My plan was to climb to the base of Finger Rock itself, so I could gaze at it later while driving around town and look back nostalgically about having once been there. This plan did not come to fruition because once I'd reached Linda Vista saddle, I said, "I've had enough." I said this to my hiking companion, Jenna, or perhaps I just mumbled it under my breath (which was coming in gasps).
The trail is accessed at the end of Alvernon road. There is a little parking lot that was overflowing when we reached it about 9:45. I knew is was a tough, steep hike so I figured we wouldn't see many people past the first mile. In fact, there were dozens of hikers out, enjoying the 75 degree day. Usually I resent the presence of a lot of other people on the trail but today I was sort of grateful because I could watch them suffer and realize I was not alone. Plus I was so tired through most of this hike, I really didn't care.
You hike about a mile through a drainage area, which is full of large embedded rocks on the trail. This creates a little bit of rock hopping, but there is plenty of even, dirt trail to be found. After a mile, the nature of the hike shifts unceremoniously to a steep climb up the west side of the canyon. When I say steep, what I mean is large rock outcroppings, some of which have to be climbed over hand-over-hand. Most of it is just steep without the use of hands, over flat rock or loose rock with infrequent reprieves of maybe 15 feet which are relatively level. It's really not much fun. In addition to the steepness (there are virtually no switchbacks), the path is narrow and close to the edge of a dramatic precipice that drops into the canyon, so you really have to pay attention in order to not go sliding into oblivion. We hiked up, with Jenna taking the lead.
I attempted to keep up with Jenna but became seriously short of breath, had to sit down, and nearly passed out. Now I kind of know what an asthma attack feels like. I realized it was simply the pace, as I was trying to bolt up a very steep hill as if I were running a race. So we continued at a slower pace, and took rests. A little over an hour of climbing took us to a short footpath that led to a canyon overlook. We took a longer break there, at about 12:15, when I figured I should stop and eat lunch. Jenna asked a hiker who was scrambling down how far we were from Linda Vista saddle and the hiker pointed up to where another group of hikers was standing and said, from there you go right and it's not far. So we decided to eat when we reached the saddle. It didn't take long to get to the "top" but we discovered that once we turned right things kept going upward and the phrase "not far" lost its meaning. Around 1, we reached the saddle, from which there were terrific views of the south and west of Tucson. It was a nice lunch spot that we had to ourselves. Just as we were leaving, two young men who had started the same time as us and kept stopping and then passing us, also came to where we were and I asked if they were going to the top, to Mt Kimball. They said they weren't sure of the way, so I gave them my printed directions. In fact, I gleefully handed over the directions. As we head back down from the saddle, we met up with the main trail, which continued upward, and chose the downward route. I had absolutely no desire to keep going up; in fact the trail up had a malevolent look to it.
Going down was an exercise in keeping myself from falling over the side, mostly. We went at a decent pace, and actually passed one couple. When I looked back up the side of the canyon to where it seemed the two of them were clinging to the path, I saw how very slow they were going. But it really paid to move slowly because the hike down was more dangerous. At one point I just sat on the smooth rock and slid...at another, I slid down some loose dirt that wasn't safe to walk down. We reached the car at 3:45, 6 hours after we'd started. We average exactly 1 mile per hour.
For someone very fit, or at least fitter than average, Finger Rock might be a fun day out & a healthy challenge. But I can't really recommend this hike, unless you are either a masochist or an athlete. The only way I would try this again is if I were in significantly better shape. Although I suffered a bit on my last hike, Agua Caliente Hill, I enjoyed it a great deal more and the views were at least as good. It was simply hard to enjoy the Finger Rock trail because I was either out of breath, watching my footing, or climbing over rocks - sometimes all three. In a way, I now have a better understanding of how someone who isn't used to hiking, or is out of shape, feels like when they try an "average" 5 mile hike with a little bit of uphill & then swear off hiking forever.