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