The summit of Mt. Kimball is a Tucson landmark, and a must do for all serious Tucson hikers. Finger Rock canyon provides the most direst route to the peak and is famous for it's unrelenting elevation gain (and dramatic views of the Finger). Pima Canyon also climbs it's way to the summit of Kimball, a longer and more prolonged trip. The very best of both worlds exists within a horseshoe type shuttle hike combining both, with Mt. Kimball at the apex. Of course one could go either way, but by climbing up Finger Rock canyon and descending Pima the highlights of each trail are maximized. Climbing Finger Rock Canyon is something you must simply do and is pure climbing, grinding, fighting heaven. The most direct, steep route to Kimball with dramatic views along the canyon the whole way is best appreciated by partaking of it's grueling ascent. Descending Pima Canyon maximizes a (slightly) more gradual descent and puts the world class views of upper Pima Canyon in your face the whole way down. Putting together this route is a must-do for all Tucson/Catalina hikers.
This is a shuttle hike that departs the Finger Rock trailhead and arrives at the Pima Canyon trailhead. The Finger Rock canyon trail takes off from the trailhead and almost immediately comes to a signed intersection with the Pontatoc Ridge/Canyon trail to the right. Stay left on Finger and head out across the desert to the very obvious canyon in front of you. There are great views of Pontatoc Ridge as you go. You pass through low desert here as you slowly gain elevation and begin to enter the lowest part of the canyon on the west side. There is the opportunity for a little bit of water here in the drainage. There are nice rock formations and boulders along the trail as well. In the spring there is a lot of brittlebush. As you near about 1 mile from the trailhead the trail crosses over the canyon bottom to the east side and the canyon begins to narrow down...you've entered Finger Rock canyon. Shortly there is an unmarked trail junction. The real trail breaks right and up. A little spur heads straight to Finger Rock Spring. There are some nice cottonwoods here and good views of the Finger. Go right/up and get ready...it's time to climb Finger Rock Canyon.
The next mile and a half epitomize Finger Rock canyon... you climb and climb up the east side of the canyon. Sometimes you switchback, sometimes you just go up. Elevation is your friend. The views along the canyon get better and better, as do the views of Tucson behind you. Above all else, the views of the Finger, Prominent Pointe and The Finger Rock Guard just dominate. At about 2.55 miles from the trailhead you reach an overlook poking slightly into the canyon. The views up and down the canyon are probably the best here. A use path breaks off down the east wall of the canyon on it's way to the Finger itself. This is a nice rest spot, with a grassy shelf all around you. From here the trail breaks hard right and parallels a side drainage coming in from the east. This short level section is wonderful after the hard climb you just did (you've gained over 2000 feet already). You are now heading to Linda Vista and entering pinon & juniper country. The trail breaks back left, crossing over the drainage and heading back towards the main canyon. An unmarked, short side trail breaks right and heads to Linda Vista at 2.9 miles. This is a nice southerly saddle with great views over the Tucson Valley. Stay left on the main trail and keep going.
As you continue past the vista and climb up the higher reaches of Finger Rock canyon you are now fully in full-on pinon and juniper country. There is some nice shade along the way here. The east wall of the upper canyon towers over you with all sorts of nice rock formations, many of the them green hued from moss. Eventually the trail levels out just briefly and you actually cross over the canyon floor onto the west side again and enter a slightly different section of trail as you hike away from Finger Rock Canyon. The ground becomes a bit more sandy and the manzanita pick up. The shade is gone. It gets steep again, very steep in fact. This is the final push to the junction with the Pima Canyon trail. There are nice rock formations and hodoos scattered about. The trail just keeps going up, almost crazily it seems at times. You are heading to a saddle and the signed junction with the Pima Canyon trail. This is about 4.3 miles from the trailhead and roughly 6845 feet, you've gained a good 3700+ feet so far and you're getting close.
Hang a left at the junction and head northwest towards Mt. Kimball. The trail is easy to follow and it continues to climb into oak and pine forest. Wonderful shade is back. The trail is climbing up the southern slope of Kimball. Just after scooting up a short, rocky slope that feels like you just climbed Half Dome, you come to an umarked trail junction. This is about 4.9 miles and 7200 feet. Take a right and follow this path for a few minutes as it winds around the top of 7255 foot Mt. Kimball. Eventually this little trail deposits you on the northeast part of Kimball with an explosive 180 degree panorama of Pusch Ridge. Near vertical cliffs drop off hundreds of feet to the north and east opening up views of Window Peak, Cathedral Rock and Mt. Lemmon. In the distance you can see the highpoints of the Rincons to the east. Oro Valley is in plain sight to the north. West you can catch the peak of Table Mountain. Take it all in, rest and power up. Watch for rock squirrels on top too.
After righting yourself head back the way you come down the use path back to the junction with Pima Canyon trail. You've hiked a clean 5 miles now and eaten up roughly 4155 feet.
Leaving the summit of Mt. Kimball and the views it offers behind is a hard thing to do, but fear not. The trail segment you are about to embark upon offers views unlike anywhere else in the Front Range, and maybe even anywhere in the Catalinas. Return to the Pima/Finger Rock trail junction and turn West (right) onto the Pima Canyon trail. The trail begins to wind its way through a mixed scrub and pinyon forest that is occasionally studded with Chihuahua Pine. The consistency of the trail and the vegetation will likely remind those familiar of hiking in the elevation near Windy Point in the Catalinas. There are frequent bouts of overhead cover and many excellent places to stop and take in awesome views of Table Mountain, Pusch Peak, and Alamo and Montrose Canyons to the North towered over by a colorful, unnamed peak of rock opposite Pima Saddle. The trail continues a gentle descent toward Pima Saddle until it begins to wind north, at which point the grade increases, slightly. Pima canyon opens below you, now, offering stunning views of the upper portion of the canyon, delineated by the ridgeline descending from Prominent Point, roughly halfway between trailhead and saddle. The trail staggers over a few gusseted areas and tree roots until it finally approaches Pima Saddle, roughly 1 1/2 miles from Kimball. As you approach the saddle, any direction you point your camera is the "right one", there are so many awesome views to take in.
Just the final short descent into the saddle, a small social trail cuts to the left (West) of the main trail and allows a hiker to take a necessary detour to pay homage to the great protector of travelers in the Catalinas. There, watching over the canyon on a small rock outcropping sits a solemn marble toad figurine. The Tohono O'odham (Cousin Tribe to the Akimel O'odham, or Pima, after whom the trail and much of this part of the state is named) call the Catalinas: "Babad Do'ag" or "Frog Mountain". Some say this is because the profile of the Catalinas resembles a toad. I was told by an older member of the O'odham tribe a few years back that the O'odham believe that a toad was frozen into stone after trying to cross the landscape between the Santa Cruz and Gila rivers (Locations of Tohono and Akimel communities). The toad didn't want others to face the same fate so he gives refuge for travelers in his trees and water in his streams. The woman who told me this story said she had heard it from her grandmother, as had many others. Wise travelers will give the toad an offering by washing the small figurine off and embracing the beautiful view he quietly oversees. You might just be rewarded with a safe trip down canyon.
After visiting the toad, the trail quickly approaches Pima saddle, marked by a small, torch-cut sign. One thing to note about this section of trail is that it falls into the USFS Bighorn Sheep Management Area. From January to April every year travel more than 400 feet from the trail is prohibited. An unmarked trail continues beyond the saddle and offers views of the northern ranges of the Catalinas after a short jaunt. After descending about 100 meters from the saddle, the trail crosses over the canyon and meets Pima Spring. The spring itself is hidden beneath a rock outcropping, and resembles an abandoned mineshaft. A pipe emanates from it and provides what has always been a year-round trickle of water. Enjoy the scenery and sanctuary from the sun this spot provides, as the trail is going to start to descend and become more exposed. The trail leaves the spring on the south wall of the canyon and begins a rapid descent. Some hiking guide books describe this area as among the toughest climbs in the Catalinas, but this is a gross exaggeration. The trail is very passable and well-beaten. This down-climb is the only section of the trail that approaches "Class 2", the remainder of the Pima Canyon trail is definitively "Class 1" (Using the Yosemite Decimal System). After descending away from the trees the trail crosses the stream course and follows the north wall of the canyon for a time, meandering around small boulders and wading its way through the scrub and grass that dominate the area. Some gullies are present, but none are deep or wide.
After another quarter-mile or so, the trail reconnects to the stream course and crosses back to the north side of the canyon. At this crossing, hidden on one of the higher boulders, sits a small stone dam built by the AZ Fish and Game Department in the 60's as a year-round tank for wildlife. This is the second, and smaller, such dam in the canyon. The area around the dam offers little protection from the sun, but is still worth a short visit. The trail continues a rolling descent for another mile and a half through the grassland and crosses the stream course two or three times before descending the south canyon wall and following a short boulder course to the first dam. Of the two, this dam is much more substantial and affords visitors stunning views of the rock formations below Rosewood Point, Pusch Ridge, and up-canyon. The dam has water year-round and is a frequent turn-around point for groups visiting the trail on weekends. After leaving the dam, the trail crosses almost over the top of two large bedrock boulders that bear the marks of a civilization that once called this canyon its home for part of the year. Large mortar holes are present, here, and smaller ones can be seen in a nearby rock. These holes were likely left by the Hohokam over 1000 years ago and seem to be in a perfect location, close to water in what was once a natural pool below where the dam now stands.
As the trail passes through an ocotillo forest, it climbs down a short ridge and begins its zigzag path back to a small riparian area at a stream crossing roughly one and a half miles from the first dam. This section of trail is easy going, as the trail negotiates elevation very slowly and the path is well-worn. Before arriving at a small cottonwood grove, the trail crosses the stream course, again, and passes by an area near the confluence of the canyon dropping down from Pusch Peak. A small side trail is present that connects to routes leading to Pusch Peak and Prominent Point. Near this side trail junction is a grassy area that was once host to an old stone fireplace. Little remains of the fireplace, but, with imagination, it becomes evident how this was probably once a wonderful place for a family camping trip. After descending slightly and passing the cottonwood grove, the trail mainly follows the south wall of the canyon before descending into the stream course and following alongside for its final journey out of the canyon. After a few crossings back and forth while following the stream, the trail arrives at a set of boulders that mark the final climb out of the canyon toward the trailhead.
After reaching the foothills of Pusch Ridge, the trail follows a relatively flat course among the small rocks and boulders, offering magnificent views of the valley below and the southern mountain ranges beyond. This is a good area for sighting Gila Monsters when they are in season. After winding its way west, the trail approaches a short, steep descent down a natural staircase and approaches the gate and site of the original USFS trailhead. Beyond this fence line, the trail is flanked on both sides by ranch wire fences denoting the beginning of the private property beyond. This is the state of the last three-quarters of a mile of the trial. This last section of trail follows an old stream course and passes under a bridge before arriving at the Pima County-Sponsored trailhead parking area. The presence of this parking lot and the county-maintained access route through private property is thanks in no small part to Iris O. DeWhirst, a former AZ state senator who lobbied heavily for protection of the Front Range of the Catalinas. The Pima Canyon trail was contrarily given her name in the mid-1990's. Next to the entrance to the corridor at the trailhead is a small boulder bearing a plaque. The plaque is in honor of Tom Bingham, another individual instrumental in securing access to the trail through private property. Bingham fell to his death rock climbing alone in the canyon in 1992.