Travel: From Tucson's Skyline Drive, go north one mile on Alvernon Way to the Richard McKee Finger Rock Trailhead. Park in a large lot on the left. There is a drinking faucet but no other facilities.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 6.4 miles: 3.1 miles to Linda Vista Saddle, plus 3.3 miles down Finger Rock or Pontatoc Canyon trails; 3,000 feet of climbing
Time: 4:00 to 6:00
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation challenging; Class 2+; no exposure unless you go looking for it; carry all the water you will need.
Map: Tucson North, Arizona 7.5 Quad, or Pusch Ridge Wilderness, Coronado National Forest, USDA Forest Service, 1:24,000
Date Hiked: December 1, 2016
Pusch Ridge Wilderness Bighorn Sheep Closure: It is prohibited to travel more than 400 feet off designated Forest Service trails from January 1 through April 30, bighorn sheep lambing season. Linda Vista Ridge is off-limits during that time period.
Quote: Every ridge has its day. Thomas Holt Ward
Morning light illumines Linda Vista Ridge and Point 5,730' as seen from the first roller at 3,580 feet. From the left, this image captures The Tombstone, Prominent Point, Finger Rock and its Guard, Mt. Kimball, Point 5,730', "Linda Vista Peak," our interior return ridge, and Pontatoc Ridge. (THW, photo)
Route: Divert from the Finger Rock Trail onto an abandoned path to gain Linda Vista Ridge at 3,580 feet. Ascend the ridge to Point 5,730'. Downclimb to Linda Vista Saddle. From here, most hikers will want to descend on the Finger Rock Trail, the red-line route. Alternatively, return off-trail on a ridge straddling the two canyons of Pontatoc. Use the blue-line route to connect with the Pontatoc Canyon Trail.
Exhilaration begins with the first steps from the Finger Rock Trailhead, elevation 3,060 feet. Walk through a Sonoran garden on a natural bedrock incline. At the signed junction in 0.1 mile, Finger Rock Trail #42 branches left. Proceed straight on Pontatoc Trail #410. This image shows the first roller and Point 5,730' from the junction.
Drop 30 feet into a shallow depression before climbing gently. Eight to ten minutes into the hike, at 0.4 mile, on top of a rise at 3,180 feet, come to a wide spot in trail, shown below. Look carefully for a faint path veering north; there are no other markers. This neglected and unmaintained trail is disappearing but there are rock boundary remnants and occasional cairns. Follow intuitively the path of least resistance wandering between Sonoran plants, aiming for the top of the first knoll. Thus, we were able to stay on or close to the old track the whole way.
Crest the roller at 0.8 mile, 3,580 feet. This humble hilltop affords stellar views of the region and would be a pleasant goal in itself. The route is off-trail from here. Unable to locate any information on this ridge, we had the intense pleasure of walking into the mystery. We didn't know if the route would be blocked by impassable gendarmes or the final obstacle. Shindagger and boulder dodging slow the pace but are not a serious impediment. Mesquite, palo verde, saguaro, teddybear cholla, and ocotillo give way to sotol, bear grass, and Arizona oak. Friction climb a slab with good texture.
Gain a rocky knob at 4,120 feet, 1.4 miles, with a good view of the highpoint. Scramble down the left side of the nose. A series of risers direct to three gendarmes, shown, each separated by a tenth of a mile. (THW, photo)
At 1.7 miles, 4,200 feet, confront the first gendarme. Scoot around on the right at the base of the wall. The northface is a 30 foot vertical cliff. A shredding shrub prohibits going over the top of the second gendarme at 4,360 feet. Bypass on the Pontatoc side. The third rampart at 4,500 feet is the trickiest. Bypass right/east once more, staying snug against the wall where exposure is mild. Pass an overhang at ground level. There is a Class 2+ scramble and a 75 foot climb back to the ridgetop.
This image looks back on the third obstacle.
At 4,700 feet, get a revealing look at the final obstruction which is startling in its beauty. The broad, blocky escarpment possesses, thankfully, a center access chute. Massive cliffs bar a work-around. (THW, photo)
The approach is over at 4,880 feet. Rock stacks frame the narrow corridor. Class 2+ climbing is steep and loose in places but not exposed.
After 200 feet the constriction broadens but remains pitched. Ascend the grassy, golden ramp seen from afar. Reach the highpoint of Linda Vista Ridge, Point 5,730', at 2.7 miles after 2,770 feet of vertical. The divide doubles as the southeast wall of Finger Rock Canyon. It renders a unique perspective on Prominent Point and Finger Rock Guard. (THW, photo)
In the north are Mt. Kimball and "Linda Vista Peak", elevation 6,820 feet. To the wide-open south is the whole sweep of everything out in front of Pusch Ridge fading into the null distance.
Anticipating the final ridge escarpment between Point 5,730' and Linda Vista Saddle, we didn't know whether we'd find a suitable bypass or be forced to retrace our steps. From the highpoint, step down the first two knobs, Class 2+. Climb the final challenge easily. At 5,700 feet, it is a super sweet completion promontory. (THW, photo)
A 100 foot east face cliff requires a short retreat, almost to the first saddle. Staying as high as possible on sneak routes, bypass on the northwest side, returning to the ridge briefly before reaching Linda Vista Saddle. This image, taken from the Finger Rock Trail, indicates the final work-around.
Linda Vista Saddle, at 3.1 miles and 5,580 feet is the conclusion of the lower ridge, though it carries on to Linda Vista Peak. From here, there are two choices for the return. Most hikers will want to descend on the Finger Rock Trail, the red-line route above, back to the start. It is 0.4 mile to Linda Vista overlook and 2.8 miles from there to the trailhead.
For those who wish to explore the ridge dividing the two Pontatoc drainages, stay on the black-line route. The transition to the southwest-running ridge is straight-forward. From Linda Vista Saddle, take the minor ridge southeast down a grassy hillside free of shindaggers, shown.
Drop left into the near canyon, crossing it at about 5,280 feet, above a significant pouroff. The bedrock is Catalina Gneiss, a prize-winning Pusch Ridge formation. (THW, photo)
Contour to the ridge, hitting it at about 5,300 feet. We penetrated a tower cluster straight on but got pushed out of the maze. Bypass on the left/southeast and regain the ridge, Class 2+.
The exquisite, classic Sonoran ridge features rock islands in a sea of grass. There are wild views of Linda Vista Ridge and its imposing wall.
The ridge splits at 5,000 feet. Veer left on the blue-line route. It intersects the Pontatoc Canyon Trail at about 4,400 feet. The trail is obscure on the grassy hillside. Watch for orange flagging and occasional cairns marking the underutilized track. Presumably, if you are doing this hike, you are already familiar with this trail and are aware that it has degenerated into a route. Once you've secured the trail, stay on it to the trailhead.
We kept going to explore the principal ridge but I do not recommend it. There is nothing spectacular on the ridge that you would not want to miss. Shindaggers (mosquitoes of the plant world) are hideous, practically taking over the entire domain. We did find a place of peace at 4,740 feet which we named Resurrection Camp after the lovely thick moss, protective rocks, and gracefully spaced ocotillo and sotol.
Below the camp, the threat of getting speared was present with every step. However, we were determined to remain on the ridge until we reached the insurmountable fins shown below at 3,830 feet. From there, we bailed to the canyon floor (while parrying with blades) and climbed 100 feet up the opposite bank to the Pontatoc Canyon Trail. Close the loop 0.4 mile in advance of the trailhead.