Tag Archives: rock climbing

West Fork Trail

An Adventure on the West Fork Trail, Sedona

The rising sun illuminated the vibrant reds, greens and purples that paint the canyon. The crisp morning air carried the fresh aroma of Arizona Cypress. I, along with my companions, took our first step onto the West Fork Trail and began our adventure through Oak Creek Canyon in Sedona.

Start of the hike at West Fork Trail in Sedona. With me were my great friends Alyssa, Lance, Mike and Si’on. As full-time students at ASU, it is not often that we can indulge in our love of the outdoors and our desire to explore. We could not, however, surpass the opportunity to hike in the Coconino National Forest; and so, we embarked from Tempe on an early Saturday morning in September.

The two-hour drive up Interstate 17 passed quickly as we surveyed the morning desert transform into a red-rock mountain wilderness. A few miles up State Route 179 North stood Sedona’s awe-inspiring Bell Rock — a triumphant red-rock formation, home to twisted Juniper trees, and vivid green and yellow agave plants.

Numerous turns up the mountainous road of highway 89A disoriented the group. Considering the possibility that we had already passed the trail, we stopped at a convenience store for directions. When asked where the West Fork Trail was located, the clerk’s smile alluded to the commonality of the question. “It’s actually just a half-mile up the road,” he replied. Sure enough, in a half-mile we arrived at the trailhead lot. Parking cost $9 in the lot, which is guarded and maintained by park rangers. The lot was littered with walking sticks used by past travelers. We each selected our respective walking stick, grabbed our gear (lunches, water and a camera) and began our journey through the canyon.

A small bridge guided the group over the creek and onto the West Fork Trail. My curiosity was sparked at a peculiar site on the outskirts of the canyon. An old, brick structure lay in shambles next to a small cave carved into the red rock. The site was once home to the Mayhew Lodge, home to tourists and travelers in the early 1920s. As we sprinted toward the ruins, I was overcome with a sense of nostalgia. My childhood dreams of being an adventurer in the wild were being fulfilled.

As we journeyed further along the trail, the tranquil sounds of the creek grew nearer. We had reached our first, true creek crossing. A trail marker sat across the water, but this time there was not a bridge to leisurely stroll across. Being accustomed to such circumstances, due to his years spent backpacking, Lance guided the group across one by one, jumping from one stone to the next. Our first crossing was a success; our hike would consist of over 10 more.

West Fork Trail streamAt every chance possible, we climbed the massive, fallen rocks, which, for many years, have rained down the mountains to the bottom of the canyon. Each rock surmounted grew larger and increasingly difficult to climb until we finally met our match. “Let’s eat lunch up there,” Alyssa said as she pointed to the top of a 40-foot, rock cliff.

After contemplating the possibilities, Lance disappeared behind the cliff, determined to find a way up. Minutes later, he appeared atop the rock, triumphant, and again guided the group to the summit. I couldn’t help but smile as we enjoyed our cliff-top picnic.

Descending the rock was quite easy for everyone, except me. As I scaled down, I lost my footing and quickly grabbed onto a protruding branch. Knowing it wouldn’t hold for long I signaled Mike who stood on the ground below. The branch finally gave way, and I slid down; Mike braced for impact and broke my fall. We couldn’t help but laugh as we dramatically retold the story to the rest of the group of my treacherous five-foot fall.

Soon after, we arrived at what many would have considered the end of the trail. A pool of water filled the middle of the smooth canyon walls. Before I even had the chance to take off my shoes, Mike and Si’on ran straight into the creek bed; Alyssa, Lance and I followed. With the sun beating on our back, we waded through the cool, waste-deep water. I paused for a moment and gazed into the air; I sighed in contentment.

Surrounded by nature’s green giants and enclosed by the canyon’s massive red walls, I couldn’t help but feel at peace. Just for a day, I hadUpward gaze escaped the stresses of day-to-day life. For a day, I had escaped into the wild, carefree, with four of my greatest friends. It was now time to make the journey back.

After wading our way out of the creek, we grabbed our gear and returned to the trail. Passing by the familiar sights of the trail, we recalled the events of the day as if they were distant memories.

At last, we emerged from the canyon. We signed our names in the trail log, returned our walking sticks to the ground, and began the drive home. As we drove away, I turned and watched my walking stick disappear. I smiled at the thought of the next adventurer beginning his or her journey, choosing the same walking stick I had chosen.

For more information about the West Fork Trail go to sedonahikingtrails.com


Jacks Canyon Sunrise, Photos: Travis McKnight

Rock Climbing Excursions In Jacks Canyon

Vivacious beams of sunlight pierce through a layer of thin clouds listlessly drifting across the vivid blue sky, illuminating a seemingly hidden canyon nestled 30 miles north of Winslow, Ariz. Within its depths reside numerous chalk-stained, 70-foot limestone cliffs plastered with strategically placed stainless-steel bolts that establish nearly 300 sport climbing routes. This is Jacks Canyon, and it’s known as one of the best rock climbing places in Ariz. — for some, the entire country.

My latest trip to the canyon occurred with an Arizona State University organization, The Arizona Outdoors Club, on the weekend of June 16 — mere weeks prior to wildfires erupting throughout Arizona and tearing through the destination, scarring its lush green scenery with blackened trees and brush. My four-person group departed Phoenix at 7:15 p.m. and arrived at the dispersed campground shortly after 9 p.m. Getting to the camping area an hour before we did, the other six members of our entourage relaxed around a fireless fire pit, eating chili and joking about previous adventures. After preparing our tents and socializing for an hour, everyone departs to their respective areas and retires for the evening. I would have, too — if it wasn’t for the rambunctious wind and a very vocal owl.

From my previous trip to Jacks, I knew the nightly wind buffets across the canyon’s rim and vowed to bring ear plugs on this trip. Naturally, I forgot them. After listening to the wind slamming itself against my tent every five minutes or so, an owl, residing in the tree I established my base under, decided to join the vocal chorus of distant coyotes. Its hoots and hollers seemed to taunt me; whenever the wind settled enough for sleep’s dark embrace to approach, a loud screech would emit above my head, jolting my senses into an alert position. The night seemed to last forever, but eventually the sun peaked over the trees, and the excitement began.

Jacks Canyon, Mental Block Party

Jacks Canyon, Mental Block Party, Photo: Ethan Holshouser

People began stirring out of their slumbering state around 6 a.m. and stumbled into the bitter-cold morning air. After a breakfast of peanut butter and Cliff Bars, I grabbed my climbing gear, two pairs of climbing shoes, an ATC belay device and a harness, and descended into the shade infested canyon. Soon three others joined me, and we embarked upon the 10-minute hike to “Cracker Jack Cliffs.” Upon our arrival, we glanced up at the 40-foot wall in front of us. Three warm-ups greet our gaze, “Betty Cracker,” “You Don’t Know Jack” and “Step Right Up.” Each of these climbs is 5.9, as rated by the Yosemite Decimal System. (The higher the numerical rating, the harder the climb; after 5.9+, the letters “a” through “d” are assigned to the rating to establish slight differences in difficulty.) Putting on my harness and grabbing eight quickdraws (safety slings with carabiners on both ends), I tied myself into the rope with a figure-eight-knot, checked with my belayer and began the morning’s first ascent.

The climb went smoothly, although I could feel the lack of sleep already taking its toll. I belayed the other climbers and begin to study my next conquest, a 50-foot 5.11a named “Mental Block Party.” The sun illuminated the wall 20 yards to my left, but this route is draped in shade, and the rock is bitter cold. Deciding upon the path I anticipated taking up the cliff’s vertical face, I checked my equipment, made sure I’m on belay and began.

My hands felt frozen, but right at home in a sharp, two-finger pocket and small crimped starting holds. Finding a dime-sized toe hold, I pushed myself off the ground. After two more moves, I’m about eight feet off the ground and at my first bolt. Unclipping a quickdraw from my harness’s gear loop, I slid one of the carabiners through the bolt, listened for the satisfying click, and attached the remaining carabiner to the rope. My left hand resided comfortably inside a large, three-inch pocket, and I dipped my right hand behind my back, grabbed a fistful of magnesium chalk to eliminate sweat and improved my grip, repeated the process with my left hand and continued upwards. Eleven feet higher, I ran into my first snag. The hold I anticipated using while scoping out the route on the ground was terrible. Sighing, I searched for nearby holds but found nothing within reaching distance. My only hope was an extremely thin side-pull seven feet diagonally from my fully extended arms. Glancing down at my feet, I slid my toes into a quarter-sized pocket, and stood up for what I believed in.

Jacks Canyon, Crosstown Traffic

Jacks Canyon, Crosstown Traffic

My fingers barely brushed up against the target hold, but not enough to get an acceptable grip. Returning to my previous position, I chalked up and kept searching. My legs began to violently shake from fatigue, but I still didn’t see salvation. Upon reaching my stamina’s limit, I knew it was time to move now or face a 10-foot fall to my last bolt, losing my on-sight attempt. A tiny, one-finger pocket, the size of a popped popcorn kernel, is between the hold I needed to get to and where I stood. I stood up and stuck the tip of my pinky finger into the hold; using it to gain momentum, I strained against the cold limestone, let go of my current hold and finally reached the target. Four movements higher, and I reached feet holds large enough to rest on without holding onto the rock, giving my fingers a well-needed rest.

Feeling rejuvenated, I continued up the route, with only 20 feet to go. The route has reached its crux — three moves between crimp holds with smaller than an inch and virtually no feet. Preparing myself for the movements, I began the transition and weighted the first hold, then moved onto the second and finally the last. My forearms were pumped and tense from fatigue, and in consequence my grip weakened, but I made it. Five more moves, and the route was complete. Panting from tiredness, I clipped my final two quickdraws in to the anchors and lowered down the route. Victory is mine.

Worn out, I spend most of the day belaying and coaching others, doing a few easier climbs and falling at the anchors on another 5.11a, “Crosstown Traffic.” Despite the exhausting sleepless night, the trip turned out to be an enjoyable and successful adventure.

For more information about Jacks Canyon, visit rockclimbing.com.


Rock Climbing In Atlantis, Queen Creek

A couple months ago, several friends and I traveled up to Queen Creek for two days of camping and rock climbing – and the experience couldn’t have been better!

Ryan Snow, ClimbingAs we made the hour drive from Tempe to Queen Creek on the 60, our departure made for perfect timing to a gorgeous sunset over the desert.  Reds, oranges, purples and yellows painted the desert sky, and reminded me that Arizona has the some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever experienced.

The four of us in the car arrived first, and began unpacking our equipment that we would need for the quick two day excursion– tent, food, water, and a sleeping bag.  As 8 o’clock rolled around, the rest of our group finally arrived and the camp fire talk began, in what was then a VERY cold February night.  As others were talking and socializing, I took time to adventure off into the desert a bit, and noticed how much clearer the stars were only an hour outside of the Phoenix.  It was so quiet and peaceful, that I must have stayed out there for an hour alone – just enjoying the serenity of the Arizonan desert at night.

Upon my return, we continued eating, and talking about everything that anyone had on their minds – school projects, after graduation thoughts, etc…As we continued grilling hot dogs and roasting marshmallows, neighboring campers began making their way over to our spot and chatting with the group.  As the night turned frigid and moon was glaring down on the dwindling fire, we decided to call it a night and get rested for some morning climbing.

As 7 am rolled around, I found myself awake, and noticed that a stray cow had made its way into a neighboring site – apparently a normal event for the area.  After a bit of exploring, I returned and we were off to do what the camping trip was for – rock climbing! Matt Hasson, Climbing

Being from Southern California, the most climbing I had ever done were the stairs that led down to the beach.  He let us know that we would be going to “Atlantis”, a climbing spot just down the road and one that was crafted for beginners.  With much of my nervousness eased, we drove no less than 10 minutes down the highway until we pulled to the side of the road, parked, and hiked down a short hill to set up.

As I looked up the 40 foot inline, I noticed quickly that there were dozens of other routes, marked by predrilled hooks.  After a short lesson in climbing technique, my buddy “led the climb”, and I nervously followed after – flash forward a few minutes; I reached the top with an enormous grin on my face and feeling of accomplishment, fingers hurting from the tight holds as I caught a glimpse of a gorgeous Arizonan afternoon in Queek Creek’s “Atlantis” area.

After a few hours of climbing, and watching my experienced friend climb seemingly impossible routes, we packed up and started our return to Tempe.  As we drove back, I felt that the weekend was a success.  Bonding with friends by the campfire, and climbing for the first time made for an awesome experience – one that I would advise to anyone seeking an outdoor experience exclusive to the beautiful nature of Arizona.

For more information on this climbing spot and others in the area, check out  Queen Creek’s “Atlantis”