Morning Glory Spire 5310′
Total Time: 3 hours (a good amount of that was time wasted on a tangled rope)
Round trip mileage: 2.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 1000′
Crux: Class IV (two pitches)
Trailhead: Soldiers Pass, Red Rocks Pass required ($5)
For the casual observer, Sedona may look like a rock climber’s paradise. With dramatic desert towers over beautiful Oak Creek, it seems like it would be a playground for trad climbing in Arizona. The unfortunate truth is that the sandstone is quite crumbly, and placed protection has been reported to rip from the soft rock even after perfect placement. Thus, while many of the rock features in the area have been climbed, it’s not with as much regularity as you might expect. That being said, there are a number of features with “safe,” established routes, some with a fixed bolt or two thrown in for good measure. One rock feature I had been eyeing as a potential intro to Sedona climbing was Morning Glory Spire. Located to the northwest of town near Soldier Pass, the rock spire has almost no approach, features two short pitches of class IV, and leads to an airy, narrow summit with 360 degree views. About half the parties climb it roped up, and most bring a rope for a nice rappel down a sandstone gully to bypass a good portion of the brushier section of the approach. The plan was to climb it unroped, but break in my new climbing rope with a rappel down the east side before temperatures got too hot for the day. I left the nearly full Soldier Pass TH shortly after 9AM. Within a quarter mile, the trail passes near Devil’s Kitchen, a sinkhole caused by underwater aquifers, and the turnaround point for the overwhelming majority of people on the trail.
I continued past this skirting Morning Glory Spire to the south, looking for a place to head offtrail. Trip reports suggest making your way to the saddle between Morning Glory Spire and the racistly named “Jap Head,” although I couldn’t find a good turnoff to do so. Eventually I gave up looking for one and headed up a drainage towards the saddle, climbing the sandstone benches beneath Morning Glory Spire. Some trip reports suggest looking for the prominent Ocotillo growing near some limestone dikes, but I did not find these until the descent. Nearly to the saddle, it seemed like it would be more direct to climb the gully between Morning Glory Spire and a small subpeak to the east bringing you to a higher saddle, and in actuality this was true. But I wasn’t sure what lay on the other side of the gully, and judiciously continued to the main saddle between MGS and Jap Head. I assumed at this point I would find a decent use trail up, but I was surprised to find only faint game trails and had a bit of thrashing through oak and juniper to finally discover the well defined use trail at the top of the gully I had passed. Oh well.
From this point, the use trail began switching up sandstone benches to the start of the actual climbing. The first pitch of class IV is a series a steep sandstone slabs to bring to the north ridgeline proper. A handy nearby oak tree provides a nice extra step or two to get past the steepest moves early on.
Once on the ridge proper, the rest of the route is laid out nicely ahead. After hiking past a few boulders at the saddle (one of which features a rappel bolt) I climbed up and over a series of class III boulders to bring me to the next level. These could be bypassed using a gully to the climber’s left, but they’re fairly easy overall. Shortly thereafter is the crux, about 15′ of near vertical sandstone with nice holds. There are two ways to climb it, either direct up the face (with some serious exposure immediately to your left), or by squirming into an adjacent chimney to get you halfway up and eliminate some of the exposure before swinging back out for the last few feet, which was the approach I took. I needed to take my pack off for the narrow cave but thought it was really a fun pitch.
From there, it’s an easy but exposed step up to the final summit blocks from a large conveniently placed boulder. The whole climb took under and hour and the class IV pitches were short, but it was really a lot of fun and highly recommended.
I took some first person video of the climb, just pardon the heavy breathing and erratic camera motions, I was focusing more on not falling at that point 🙂
Since I left my pack below the second pitch, I didn’t have any snacks to enjoy at the top, so after catching my breath and snapping some photos, I descended back down, climbing back into the chimney to retrieve my pack and rope. I headed back to the rappel bolt at the high saddle on the ridge and wasted no time breaking out the rope and setting up a rappel station, the first time I’d be rappeling on my own. Unfortunately this rappel station only had one bolt instead of the usual two, but the forces generated from a fall on one bolt in a sport route was nothing compared to the slow forces generated by a rappel, so I felt justified.
The first rappel was only about 30′ and bypassed the first class IV pitch near the tree. I wasted a lot of time with rope management, as the new rope kept kinking, literally fresh off the spool. I knew that short rappel did not fit the longer rap I had seen pictures of, which would just make it with a 60 meter rope. I walked south along the cliffs and found the two bolt anchor with two rappel rings that I had been searching for. The two rappel rings were cheap disposable rap rings and the angle was a little too wide without chain links between, and I would recommend that the next person up there bring a more solid rappel ring and some quick links to improve the anchor. But I worked with what I had, and threaded the rope through the two rap rings and tossed it down the steep sandstone cliff.
The rappel, of course short lived, was quite fun and I stopped half way (with an autoblock) to rethrow the ropes, caught on the halfway ledge. The 60 meter rope did in fact just make it to the bottom of the dihedral and I recoiled it and threw it in my pack. The use trail I had been looking for was quite steep near the bottom of the rappel, and I almost wiped out a few times before making it to the easier sandstone benches lower down with prominent Ocotillo.
The problem was, even after finding the Ocotillo I could not locate a connecting use trail to the maintained trail, and still wound up bushwacking my way back to the trail. I made a quick stop past Devil’s Kitchen before making it to my car to go find lunch in Sedona.