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Big desert adventure on Sedona’s tower of power
While Yvon Chouinard attended Church early one Sunday in 1957, his fellow Californians Bob Kamps, Dave Rearick, and TM Herbert skipped out to summit one of Arizona’s classic desert towers, The Mace, a 300-foot semi-detached scepter forming the tip of a castellated sandstone citadel.The Mace (aka the Original Route), the first technical ascent of a Sedona spire, boasts bodyswallowing chimneys, spacious belays, a final summit step-across… and big air.
Set out early from Cathedral Rock Trailhead to beat the tourons up the “Red Rock Express” — the locals’ moniker for this Sedona footpath superhighway. On the 20-minute rolling cruise through the serene Arizona desert, you’ll catch on-and-off glimpses of the route, which largely climbs the adjacent minor summit. The Mace’s mostly northern exposure makes it an ideal spring undertaking, as well as a shady August possibility — though it’s damn cold when the winter wind blows.
The first pitch’s 5.7 traverse, from a sloping chimney to a grey limestone roof, protects nicely with a long sling and a 4-inch cam. Take in stunning views of Gibraltar Rock and the Sedona Scenic Cruise from the spacious second belay, after some 5.9 hand jamming to another chimney. The third pitch offers 200 feet of exposure with a blind hand traverse to a squeeze chimney just around the corner, protected by a lone bolt. For the crux fourth pitch, step into the complex heart of the formation, stemming and palming, winding in and through it as you climb toward the light. Toss in a hand jam, throw in a kneebar, and pull over the first summit cap. The final “pitch,” a riveting step-across, was originally aided in 1957, and freed in 1973 by the Arizona climbing ace Scott Baxter. Today’s tower baggers avoid the salto mortale via a short traverse to the right, where a shallow flake and a casual mantel lead to the summit proper.
Once atop the spire, select your next Sedona outing from the endless desert summits visible in a 360-degree panorama and flip through the register. Consider your shared experience with The Mace’s first ascentionists, 50 years past, worshipping in their own way on a quiet Sunday. Begin your descent by a quick jump back across the gap or rap off the five-bolt, bombproof summit vault to the lower tower and subsequent rappel stations.
GuidebooksRock Climbing Arizona, by Stewart M. Green; A Better Way to Die: Rock Climbers Guide to Sedona and Oak Creek, by Tim Toula; Castles in the Sand, by David Bloom.
Equipment ShopVertical Relief Rock Gym; (928) 556-9909, verticalrelief.com
Rack Singles .4, .5, 1, 2, and 5; doubles 3 and 4 Camalot.
Season Spring and fall are best.
Show us your Classic photo of The Mace and Win a free Offwidth Jacket from Mountain Hardwear! Log on to Climbing.com’s Photo Post, submit your images to the Classic Climbs folder, and photographer Jeremiah Watt will pick his favorite. The winning photographer will receive an Offwith Jacket (valued at $95!) from Mountain Hardwear.