Finger Rock, Spring 2006Almost anyone who's been to Tucson has seen Finger Rock - whether they know it or not. The 6,420-foot spire juts skyward from the southern front of the Catalina Mountains, towering four thousand feet over the city. Most days, I can see it from my front door – I’d often wanted to climb it, but somehow never had....
Now, getting ready to move to another town, I figured I might be looking at one of my last chances. So I talked my erstwhile climbing partner Steve into heading up at the end of April. Yes, Tucson gets unbearably hot in April, but we reasoned that it would be a lot cooler so high above the city. And we figured it’d be windy to boot.
We were right about one of these things.
Foolishly rejecting plans to start at seven or eight, Steve and I met up at the trailhead well after nine. The temperature was already in the 80’s, and it only got hotter as we pushed up the Finger Rock Canyon trail. Sweat was rolling off me. There was no shade. Everyone we met was coming down. “It’s really nice here… at seven!” one crusty old fellow informed us, and sauntered off chuckling at his own wit.
The Finger Rock Canyon trail begins by winding north into the Catalinas, follows the canyon floor and then switchbacks up the east wall of the canyon, finally arriving at the top of 7,258-foot Mt. Kimball. To get to Finger Rock itself, you leave the trail about three miles in, drop to the bottom of the canyon, and then climb steeply up its west side to a small saddle just northeast of Finger Rock. It wasn't getting any cooler as we ascended, and by the time we hit this saddle, we’d already used up more than half of our water.
While Finger Rock is obvious from Tucson to the south, it’s not so easy to locate from the other side. The mountain on which the spire sits is (rather unimaginatively) called Prominent Point, and its summit area is a mass of jumbled rock, underbrush, towers, and crags. Some are even higher than Finger Rock, although none are so sharp and exposed. So we had a fairly good idea where Finger Rock was, but weren’t entirely sure how to get to it – especially when the paths split. The more heavily-used path went left (close to south) and a fainter trail went right (more southwest). Having read that the correct way to go was left, we did so. It proved to be one of the very few times that beta I’ve gotten from this site has been wrong.
After a few minutes the trail got very steep and we ran into some fun 3rd class. Both of us got the feeling that we were too far east and thus going the wrong way and climbing the wrong thing. A few minutes later, at an airy ledge, Steve spotted Finger Rock itself – now unmistakable – off to the west. I made the guess that we were on Finger Rock Guard (a broad tower just east of Finger Rock), which turned out to be correct. Still, we were close to the top and so just kept going. There were great views from the top, including a nice look at the Finger.
It was afternoon by the time we backtracked to where the trails split and took the right – or correct – one. This climber’s trail was in poor shape, faint, and meandering… but better than nothing (although only marginally so). However, there wasn’t a great distance to go, and very shortly we arrived at the eastern edge of Finger Rock. Here we roped up. I led a meandering, 130’ pitch that took me up a face, then through a chimney, another face, and finally up onto the flat area of Finger Rock’s 'fist'. The pro was fine and I didn’t think any of the moves were harder than 5.6. Which was good, because we’d finished all of our water by now and were both feeling tired and dehydrated.
I set a quick belay station and Steve followed me up. From here the finger itself was apparent, a bit to the west across the fist and thirty feet or so above us. The wind was screaming and the last pitch fairly exposed, but technically it was even easier than the first. Steve led this one, clipping the single bolt just below the crux (5.5/5.6) move, and soon we were on top. The summit rock moved slightly when I stood on it but didn’t seem likely to drop off the spire. There were fantastic views of Tucson and of the Catalinas from the top.
By now we’d wasted entirely too much time, so it was already late by the time we rapped off, packed the gear, and started heading down. The hike out was cooler by now, and the going fairly uneventful. Thirsty as hell, we made it out of the canyon around sunset, and spent a good deal of time chugging from the water fountain near the trailhead.
Still, it was a worthwhile climb, and a great summit!