of heights, the trail to the summit can be too much.

If you’ve never done the hike before, the summit sort of sneaks up on you.  You’ve made climb after climb thinking “this is it!” only to see more climbing before you.  Then all of a sudden, there you are…with everyone else!  The Echo Canyon Trail also reaches the summit (from the west side) and you often find yourself on a very busy, crowded, chat-filled rock wondering where all these wheezing, sweat-soaked people came from.  The crowd is usually pretty eclectic.  Being in the middle of the city, you’ll have people in business clothes, Yoga gear, shorts, jeans, bathing suits and, yes, even in their underwear.  All tired, sweaty and happy to have reached the top in one piece.

I usually sit at the top for at least a few minutes, check my time, maybe take a picture or two and just enjoy the view.  The summit offers some amazing 360 degree views of the Phoenix area.  Timing your hike to be able to see a sunrise, or sunset from the mountain is a must in my book.  Whenever you hike it though, be sure you come prepared, have respect for the dangers on this mountain and try to leave it just the way you found it.

Sunrise from Camelback Mountain...

 

Cholla Trail at Camelback Mountain.

No trailhead parking. Street parking limited at Invergordon and 64th Street. Hikers must walk up the south side of Cholla Lane. Cholla Trail is only recommended for experienced hikers and has steep, rocky sections with drop-offs on both sides of the trail.

Trail Length: 1.5 miles (from the trailhead)
Elevation Gain: 1,250 feet
Difficulty: Strenuous
Open:
Oct. 1 to April 30 th: 7:30 a.m-5: 30pm
May 1 to Sept 30 th: 5:30 am- 7:30 pm

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