Sedona's Free Mini Walls
5.13+ multipitch routes in my backyard:
Dickels Delight - 5.13c, 6 pitches
Cousin of Death - 5.13d, 5 pitches
High in the canyons above Sedona are some of the best hard multipitch sandstone routes in the US. These routes are in the Coconino Sandstone layer, a much harder stone than the red adventure towers and soft cracks around the city itself. These new generation lines are a blend in styles between the flared splitters of Zion and the tech faces of Red Rock - even the challenging crack pitches are about footwork, rather than pain tolerance. While these routes are in the ~600ft range, they are sheer and without filler, making them as sustained as any of the Zion 5.13 free walls I’ve done. And better yet, each is less than a 50 minute drive from my house!
This past spring I did my first of the genre, freeing the 6 pitch 5.13c Dickel’s Delight in a day. Dickels breaks down as a warmup 5.11, an epic 40m 5.13c twin crack pitch, a 5.13a/b tips crack to stem corner, a 5.13a (perhaps better described as v7 bouldering) compression arete with a down climb slab, to 5.11 jamming, then 5.6 summit rambling. This Mormon Canyon route was originally an aid climb put up in ‘97, but was re-engineered for free climbing by Joel Unema and Blake McCord as a COVID hide-away project. This route is an all time free route for the grade, following an unlikely weakness up a mini moonlight-esque pillar.
Tony Schwartz following up the Dickel's crux pitch. Warning, it is steeper and longer than it appears in this sidewalk photo!
The tech vert climbing of Dickel’s suited me very well, with the redpoint coming together on the third day. I got close on my second day, redpointing to the “easiest” of the 5.13 pitches, but was stymied by the funky and slopey compression boulder problem! Even the day I did redpoint, the first 5.13s came together with one fall, but I battled the 13a to barely squeak it. On an 8th try of the pitch that day, an evening breeze made the wide span feel a touch more secure as I two finger pinched the mini spike hold, piano matched two fingers from my other hand onto the spike, and then down climbed the precarious slab corner a few moves - quite the sequence...
Late fall I then did a 5.13d multipitch route called Cousin of Death in Insomnia Canyon, an Oak Creek Canyon offshoot between Sedona and Flagstaff. This canyon has the unique aspect of being a top-down approached 600 foot wall. Many of the locals have a full spool of static line designated for working/establishing lines here. I acquired my Insomnia spool while healing up an injured pulley, first investigating the "Cousin" in October.
As I rapped over the top slab of the route, my rope dangled in space not touching the rock for the rest of the 500 feet below. Starting from the bottom, the route breaks down to a 45m 5.13c stem corner warmup, an incredibly slippery 5.13b undercling traverse to layback, a 5.12b thinning crack, a 5.13d overhanging seam with intermittent crimps, and then the final 5.10 summit pitch. These pitches all follow the same beautiful crack system up a slightly overhanging prow.
Looking up the Cousin of Death
This route took a few more days of work than Dickels, with rushed tactics as winter approached - the season for Insomnia Canyon ends with the first major snow - the forest access road close through late spring. Since fixing the route with static rope is helpful to bail out of the canyon on a failed redpoint attempt anyways, I first rehearsed for two days TR soloing the fixed line. I made careful gear and sequence notes on my phone between efforts. That week I gave a redpoint attempt fully supported by my friend Dan, but I found it was a bit premature, failing at the 13d pitch due to misremembering the complex seam holds.
Dan James was bailed on for a El Cap Shield ascent, but at least he got some local wall time in while supporting me on the Cousin
I thought that was the last weather window of the season, but a few barely-warm-enough days appeared in late November. I did one additional solo rehearsal day to refresh. I was then supported by Amity for a wonderful (but numb) redpoint day of the whole route with no falls!
The 13b undercling traverse on incredibly slick smears
Amity Warme top ropes the 13d seam pitch in support on my redpoint
I still have the last of Sedona’s “Vortex Trilogy” (aka the three best hard multipitch routes established by Joel Unema) to do soon, called Cult Leader. This is another 13d, though not quite as sustained. Cult Leader follows a wildly featured face varnished by a seasonal waterfall a few hundred feet left of Dickel's. I’ve also been on the lookout for future lines, hoping to find that elusive 5.14 multipitch project here in the backyard!
A blank canvas awaits - is it 5.13, 5.14, or impossible? On a corner like this, the hold size comes down to millimeters.