Twin Buttes

Twin Buttes 5558′


Total Time: 3:15

Round trip Mileage: 4.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 2150′

Crux: Class 4 (East summit) Difficult class 3 (West summit)

Trailhead: Broken Arrow

Despite being in the middle of town, Twin Buttes is one of the lesser known summits in Sedona. Completely trail-less and unnamed on many maps, Twin Buttes serves as the striking backdrop for Chapel of the Holy Cross with dramatic red rock cliffs to the south… yet rarely see visitors. I could find zero information on climbing the buttes online, adding to their intrigue. Looking at them one day from the airport vortex, it seemed as though you could bushwack to the saddle and take the respective ridgelines to the summit, which looked like they would ‘probably’ go without technical climbing. So with a little Google Earth recon, I decided to give them a shot. I started out at the Broken Arrow Trailhead, a popular trail for both mountain bikers and the famous Pink Jeeps Tours. To get a better feel for the route ahead, I decided to climb Battlement Mesa to the north, a small rock fin that would give me a good view of the route for both the East and West Buttes. The north side of the mesa was 100′ red rock cliffs with no break to head up. I contoured along the trail east, and found a large, steep drainage that I could take to get up and over the cliff bands.

Trailhead and Battlement Mesa from the North.
Drainage up the mesa.

Once on top of the mesa, the summit fin was a short walk and 10′ scramble to reach the summit. The high point of Battlement Mesa is surprisingly narrow with 40′ cliffs to the south, reminding me of an easier version of Morning Glory Spire to the NW. Although washed out from the sun, the route to the saddle looked straightforward. From there, I could either try the ridgeline directly for either summit, or contour along the northern slopes to look for a break in the upper sandstone.

The narrow summit.
West Butte.
East Butte.

Dropping off the summit, I picked up a use trail that led me to the shallow saddle between Battlement Mesa and Twin Buttes. I was mentally prepared to bushwack, but was surprised to find an obvious but unmarked trail starting up the north slopes of the buttes.

Unmarked trail.

I followed this as it slowly snaked up the north side of the West Butte before cutting sharply towards the saddle between the two summits. It looked as though the higher, east butte would be harder, and I wanted another angle to view the route from. So I started up the bare, sandstone ridgeline of the West summit. The initial scrambling was easy, with low angled, grippy sandstone slabs to work up. The route was directly above the Church of the Holy Cross, and I looked below to the tourists walking around the grounds taking picures.

Class 3.
Chapel of the Holy Cross below.
Looking down the crux.

As I climbed, the angle became more and more vertical, and required a bit of traversing to find more suitable holds given the exposure. The last 15′ of the scrambling was borderline class 4 and very exposed, but there were huge holds. The scrambling abruptly stopped above the crux, and with a bit more easy class 2 I reached the summit, complete with a large summit cairn. I briefly search for a register, then sat down to enjoy the views, most impressive to the northwest with close ups of Morning Glory Spire and Capitol Butte.

Summit cairn.
Cathedral Rocks.
Summit panorama.
Capitol Butte.
East Butte.

I studied the route up the higher, East Butte. Staying true to the ridge would not work, as there were 30′ cliffs just above the saddle. It looked like there might be some breaks on the north slopes that I could head up, but it would be touch and go until I got there. I descended the ridge back to the saddle, downclimbing the crux facing the rock (something I rarely do) back to the saddle. I utilized a game trail that skirted the start of the cliffs and bushwacked through light scrub and loose duff to a large, steep and loose crack about 100 yards from the saddle. The base was extremely loose, but utilizing the more stable rock along the sides, I reached a small chockstone and stemmed above to get atop the lower cliff bands.

Atop the key crack…
…followed by a narrow, sloped catwalk.

From there, it was a messy traverse back to the ridgeline proper, with loose dirt shifting above the cliffs, making for one of the more anxiety filled sections of the day. With a bit of painful bushwacking, I got myself a safer distance above the cliffs and started to ascend the loose class 2 more aggressively. Unlike the clean line on the West Butte, the East Butte was very brushy with faint game trails to utilize to reach the rounded summit. Despite being harder (at least by the route I took, I didn’t see many other nontechnical options in my research), this summit did have a summit register, a rusty old can with a ziplock bag. Based on the register, the summit sees a handful of people every year, and I swapped out the rusty can for a new plastic container I had brought up with me. The East Butte was high enough to see over the shorter West Butte to Capitol Butte, plus had better views of Munds and Lee Mountains to the east, and Courthouse Butte, Bell Rock and Cathedral Rocks to the south.

View East towards Munds Mountain.
Summit crystals.
Summit panorama.

I was pleased that I had tagged 3 summits on the day without and real beta, something I hadn’t done in a long time. It can be hard to find a relatively uncharted peak with the abundance of information online (thanks for reading by the way). With a plan to meet my wife and friend for lunch, I dropped off the summit taking the same line as the ascent. I tried to avoid the catwalk over the cliffs but couldn’t spot an alternative route. Back at the chimney/ loose crack, I stumbled on the exit (the lower part is really loose) but used brush to pull myself back to the game trail at the base of the cliffs, and worked back to the saddle between the two buttes.

Looking down the ridgeline.
The messy chute.

Following the use trail back to the shallow saddle with Battlement Mesa, I followed the trail west, but was surprised to find it wasn’t hooking north like I expected. I checked my GPS and it looked as though the trail went all the way to Hog Heaven before cutting back to the trailhead, about a mile out of the way. I later learned there was a trail unmarked on my GPS well before then, but I decided to cut off trail and make a hard line north for my car. There were some fun rock slabs that I had to work down, with a couple hidden pools of water filled from recent storms, tucked in a narrow redrock drainage. It wasn’t long past the pools that I found the trail that I would have reached with a bit more patience, and followed this past an increasing number of tourists until I reached the trailhead. A few more Sedona summits checked off the list, with only a few nontechnical peaks left in Arizona’s Red Rock Country….


Leave a Reply