We keep coming back to it.
Because, it is one of the best climbs in Sedona.
It has four distinct cruxes.
Starting right off the deck.
My son demonstrates the most photogenic method of ascent. He still has a way to go; good technique is boring.
We finally got around to climbing the Mace. Well, we got around to mostly climbing it. We skipped the step between the spires, the scramble to the summit register, and the jump back across. The last section just didn’t add to the meaning of the climb. Plus, we left our water at the base, and we were getting thirsty.
We put off the Mace in anticipation of the right weather conditions. The route ducks in and out of the morning shadows, so it needed to be warm, but not hot.
Spring finally came around, and after several false starts due to damp conditions, we made our way to the foot of the spire.
The first pitch started up a chimney, then broke left to pass a small roof.
The second pitch began as a steep hand crack. After a few feet, the angle relented and the crack branched into an easy offwidth to the left.
A traverse left came next, followed by a bit more chimney.
At the top of the chimney, the route got weird. The way lead through a gap between a trio of towers, to a steep corner with a finger/hand crack in the back of it. But one did not need to stay in the corner. The three pillars allowed a ping-pong ascent, with steps back and forth from the corner to the other pillars. At one point, I was able to stand on top of the rear tower and take a break while reading the chalk-marks on the opposite face.
The clever options ended in a pod which tapered upwards to the critical 15 feet of the route. At the crux, the crack became a leaning, chicken-wing offwidth, made even more insecure by a bolt which proved awkward to clip and showed an unseemly amount of thread peeking over the edge of the hanger.
A few more feet led to the top of the penultimate spire.
My son plopped down at the anchor and said, “Never again.”
Obviously, he didn’t care to lean across to the ultimate spire and jump back across the gap on the way down (the draw for most who climb the Mace).
Neither did I, but not because I thought that the route was worthless. I thought that the route was interesting, if not good. It deserved to stand on its own merit, rather than on a circus trick at the top.
“I didn’t bring my gear because they said there was no climbing in Sedona. Because it is sandstone. Like Las Vegas.”
– Anonymous climber, sadly hiking by the base of The Pirate
Who would lie so viciously? Most sandstone is climbable. Maybe you have to approach it like a mixed ice-climb; you know, distribute the weight, climb statically, don’t pull out.
And some of the climbs are apocryphal, or protected by hostile vegetation more nasty than anything the North Cascades could dream up (yes, worse than Devil’s Club).
But there is so much that is so good.
…A Louisiana man died in Arizona after he was stung more than 1,000 times by bees….was hiking with friends in a Mesa park when a swarm of bees attacked…Park employees and a Good Samaritan tried to help … was lying on the ground still covered with bees. They couldn’t get close enough to him because of the large, aggressive swarm..
“I just wanted to bring it to your attention,” the younger boy said in his most weary tone, “that there are bees flying in and out of the hole in the rock up there.”
“I’ve been watching them for a few minutes,” he added.
Damn, it looked like we would just have to climb Dr. Rubo’s Wild Ride again.
The bees’ nest sat above the first pitch belay for Quiet Storm. It appeared to be a good route, but maybe we were better off leaving it for another day anyway. For “a few minutes”, I had been scoping the route. The line was enticing, but the belay at the top of the first pitch was a little cramped, and I wasn’t exactly sure that I could see where the second pitch traverse started. Dr. Rubo’s rated a fair bit easier, but it made up in aesthetics what it lacked in difficulty.
We quickly packed up our gear and moved around to the SW side of the sandstone tower. The bees paid us no mind; the heat had yet to stir them to an irritable state.
I started up the little corner with the subconscious expectation of cruising it. But like a good, smoky scotch, the route demanded slow sips. It was all there, but it was often behind, or on the arête, or wedged in the flaring crack. The technique shifted continuously through the little roof above the first set of fixed anchors. Then, came the 30 feet of perfect hand-crack.
One more small roof marked a transition to an easier slab above, and the anchors.
Pitch 3 was the notorious traverse. Compared to some routes in the Black Hills (Three Rings comes to mind), the hazard level was low. A fall would have been inconvenient, but probably not injurious.
From the gear anchor, it was a short jaunt across to the other half of the tower, past a bolt-protected boulder problem, and up to the top. The top was no anticlimax either. A platform the size of a large dining table, it was flanked by the looming Coffee Pot formation on one side, and the valley south of Sedona on the other.
A free-hanging, 190 ft. rappel topped it all off.
We skirted wide of the beehive to retrieve our packs, as the traffic in and out of the hole had picked up, and a few of the little bugs on the way to nearby cactus flowers, detoured to buzz around our heads.
We would come back. It was easy to justify having a look with a such nice consolation prize in hand.
Damn, why won’t the rope move? Instinctively, I blame the belayer. Instinctively, but also because I know him as the kid who has a D in English because he’s bored with English and so doesn’t try to do well in English. He has already told me that he’s bored with belaying today.
I yell down, “Slack!”
“There is slack!” comes the answer.
Uh-oh. I pull on the rope again, and flip the cord hard a couple of times, all to no avail.
The hell if I’m going to spoil the clean lead. I place a pair of cams and clip in without weighting them. I tie a clove in the rope through a carabiner clipped to my belay loop, and then I carefully climb back down, past one piece, to the little roof. There, I find the source of the problem.
It’s a splitter problem, and one I’ve never encountered before. As I moved above the roof, the rope slipped into the crack and behind the cam I’d placed at the lip. With some tension coming from the GriGri, the rope had pushed the cam farther into the narrowing crack and gotten itself stuck behind the gradually closing, upper lobe of the cam.
At this point I must note, that the tension from the GriGri is not the older boy’s fault. The last thing I say to him before I leave the ground is, “No Euro-loops.”
God help him; he listens to me. I am subsequently tugging on the rope all the time. Until this moment, it has seemed harmless, or even helpful, as resistance training.
Now, to free up the rope, I really should lower myself below the roof, not stand at the lip, where I am. But, that would mean hanging on the anchors.
Instead, I reach down below my feet and commence to jiggling. I’ll admit, I am still learning how to place clean cams in sandstone. I have a tendency to over-cam them a little, and a little is all it takes to makes the device’s hold on the soft, grippy rock, tenacious.
The hold for my left hand is good, but I’m stretched out completely and off-balance, so my feet offer little more than moral support. The clock begins to tick. I can feel my fingers start to slide off their sandy perch. But I can also feel the cam shifting slightly, so I keep fighting the losing battle: re-adjust, slip a little faster, re-adjust, etc.
Just before I melt off the hold completely, the cam gives. I can turn it upside down and retract the lobes. I step up and settle into the jams above the roof for a rest.
Once I catch my breath, I trudge back up to the anchor and tie in to the end of the rope once more.
“Back on,” I yell, and as an afterthought, “This still counts!”
There is no response from the belay. It’s OK; that’s why the GriGri and the parent/child relationship were invented. Both allow us to learn sympathy for ridiculous people.
A second crux awaits just before the anchors. I don’t pass it quite as gracefully, now that I’m tired, but it goes. I can’t convince the kids to follow the route. They offer the excuse that they are too tired from climbing Andy Kauffman Crack.
I don’t believe them for a second, but at least they indulge me (and vice versa). If that’s all they get from the experience, it’s enough.
They did come back to climb Rusty Cage. The pair of climbs – Rusty Cage and Andy Kauffman Crack – are on the back side of North Mesa. Just walk up the Cathedral
Rocks trail off Back O’ Beyond road. Where the trail passes a little cliff band on the right, keep going on a right branch instead of continuing up and left with the hikers who are headed for a saddle between the two major sets of formations which constitute the Cathedral Rocks. Keep walking all the way around the corner at the far end of the North Mesa. When it looks like you are about to come to the end of the road, look uphill to the left. You will see a shady grotto formed by a pair of towers nestled close against the main formation. You will recognize Rusty Cage as the clean splitter on the right. Andy Kauffman Crack is hidden on the left.
Rusty Cage is .10 c and takes a red tricam, a # 2 Camalot, and then as many or as few # 3 Camalots as you feel comfortable placing. Six of them keep you looking at no more than a 20-footer at any time.
Andy Kauffman is a corner and then a roof. It is well protected, but takes a # 5 Camalot or a bit of alpine run-out skill in the section just before the roof. Multiples of 1’s, 2’s and 3’s help if you are getting used to sandstone .10 a.
Sedona is not quite as hard to negotiate as the Needles. The sandstone canyons and pinnacles sprawl across a true Western landscape. The sense of the place suggests reference to heavenly fairytales, rather than middle-earthly ones. Still, you can get skunked. The routes and the approaches are often not as they appear from afar, and bushwhacking through a sea of prickly pear and wrap leaf bursage is not a viable alternative to hitting the right approach, right.
But, there is a sure thing: the Roadside Crag on Schnebly Hill Road. It isn’t a total gimme, but anyone should be able to get there and do some climbing with a little diligence.
The road itself takes off uphill at about 2 o’clock (if the roundabout is oriented North-South) from the last roundabout on highway 179 before it meets up with highway 89. This is the traffic circle right where the road crosses Oak Creek.
Schnebly Hill Road goes on for about 1/2 mile as rough pavement before it turns to rough dirt at the Marg’s Draw trailhead. If you have a low clearance vehicle, park it there. Although there is always some low-rider van parked improbably beyond the array of ruts, drops and boulders between the end of the pavement and the first picnic area, the sane will not want to subject themselves or their vehicle to the rigors of two-wheeling this 4WD track.
If you have a high-clearance vehicle, pull in behind one of the pink tour jeeps and bounce your way to a small pull off about 1.8 miles up the road, on the left side. If you aren’t riding, you’re walking. But it is a pleasant walk, largely in the shade on a gentle grade. Mind you don’t get run over by a pink jeep – you don’t want your kinfolk passing that tale down the generations.
The right spot is where the creek suddenly gets wider and the road looks like it is about to pass left around the end of the Teapot formation which has been on your left for the last mile (yes, it really does look like a teapot in the process of being carved from the rock ridge).
Cross the creek on the trail and find a climbers’ trail branching off to the right as you go up the hill towards the end of the sandstone wall which flanks the far side of the little valley. The whole walk should take no more than 5-10 minutes, and you should be able to see the anchor bolts above the routes from the road.
There are 3 routes to lead here, and a top-rope in between, if you can figure out how to get to the anchor. The farthest climb to climber’s left, and just up and left from one of two very nice shade trees (the crag gets sun for most of the day), is Tourist Trap. It is hands and off-width. Bring gear from finger-sized to # 5 Camalot. You don’t have to get into the wide crack if you do not want to; lie-backs will get you through.
Just right of Tourist Trap is Steal Your Face/Crack. It starts with four, generously spaced bolts on easy climbing, then goes up a short, steep section of pockets (red tricam is very useful) before transitioning into a featured hand crack. Take gear to #4 Camalot.
Lastly, above the finest shade tree on the right side of the crag, is Roadside Attraction. Steeper than the other two routes, this one is a nice mix of finger locks, hand jams and face holds. It takes gear to #2 Camalot, mostly on the smaller side, with multiple good stopper placements in the first half.
These routes are safe, have solid fixed anchors, and can be done with a single, 60 meter rope. The ratings are 5.9-5.10 and not sandbagged. All in all, a good place to go to get a feel for the rock, and to get a pleasant day of climbing under your belt before venturing off to face spiteful vegetation and frightening exposure on one of the local towers.
But, it is not the only cragging destination in Sedona, just maybe the kindest. If you want more, there is more to come…