Valentine Peak, Arizona, December 2022

On Monday, December 19, I joined Dave Kohnke, Thomas Holt Ward, and Tony Krystoff for a Southern Arizona Hiking Club climb of Valentine Peak above Pima Canyon, near Tucson. Valentine Peak has only 146 feet of prominence, but is a rock pillar requiring some route finding and scrambling on exposed rock high above the canyon. None of us had visited the summit before and the SAHC information on the route was vague. We were a small team of experienced desert mountaineers and were eager to solve the puzzle.

Looking up Pima Canyon, with Valentine Peak on the right
Looking up Pima Canyon, with Valentine Peak on the right

We left the Pima Canyon Trailhead in the blue light before sunrise. We soon entered the canyon and spent most of the morning in the shade cast by the high ridges above us. Following the trail up the bottom of the canyon we eventually spotted the tower of Valentine Peak ahead of us up canyon.

Valentine Peak rises above cliffs from high in Pima Canyon
Valentine Peak rises above cliffs from high in Pima Canyon
A brushy ledge leads from the notch on the right across the tower to the left to access the summit
A brushy ledge leads from the notch on the right across the tower to the left to access the summit

We clearly saw the notch between Valentine Peak and a higher ridge to the east. We understood we needed to climb to that notch, then follow a ledge system clockwise around the upper tower to reach access to the summit.

Above the trail we climb steeply up through brush and over rock slabs towards Valentine Peak
Above the trail we climb steeply up through brush and over rock slabs towards Valentine Peak

Dave had attempted the peak last year with another team and knew most of the route up. We left the trail and climbed a steep slope over rock slabs and through brush to a shoulder high above the canyon.

From the shoulder we climb up this steep and brushy draw towards the notch above
From the shoulder we climb up this steep and brushy draw towards the notch above

From there we could see the notch above a steep and brushy draw. The route to the notch required climbing through brush, around trees, and across a cliffy band. The footing was loose in spots. This was my least favorite part of the climb.

From the notch we we climb this face, then traverse left to find and follow a ledge
From the notch we we climb this face, then traverse left to find and follow a ledge

Once at the notch we immediately climbed a narrow gully on better rock to reach what we hoped was the advertised ledge system that was to lead us to easier access to the summit.

After climbing traverse we turn up and climb through this gap in the cliffs to reach the summit
After climbing traverse we turn up and climb through this gap in the cliffs to reach the summit

Traversing in a clockwise direction through more brush we passed a steep and exposed but possibly feasible chimney leading higher. But descending the chimney might be difficult, especially if the rock proved loose. Dave wisely asked that I continue further on the ledge system to see if there was better access ahead before committing to climbing the chimney. I did so, and found a much friendlier, Class 3 route with less exposure. We had circled about halfway around the tower to find this.

Dave celebrating on the summit of Valentine Peak
Dave celebrating on the summit of Valentine Peak

The rest of the way to the summit went quickly. The highest point was easy to reach and nearby we had spacious room to relax for lunch and views. We signed in to a summit registry and spotted several names from years before.

Table Mountain and Table Tooth across Pima Canyon to the NNW from Valentine Peak
Table Mountain and Table Tooth across Pima Canyon to the NNW from Valentine Peak

Table Mountain and Table Tooth rose above us across Pima Canyon. I climbed Table Tooth in 2018 with another SAHC team. It has a very open and exposed summit ridge climb with a secure summit spot with great views of adjoining Table Mountain.

Mount Kimball rises far above Valentine Peak to the east
Mount Kimball rises far above Valentine Peak to the east

Mount Kimball rose far above us to the east. I last hiked Mount Kimball this past April via Finger Rock Canyon.

Looking southwest down Pima Canyon towards Tucson from Valentine Peak
Looking southwest down Pima Canyon towards Tucson from Valentine Peak
Early afternoon view of Valentine Peak from our descent towards the trail
Early afternoon view of Valentine Peak from our descent towards the trail

We descended the same route back to the trail watching our footing on the steep and occasionally loose slope. We took a quick break, then hiked out to the trailhead, sometimes momentarily losing the trail in high grass or at poorly marked turns in sandy washes. It seemed to be a long and tedious hike down and out the canyon on a rocky trail after a long day. Finally we arrived without incident back at the trailhead quite satisfied with a successful climb of Valentine Peak.

About Paul McClellan

I had the good fortune to have spent most of my life in the Pacific Northwest, where I discovered the joys and addiction of hiking and climbing in the Cascade Range and other mountain ranges in the Western United States.
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